As a Latina and Asian woman and the only former teacher running for this position, Kyra has dedicated her career to Oakland kids – as a classroom teacher at Horace Mann Elementary and as Deputy Director of Education. Teaching in Oakland public schools, Kyra saw firsthand how under-resourced and underserved communities are neglected. While teaching, Kyra realized that although she could build strong relationships with her students and support their academic success, she couldn’t control larger policies affecting them outside of the four walls of her classroom. This is what drove her to take a more systems-level approach as the Deputy Director of Education in the Mayor’s Office and to ultimately seek the interim appointment and run for OUSD School Board, District 6. Since joining the Mayor’s Office, Kyra has co-written legislation to increase access to, and quality of preschool, as well as support students to and through college; played an instrumental role in developing #OaklandUndivided to ensure every public school student in need has a computer, internet, and tech support; helped raise over $5M for COVID relief to ensure the basic needs of Oakland’s most vulnerable residents are met; and launched an innovative pilot to increase recruitment and retention Latino, Black, and other teachers of color by addressing the cost of housing and affordability. Kyra holds a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology from Brown University and a Master’s Degree in Urban Education with a focus on Policy and Administration from Loyola Marymount University. She has a passion for kids, their wellbeing, and their educational opportunities. Kyra always gives 100%, except when donating blood. She enjoys mastering crossword puzzles with a cup of tea, exploring the Bay Area’s beautiful trails, and running into friends at Lake Merritt.
Great School Voices sat down with Mungia to ask her 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 really appreciate this question and that it’s the first one. This is why I’m running. I think we as a district, as a system, have failed too many of our students for too long, especially our Black and brown students, and we see those outcomes just being exacerbated because of the pandemic and because of just systems of oppression in general. Putting students first and ensuring they receive a quality education is my absolute number one priority. There are three specific things that I think we can do at the Board level to ensure our students are receiving that quality education and set up for success.
- The first tangible thing that I think the board can do is actually ensure that we are talking about student outcomes and instruction, and how students are doing on a regular basis. It is wild to me that you can go to a Board meeting and very rarely up until recently are we talking about how students are doing. I’m a firm believer that we move what we measure, we move what we talk about. If the board isn’t setting kind of outcomes as a priority, then why is anyone else going to treat it like a priority? We need to be talking about it at a board level and holding ourselves accountable. Again, this is not about placing individual blame, but it’s really about us assuming collective responsibility and knowing we need to do right by our kids. That’s number one: actually having the Board highlight and guide this in the right direction.
- Number two is ensuring our budget reflects our values and really working to maximize dollars to school sites, to classrooms, to students. Because we know that’s where the dollars are most effective. There’s a real opportunity to ensure that we are streamlining those dollars here.
- Three is ensuring that we actually setting our educators up for success. That of course looks like compensation. Our teachers in OUSD are the lowest paid teachers in the Bay Area. I firmly believe that teaching is the hardest job in the world having been a teacher myself and our teachers are not compensated accordingly. So we first need to do that, but that’s not all. We need to also ensure that they are set up with the non-monetary resources and supports as well. That looks like high quality professional development that our teachers are craving. That looks like enough collaboration time with their peers. That looks like strong curriculum that they know how to implement and that they have time to lesson plan accordingly.
I truly believe if we focus on these three things and of course kind of embedded and implicit in all of that, but I realize I need to make it explicit here is actually listening to students and what their experiences are. I’m a firm believer that they know what they need and what is missing in their education. I was just having a conversation with two students on Sunday about this and one of the biggest things they saw was stability in their teaching workforce. A lot of them had subs in the last couple of years so I want to make that explicit too. I think that’s in all three of those points: listening to students and lifting up their voices and experiences. I firmly believe if we focus on these three things – and I’m not naive to say that it’s going to happen overnight – that we will start to see a transformation in outcomes that is faster than the incremental progress that we’re seeing now. And that’s really what we need there.
I think there’s a real urgency here. We cannot be dependent on incremental, slow progress. Of course, yes, we need to celebrate progress when it’s there, but we need more than that. We need to be moving to really transform outcomes, because these are children’s lives. It should be urgent because these are students’ lives. These are generations that we are impacting and there should be a real urgency behind it.
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?
I really appreciate that question, and it’s a really tough one. No one, I believe, wants to close schools. No one wants to come in and be that person. We know that there is plenty of research that shows that there is harm done to folks in the school community when schools are closed. And I also want to say that there is long term generational harm when you do not know how to read, and there are long term consequences of that. So I want to do everything that I can to avoid school closures and I have seen what it looks like when resources are stretched so thin across too many school sites that schools are not able to function. They are not fully funded, and then students suffer. They suffer because they have subs in classrooms that aren’t credentialed to teach the subject.
