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November 8, 2016 — California General Election
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School Director, Trustee Area 1Oakland Unified School DistrictNovember 8, 2016California General Election

School
November 8, 2016California General Election

Oakland Unified School DistrictSchool Director, Trustee Area 1

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Election Results

  • 100% of precincts reporting (49/49).

About this office

Members establish educational goals and standards, approve curricula and the district’s budget, approve various purchases and renovations, and appoint the superintendent of schools.
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Incumbent
21,746 votes (75.4%)Winning
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  • Ensure that changes I've made to promote community schools, restorative justice, social emotional learning, and equity take hold. This includes building out career pathway programs in our high schools that are linked to careers.
  • Ensure the financial health of the Oakland Unified School District. This includes identifying how Oakland Unified can realize revenue from unused property in order to pay down debt owed to the State from being in receivership 2003-2009.
  • Support emerging work with individual schools that allows them to re-design themselves in order to better meet the needs and desires of neighborhood families.
Profession:Incumbent School Board Director, and Sustainability Coordinator
Sustainability Coordinator, Contra Costa County (2016current)
School Board Director, Oakland Unified School District — Elected position (2009current)
Principal, Jody London Consulting (20052016)
Citizens Bond Oversight Committee, Oakland Unified School District — Appointed position (20062008)
Senior Program Manager, Grueneich Resource Advocates (19982005)
Director, Business Development, Working Assets (19961998)
Advisor to Commissioner, California Public Utilities Commission (19901996)
Columbia University in the City of New York Master of Public Administration, Energy and Environment (1990)
U.C. Berkeley B.A., English, with high honors (1985)
Member, Host Committee, League of Women Voters, Oakland (2011current)
Coordinator, Wetlands Restoration Day, Temple Beth Abraham (2001current)
Board of Directors, Save the Bay (19992008)
Chair, Long Range Planning Committee, Chabot Elementary School PTA (20042008)

I am the proud parent of two children who are in 10th and 12th grades at Oakland Technical High School, after attending our neighborhood elementary and middle schools. I started my work with OUSD in 2005, when my older daughter was in kindergarten, as a parent volunteer with something to offer in the way of school facilities and sustainability. After chairing the $435 million Measure B bond campaign in 2006, serving on the District’s bond oversight committee, and leading my neighborhood school community in working with the School District to design and build a new classroom building and multipurpose room (the first project in the State to receive matching funds for being green-verified), I was asked by the incumbent to run for the School Board in 2008.  I’m proud that I’ve been able to provide leadership to Oakland Unified on issues that include sustainability, green buildings, and energy; race and equity; and financial stability. 

When I joined the Oakland School Board in January 2009, the District was at the tail end of six years of State receivership.  I made very hard decisions during my first term, in the midst of a crippling recession that gutted education budgets.  During that first term, we closed the $40 million structural deficit that had landed us in receivership, adopted the community school district framework, began our emphasis on social emotional learning, and initiated groundbreaking work to focus on student populations that have been historically underserved by the education system, including Latino students and English language learners. I’m pleased to report that this year OUSD caught up on years of back audits, and in July, OUSD regained its credit rating at a very high rate (AAA).

 I’m a leader on the Board, having served as Vice President and President. I’m known for being consistent and reasonable. I do my homework. I’ve authored policies on asset management and involving the community.  I’ve been an advocate for the Central Kitchen project and high school pathways.  In my district, I brokered an agreement over a dispute regarding playing fields that has led to the creation of a practice soccer field next door to the baseball Field of Dreams, and a softball field on the way nearby. I’m proud to have been part of the management team that in 2015, was able to agree on a 14% salary increase for our employees, the largest in many years. 

 In my day job, I have for many years worked in and with State and local government and non-profits on critical policy issues. In June 2016, I joined Contra Costa County as that County’s Sustainability Coordinator, managing implementation of the County’s Climate Action Plan to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. I bring my familiarity with how government operates to my work on the School Board. 

