Oakland superintendent: District must choose ‘imperfect solutions over strife’

February 20, 2019

Glenview Elementary School classroom in Oakland Unified School District.

At Oakland Unified, we are working hard to come to an agreement with our teachers union.

Kyla Johnson-Trammell

We deeply value our teachers and are committed to supporting all staff. As a former Oakland teacher and principal, I know what it takes to wake up every day and bring your best to the classroom.

I am doing everything in my power as superintendent to move us toward a solution that works for educators and for the fiscal vitality of our entire district.

Last week, we received the fact-finding report that I believe is the basis for returning to the bargaining table.

Today, both parties agreed to meet and further our negotiations. That said, a work stoppage is scheduled to occur tomorrow, February 21.

I know a strike will be difficult for students, staff, and families alike. As a teacher, I was the union representative at Parker Elementary in Oakland, and I was a principal at Sequoia Elementary during the district’s last teacher strike. I know firsthand that strikes are intense and emotional. They put colleagues, friends, and families in tough positions, and test our professional and personal relationships.

I understand the tension of both being in solidarity with striking teachers and having to keep schools open for the students who need a safe place to be. On behalf of the entire Oakland community, I am disappointed and frustrated that we are all in this situation again.

So, how did we get here and how do we work together to chart a new course for our students?

We need to invest our resources in supporting our children and retaining high quality educators. To this end, Oakland Unified’s core priorities of fiscal vitality, organizational resilience and access to quality schools are all deeply interrelated. Our teacher retention issues are, in part, rooted in our financial issues, both underfunding and mismanagement.

The fact that Oakland has more schools per student than any other large California school district prevents us from using our scarce resources efficiently, and makes it more difficult to retain excellent teachers and maintain high-quality schools.

Looking forward, our Fiscal Vitality Plan is focused on improving our financial systems, while our Community of Schools Citywide Plan allows us the opportunity to change where and how we spend money to better serve Oakland’s students with high quality schools in every neighborhood.

It is my hope that in five years Oakland will not be mired in the same repeated conversations that we have been having for decades. We owe our students the courage and candor it takes to engage in productive conflict and choose imperfect solutions over strife. I shared some additional thoughts at a recent Board of Education meeting.

What will it take to really change the course of California education?

At the state level, we owe our students the tenacity, unity, and grace it will take to increase long-term funding for California’s schools. If we continue to underinvest in our students, the same conversations – and lack of results – will plague the educational system in this state for generations.

Fortunately, many in our community and at the state level are committed to bringing about this kind of change. In fact, this week nearly all OUSD principals signed a call to action in solidarity with teachers. On Wednesday morning, 35 principals went to Sacramento to speak directly to legislators and call for increased investment in our teachers and students.

To be clear, we support our teachers and their larger goals: smaller class sizes, higher pay, and more counselors and support staff. We also want more from our state leaders, including a commitment to fully funding education and reforming the system that under invests in schools and progressive leadership — from Gov. Newsom to the Legislature — that finds new solutions to problems that were decades in the making.

And, in the meantime, we have to live within our current financial reality.

We may sit across from each other at the bargaining table, but we are all on the same team. At the end of any strike, friends, colleagues, and families will go back to work, shoulder-to-shoulder supporting students to build wonderful careers and lives for themselves. And in turn, these students will build a brighter future for Oakland and California.

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Dr. Kyla Johnson-Trammell has been superintendent of Oakland Unified School District since July 2017.  For up-to-date district information about the potential strike, visit www.ousd.org/teacherstrike.

The opinions expressed in this commentary represent those of the author. EdSource welcomes diverse points of view on labor disputes in Oakland and elsewhere. If you would like to submit a commentary, please review our guidelines and contact us.

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