David Kakishiba is a lifelong children’s advocate and public education leader. For 42 years, David has been the Executive Director of East Bay Asian Youth Center (EBAYC). David served twelve years (2002 – 2014) on the Oakland School Board, including five years as Board President. As Board President, David led the school district out of State Receivership; fought off developer takeover of school district property; and secured $75 million to build the La Escuelita Education Center. Today the Center is the location of United Nation Pre-School, La Escuelita Elementary School, MetWest High School, KDOL Public Access Station, and the Youth Heart Health Center. David authored OUSD’s 2014 College & Career Readiness for All Act (Measure N), a parcel tax measure generating $12 million annually to provide universal access to college-going career pathways to every high school student. He served six years as chairperson of the Measure N Commission, and since its passage in 2014, Measure N has increased Oakland’s graduation rate and decreased its drop-out rate by double-digits; reduced the graduation rate disparity between African American and White students by 30%; and has significantly accelerated students’ earning of college course credits through Dual Enrollment. David also authored and co-founded the Kids First! Initiative, Oakland’s 1996 landmark ballot measure that required the City of Oakland to dedicate annually 2.5% of its general fund revenue for services to children and youth. Kids First! represented a unique public health approach to the prevention and reduction of youth violence. Today, Kids First! – known today as the Oakland Fund for Children & Youth – provides $20 million annually for children services throughout Oakland without raising taxes. David resides in Oakland with his wife, Isabel Toscano, a history teacher at Oakland High School’s Public Health Academy. Their two children attended neighborhood public schools – La Escuelita Elementary School, Roosevelt Middle School, and Oakland High School and MetWest High School – all of which are District Two schools.
Great School Voices sat down with Kakishiba to ask him some questions on behalf of Oakland’s students.
ED REFORM PLANS: The state of public education in Oakland has been in crisis for generations, and with the pandemic, it has only gotten worse, with estimates being that half of high school students haven’t returned. What will you try differently to improve the outcomes for us students, and how will you measure your success?
I’m not sure if this directly answers the question, but there are two things that I intend to work on. The first is that two of the three parcel taxes that we as Oaklanders send to Oakland Unified are Measure G and Measure G1. Combined, that’s about $32-33 million in supplemental revenue to the school district. Yet both of those measures are not designed to achieve anything. It’s just to provide money to the school district. Some are for good purposes, but there are no intended outcomes to achieve relative to student academics or student social development. Over the next two years I intend to build an internal district and an external community coalition to bring those two measures back to the voters in 2024 in a way where we basically rescind and replace those two measures with no tax increase and with a short time period of eight to ten years.
Measure G would be focused on elementary schools. The essential goal is to get everybody reading and numeracy at grade level, and there’ll be some other intermediate outcomes to achieve. With Measure G1, all of that money would be dedicated to the middle grades.
There’s a clear set of outcomes that this Measure is trying to get schools to achieve. There is a general basic theory of change of how schools can get there. It provides 90% of all of those tax dollars going directly to the school site. In order for the school to get it, they must submit and have an approved plan to execute the theory of change and to build the structures and the supports necessary to reach the overarching goal.
The fourth element is that there is a public oversight body that is reviewing these plans and reviewing outcomes in the public arena.
This is a structure somewhat similar to Measure N with a high school parcel tax. I believe that there’s no Superintendent and there is no school board that on its own volition will take District money and do the kind of structural reforms that are necessary to give schools a fighting chance to improve reading scores for kids. The only way to do it is through voter approval and a voter mandate. That would just be seed money, if you will, essentially one large city-wide demonstration project. From there, in the ensuing years, if we can get the School Board Superintendent disciplined about evaluating those measures, drawing lessons good and bad, and drawing out some policy implications of the measure through its implementation. Then the Board and Superintendent would be in a continuous improvement process, and shift monies, rescind, or make new policies.
As a concrete example, with high schools, through the public oversight for Measure N, we identified, through our school level oversight, a handful of schools that were implementing a No D policy. And then what they did to implement that policy, which was aimed at accelerating students’ competencies versus just sliding them along. And so we lifted that up right before I termed out, but were going to lift that up. My understanding is that the Commission has taken it up since I left. I don’t know where it’s at right now. But that’s the kind of work that I think if you get really good people on the Commission, good people on the Board, that you could get real progress made.