They suffer because buildings and grounds are stretched between too many schools, and they have windows that are broken. Security measures that are not set up appropriately and then our schools are not safe. They suffer because custodial is stretched so thin and not able to get to schools and make sure that their bathrooms are clean and that their places and their classrooms are joyful spaces where they want to learn. They suffer because our other staff, like our nurses, our counselors, and our therapists are also stretched across so many school sites. It means they’re only there half a day twice a week. So again, I want to ensure that our schools are fully funded so that all of our kids get the resources they deserve. There are opportunities to restructure our budget, to try to do so beforehand. And I cannot commit to never closing another school again because my commitment is and always will be to students first and ensuring they receive the quality education they deserve.
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?
That’s a great question. The school to prison pipeline is so incredibly real and we need to be doing whatever we can to ensure students stay out of those kinds of carceral systems. The first thing I’ll say before specifically answering that question is I believe the #1 thing we can be doing as a school district is ensuring we have high quality programming, high quality academics, but also additional programming: language, music, sports that make our students want to attend school so that truancy isn’t a problem and that they’re engaged in wanting to learn. I think that is again the #1 thing in terms of preventative opportunities that we have in front of us. In terms of if students are truant, I will say that it’s been a while since I’ve known the specifics of what it looks like and how long it takes for a student to eventually get to that point.
But we should be doing everything we can to make sure our students avoid being part of the juvenile justice system because we’ve seen the impacts that it has later in life and how likely you are to reengage with that system later on. Yes, there should be alternative solutions and that’s where I believe listening to community, especially students and folks who have been impacted by the juvenile justice system before is really important because I recognize I’m not one of those people. One of my theories of action, my main theory of action, comes from a phrase that originated from the South African disability rights movement which is “Nothing about us without us,” the idea being that those most impacted by the issue should be part of the solution. That’s where again, I am not a student at all. I am not a student who is kind of struggling with attending school or being truant or a student who has experienced the juvenile justice system. I would want to hear actually what their proposed solutions are because I think it’s going to be a lot more effective than whatever I think of.
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?
I really appreciate this question. Again, our job at the District is to ensure every student receives the highest quality education they can get, they can possibly dream of. Part of that means that they are set up for whatever they want to do after high school and that it is not because of us that they are limited in those opportunities. Some students, maybe a four year school, doesn’t make sense for them, but they should have that choice. It should be up to them. Right now, we are not setting every student up for those choices. I mean, we see it in the outcomes starting as early as kindergarten, but third grade literacy and onward as well. The same thing goes for high school completion overall, but especially in terms of A through G completion. So there is a real opportunity. Part of it is having high expectations, setting it clear from the beginning.
I know the District is starting to do more around postsecondary readiness and ensuring that each student has an individualized postsecondary plan. I’m pushing the district to make sure that we’re starting that earlier. Students shouldn’t be thinking about what their plan is after high school in just their senior year and not even their junior year. They should be thinking about it when they step into high school and ideally even middle school. Obviously those conversations look different at each of those grades, but we should be starting those conversations early.
My understanding from the research is that we have seen individual schools, and I think some school districts who have dropped the D and it has overall supported their student graduation rate overall, but especially A through G, because students then know what is expected of them early. They know they can rise to the occasion.
Our students are incredible. They’re amazing. I think they can do anything that we believe they can do. It’s on us as adults to really push them and ensure they’re set up for success. I support dumping the D. I think in terms of plans on giving students more information about what it takes to be UC eligible, again, I think that looks like actually ensuring our counselor ratio is not ridiculously terrible so that our counselors can actually be there for students before it is too late. So, ideally middle school, but especially freshman year, is when to start those conversations so they know what is expected if they want to be doing that.
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 is obviously just a tough question in general and top of mind for everyone because of what we have seen happening in Oakland broadly, but on our school campuses specifically. My heart goes out to Madison Park and the King Estates campuses for what they have experienced the last few months but also so many of our school campuses where maybe there hasn’t been an actual shooting, but there have been so many threats that it is still very traumatizing for our students. And it is terrifying. I think there are four areas that we as a District need to be thinking about in order to comprehensively approach school safety:
- The physical facilities. What are we doing for the physical building to ensure that it is safe and securing the perimeter? Do we have cameras? Do we have a clear entrance and barriers around the school so people can’t just come in?
- What are we doing to create the kind of a culture at our school where a) people feel safe and feel like they do not need to bring weapons or other things, but then. b) if for whatever reason, they feel unsafe or they know that something’s going on, they have trusted adults that they can share or they’re anonymous tip line so that the administration can act accordingly.
