After years of financial shortfalls, the Oakland school district climbed most of the way out from under state receivership, improved test scores, hired a dynamic administrator and started the march toward long-term fiscal solvency.
It's a challenging path. Credit Superintendent Tony Smith with developing, after public input, the five-year road map to turn Oakland schools into community programs that integrate academics with essential support for students. At the same time, the district has had too many schools for the declining enrollment it serves.
Unfortunately, needed school closures have become a political flash point, dividing the board and the community and leading to raucous behavior by some trustees.
It's time for elected leaders who will work harmoniously with each other and the superintendent, and, if necessary, disagree respectfully. Consequently, we sought candidates who would set aside individual agendas to work for the common good.
Jody London in District 1: London, currently serving her first term, brings measured temperament and strong policy background. She embraces Smith's plans and appreciates the need to provide quality education to all parts of the city in a fiscally responsible way. In contrast, her opponent, Thearse Pecot, has sued the district over closures.
Jumoke Hinton Hodge in District 3: Hodge, currently serving her first term, backed efforts to restore fiscal discipline to the district while working to strengthen teaching in the poorer neighborhoods of the city. She has two opponents. Richard Fuentes' confrontational approach -- displayed in our meetings -- would not foster cooperation necessary to unify the school board or the community. Benjamin Lang, a former Oakland teacher who now holds an administrative job in the Orinda district, provided no obvious reason why he would be stronger than the incumbent.
Rosie Torres in District 5: An attorney with a daughter in Oakland schools, Torres wants to work toward greater curriculum equity among schools. She supports the general direction the district is moving under Smith's leadership.
In contrast, her opponent, Mike Hutchinson, objects to school closures and was a participant in a protest at the superintendent's home -- a move we consider as inappropriate. It makes us question his judgment.
James Harris in District 7: Harris supports the general direction in which Smith is leading the district, although he, like the two-term incumbent, Alice Spearman, questions some school closures in the flatlands. He says he decided to take on Spearman because "we have to move past divisiveness, anger and protest."
We agree. Spearman has fomented division with her actions, including chest-bumping a man in the audience who had insulted her, insinuating that members of the district had been paid off, and, as she did in her meeting with us, questioning the ethics of staff who provided data with which she didn't agree.
The district needs leaders who will serve as role models for Oakland's children.