by Shani Ealey, Staff Writer
March 2, 2017

The search for the next superintendent for the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) is well underway. Since former OUSD superintendent, Antwan Wilson announced that he would be leaving his role and taking on a new position as chancellor of Washington D.C’s public schools, Oakland community members and leaders have been left wondering where is the true investment in Oakland youth? The search for a new OUSD superintendent brings to light a growing pattern of inefficient and poor city management amongst Oakland’s leaders. And, what appears to be a lack of interest in the future of Oakland which rests in Black and Brown youth. We’ve decided to break down 5 reasons why this search is extremely problematic and harmful to Oakland students.

1. There have been 9 superintendents in the last 16 years.

Yes. That’s right, 9 superintendents in the last 16 years.1 Former OUSD superintendent Antwan Wilson left after serving only 2 ½ years in this role. He has now been replaced by interim OUSD superintendent Devin Dillon. Before Wilson, Gary Yee served as interim superintendent for one year. And in 2013, Tony Smith abruptly left his position as OUSD superintendent after four years.2 What exactly does this mean? It means for the last 16 years OUSD has not had a dedicated superintendent who is truly invested in the improvement and empowerment of Oakland youth, or creating healthy, supportive school climates. Superintendents are responsible for carrying out a vision that empowers and uplifts students throughout their academic career. From hiring quality and diverse educators, counselors, and mentors– to allocating funds for programs and services that directly serve students and parents. This requires planning. This requires follow through. This requires dedication. This requires accountability and stability. You can’t commit to change if you are changing superintendents every two years.

2. Of those 9 superintendents only 2 were born and raised in Oakland.

We really need a superintendent who is invested in Oakland. If they are not from Oakland they should have experience in working in Oakland and a commitment to this community. This can’t just be about another step in their career ladder.  Oakland has a rich history of activism and that should not be seen as something to control or “manage” but as an asset. A superintendent needs to have a respect for the strong advocacy that comes from a community that has too often been ignored, not invested in and told to sit down and be quiet.

3. Between 2003 – 2008, OUSD Was Controlled by State, Not the City, Not the Community

In 2003, Dennis Chaconas, former OUSD superintendent, was fired from his position. Reports state that he was fired as a result of financial mismanagement. According to East Bay Times, OUSD was in debt $35 million to nearly $100 million.3  As a result, the state initiated a five year takeover of OUSD. This means that all of the OUSD superintendents between 2003-2008 were appointed by the state–not the city of Oakland, not the community.4 These state-appointed superintendents did not stay in their positions long. In 2003, Randolph Ward held his position for just 3 years before returning to Los Angeles. Kimberly Statham filled the position after Randolph in 2006, however, left after one year to work in D.C. In 2006 Vincent Matthews became the third state appointed OUSD superintendent. Like Kimberly, Vincent held this position for just one year. With such frequent turnover in leadership, the question becomes how does this serve the youth, their families, and the community? What happens to the 49,000 students within OUSD who feel the impact, directly and indirectly, of superintendents who are not committed or interested in their academic success and empowerment?

4. Of the 9 Superintendents 4 Attended Broad Urban Superintendents Academy

Why exactly is this a problem? Well, let’s break it down. The Broad Urban Superintendents Academy is financed by the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation.5 Eli is a billionaire real estate developer from Los Angeles who has ambitions to completely “remake” public education. According to an article by the New York Times “His foundation has pumped $144 million into charter schools across the country, is embroiled in a battle to expand the number of charters in his home city, and has issued a handbook on how to close troubled public schools.”6 The corporate interests and consistent ties with OUSD is a cause for concern. Are corporate billionaires, who are interested in how to expand their capital, really concerned about the education of underserved Black and Brown students? The answer is simple. No! We do not need anymore superintendents with corporate connections and affiliations. Oakland students do not need corporate candidates, with corporate aspirations to lead their school district. We need educators and leaders who are truly invested in the success of Oakland students. We need the community.

5. Oakland Community is Not Included in the Search & Hiring Process

Since Antwan Wilson’s departure from his position as OUSD superintendent, Devin Dillon, former director of elementary schools in Los Angeles, is now the current interim OUSD superintendent. According to the East Bay Times, the OUSD school board has created an online survey “that will be available until Feb. 17 to engage staff, students and the broader Oakland community in the search process.”7 Once the surveys are complete, the school board has hired a search firm, Leadership Associates to compile the survey results and present it to the school board. This is still not enough. Creating an online survey is not an effective way to engage with the community in the hiring process of the next OUSD superintendent. In fact, an online survey is the exact opposite of meaningful engagement. What we need is a board committee that specifically has the responsibility to engage, interact, and talk to students, parents, families and educators so that the community truly has a say in defining Superintendent hiring criteria and in the interview process.

We Can Act Now!

For the last 16 years, OUSD has suffered from lack of stability, investment, and commitment from OUSD superintendents. We do not want more of the same. We do not need to follow the pattern of hiring people who do not care about Oakland, the people of Oakland, or the future of the Oakland. We do not need corporate superintendents to run our schools. It’s been disastrous. And the revolving door of superintendents is proof of that. We need justice for Oakland’s Black and Brown Students.

Help us fight for a long term, and permanent OUSD superintendent and secure justice for Oakland’s Black and Brown Students!

Demand Justice for Oakland Students Today!

References

  1. “Justice for Oakland Students: Hire Local, Long-term Superintendent” Organize For. 01-2017 http://bit.ly/2knTsOY
  2. “Oakland school superintendent resigns after just over two years on the job” EdSource. 11-22-2016 http://bit.ly/2fopVND
  3. “Oakland school district: Is it better off after the state takeover?” East Bay Times, 07-04-2009 http://bayareane.ws/2mfDJRI
  4. “Oakland School Board Chooses Analyst for Interim Superintendent” The Berkeley Daily Planet, 04-11-2008 http://bit.ly/2mhOgsX
  5. “Oakland District at Heart of Drive to Transform Urban Schools” NY Times, 03-16-2016 http://nyti.ms/2lPFAN7
  6. “Oakland superintendent search: Town hall meeting set for Saturday” The East Bay Times, 02-08-2017 http://bayareane.ws/2lAqwQY
  7. See reference 6.