  • Democratic Party
  • Sierra Club
  • Mayor Libby Schaaf
  • Oakland City Councilmember Annie Campbell Washington
  • Senator Loni Hancock
  • Assemblymember Tony Thurmond
  • Oakland School Board President James Harris
  • Assemblymember Tony Thurmond
  • Oakland City Councilmember Dan Kalb
  • Oakland City Councilmember Abel Guillen
  • BWOPA-PAC
  • East Bay Times
  • Asian Pacific American Democratic Caucus of Alameda County
  • Wellstone Democratic Club
  • Planned Parenthood Mar Monte
  • Latino Task Force
  • Alameda County Labor Council
  • Alameda County Building Trades
  • GO Public Schools
  • Oakland Magazine
  • Hundreds of individuals, including educators and parent leaders. See www.votejody.com for complete list.
  • Zarina Ahmad
  • Jessica Cannon
  • Carmelita Reyes
  • Staci Ross Morrison
  • Honorable Ken Rice
  • Honorable David Kakishiba
  • Honorable Gary Yee
  • Honorable Nancy Skinner
1.
School Spending

A recent law made major changes in the way that the state allocates funding to schools.  What will you do to ensure that the public understands your local control formula for school spending and your plan to measure outcomes?

Answer from Jody London:

Oakland Unified has a public process for developing our budget, which occurs starting in the fall with study sessions about budget priorities, and continues throughout the year, culminating in budget adoption in June.  In recent years, we have developed a robust community involvement process in determining our budget priorities, in accordance with the Local Control Funding Formula. Oakland Unified convenes a Local Control and Accountability Plan task force that includes representatives from schools across the City, as well as students, foster youth and their advocates, special education parents, and others. Parents and community members are active members of this task force, which meets regularly.  All communications and meetings are translated.

 

 

1.
School Attendence

Talk about 3 programs or plans you would work on to improve school attendance and reduce suspensions of students for discipline issues.

Answer from Jody London:

Our District, during my time on the School Board, has taken bold steps to interrupt the pattern by which students from certain backgrounds are not well-served by the education system.  This includes changing our policy on suspensions so that students spend more time in the classroom, and using restorative justice across the District.  There is always room for us to improve on these programs, and every year they get better.

Oakland’s African American Male Achievement initiative is making a big difference for African American boys, and is being expanded to serve African American girls and other historically underserved student populations. I support these programs because they can be successfully replicated across the District, and reach individual students. It is challenging when solving systemic problems to remember that we must reach individual students in order to be successful.

 

Recognizing this, I believe we need classrooms that engage students early. We also need to educate parents about the value of education and regular attendance from an early age. Additionally, I support Oakland Unified’s work to develop and implement an equity policy.  I also believe that our ethnic studies policy, which we the Board approved last year, will help make school more relevant for students.

1.
ELL

Large numbers of OUSD students are English Language Learners (ELLs).  How would you help OUSD address the needs of this group of students who are of many different ethnicities/language backgrounds?

 

Answer from Jody London:

Oakland Unified two years adopted an English Language Learner roadmap that is focused on teaching English Language Learners to understand and use academic English proficiently and effectively while at the same time ensuring they have meaningful access to a high quality education and the opportunity to achieve their full academic potential.  Oakland has been successful in reclassifying English Language Learners. We have in the last two years introduced programs specifically focused on long-term English Language Learners. Oakland also has a large number of newcomer students, many of whom speak Spanish. It has been an honor for me to represent Oakland International High School, the first newcomer high school in the City, which now serves 400 students who speak over 30 home languages. Every class at the school is about English language acquisition, in addition to the core topic.  This program is now being replicated within elementary, middle, and high schools across the City.  Over the past three years, Oakland Unified has increased its investment in newcomers by 184%, from $730,000 in 2013-14 to $2.4 million in 2015-2016. 

2.
Students with Disabilities

Currently, a low percentage of Federally mandated services for education of students with disabilities are Federally funded.  As a member of the OUSD Board, how would you work to fund effective special education services without disadvantaging students in regular education?

