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Useful Turmoil


A publication of Oakland Serves Vol. 1 Issue 3

USEFUL TURMOIL As we prepare this issue we are waiting, as are most of the recipients of this newsletter, to know who the new Superintendent of Oakland’s schools will be. When Superintendent Antwan Wilson resigned in February, many candidates came forward (15 at last count), and a lively discussion began: should the new superintendent be another outsider with a fresh perspective and new ideas or a strong insider who has worked within the system and knows its problems and its resources well? Would an outsider just move on as rapidly as our past four supervisors have done (4 in 8 years!)? Would an insider be too caught up in the status quo to be able to make the changes needed? There has, however, been a strong emerging consensus on one thing: the choice is now more important than ever. National political changes are clearly pointing to the reduction of federal support for education, even as the current OUSD budget deficit means that the need for external resources is extremely urgent. Public patience with the shockingly low rate of graduation in Oakland (60% as compared to 80% nationally, within California, and even within Alameda County as a whole) has worn very thin. Many fine community partners are working to help the African-American and Latino students who make up a disproportionate percentage of those who drop out, but more emphasis on this problem, inside OUSD, is clearly needed. Where is the woman or man who can bring the smarts and the strengths to use the resources Oakland does have to solve these daunting problems? Who will stay with us til the job is done? It is not the place of Oakland Serves to recommend people for positions in government, but we do know – and can say – that our program can be a very important part of the solution for whomever is chosen. It is a program we recommend to OUSD. We will help set up and monitor pilot programs, working with OUSD leadership, but that’s it. We believe serious improvement can come only when the District itself owns this problem and makes it part of what is after all its mission: to educate all our students and lead them to success. Success in high school means a diploma. The debate going on right now has created a time of turmoil, but it is useful turmoil, thoughtful turmoil. And it has inspired a new responsiveness to our program. In this newsletter we tell you what we – and responsive others – have been doing while the search for leadership proceeds. Please read on.

California Department of Education


NEW RESPONSIVENESS TO THE PROGRAM OF OAKLAND SERVES In recent weeks we have had many positive responses to our effort. Here are some of them: Devon Dillon, Interim Superintendent, Oakland Unified School District, has met with us and endorsed our program. Bernard McCune, Deputy Chief in charge of Post Secondary Readiness, has endorsed our program and helped us begin planning how to put one or two pilot programs in place this fall. David Kakishiba, Chair of the Measure N Commission and Director of the EBAYC (East Bay Asian Youth Center), has endorsed our program and offered his support. Plashan McCune, Co-Principal of McClymonds High School, has met with us to discuss details of arrangements needed to install our pilot program in that school. Once we have sufficient qualified mentors fully cleared, she will arrange for us to meet with the person in charge of matching mentors to students. Roseann Torres, Director of Board of Education, has endorsed our program and offered assistance to us in recruiting more Latino mentors. Celsa Snead, Executive Director for the Mentoring Center and member of the Oakland Serves Board, has offered to help us with mentor recruitment and may make supplemental counseling available at minimal cost to mentors who need help understanding the environment and culture in which a student lives. Last but far from least, eight new persons have signed on to become members of the Oakland Team. They come from many backgrounds and are working in a wide range of jobs: a civil engineer, a computer scientist, a technology director, an apprentice learning how to install fire sprinklers, a specialist in designing complex organizations, an intern doing community outreach for a local university’s school of medicine, a structural engineer who helps entrepreneurs in construction get necessary permits, and a former Marine now studying criminal justice at San Francisco State University. What they all have in common is “a need to give back” and a willingness to get the training and clearances required to do so.


What is Oakland Serves?

Oakland Serves is a volunteer organization working to help the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) decrease the dropout rate in Oakland public high schools. Mission: We work for the adoption of a program by OUSD that will identify high school students who are most at risk of dropping out and provide them with weekly one-on-one academic mentoring, paid internships in the community, the possibility of establishing a college trust fund, a program of motivational speakers, and additional financial aid where most needed. Vision: We envision a world where every high school student graduates from high school and is well prepared for their next phase in life. Values: We strive to include the voices of the community we serve. The needs of the student are always considered first. We respect and value diversity.


