There is one election in Oakland this year, for the District 5 school board. With a divided board, the person elected will have the opportunity to cast a deciding vote. With so much at stake, we wanted to hear directly from the candidates so voters and the public can better understand their views and plans for their time in office. Students will be those most affected by the decisions the board makes, so we collected student questions from the Oakland Youth Commission to ask candidates Sasha Ritzie-Hernandez and Jorge Lerma. Look out for future posts on the school-to-prison pipeline, school closures and restorative justice. Here’s what the candidates had to say about school safety and graduation rates.
Why do you think there are a lot of charter schools in District 5, what what do you see as your role in supporting district schools and charter schools?
Honestly, one of the things that I’ve been hearing a lot, and my wife and I were doing the math yesterday. Everybody says that our enrollment keeps declining, but the number of students is pretty sturdy throughout the district. The difference is that we now have charter schools. So we do have a significant amount. I think it was 30%, don’t quote me on that. I don’t remember I think it was like 30% of our students are going into charter schools. We’re crunching numbers right now and one of the things that I want to make sure that I am able to do as a as a board member, and I think that I’m deviating from the question just because I want to say this because it’s important, as far as the charter school question is concerned, it’s like really crunching the numbers, understanding our budget, knowing what exactly what money is given to every school, how is it be spent? That is something that is information that is not as accessible as people may think. One of my one of my priorities will be ensuring that we have a balanced budget, obviously, to support our public schools. I also think that it’s important for us to be transparent about the numbers. I think that we’re not having enough conversations around us losing our students to charter schools. And so long term, the charter school model is not going to be sustainable long term, because we’re seeing that, at least for me from my vantage point, and the way that I am seeing this challenge is if our charter schools do not thrive or do not succeed, all of the students can can always come back to public education. If public schools do not thrive, unfortunately, all of our children cannot go to charter schools, there’s going to be a deficit. So my priority will always be to continue to invest in our public operated schools, focusing on increasing resources, focusing on increasing services, creating genuine, robust community schools is going to be one of the things that I am going to be working on. I am following right now, as I’m doing my homework, following how much money is allocated for community schools in every District 5, school so that I can really focus on supporting them to ensure that that money really shows a more robust way of engaging families, that is going to go towards supporting academic achievement, and that we really have community schools that have all the services that our families needed. So if you ask me, one of the first things that I would do in supporting our public schools, is creating a needs assessment. What do we need? What services do we already have? And what else is needed? I don’t know if that answers some of the question. That is a very heavy question, because there’s a lot of challenges.
My role on the school board is to make sure that all the schools, district or charter, keep to the same standards, and are achieving schools. That all schools develop and use the best practices to instruct their students. That being multidimensional instruction, diverse, inclusive ways and approaches so we’re not just lecturing, or some linear (that means some straight) hands-off kind of approach. That’s my primary job. There’s some requirements overseeing the charter schools in a minimal way. But I will say this, as for the popularity of the charter schools in the community, that’s a community decision. That’s a family decision. If all the schools maintain high academic standards, there’s room for everyone. For those who are in district schools, they will be pleased and those who choose charter public charters, they will be happy. No one is going to be left out. We have room for everyone. This is a time that the city must come together and educate all the children. There’s no one preferred method. I want to see the district schools become the best schools possible so that people want to come to our district schools. But in Oakland, we also have open enrollment and choice that gives the options, the last option goes to the family.