Answer from Jody London:

Our special needs program needs a new approach. I am cautiously optimistic that shifting the leadership of programs for students with special needs under the Chief Academic Officer, which has occurred this year, will introduce more rigor and standardization. I have made difficult decisions in recent years to change job classifications in the special needs program in order to have instructors and aides with more training for our students, and to create more clearly articulated career paths for our staff.  

 

A key strategy for delivering special education services more effectively will be to provide more special education services in-house, rather than in private placements. We also need to ensure that charter schools are serving a proportionate number of students with special needs, at every level of disability. And, if we can develop a new approach for our special needs program, we may be able to draw Oakland's charter schools back to our Special Education Local Plan Area, or SELPA, rather then take those services from El Dorado County, as most of them do now. 

 

Computer Network Technician
7,096 votes (24.6%)
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  • Making sure that the majority of eligible students in Oakland actually graduate from high school
  • Restoring a sense of unity, trust, and optimism among teachers, parents, and students in the Oakland public school community
  • Recreating “Whole,” “Healthy,” and “Neighborhood” schools for all Oakland students
Profession:Computer Network Technician
Owner, East Bay Computer Services, Inc. - Oakland, CA (2005current)
Co-owner, Network Mechanics, Inc. – Oakland, California (19992005)
Machinist, Caral Manufacturing - Albany, California (19981999)
Project Director, Earth Island Institute – Berkeley, California (19891994)
Project Director, Instituto Nacional de Energía - Managua, Nicaragua — Appointed position (19821985)
Machinist, REHAU Group - Montreal, Quebec (19781979)
San Francisco State University B.A. degree (Phi Beta Kappa) , liberal studies (1998)
Laney College, Oakland, CA A. A. degree, Chinese language studies (1996)
Board Member, Temescal - Telegraph Business Improvement District (2014current)

Don Macleay graduated from a machinist program at a Montreal trade school in Quebec Province and followed that up with welding programs in Vancouver, British Columbia, and “computer numerically controlled” (CNC) training in Oakland, California.  He graduated from Laney College with two A.A. degrees, and received a B.A. degree (Phi Beta Kappa) from San Francisco State University.  He worked as a journeyman machinist for nineteen years in English and French Canada, Mexico, Nicaragua, Italy, Germany, and the United States.  Since 1998 following a work injury he has worked as a computer network technician in Oakand's Temescal District.  As a parent with two sons, he volunteered for decades in the Oakland and Berkeley public schools, while also working with many East Bay political groups and business associations. To prepare for running for OUSD Director, Don Macleay has had a large series of public engagements having previously run for Oakland Mayor in 2010 and for City Council in District #1 in 2012.

  • City Council-member Rebecca Kaplan
  • Oakland Education Association (OEA)
  • Parents United for Public Schools
  • Alameda Labor Council (AFL-CIO)
  • Block By Block Organizing Network
  • Green Party of Alameda County
  • Oakland Justice Coalition (OJC)
  • Susan Schacher
  • Saied Karamooz
  • Orlando Johnson
  • Paul Rosky
  • Sharron Rose
  • Jose Dorado
  • Dan Siegel
1.
School Spending

A recent law made major changes in the way that the state allocates funding to schools.  What will you do to ensure that the public understands your local control formula for school spending and your plan to measure outcomes?

Answer from Don Macleay:

       The local Control Funding Formula requires school districts to involve parents in planning and decision-making regarding local needs as well as in developing Local Control and Accountability Plans.  It admittedly has some positive features.  It is a weighted funding mechanism aimed at low-income, English-learner, and foster home students that comes fortunately at a time of a relative upswing in the state budget.  The implementation of the requirement that funding mechanisms involve the input of the community is of critical importance.  The school board ought to work primarily with parents and other labor/community activists in comprising the LCAP boards, and the much smaller group of charter school lobbyists, members of shadowy non-profits and school administration bureaucrats, should not be allowed to dominate the decision-making process.  If elected to the school board, I will publicize to my constituents when the LCAP boards meet – a vital piece of information that is too often not easy to know.  I will encourage folks to attend and I will hold the LCAP accountable for its decisions. 