You mentioned a general theory of change. Can you expound on that?
For example, with the high school parcel tax, the theory of change is basically a link learning career pathway strategy.
It’s about organizing our high schools into small learning communities of cohorted students and cohorted teachers that are providing college preparatory academic rigor in the context of a thematic focus on a particular career or industry sector. Along with that are career technical education classes, dual enrollment classes, and then wraparound support services. Those are basically the four elements to that broad-based theory of change. How you go about implementing it,well, you can drive a Mack truck through it because it gives schools a lot of flexibility.
That is a theory of change that’s indigenous to Oakland Unified. There are different schools and academies that have been modeling that. But I think in elementary and middle schools, I don’t think that there is any consensus around a core bottom-line theory of change.
SCHOOL CLOSURES: What is your stance on school closures? How do you think Oakland should make sure that students don’t fall through the cracks as schools get larger with consolidation?
In the big picture, my sense is that Oakland Unified School District has to think about reorganizing itself in terms of the number of campuses it is operating as school sites. Having said that, I was against the proposed school closures this past spring, and I am fundamentally against any new school closures at this time. I have a number of reasons for that.
The starting point is about saving money in past efforts, and I have not been convinced that we’ve saved any money. We certainly cannot save money when we have unchecked overspending, and that has happened in Oakland. People ask me, “Why is Oakland in fiscal distress all the time?” Because we spend too much money and we don’t know what we’re spending it on and why we’re spending it.
Because school closures are probably the most volatile issue next to a teacher strike, or maybe even greater than a teacher’s strike, the school closures as a result have a material financial negative impact on the school district. Not a positive impact, but a negative impact.
We render the Superintendent and the School Board unable and lacking credibility to focus on the strategies on improving school performance, student performance, and so we just waste years as a result. I say tactically, we do in fact, have money but it’s a choice. We’re going to operate a large number of schools for a lesser number of students, and we can do that for a while. I think we have to do some of the other reforms first so that we in fact can dramatically improve our existing schools. We’ve done it before, and I think we could do it again, but to a greater scale. But we can’t afford school closures to derail everything, including eventually forcing school Board Members off and forcing Superintendents out.
TRUANCY: Truancy is a pressing issue for a lot of Oakland students who see their friends and classmates become a part of the juvenile justice system, essentially putting a young person through the school to prison pipeline. Do you think there should be an alternative solution for addressing truancy and what would that be?
I can be wrong but I think where absenteeism is a greater problem is in the lower grades, in kindergarten, TK, k first grade, and second grade. That has a lot to do with a lot of different reasons, including just not being aware, thinking that you can miss a couple of weeks, have an extended Christmas vacation because your kids are in kindergarten to real major life crises in the home that knock a parent/guardian out of whack in terms of being able to get their child to school on time and every day. The learning loss as a result is a much greater risk at that younger age. I think we have to be very focused on that. And the ability to prosecute the parent for just continued absence is not there. My understanding is that law has been repealed. That was a Kamala Harris thing, and that’s no longer in play or it’s at least not being enforced.
In terms of adolescents, the issues for truancy and absenteeism are different. Where the young people have greater agency to leave school or not even walk through the gates. You know, when kids aren’t in school, the school right then and there has got to go out and find out. Not every school is equipped or organized to be able to do that systematically. As a school district, when we talk about full service community schools, forget about it. If we’re not able to first monitor absences, then let me just say that’s got to be much more of a priority and appropriate resources, training and protocols established for truancy.
As for alternative solutions? I’m not sure what that means. The solution to truancy is not incarceration. That does not exist. Kids cannot be picked up and sent to juvenile hall for being truant. So that is a myth. Given that, we have to put more resources into outreach and finding out where the young person is. We don’t go out into the community. We don’t have enough people that will go out into the neighborhoods, go out to the homes to find out where young people are at. We need to do that. There’s a tendency just to rely on parent square and phone calls, but we got to get off this campus and get into the neighborhood.
DUMP THE D: Where do you stand on Dump the D, a campaign dedicated to making D a failing grade so that students can retake courses and get a C or higher so that they will be eligible for UCs, which consider D a failing grade? What are your plans on giving students more information about what it takes to be eligible for a UC before it’s too late?
