OAKLAND -- Normally, Oakland principals and administrators prepare for the new school year by poring over binders of data and listening to motivational speakers.
This time, they took a break from the numbers and boarded a bus.
Stops during Monday's neighborhood tours included schools, public housing developments, food banks and historical points of interest in each of three regions -- West Oakland, Fruitvale and further East Oakland. Along the way, residents told the groups something about their corner of the city.
The event bore the stamp of the Oakland school district's creative and media-savvy administration -- and not just for publicity purposes, although the West Oakland tour alone drew attention from at least three news outlets.
Superintendent Tony Smith has frequently spoken about the need for "full-service community schools" -- hubs that are fully plugged into the neighborhood and its assets, places to give children and their families what they need to thrive. His staff have posted those ideas online.
The tour offered tangible evidence of that vision taking shape.
"Typically, I work in the office," said Karen Bullocks, office manager for Region I, which includes West Oakland, North Oakland and Montclair, as she walked along Eighth Street in West Oakland. "Having the opportunity to do this tour and come out and see our neighborhood and see our schools like this really gives me a better understanding of what we're attempting to do."
Kimi Kean, a former principal of ACORN Woodland Elementary School, now supervises Region 3, which includes a wide swath of East Oakland from the hills to the flatlands. Kean said one of her groups stopped at a grocery store near Brookfield Elementary School, a poor neighborhood along Interstate 880 near Oakland Coliseum. The owner said he was worried about children dashing across the street and that pedestrian safety measures were badly needed to keep them safe; he said he'd help.
The principals in Kean's group were so moved by the experience, she said, that some are already planning to replicate the tour with teachers. Schools open Monday.
"We just get so hunkered down, working hard, we forget we need to get out and be part of the larger community if we really want to transform our kids' life outcomes," Kean said.
Smith split the three regions to correspond with those of other agencies, such as the Oakland Police Department and the Alameda County Public Health Department, district spokesman Troy Flint said. Smith's plan was designed to make it easier to coordinate with those agencies, and for principals of all levels -- from preschool through high school -- to work more closely together.
Smith announced Monday that he had raised $500,000 for his plan, which includes hiring a Cabinet-level administrator charged with improving the achievement of African-American boys.
After the bus tour, the superintendent addressed school leaders on the McClymonds high school campus.
"There's nobody more powerful in shaping the life of a school and the center of the community than the people in this room," Smith said. "The power that you possess, what you bring everyday, is going to shape realities for children for families for communities, and we're going to try to be a better organization to support you."
"It's going to keep getting better," he promised. "We're not there yet."
Read Katy Murphy's Oakland schools blog at www.ibabuzz.com/education.
The first day of school for Oakland's public schools will be Aug. 30. On Saturday, the school district, mayor's office and Oakland Natives Give Back will hold a rally from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. at Oakland City Hall. Registration is required. For more information and to register, visit http://backtoschoolrally2010.eventbrite.com.