1.
School Attendence

Talk about 3 programs or plans you would work on to improve school attendance and reduce suspensions of students for discipline issues.

Answer from Don Macleay:

I would (1) support declaring a special urgent timeframe, something like an emergency period, in which to divert resources to truancy and retention until we have made a major change.  I consider the “failure rate,” the unacceptable number of truants combined with those who have dropped out of school, to be the main challenge facing the OUSD board.  Some of these kids will die in street violence, most will get involved in crime, and all will enter the job market with a strike against them.  If we had to close all kinds of administration offices for a couple months and go visit every family affected, it would be worth it. Another specific change would be to (2) restore a sense of unity, trust, and optimism among teachers, parents, and students.  Parents must be able to trust the schools to really provide a good education and school experience for all the students.  There is a big fear that students who do not have a parent advocating for them will fall between the cracks and that only large problems will be dealt with.  Students, especially black and brown students, do not trust the schools to really care about them. They see, at first hand, the irrelevance of career-based decisions, the neglect of school services, and the avoidance of responsibility.  Students know how schools in the suburbs look like and they get an ugly message that quality schools and facilities are not going to be provided for them.  Finally, (3) school must be made to be a place where students want to be.  I would embrace the idea of recreating traditional “Whole,” “Healthy,” and “Neighborhood” schools”: with art, foreign languages, civics, music, shop and sports at all the city’s schools; with organically grown food in school campus gardens, health education classes, and staff school nurses; and that serve as an anchors for communities with adult education classes, after-school clubs, civic center activities, and public-use auditoriums.   After-school programs that all students could enjoy for free at the play centers, gymnasiums, or in empty classrooms, would improve and foster students' physical health and intellectual development, and play a positive role in keeping students in school. 

Regarding reducing suspensions, the suspension process is being improved by expansion of restorative justice programs.  As one of the founding members of the Police Accountability Coalition, both as an individual and as a member of supporting groups, including the Oakland Justice Coalition, PUEBLO, and the Green Party of Alameda County, I am a long-time advocate of restorative justice programs.  Oakland has admittedly made some headway using restorative justice in order to avoid disciplinary problems resulting in detentions and expulsions or referral of discipline troubles to the police.  But more can be done.  If elected to the school board, I will institutionalize restorative justice practices at every school site, commit to providing restorative justice counselors at every school, and take a closer look at practical restorative justice family-group conference meetings that might help take the process a step further. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1.
ELL

Large numbers of OUSD students are English Language Learners (ELLs).  How would you help OUSD address the needs of this group of students who are of many different ethnicities/language backgrounds?

 

Answer from Don Macleay:

Relevant to my candidacy for the school board are my multicultural background and polyglot skills.  I have been on both ends of bilingual education having raised two Spanish-English bilingual sons here in Oakland and being the product of a French adult education system for my own trade school training as a machinist.  I speak five languages.  In skill-level order they are French, English, Spanish, Italian, German and Mandarin.  I am a strong proponent of bilingual education and I favor  re-creating or bringing back traditional neighborhood schools that offer foreign language instruction, especially Spanish and Chinese, along with civics, music, and shop classes.

 

 

2.
Students with Disabilities

Currently, a low percentage of Federally mandated services for education of students with disabilities are Federally funded.  As a member of the OUSD Board, how would you work to fund effective special education services without disadvantaging students in regular education?

