Tuesday, January 08, 2019


Dear Superintendent Trammell -
Kyla -
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. 
It is. 
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. 
Yours truly,
David Caven

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hello David,
I'm glad to hear that you took time to rest, rejuvenate and reflect. Time away from work, no matter how fulfilling, always provides greater clarity around why we do what we do.

"Switching personas"--long-time OUSD educator, current OUSD parent of two children and OUSD alumna--helps us all examine the complexity of our current situation from multiple vantage points to envision the best possible solutions that will benefit school communities in the present and near future. Our teachers (and other critical school staff) unequivocally deserve a living wage increase AND our students critical academic and mental health resources so that school conditions allow teachers to attend more fully to the art and science of teaching.

As longstanding OUSD employees, we can both agree that an OUSD career path has been far from painless. The critical steps that lie ahead for us as a school district (agreed, this work would not make anyone green with envy!) boil down to balancing the critical needs of students, working conditions for teachers and school staff, and keeping our eye on the long term stability of our district.

As a beginning teacher, I was directly impacted by the state takeover. I was pink slipped, lost my job at the elementary school where I loved teaching and found myself in Mount Diablo Unified School District until an opportunity opened up for me to return to OUSD, this time as a principal. Upon my return to OUSD, I spent four years as principal of Sequoia under four different state administrators, weathered a potential strike, and directly felt the impact of the constant churn and financial instability of the district--increased upper-grade class sizes, school budget cuts, and painful classified bumping/layoffs. As I'm sure you personally experience on a daily basis,16 years later, we are still trying to find our footing after state receivership and now have the added oversight of the county and state. My goal is to break this deleterious cycle so that we have district stability. Stability is a key ingredient towards realizing success for students, for teachers and school communities.

Despite these severely challenging times, I remain committed and hopeful that we will see our way through this storm and that brighter days are ahead for all of us.

Appreciate you taking the time to reach out, share your story and committing yourself to the students and families of Oakland.


Dr. Kyla Johnson-Trammell