NEW INITIATIVES UNDERWAY Facebook: Oakland Serves now has its own Facebook page. Please go to and like our page. Website: Take a new look at our ever-improving website: Read about the Bridge to Graduation. Check out the Library page for easy access to the recent scholarly articles that provide evidence our program is on the right track. Help us build the site’s new page, TOOLS, designed to give resource tips to those who are working with those most needing help to stay in school. It’s okay to name your own group or your own work. Send to New Idea for Where to Try a Pilot Program. The other high school besides McClymonds that is being considered for a pilot program is Skyline: although in a part of Oakland often considered privileged, this school is in trouble. Despite high performance by many of its students (just take a look at its multi-ethnic and high performing leadership club), Skyline’s overall performance record is the lowest of all of Oakland’s public high schools. A full 60% of its students are reading below grade level. We think our mentoring program would help Skyline bring all its students to the top and hope to work with the school in a pilot program adapted to its needs. How Does Health Affect Performance? Michael Shaw, Director of the Office of Urban Male Health in Department of Public Health, Alameda County, is a member of the Oakland Serves Board and is looking for new ways to help: internships and mentor recruitment are on the agenda. What To Do For Teen Agers Who Need Books They Can Read Right Now? Leah Jensen, Teacher and Librarian at McClymonds, has talked to us about Oakland’s need for more books suitable for older students not yet reading at grade level. We are considering a separate fund for that purpose. Meanwhile, see the hi-lo books at for examples of what they need. Pretty impressive. Internships, Please. Now that we see pilot programs in our crystal ball again, we are working on reestablishing arrangements with our supportive contacts at the East Bay College Fund, for college trust funds, and at The Department of Parks and Rec, Peralta Colleges, and Chabot Space and Science Center, for the student internships that are a key part of our program. New Focus on Fundraising. Although we expect OUSD to provide financing for student internships, we do have administrative costs and we do want to contribute as much as we can to the pilot programs. We have begun accepting tax-deductible donations from private sources (See “Donations” button Several Team Members are now exploring likely foundations, making contacts, sending letters of inquiry, and filling out applications. Now that your taxes are done, would you care to help? Send a note to


New Graph To Consider

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Earnings by Education Accessed: April 18, 2017


THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX We are also getting interested in a brand new idea: Finding a way to pay the mentors. Devoted volunteers from the community are and should always be key players in any public school system, and mentoring is a wonderful contribution they can make. But this is a time of difficulty for many citizens, already working more than full time to make ends meet. Long term commitments as volunteers are easier for those who work at home and can shift some hours around, and for those who are retired. Some people work for companies which expect their employees to devote time to public service. College students are also great, although schedules must be expected to change. We can do a lot to help with qualified volunteers Yet Oakland’s need for mentors in the public high schools is very great. Is it reasonable to think that need can be met by volunteers alone? What if volunteering itself could be linked to employment? What if volunteering could be a first step to qualifying for a job? There is a way this could be done. the District would establish a new position, that of Teacher Mentor and the schools would be encouraged by the District to ask for Measure N money to hire such employees. The District might also be able to raise the money elsewhere from donors who like the new idea and its focus on the most at need. Okay, say we have the job and the money to pay for it. What qualifications would you need to apply? Having worked as a volunteer mentor would be a big plus. But what about further certification? What courses or certificates are now being offered in our state universities that are relevant to mentoring? What could reasonably be added? What role would community colleges play? We are beginning to look into this. What do you think? Give us your thoughts by writing


Upcoming Meetings OUSD Board Study Session: Expanding Equitable Access to High Quality Schools 4/24/17, Monday 5:30 PM - 8:00 PM La Escuelita 1050 2nd Ave Oakland, CA 94606

Board of Education Regular Meeting 4/26/2017, Monday Open session starts at 5:00 p.m. Location: Oakland City Hall, City Council Chamber, 3rd Floor For information about Board of Education meetings, including parking information, visit At this important meeting, the Board will discuss budget issues affecting all school sites in light of an anticipated shortfall of at least four million dollars. Also, the Board is expected to announce the choice of the next Superintendent. The selection process has elicited much concern in the community.


Become a Graduation Advocate:

1. Be an O.S. Advocate: take an interest and spread the word to others. 2. Contributing Advocate: provide donor contacts, mention us in your own newsletter, give us an item for this newsletter or for the Library, provide donor contacts, write a check. Donations to Oakland Serves are now tax deductible. You may send checks (or advocate that others do so) to Oakland Serves, P. O. Box 19317, Oakland CA, 94619. Online donations by Credit Card or Paypal is also available on our website. Until it is fully funded, at least 80 percent of all donations received will be set aside for students in our pilot program. 3. Mentor Advocate: Read about being a mentor in the Note the areas of expertise now being particularly sought for participation in a pilot program. Get a background clearance at 4. Team Advocate: No time to mentor during school days? Join the Oakland Serves Team and contribute at the hours that are best for you. Help with recruitment, website and facebook maintenance, newsletter editing, general publicity, legal questions, fundraising, motivational seminars, and visiting city and community leaders to enlist support. Interested in becoming a paid volunteer coordinator or a paid fund-raising director one of these days? Start by working with the Team. Whichever you choose (and you can choose as many as you wish) , write and tell us about yourself. Why does this appeal to you and what would you would like to do? If you choose the Team, how much time might you contribute?

The Oakland Serves Team

Contributions to Newsletter We welcome contributions of about 150 -200 words. Can you tell our readers about a related program that you belong to or lead? Do you have a good tale of a turnaround that you witnessed or lived through? Have you come across an interesting new article or new data focusing on dropouts? Is there something new and relevant going on in the Oakland high school you know best? Send it in


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