Answer from Don Macleay:

It is imperative that families of children in the special education system be actively and consistently involved in the planning, program development and evaluation of all phases of special education services.  I thus agree with the spirit of letter sent by the Community Advisory Committee (CAC) this past spring to the OUSD board that asked for an affirmation of the school board’s commitment to “community engagement,” namely, to SPED families and staff, for “shared decision making” and pointed out that the scholarly literature has documented that “specialized settings and learning experiences,” rather than random immersion in regular classes, are “essential for many special ed students.”  An additional obligation, that comes to my mind, is that the board owes to the CAC is to make sure that the charter schools perform their fair share of the special education services.  What comes to my heart, however, is a feeling of sadness over the disservice to the special ed students themselves – a damage to them that has resulted over the years from the board’s not including in SPED planning their parents and dedicated faculty who work with them.  To pay for this will involve a re-allocation of central resources.  There ought to be a prioritization of flatland schools to prevent the flight of students out of their respective neighborhoods, not only to the charter schools, but also to the public schools in the lower and upper hills.  Secondly, there should be a rapid reduction in both the number and salaries of highly paid administrators and consultants.  Finally, funds should be prioritized for class-size reductions and lower student-teacher ratios as well as for students with special needs.

             Don Macleay has had a deep and lifelong commitment to education ever since his first job in 1983 as a shop teacher.  Part of why he is a candidate for the OUSD board is admittedly personal because he has a child in the system, and part of it is just a general social commitment.  The conditions of the Oakland schools, namely, the constant loss of teachers, the overwhelming dropout rate, the low graduation rate and the high disparity of results between low income black and brown youth in public education and children of more affluent, usually white, middle class people -- all add up to a crisis that he believes implicates us all and deserves our urgent attention.   It is a crisis that he is more than happy and willing to dedicate himself to help resolve. 

When the “Criminal” Hides Behind “Not Perfect”

Summary

Crime number one in the Oakland Unified School District is to have so many potentially eligible students not graduating from high school.  

Ask public officials in Oakland what their accomplishments are, and you will get a rapid fire list of Soviet-style awards and merit badges.  The problem issues will be articulated and the buzzwords for the “known to work” solutions will get named.  Something they have done will associate their names to “good work” with little discussion of how ineffective the institutions, programs, and non-profits are when looking at the big picture.  

