As I write this, I savoring those last few moments before winter break concludes. Like so many of us in the Oakland Unified School District, I am collecting my breath as I preKapare to launch back into a new year of working with and for the students and families of Oakland.
I know you can relate. I can also confess that I am using this somewhat odd and interesting connection between us to speak directly to you about our work. I have never had a personal relationship with any of the other superintendents for whom I have worked in twenty-two years with the district. I have met, shaken hands and showed my school off to any of those who made their way to our doors. In the case of Gary Yee, I was lucky enough to make a connection that became more than professional, and I have appreciated that bond over the years, providing us both with insight and understanding about the challenges of working for Oakland Unified.
You were my son's elementary school principal. Back in the day, I would sometimes ride from my school to my son's, switching personas from teacher to dad's club member. I remember being relieved when you came along to fill the void left by Kathy Maloney. Like all parents, I hoped for consistency in my son's progress through school. Like all teachers, I hope to provide that same consistency by sticking with the school where I work for as long as I can be effective.
I can't say that every teacher at Horace Mann has felt that same commitment. This is largely because of the nature of teacher retention. The challenges felt in schools like Horace Mann are not unique, but for young teachers starting out, the prospect of trying to make a living wage in the Bay Area is daunting to say the least. Feeling valued not just in respect but in salary is never the reason that any good teacher would stay in education, but it certainly makes a difference at the end of a tough week. Or semester. Or year.
As I write this, the potential of a strike looms over our district, and I know that you are juggling facts and figures that require you to make tough decisions. i am sure we agree that given the clear option of raising teachers' salaries or lowering class sizes in a fiscally stable district there would be little discussion. We find ourselves working with what others have given us. The OUSD legacy is both a proud and twisted one, full of contradictions and loose ends. I do not envy your position as you attempt to tie some of those together.
But I am asking, as a dad of a Sequoia student and a graduate of Oakland Tech, as well as a veteran teacher who has spent his entire career at one school to consider the chances of making good on the promise that Oakland Unified has to offer. Our amazing and diverse student population is mirrored by a workforce every bit as diverse. Oakland deserves to raise and maintain a staff of amazing teachers, committed to their jobs and their kids, who will hopefully raise and send their kids to public schools just like I did. And not have to wonder if they are doing the right thing.
I know that none of this comes as news, exactly, but I wanted to share it with you because we have traveled many miles on the same road over the years. I would feel honored to be able to encourage others to join us.