Published in Oakland Tribune, 5/1/14

By Ebelin Martinez-Linares and Emma Paulino, Oakland Tribune My Word

Oakland’s students have been waiting too long to receive the education they deserve. The dropout rates for African-Americans and Latinos are too high, and the graduation rates are far too low.

Students who graduate aren’t necessarily ready for college or to move into jobs with dignity. We can’t wait any longer. We have waited long enough.

Recently, Oakland Community Organizations and the East Bay Asian Youth Center — two long-standing organizations that have worked together for decades to improve conditions for Oakland youths — led a public meeting involving the Oakland Unified School District to demand that our elected and district leaders create a transformed educational future for the city’s high school students.

At the meeting, we asked some tough questions to our school leaders and our community to affirm our strong commitment to creating real transformation.

At the end, we agreed that school transformation means re-creating the entire school experience. We aren’t talking about incremental changes; they are not enough to create radically improved opportunities and outcomes for our students, especially when only 53 percent of African-American students and only 52 percent of Latino students are graduating from Oakland high schools.

Piecemeal changes are also not enough when, according to the school district, only 63 of the 143 students who graduated from Fremont High School in 2012 had fulfilled A-G requirements, which are supposed to determine who is prepared for college and access to decent jobs.

Our vision of high school transformation includes equitable Linked Learning that ensures structures in which students feel connected and valued and where teachers are supported in developing their practice and have time for collaboration.

Academics also need to be rigorous and relevant, career pathways should include workplace-based learning opportunities, and programs and services need to address the needs of young people.

With the hiring of new Superintendent Antwan Wilson, who has experience with turning around low-performing schools, the school board is making a bold statement that it believes in the community’s vision that high school transformation needs to be a top priority. We applaud the district in taking this step.

We all agree that our top priority right now should be the radical transformation of the lowest-performing schools — a process that should involve parents, students and the community.

In the past, many district leaders have made commitments to involve the community in decisions that affect our schools. However, when it came down to following through on that commitment, the decisions increasingly were made by the central office, rather than people at the school sites who are closest to our kids.

Why then did we pass Proposition 30 and Measure J if the people closest to the problem wouldn’t be involved in reshaping students’ futures? Why did we fight so hard to get the Local Control Funding Formula approved in the state Legislature if we weren’t determined to see real transformation happen? We now have that opportunity with Wilson.

Transformation happens when we have a community-led process that engages parents, students, educators and community in developing a vision that is sustained through shared decision-making and hard work and accountability from all stakeholders.

We can’t continue doing the same thing and expecting different outcomes. We must be on the same page and work as a team if we want to have better results.

Ebelin Martinez-Linares is a ninth grader at Fremont High and a leader with Alternatives In Action. Emma Paulino is a community organizer with Oakland Community Organizations.