- What are we doing to set District-wide policies for safety to ensure that there’s uniformity so schools know what to expect. They know what they’re meeting in support from the central office as well.
- How are we as a school district – knowing that our #1 priority is to educate students and ultimately this is not our area of expertise, that students cannot learn if they don’t feel safe – how are we collaborating with other governmental entities and organizations? What does it look like to actually deeply partner with the city, with the County, with community organizations like Youth Alive or Youth Uprising as well, so that we are creating a network of supports and it’s not on us alone to be doing this again knowing that it’s not our area of expertise.
I get really worried about putting in measures that criminalize our students and make schools which should be the safest, most joyful, loving spaces turned into carceral states. Again, when we talk about the school to prison pipeline that was talked about two questions earlier, if we are doing some of those things in our schools…the intent might be to ensure that our schools are safe but if students begin to think of themselves as criminals of having to walk through metal detectors, then some of those things make me very nervous.
That’s where I believe in truly listening to our students. I know one thing is loud and clear. Our students do not feel safe at school. We’ve heard that from All City Council. We’ve heard that from when I’ve spoken to students individually. We do need to take action, but what that action looks like, I’m really excited to hear from our young folks. All City Council has put together and is distributing a survey to go out to all of their students to actually a) hear about what they’re feeling, but then b) propose potential solutions. There’s a real opportunity to work in partnership there and ensure that we are putting student voice, student experience front and center in what we propose.
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?
It is a huge disappointment that the Alameda County Registrar of Voters did not move quickly enough or do whatever was needed, and let bureaucracy get in the way of implementing QQ and ensuring our 16 and 17 year olds could vote in the school board election. I hope that I’ve made it clear throughout this interview that I believe centering student voice is critical in moving forward and students should absolutely have a say in who their School Board representatives are as well. So one, I’ll start there. I think that there are real actions that can be taken in terms of pushing QQ and in terms of pushing the County Registrar forward to do so and I’ll get to that in a second.
There are also larger issues at play. For instance, San Francisco recently passed a noncitizen voting measure that is similar to the one we’re seeing on the ballot in Oakland. It got sued pretty quickly because of the state constitution saying that noncitizens are not able to vote. There are arguments saying that the same thing can apply to 16 and 17 year olds: that they don’t count as eligible voters. And so there’s a bigger issue. That’s where I think we have an opportunity as Oakland to step in and support San Francisco in defending that case so that there’s not a larger issue that comes up even if the Alameda County Registrar of Voters is able to get its stuff together and move forward. I think we need to make sure we’re moving forward on the state level and the parallel track locally.
One, I know that it might sound kind of basic, but there’s this thing called being persistent and nudging. If we know this is a priority, following up with the right people and ensuring that there’s accountability. We didn’t realize until it was too late that this was going to be an issue and that they weren’t going to follow through on time. Now that we know, it’s really on us to make sure that we are checking in regularly, making sure that we are sharing publicly with where they are, because I think public pressure does wonders in terms of making sure that the County Registrar of Voters will move forward accordingly.
I think in terms of encouraging youth and civic engagement in the meantime, considering you cannot vote, there are so many ways that youth can still get involved and I’ve been so grateful to see that actually in my campaign. One way is volunteering on campaigns, doing your research, finding who you believe in, whose values you align with and really pushing that forward. I’ve been so grateful to have tens of volunteers, I’d say, upwards of 20 some young people working on my campaign. Again, I’m not trying to just talk about it but I’m trying to be about it and ensure that our youth are centered in our experiences.
One is to find a candidate or a measure that you believe in and go out and volunteer on it. Two is to pre-register to vote. You don’t need to wait until you’re 18 to register to vote. You can do it early and then it will just automatically happen when you’re 18. I know that’s a pretty basic thing, but we can all get caught up on our lives. It’s easy to just do that early and make sure that you’re there. Three, just make sure you’re informed about what’s going on and informing your family members and everyone else who can vote, because people very much want to listen to people who know what’s going on, and you can be one of those people.
Do you have any closing words or final statement that you want to make?
I think it’s no secret that Oakland faces many real challenges. And I believe that the challenges Oakland is facing are not unique to Oakland. I think that every school district in the state, if they’re not experiencing them yet, will be experiencing them soon and potentially the country. We have a real opportunity to be a model, to make some decisions and get through the hard moment that we’re in now and be on the other side where our students, our families, and our educators are thriving. Where there is joy and learning in school. Where our students are graduating at high rates, especially being A through G eligible. Where we see those disparities in outcomes being decreased and eventually eliminated. And that really excites me. I would be so honored to be doing that on behalf of District 6 and working in partnership with students, with families, with teachers, with educators to be making that happen for Oakland.