After a tough year of school closings, staff shortages and community protests, the Oakland Unified School District board is about to welcome a trio of new members.
Nine candidates competed for three open seats in Tuesday’s election, including in District 2 where retired Oakland educator Jennifer Brouhard won a two-year term by defeating David Kakishiba and Max Orozco.
Brouhard taught at one of the campuses shuttered this year, La Escuelita Elementary, a transitional English-language school for bilingual youth. The district also closed Parker, a K-8 school, which had existed for nearly 100 years.
During the past academic year, the school board made the decision to close, downsize, or merge 11 schools by 2024. These closings sparked outrage from parents, teachers and community members in Oakland. Across the district, community advocates organized hunger strikes, petitions and demonstrations.
Brouhard campaigned on a promise to stop school closures. “I want to build better ties between the school board and the community,” she said. “As a result of these school closures, which were done without any input from the community, a lot of that trust has been broken.”
She also stressed the importance of acknowledging that most school closures occur in primarily Black and Latinx communities. “It’s created a lot of insecurity,” Brouhard said. “That’s why stopping school closures is so important, because those are the communities that are being hit the hardest.”
District 2 candidate platforms
Brouhard also promised voters that she would work to increase teacher salaries and benefits, as well as to improve retention of teachers of color. “Most of our students in the district are students of color, and I think that our teachers need to reflect that as well, and they don’t,” she said.
She said school closures have “never been proven to save money.”
“It’s certainly much easier when you can walk to school in your community,” she said. “I wouldn’t want to put my little kid on a city bus to go to school.”
In addition, she promised to restore trust between the community and the school board. This includes conducting a needs assessments for schools with majority Black and Latinx students and increasing after-school programs.
“For kids that are in difficult housing situations, they’re dealing with a lot of other stuff,” Brouhard said. “Getting that essay in is not a top priority.”
Kakishiba, a former Oakland school board member, campaigned on a promise to focus on “Oakland’s young people,” explaining that “we’re not doing a good job at educating them, and we got to step up our game.”
He emphasized his desire to better organize the school board’s structure and to ensure that students are meeting state-level requirements.
Orozco said he would increase job protection and raise salaries of Oakland educators if elected. He expressed a willingness to consider rescinding school closures and increasing scrutiny on hiring decisions. “We have to pay very close attention that we don’t hire racist people, or people that will not allow our teachers to speak up,” he said. “So those are the things I think will keep our teachers in Oakland. Allowing them to speak, fight for our students, and give them a good salary.”
UPDATE: Nick Resnick (District 4) and Valarie Bachelor (District 6) also won seats on the school board.
Photo purchased from AP Images