As a board member, I need to learn where that issue is at. I know there’s been a presentation to the Board. I know that the Measure N Commission has grappled with it as part of their meeting agendas. I’d like to know what the status of the work is. Depending on if there’s really not a lot of progress, I would ask that the Commission grapple with it and engage high school principals. I would have the high school network office engage all the principals to learn from the experiences and practices of Coliseum College Prep Academy and Oakland High School Public Health Academy and some of the charter schools as well, to learn from that with an eye towards how they are providing supports to those students that are on the edge of a D in normal circumstances and how they are uplifting the student’s competencies to get into the C category.
And then we have to resource that. I would ask the Commission to be responsible for delivering to the Board a recommendation to adopt that as part of the District’s grading policy. I would just say and I would be in favor also augmenting measure N’s parcel tax and I would be in favor of the School Board putting extra money – recurring year after year money – to Measure N, to the Commission to distribute to high schools with the No D policy in mind.
SAFE SCHOOLS: What do you think is the appropriate balance in making schools a safer place without criminalizing students? How do you think schools should address threats of shootings?
This depends on a number of things. There’s something that’s internal to the student body at a given campus that the school must have policies and protocols that promote a safe and nurturing school and organizational culture, where restorative practices are the dominant way of handling misunderstandings,disputes and conflicts. In terms of secondary schools, this is primarily where you have much more of the conflict among students.
Included in a school’s protocols and policies is: how they have structured their school day; if they’re having cohorts of young people and teachers and an emphasis on teachers proactively building relationships with students on campus. Then, there are other kinds of internal on-campus interventions and support services creating a full continuum of what I would call behavioral health services which are not just psychotherapy and clinical supports that only addresses a small fraction of people.
I think a full continuum ought to be offered at every secondary school through the concept of a wellness center. And all of that deals with things internal to the student body.
Then there are things concerning external threats. The incident at Rudsdale, or people elsewhere in the country where somebody else comes on campus as active shooters. I think that the whole nation has, unfortunately, a lot of experience and there are a lot of training and procedures that I think is available to school districts around the country for those kinds of external threats. I don’t know what the state is of how our schools are prepared for that. I don’t believe it requires sworn officers in terms of a gun and a badge and in terms of our own dedicated police force.
I don’t think it requires that, but it does require that all the adults on campus as well as the students, have a pretty good understanding of live shooter safety protocols. Those things are in place both to prevent anybody coming into the buildings as well as if something were to actually jump off. Finally, Rudsdale was not a Columbine situation. It was much more an outgrowth of the Oakland streets. I do believe that our schools, in terms of school personnel – and this is where a Wellness Center can be helpful – do need to be dialed into the diversity of the young people that we have in our schools and that we are also working closely with the City of Oakland. There’s a whole Department of Violence Prevention that does violence interruption, that is working with gangs and sets and groups, and they have a great deal of knowledge and a great deal of experience and so much more intergovernmental and intercommunity collaboration and coordination is needed.
MEASURE QQ: What will you do to make sure that Measure QQ is implemented next election, considering the let down that we cannot vote this November? What can you do to encourage youth civic engagement and involve youth in your role considering we cannot vote?
In the context of if I was a school board member, I will want to work with our Mayor and with our County Supervisors to better understand what’s needed to ensure that QQ is fully implementable for the 2024 election cycle and just follow through on that kind of inquiry process. Is there anything that is needed from Oakland Unified to make that happen? I imagine they want money, and so we’ll have to deal with that and pay for that. We’re doing Measure H, and the School District has to pay for the cost of the election for Measure H. It’s nothing new. In terms of civic engagement. I’ll just say that with our All City Council to start, we continue to have a robust community-based youth leadership, a youth organizing ecosystem and community. I believe that they are already engaged in a civic engagement education plan. I don’t know the specifics. I will learn about that and try to understand if there’s anything that is needed from the Board of Education to facilitate the implementation of that plan or if there’s anything that’s needed for inside lobbying, if you will, with the Superintendent and others. I would actually take leadership from the student leaders that are greatly invested in the implementation of QQ.