Point this out and you will get the latest cliché on auto play:
“We can’t let the ‘perfect’ hold up the ‘good.” 
But maybe more often, the “not perfect” is really something “criminal”.  Crime number one in the Oakland Unified School District is to have so many kids not finishing high school.  Want to find these kids? You are guaranteed to find at least one of them a day at the courthouse, entering the revolving door of our failed prison and parole system.  Not finishing high school was only part of the trap opening up for them. Prison and becoming a convicted felon is this trap snapping shut.  “Not perfect”?  Well, I can see why a careerist politician would want to call it this.  Back in the real world, where we are prying numbers out of a system that does not want to provide them and does not want to count the dropout kids on their books as failures, we find about half of the Oakland youth who should have a high school degree, don’t have one.  This non-graduate half  is overwhelmingly black and brown youth who are overwhelmingly economically disadvantaged and are on track to have trouble finding good work. Our own OUSD Superintendent tells us that most of them will eventually find themselves arrested.  What I do not see is the urgency, the sense of emergency, the will to do something at the level that might really make a significant difference.  Every year we totally fail hundreds of our young people who will have trouble finding a job and no trouble finding their way to a jail cell.  And what do we hear?  Oh, the test scores are “most improved” and our graduation rate is, if not counting the dropouts, up a few percentage points.  And what about the school-to-prison pipeline?  The same crowd wants some kind of “perfect” solution with a lot of expensive and complicated planning to do something major. The OUSD should declare the situation to be an emergency, transfer lots of people to the task of getting these young people back in school, and accept that such an effort will not be perfect.  What more of an emergency do we need?  Some of these kids will die in street violence, most will get involved in crime, and all will enter the job market with a strike against them.  If we had to close all kinds of administration offices for a couple months and go visit every family affected, it would be worth it.  Seems we are selective about what is called “good enough”.  What is being done now about the failure to stem the dropout rate does not rise to the occasion in my book.  The dropout rate is a crime hiding behind “not perfect” and this crime has some siblings.  There is, first and foremost, the high crime of making school a boring, if not somewhat oppressive, institution with a drudgery of desk work with a misplaced focus on standardized tests and test taking. When coupled with a neglect of the other aspects of school, public education becomes an irrelevant and negative part of being young.  Where did we get the idea that school should not be fun?  Where did we get the idea that by making it possible for all kids to have a chance at college, no kid will get a chance at learning technical skills or Spanish, not to mention learning how our government works, how to apply for a job, how to type, how to use a computer, how to fix a computer, how to drive a car, how to fix a car, how to insure a car, how to get an ID, how to file taxes, how to open a bank account, how to rent an apartment, how to check a circuit breaker, what to do in case of an earthquake, and?, and?, and?  Maybe if school offered more of the things related directly to our real lives, young people might find it useful to study them?  In point of fact, after-school programs that offer projects for the young people to make their own are shown to have improved student participation and lowered dropout rates.  In short, fixing the irrelevant school curriculum problem is part of solving the dropout problem.  It is a crime to call the death of non “core academic” programming just “too bad” and “not perfect” while we spend so much money on test giving, administrative costs, and doubtful building projects.  It is also a crime to overcrowd the classrooms.  More than any other aspect of our public schools, classroom oversize and lack of stable, trained, and sufficient support staff makes day-to-day school a lot less than it ought to be for our students and teachers.  Classroom overcrowding is sluffed off as “well, not perfect” and then we go on as though somehow it is acceptable, or even workable.  Then we start looking at how to judge teachers and whole schools, often using only those test scores, while crippling them with an impossible situation of over twenty-five students per class.  Here is another emergency needing to be declared.  We are in a long-term budget crisis caused by Proposition 13.  Then what is our crisis plan?  Maybe it is the administration that needs to have staff cuts and we should transfer those folks to on-site school jobs?  If we are saddled with a long-term budget crisis, let’s at least choose which crisis to have and where to have it.  Classroom overcrowding subtracts time and resources from the students who need extra help the most, and often causes students who do not have a crisis to get lost between the cracks.  The last crime I will work on today is the crime of shutting down adult education before we had a new system to replace it.  This is a the crime of destroying decades of public investment in a system that served thousands of residents.  This crime was committed because "reality" was a short term budget problem that was solved by doing a long term damage to our educational systems.  Where do people do their high school equivalency prep?  Where do they learn English?  Where do they finish up their diplomas if they did not graduate?  Other districts, if at all.  For the most part, not at all.  The OUSD voted to throw those programs and people to the winds and just take the money.  I don't even see the "good" in trading long term damage for hand to mouth, short term budgeting, but I say a crime was committed against our community when adult ed was killed in 2010.  What do we do otherwise?  I’m not sure what the downside of slashing administrative costs to build back up staff at the schools would be, but I am willing to risk the experiment.  To keep on as though “business as usual” is tolerably good, albeit admittedly “not perfect,” is to accept the unacceptable.     Don Macleay  

"A Time for The Practical in Education"

Summary

Bringing relevancy to classroom instruction means taking the time to modify school curriculums to get students out of their chairs and doing and making things -- activities that will help them grasp the concepts of their core coursework.

 

