Oakland Parent to Schools: ‘Don’t Forget Inner-City Kids’

Oakland Parent to Schools: ‘Don’t Forget Inner-City Kids’

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OAKLAND, Calif. -- Vernetta Woods, whose daughter Zaria is in 10th grade at an Oakland public high school, says that “things haven’t changed that much” since she was a student in the Oakland Unified School District. Schools are still facing a persistent lack of resources, she says, and technology is lagging behind.

“Get these kids some laptops so they can feel like regular people,” says Woods, who adds that high schools need to place more emphasis on preparing kids for college, rather than just the SATs.

But Woods is also concerned that students’ emotional needs are not being met. She thinks all schools need to have licensed therapists available to kids who need help.

Some teachers don’t know how to handle a student who behaves aggressively, she says, or understand that the behavior might be because of violence the student is experiencing outside school.

She says many teachers seem to “fear” the students, and she thinks it’s partially because many of the teachers aren’t from Oakland and haven’t spent a lot of time in the community. “It shouldn’t matter where they’re from, but there’s more of a relationship if they’re from the same area,” she says.

Woods spoke Wednesday at a community roundtable in Oakland, one of about 200 parents and students who attended the forum to share their input with state and local education officials on how money should be spent in Oakland. Organized by The California Endowment as part of its School Success Express Tour, this was the eighth of twelve forums to be held around the state.

Over the next eight years in California, the state’s new Fair School Funding law (also known as the Local Control Funding Formula) will bring nearly $170 million in increased funding to Oakland Unified, where some 80 percent of students are either low income, designated English Learners or foster youth. These high need students are the intended recipients of the additional funding.

And while the law requires individual schools and parents to have more say in how the money will be spent, proposed regulations set ot be heard by the State Board of Education this week interpreting key portions of the law would give districts increased flexibility in how they spend the new funds. Advocates of disadvantaged students say the increased flexibility would come at the cost of ensuring the funds go to the students they are intended for.

“I hope they don’t forget these inner-city kids,” Woods says of school officials making funding decisions. “For some reason the world always seems to forget. These are kids who become loyal, working citizens. Imagine if they had the education.”

“Give them the same benefits as others. That’s something that’s never been done,” she says.

Elizabeth Devora, another parent at the forum, has three children attending schools in the district. Like Woods, her primary concern is making sure that teachers are adequately prepared.

Devora says that at her son’s previous school, she was in frequent communication with his teacher, and the teacher repeatedly told her that her son was doing well. But then when his report card arrived, Devora discovered that he had failed all of his classes.

Devora primarily speaks Spanish and her son’s teacher at the time did not; a translator wasn’t made available, which Devora thinks was part of the problem.

Now, when she asks her son’s teachers what needs to be done, they tell her that her son “needs motivation.” When she asks her son what’s wrong, he says that he wants to be able to play sports. At his current school, Devora says, there’s no athletic program.

She thinks the teachers need to be better prepared with strategies for engaging kids, and the schools need to offer more extracurricular activities. “I don’t want children to have to go through this, my own kids or others,” she says.

Akua Jackson, the executive director of Youth Together, an Oakland-based community organization that advocates for better conditions in schools, is most concerned about the lack of transparency in the way financial decisions are made that affect Oakland Unified. “After so many years of disinvestment, it’s easier to [continue to] disinvest than to figure out how to fix this,” she says of the district’s inadequate resources.

But for her, the community forum is a step in the right direction.

“[It’s] not just experts in a room somewhere,” she said, “but parents and students being engaged.”