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 school closures and restorative justice. Here’s what the candidates had to say about school safety, graduation rates and charter schools.
What ideas do you have to dismantle the school to prison pipeline?
Dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline begins with providing all Oakland’s students with early childhood opportunities by getting to be a competent reader by the third grade, by having a diverse workforce, by having child development, an inclusive curriculum, and a diverse workforce, a workforce that looks like the students. It’s not one thing, there’s not this bad school that we have to go in there and reform. When adult behaviors change, student outcomes will change. The way we’re going to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline is by providing equity, equity, more opportunities, embracing diversity, our instruction should be multicultural and representative of our humanity, it should reflect the contributions of all the diverse life styles and in our in our, in our city. So, yeah, dismantling is important, but it doesn’t happen in high school. It doesn’t happen in middle school. There are elements of dismantling, but it’s all about providing equitable resources for our students and being inclusive.
Partnership, partnership, partnership. One of the things that I pride myself is in being a coalition coordinator. I know that there’s incredible organizations within Oakland and we don’t even have to look any further. We don’t need outside forces. The reality is that Oakland has a very strong community that really has worked really hard from getting, again, what I was saying it was like the George Floyd resolution and, and taking the police out of our schools was a great first great step towards dismantling this school to prison pipeline. But to me, the reality is, if we don’t have to recreate the wheel, we don’t have to, we can rely on some of our community, our organizations, our school community as well, because I believe that this is a topic that the students need to lead and I am going to be an ally in those conversations to ensure that our students are the ones really sharing what they want their district to look like to end the school to prison pipeline, because at the end of the day, they’re the most impacted. We need them at the table, making those decisions and making sure that their voices are part of the overall planning for that. Again, partnerships 100%, with the community, with the students, with our educators as well, and with our families. Our families definitely don’t don’t want to see their children end up in prison. We want to pull them in to ensure that we let them know that this is a an emergency, this is a moment for us to come together. Because everybody tells me as a candidate, again, I’m an organizer, I never really expected to go into politics in this fashion. Everybody asked me ‘why do you want to do this work?’ and I always say it is because I didn’t have people like me growing up that weren’t going to give me the space to really raise how I was feeling as a young person. And as an adult ally, I want to provide that space for our students, and I’m an organizer at heart. So it’s all hands on deck, and people tell me to stay on topic, but I can’t because there’s so many challenges. We don’t have to be the experts of one single thing, but we can do is partner with people who already have established some of that work. So for me, it’s going to be really important to continue to build strong relationships with those community organizations that are doing the work and that have already integrated some of their programs to our schools or have engaged some of our students within their programs. The other thing is the Oakland community just needs more opportunities. And in this campaign trail, I’ve learned so much and I want to share something that I share almost in any interview because I feel like it’s pivotal for our future is, just like we have the army recruiting at our school sites, we need to have our unions be part of that recruitment process or that information sessions because we have incredible union uns in in the Bay Area that do apprenticeships which would allow students to study for free and get a degree, study science, math, chemistry, I mean all these incredible things. I just visited one of our unions and saw their apprenticeship program, and I was just so amazed by the quality of education, I was amazed by the quality of materials that they were using. I was so incredibly amazed by all the things that they had. I thought to myself, why didn’t I go into a union job? Why didn’t I become like a welder or a plumber, I went to school for education. And now I have to pay $400 a month on student loans, when our education could have been free, and been a great union worker with a job that comes with dignity, that comes with respect, that comes with a great pay, that comes with rights, that comes with a union that is going to protect you. We also have got to give our students are an incredible and more robust transition to out of school. What are they going to do? What services can we provide, and how can we open opportunities for our students? That’s really what I want to do.