Nick Resnick is passionate about education and dedicated to establishing excellent schools for all kids. He’s running because the Oakland school district is in chaos, and Oakland’s kids desperately need change. Nick is a former Oakland teacher, a district parent, a longtime resident of the district, and the leader of a successful organization focused on learning. He’s a skilled manager who understands schools and budgets. Nick’s number one goal is to put the focus where it belongs: learning and financial sustainability. As a parent, and former teacher, he’s fighting for all kids. As a member of the board, Nick promises his community that he’ll stop at nothing to ensure every single student has the knowledge and skills to make their dreams a reality.
Great School Voices sat down with Resnick 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 think this comes back to something that we’ve been focusing on as our number one priority in the campaign and something that I deeply believe the Board needs, and that’s somebody that has a crystal clear focus on student success: making sure that all of our schools across the District are supporting students with academic improvement as well as socioemotional and mental health. When you go to school board meetings right now, they’re talking about everything other than that. So the lens and the leadership that I want to bring that hopefully will trickle down for students to elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools is that every single school should have a comprehensive quality program that gives kids access to the arts, sports, science, career and college pathways and technical education pathways. And right now, that’s not true. It’s depending on what elementary school you go to that you might have science if they can hire someone with the PTO extra funding, or you might have gardening, you might have drumming.
If we move on to middle and high schools, there are large discrepancies across our city. If you look at the programming, the type of classes offered, the retention of teachers, and the retention of principals. I think if we look critically at these pieces and hold the Board accountable, then ultimately students will want to come back, and we will keep families in Oakland. The biggest thing I could say is that I promise to bring us back to you, all the students, and looking at data and being held responsible for our policies and our budget decisions with a lens of your success.
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?
This is definitely something that we’re talking about right now. In every house party I have and every forum. What I do believe is that what we have been doing here and how we are serving our students across so many school sites has systemically failed certain families in certain communities for two to three decades. When I think about school consolidations or school closures, I don’t just see it as a money saving solution, but I see it as a solution so we can more equitably distribute all of our resources to ensure that all students have access to that comprehensive program that we know sets them up for a life of choice and opportunity. With that, I have concern about the way the process went down last year, and I would look forward to being very clear and transparent and working with the community towards a three year plan where we are making significant progress on the blueprint that was outlined for us a few years back.
I do this because I do believe we do have a structural deficit within our budget, if you look at it over a ten year period of time. I do it more from a lens of knowing that across our 84 sites, there is drastically inequitable programming. The number one way we can support students is by getting more adults in front of them, getting teachers that have been there for a number of years, making sure they have a Principal that’s not changing up every single year, because that’s really hard for the stability of a community in a community school. I would look forward to really working with the community: being clear with a timeline; investing in transitional counselors that are going out to families many years in advance; think about how we might want to support transportation needs, working with city agencies and community organizations that already do some of that work, all to make sure that within a few years, every child is at a school that has a program that builds a fire in them to love learning and to be part of a community.
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?
My first job in Oakland schools was at Community Day School, which was our school where we send students who were expelled. That led me on this professional and personal journey of trying to understand why some kids get moved through our system without learning how to read or some kids get moved through our system without access to different types of things, different types of modalities, different types of ways that make kids want to show up every single day.
Truancy exists because we are failing our children. We are failing the same children in the same neighborhood year over year because we are inadequately resourcing those schools for a number of reasons and we need to do something about that. I talk a decent amount about the school to prison pipeline. With 8% of our Black boys learning how to read by third grade in our city, I don’t know why that’s not what we’re all talking about and what we’re all focused on because I have a second grader and learning how to read opens you up to a world of everything else.
If we don’t get that right and let’s not even stop there, let’s put some type of art, sport, music or some type of other programming so kids don’t realize this is not all just about reading and math, but oh, it’s fun to come to school for other reasons too, then we are setting our kids up. No kid wants to be truant and no kid doesn’t want to come to school. We systemically have built these pipelines and have not invested in the right areas and promised our families that we’ll do everything in our power to provide them education. What I will do differently is I want to make sure that if you go to an elementary school in our city, you leave knowing how to read. You leave having two or three years of some type of choice or elective where you feel a sense of yourself outside of just academics.