English, History, Math and Science should all be taught with a foot in the real world. Civics, which deals with matters ranging from the entirety of our public lives, should be required.  Long before the wars between charter and public schools, long before the anti-Mexican "English-Only” propositions, and long before the Christian Right stealth campaigns for school board, another problem had arisen within the U.S. public schools.  Somewhere along the line, teaching things practical or in an applied way was lost and abandoned. If there is one thing that my fellow parents, school teachers and residents all seem to agree upon, it is that the K-12 schools should do a better job of teaching practical life skills and teaching the curriculum in the context of how it would be used in everyday life outside the classroom. Yet we still have a focus on the theoretical side of almost every subject and a day-to-day practice of making students spend a horrible amount of time sitting at a desk getting ready for tests in classes that have one, and only one, real goal:  college preparation.   Ask anyone involved and they will agree that we need to accent the applied, but when it comes to changing the school day, most of what results is an addition of some word problems and maybe an “experiment” or two in lab. Anyone who has gone to trade school can recall the routine of learning based on doing projects. Basic electronics?  We started by building a radio.  >From scratch.  The math, the materials, the science, all come into play when one winds a coil and sets the variables to capture a resonant frequency.  (that means tuning in a station) But project based learning is hardly the only way to be teaching the practical. All across the curriculum there exists possible links from the subjects we supposedly teach to what is going on in the world around us.  History can be linked to the morning news.  Geography, language, and art can be connected to our international place in the world.  Math can take us to electronics, but it can also take us to filling out a tax return or to calculating the actual dollar amount of the percentage of the gate won by a famous prize fighter. For the most part, bringing relevancy to content is not a problem that needs loads of money to fix.  It needs teachers and administrators who are willing to open themselves up to a transformation that would keep the standardized tests from driving our kids back to their desks within the confines of the classroom walls.  Time needs to be taken to modify the curriculum to get students out of their chairs and DOING THINGS and even MAKING THINGS -- activities that will help them grasp the concepts of their core coursework.  The work of curriculum development takes deliberate review of existing projects that have already been designed and learns how to use them effectively.  It is admittedly hard, albeit rewarding, work, and anyone who tells you that there are lots of insurmountable problems is just plain wrong.  Almost any trade or skills training program accomplishes these tasks every day.  There is not much new, just a need for new technology subjects and a sex and race discrimination free environment.  Fortunately, there is already a lot of work being done along these lines.  For a small example see:http://www.ct4me.net/math_resources_3.htm#Math&EverydayLife Some other resources could be found looking for STEM applications to the “real world” of everyday life. It will take some leadership to make this change to how we teach K-12 in Oakland. To be more precise, this is a change back to a past era.  People my age and over remember shop, civics, home economics, and art classes, and much more.  In my child’s charter school we started to reintroduce such things in a small way. The kids benefited from it, and it was a satisfying feeling to see girls using bike repair tools to fix a flat tire and boys using a sewing machine to make a marble bag because we made all students do both.  The kids wanted to add "app coding" and wood shop.  I would like to have us work our way back slowly, starting with small, but fun and practical, projects that every student could do as part of their current course work RIGHT NOW.  The reason for RIGHT NOW is that we are losing too many students for the simple reason that school work is often too abstract and boring.  Too many students believe that school has not been designed with them in mind.  Just ask them.   We need to go back to the days when schools grew plants in milk boxes, did art projects with egg cartons, and pulled classroom discussions from current news events.  One of our biggest problems is that students of every age are not engaged, and when they get older a disastrous number of them drop out. School needs to become more fun.  Students need to feel that they are learning something worthwhile.  In short, school work needs to be relevant to the larger world around them. There was an old word I used among my examples: “civics.” We need to bring back and expand civics.   There are all kinds of matters relating to ordinary citizens and their everyday concerns that should be a study in and of itself.  Most of us remember civics as being where we learned that a state has two senators.  Such basic understanding of our government is badly needed.  Our students and their parents need a better understanding of how our local government works.  As a political candidate for school board I get a lot of questions about what precisely are the functions of the school board.  I would like to see students have some form of civics taught throughout their studies, and once in middle and high school with an eye on preparing them to become good citizens and informed voters.  Schools are locations where students and their parents should be able to register to vote and are often where they do vote.  But participation in civil society entails more than just voting.  We open bank accounts, file taxes, join the military, rent homes, apply for jobs, receive public services, continue our studies, use health care, and insure our homes and cars. Every reader could add something important to this list. No student should leave our schools without a bank account and an ID card.  Civics is where we can make such things happen.  Of all the things I have mentioned here, this one will cost real teacher salaries and the expenditure will be worth it.  More practical education will help us keep students in school. Browbeating the students to be interested in a tedious series of pointless exercises, such as regurgitating on standardized tests some facts that they might use “someday” when they compete for a college entrance that most will never see,  is a recipe for failure and poor classroom discipline, which is way too much of what we have now. Project-based learning, along with electives providing “identifier projects” for the students to work on, have shown themselves to improve overall school results, starting with staying in school.  I promise another blog to talk about this more in depth. 

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