In June 2011, the staff of the Oakland Unified School District and the Oakland Board of Education made a covenant with this city: work to create a school district that serves the whole child, eliminates inequity and provides each student with an excellent teacher, every day.

This promise is embodied in our "Community Schools, Thriving Students" vision, a plan to ensure that every student attends a safe, healthy and supportive school and receives high-quality instruction.

Sadly, the conditions to produce these outcomes do not exist for all students. This is unacceptable. If we are to build schools that allow children to thrive, then we must design a compact between schools, communities and teachers where faculty members are not only supported but positioned for success.

This idea is at the heart of an OUSD proposal called "Mutual Matching," which seeks to ensure the best possible fit between teachers and school sites.

We believe this is necessary to guarantee high-quality instruction for every child.

Mutual Matching is about more than credentials and objective qualifications, although these factors are important. It also recognizes that teaching is complex and that schools are unique institutions. Teachers are not fungible, and schools are not interchangeable.

A system that seeks to pair teachers with the right school must be a collaborative one where each party chooses the other.

When successful schools identify faculty members who embrace the priorities, philosophies and culture of the school, it helps:

  • Produce the best possible academic, social and emotional outcomes for Oakland students.

  • Ensure that every student benefits from a high-quality teacher who is well-suited to the school.

  • Strengthen school communities by involving them in the process of building a faculty.

  • Honor and respect teachers as professionals.

  • Provide advance notice of vacancies and reduce the need for notices of potential layoff.

  • Offer greater job flexibility to teachers.

  • Situate teachers at new sites with a minimum of disruption.

  • Increase job satisfaction.

    The justification for our proposed matching process is simple: Research and personal experience show that people function best in relationships that offer shared benefit and the conditions required for successful partnership.

    The details are more complicated, but the need is clear.

    OUSD has improved more than any other urban district in California during the past seven years, yet we're not moving fast enough to meet the needs of all children. We must abandon our nostalgia for practices unsuited to the current challenge.

    The time to act is now.

    Esteemed philosopher, historian and mathematician Bertrand Russell said, "It is because modern education is so seldom inspired by a great hope that it so seldom achieves great results. The wish to preserve the past, rather than the hope of creating the future, dominates the minds of those who control the teaching of the young."

    We can no longer chain ourselves to a past that has produced an inadequate present and a profoundly uncertain future. We must replace systems that create dysfunction and inequity with a collaborative model that emphasizes partnership in the service of children.

    Mutual Matching is a step forward on this path, and we ask the community to join us as we seek to fulfill the terms of our covenant.

    To learn more about Mutual Matching, visit www.thrivingstudents.org.

    Tony Smith is superintendent of the Oakland Unified School District.