I want to make sure that there’s counselors and mental health supports. We don’t even have a counselor in every school across our city in Oakland. When I think about this question, I think we need to take responsibility as adults and as leaders and say kids aren’t showing up at school because we are not providing the education they deserve. I hope with a focus on that I know it’s not going to be fixed like that [snaps fingers], but we can build our culture in a different way.
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?
There’s a number of different things here. So where do I stand? I definitely wholeheartedly agree with and ambehind the initiative. I think it’s really a confusing situation that we’ve created. It’s our job to make sure students are really clear on how they can get to the UC system and that all students, every single solitary one, has access to that and is on a track for that. They can decide that might not be what they want, but it shouldn’t be the opposite. I think that comes down to a number of different internal policies that we need to consider and lift up and make sure that they’re all aligned. That’s the internal side. With the external side, we have community managers at most of our school sites, if not all of them. There is no reason why the Board shouldn’t have to report out on how information is being moved from the District to the sites and to our families.
Additionally, all families might not understand this level of information. They just might not engage at that level. It might not come in a way that they can understand, including myself often. There might be a language barrier, they’re busy, whatever it may be. While our communication needs to get better and we need to, I think, build the capacity of parents from fifth grade to understand how this looks, I do think the system needs to be set up in a way where students are automatically provide this series of classes. That would mean that we have to hire a little differently or staff a little differently. If this is the expectation, then we also need to make sure there’s a number of things we’re doing. That’s where I want to come in and help bring that up to fruition.
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?
It’s definitely been a tough few months here, and this is on the mind of a lot of people. I was a teacher. I worked in schools. I’ve only been an educator. I consistently see that when schools have positive cultures and traditions and a serious set of values and, teachers who are experienced and work with students of color from communities and have an ability to connect with and make sure the curriculum that they’re teaching feels relevant, engaging, supporting of their identities…that’s the best way to have safe schools.
I’m on the PTO for my daughter’s elementary school. They’re talking about “Our doors don’t lock, the door between this and that doesn’t lock, our windows don’t lock” and this very heightened sense of “What happens if somebody walks in the door?” I think holistically, we want to create a task force, a group of people that are thinking about it. It shouldn’t be just if a PTO can afford this situation and this school should get it. That’s what I think right now might be happening and that feels extremely inequitable. At the Board, I would want us to establish a committee, a task force, who is thinking critically about all 84 sites and how we are investing in safety measures that make teachers feel better and more comfortable to come to work every day. It also makes parents more comfortable. I’d say those are kind of the two sides of the things I’ve been hearing a lot.
I don’t come from this thinking just about security measures, but I think about it as: how can we make sure that students feel supported at school. How can they have the mental health supports they need? How can we have the cultural components like restorative justice practices, positive intervention systems? How can we make sure that kids aren’t being disciplined in a way that we know is racist? Ultimately, it comes down to just investing in our schools in better ways. Mental health supports. Quality programs. Giving all kids access to reading coaches. And in terms of schools addressing threats, that just comes down to really great communication. Making sure that there’s kind of school-based policies in place and that those things that are practiced and considered, and that we are equipping schools with all the kind of safety measures they need so when they come into work, they feel supported and they feel like they have everything they would need should something like that happen.
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?
This is definitely something I was hoping was going to happen. There were a few youth leaders that I’d met through advocacy and door knocking for this measure. They have engaged with me and volunteered in our campaign. It would be great for our youth to vote in this capacity. I think as a school board member, but also as a community, I think we need to put pressure on our County and make sure that they know it’s a priority for us. I look forward to working with different community organizations to do that. In terms of encouraging youth, I have a number of students who are now in their early 20s and have connected a lot with them to better understand their experiences in Oakland and how they can get involved in school board campaigns or other things. We also need to make sure to do a number of different kind of forums or school-based questionnaires in order for kids to feel as connected to and informed about the process as much as possible.
Do you have any closing words or final statement that you want to make?
We’re at a pretty critical time in Oakland right now and I have just seen for too many years a lack of focus on our students and their success and that being the priority of every decision. I look forward to bringing a voice that’s always bringing it back to our students as well as a collaborative voice who understands that in order to move things forward, we do need to build bridges and we do need to form some compromises. We do need to work through difficult conversations with respect and with a solutions-oriented mindset. I think we can do it and I appreciate you learning more about it today.