Max Orozco has been an Oakland resident and OUSD parent for the past 18 years. He currently has a 5th grader at La Escuelita and a stepchild in the 5th grade at Markham Elementary. Max is a tradesman with over 15 years specializing in Plumbing and Electrical. He’s running for the school board because public schools are currently under attack and he has felt the impact acutely as his daughter lost her middle school when the current board eliminated Escuelita 6-8 among several other schools with a sudden vote in February 2022. Attempts to reverse the school board’s decision were not successful despite thousands of public comments, rallies, letters and even a one-day teacher strike. Max is running for School Board Director for District 2 with a mission to stop school closures, to advocate for the needs of students, teachers, parents and community, and halt the privatization of our public buildings and resources. As a Board Member, he intends to bring back the programs that have been taken from children and develop college and career preparation programs for high school students that include viable paths to good-paying union jobs such as in the skilled trades.
Great School Voices sat down with Orozco 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?
To start, we have to stop closing schools. That’s the main goal. With that, we will be able to maintain teachers or be able to train more teachers. We will also come in where we will be able to have a better program to educate our children, which, as I’ve always said, is a personal fight for me because I have children that go to elementary at this moment, and I have another set of twins that will be starting kindergarten next year. I need to fight for my kids, make sure they have the best education possible. By helping my kids, I’ll be helping the rest of the kids in Oakland.
Personally, I don’t mind if they go to charter schools or public schools, as long as they get the best education they can get in California. That is my goal. The way I believe we can track it is by seeing how many students are progressing, are starting to read above grade level, because at this moment, we’re not reaching that goal. They’re not even reading at a grade level. They’re below. That’s how we could track our improvement.
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?
It’s a fight that I’ve been bringing out to the School Board every single time, every single meeting. At this moment, even the schools that were closed last year, we have families that, up to this moment, they’re still not receiving the help that they were getting at the schools that closed. We have parents that don’t even have an after school program anymore. They’re on a waiting list. We have parents where their children need some medical help, and they’re not getting it at their schools. Yet, they were asked to provide their Medi-Cal for their insurance. Now that they’re trying to get that help out of the school through their doctors, they cannot do it because their schools are using their private insurance. So we need to stop school closures. That’s the main thing. After that, we have to make sure we have those programs back at our schools.
I believe that in smaller classrooms, the children will be able to learn more. The teachers will be able to identify which student needs that extra help. With that, as a Board member or as a District, we will be able to know what type of help we need to bring to that particular classroom or that school.
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?
Like I’ve always said, I’m a parent, and I have learned in my own family that my kids don’t find the encouragement to go to school sometimes. There’s not something that will bring their attention to come to school every day. That is something that we have to change. We have to make programs for them. We should have those programs starting in elementary school to high school students. I could say that because my son just graduated high school last year. His education was so low that he was not able to pursue the career that he wanted that he’s been dreaming since he was in kindergarten. Now that he has been forced to change careers, we have to find an alternative program for him now that he’s over 18. If we have programs for children in high school that will teach him a trade or that will get him prepared to get a union job, if they cannot continue their school, at least they will be able to have something that they could lean against and get a good job.
For the other ones that do have the means and the way, we could get them something, some help so they could continue their education. This not only lies in part on education, but it also brings us to safety on our streets. If our children have those programs to stay in school, they will not be on the streets vandalizing or hurting other people.
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?
To me. It’s all on the help that we get for students. If we have and we’re able to get the right programs, We will not even have to worry about a D anymore, because they will be taught the proper way. The right way. In a way that they will be willing to come to school and learn. Unfortunately, at this moment, and I can speak from experience, our children are not focusing on what they’re being taught, because the school somehow changed the system to a point where they’re losing interest.
I had a child that came from Southern California. When she came to Oakland, she could have skipped grades. Unfortunately, the system did not allow her. The way things were taught at that school, she lost interest. That is something that we need to change from her coming with A and A plusses. Now she’s a B or an A student, so she dropped. If we change the way Oakland is teaching, we will not have a D. We might have a C plus on our students.
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?
That’s really hard, and it’s not just shootings. Our children are being attacked in many different ways. Unfortunately, we have to teach our Principals and the community that’s inside the schools to speak up and not to be afraid. I could say that what happened with these last two shootings that we had, I know from people in those schools that they were aware of the guns being brought to one of those particular schools. They knew about this one child that gave the shot to his classmate on the stomach. He was known already, but no one did a thing about it. No one spoke up. This other one that we had was a much larger incident. People were talking already, but yet the schools were afraid to say something. The administration at the schools did not bring that out for whatever reason.
We need to have more straight talk at all the schools. We need to have trained personnel, not just a regular security guard like what we had at Parker or at the School Board meetings, but people that are actually trained, certified, and that know how to deal with children with special needs, because most of the time, they are misunderstood. That’s how we could stop some of that violence going on in the schools. We have sexual harassment going at some schools, and I made that point at one of the School Board meetings where I had to speak up with a Superintendent directly so that this issue was partially fixed at this particular school where sexual harassment happened. We need, like I said, trained personnel and people that are not afraid of speaking up, that they’re not going to be afraid of retaliation by the District, which is another subject that is very big.
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?
Oh, boy. I’m upset that our youth cannot vote. As it is, I am a firm believer that the youth at this moment, it’s what it’s supposed to be guiding us as adults. I believe that even our students should be able to go to the School Board meetings. Our youth, out 16 and 17 year olds, they know what type of careers or they know about politics already. They should be able to decide who’s going to represent them. They should be heard, which is something that is not happening. I will always be advocating. I will always be by their side. As it is, when I become a board member, I’ll be looking after the youth to help me run the district, asking what can I do to make that District better. I am not a person that is always going to be in District 2. As many people have seen, I’m in a different district.I was in District 6, part of Parker. I’ve been helping out parents in District 4. I’ll be all over wherever a student needs me or a parent needs me. I’ll be out there advocating for them.
Do you have any closing words or final statement that you want to make?
I just want to ask the students in the community to support the candidates that are fighting for the schools, that are fighting for our students, and that are trying to stop this privatization of our public resources. Many of us, like me, we may not have the career to support us, but we have the heart and the willing to fight for dedication and to fight for our children.