Big-picture ideas in the Oakland school district

Discussions are under way for radically changing how things work for Oakland school district employees and the students they serve.

Like a good newspaper lede, the opening line of the human resources paper makes you want to keep on reading -- despite the fact that it's an HR document.

"Current OUSD Human Resource practices are failing children," it begins.

The ideas put forth in the document, which is embedded on the blog, are comprehensive and wide-ranging. They include strengthening relationships with local teacher colleges, creating "career ladders" for teachers, updating antiquated job classifications, and lobbying state lawmakers to make changes in the law with respect to labor rules.

One bullet point suggests that the district "assertively pursue separation for those whose service undermines the success of our children," a topic that's later couched in softer terms, as helping ineffective staff find "future opportunities outside the district."

The special board session to discuss these ideas had a different feel than most, probably because the leaders of four different unions each had 12 minutes to contribute
to the discussion. I posted the video of the meeting on my blog.

You might find it interesting, especially what Morris Tatum, of AFSCME, and Mynette Theard, of SEIU, had to say about the marginalization -- and potential -- of support staff, a topic that rarely surfaces at board meetings.

If you really want to know what's happening with the students, Tatum said, just ask the custodian. "We see the troubles, we see the stuff they get in and help them get out of it," he said.

Both leaders said their members would like to be asked their opinions from time to time, or simply invited to staff meetings. (On the other hand, Tatum said, classified staff are often afraid to pipe up, worried they might lose their jobs.)

Teachers spoke too, about the importance of receiving support from the district and about the different ways in which they assess whether their students are learning.

"This is a step forward, something we have been talking about for a while," Superintendent Tony Smith said at the end of the session. "My commitment is to continue these conversations with you."

If you have a chance to read the six-page document, tell us: What do you think? What ideas jump out to you?

Feb. 15

On Tuesday evening, I'll be speaking on a panel convened by the League of Women Voters about the strategic plan the Oakland school board adopted last year. The event, from 6 to 8 p.m. at Oakland City Hall, is titled, "The Promise and the Challenge."

I've been invited to talk about the role of the community in meeting the plan's goals. It's a good thing I have a few days to do my homework, as the answer isn't clear to me.

What about you? As a parent, neighbor, volunteer, or OUSD employee, do you feel you have a sense of your place in the work outlined in the strategic plan? If so, I'd love to hear what it is -- and how you learned about it.

If you aren't really sure about what the plan is or how you might fit into it, do you have suggestions for the district's leaders about how to spread the word more widely?

By Katy Murphy
Oakland Tribune