Passing the baton

Twelve years ago we started what is now GO Public Schools with a vision of advocating for schools that prepare every child regardless of skin color, family income, home language, or neighborhood to succeed in our rapidly evolving world. Since then, GO has grown to serve three California communities working to support public education for more than 150,000 children. As you know, last fall, we started planning for me to transition from my staff role with GO. Having helped to build this strong foundation at GO, I am now passing the baton as our CEO.

Twelve years is a long time. My first child — now twelve and a half and a rising 8th grader — was born just months before we came together to found GO. Along the way, my wife, mom, brother, and sister-in-law all taught within Oakland Unified. In 2013, I became an OUSD parent when my daughter started first grade at Montclair Elementary. This work has been, and continues to be, personal to me. And yet, I’m daily aware of the great privilege that my family has and the extraordinary inequities and injustices challenging students and families across our cities.

I’m deeply grateful to the many partners in philanthropy, districts, charters, policy, and politics who have invested in GO and built coalitions with us along the way. GO has been successful in no small part because of its long lists of supporters — donating money and lending their names — to bold campaigns that challenged the status quo. 

Over time, my job at GO has changed significantly — in the beginning I wrote the board watch, set up websites, and designed most meeting agendas. More recently, my role has been coaching and supporting our leaders and teams across the state to build relationships, advocate for change, and navigate diverse local contexts. Our GO staff is fierce and hugely talented. I’ve learned from my teammates, and I’m forever grateful for their determination, creativity, and resilience in pursuing our mission.

While the uncertainty and complexity brought on by the coronavirus pandemic impacted our search for GO’s next CEO, the strength of our team has helped us to navigate what’s next. Thankfully, we continue to see strong interest in the CEO position and plan to re-open our search this fall. I am excited to share that Darcel Sanders, our Chief Operating Officer, is stepping up to serve as Interim CEO.

Darcel is a Central Valley native who has worked on behalf of California’s students and families throughout her career. She got her start in policy as an intern in Congresswoman Barbara Lee’s office before becoming a middle school teacher in Oakland. She transitioned from the classroom in 2012 to work in the California legislature. Most recently, she was the Legislative Director for State Senator Carol Liu before starting down a path to education advocacy and nonprofit management. Darcel knows GO’s people, programs, and operations, having served as our COO since March 2019. I’m confident that with her leadership, the GO team will continue to make a positive impact in the months ahead. I will continue to serve on GO’s boards to support the transition and advise the leadership team as Senior Advisor through the fall. 

Darcel and our teams are committed to playing active roles in our local communities, and at the state level, to ensure that students and families receive the tools and support they need to navigate the complexities of the school year ahead. We also know that the 2020 election season is shaping up to be one of the most critical moments in our country’s history. To that end, GO Public Schools Advocates is engaging their communities to bring more resources to our public schools and to help student-centered leaders run for office and get elected this fall.

As I reflect on my tenure at GO, I am proud of our work and impact. GO has supported or led every revenue measure in Oakland for over a decade — resulting in hundreds of millions of more dollars for relevant career pathways for students, raises for teachers, and more safe and modern facilities. GO’s family leadership model in West Contra Costa and Fresno helps families furthest from power and privilege magnify their power as advocates for their own children, and gain skills and relationships to work together to influence and shape the system — the same public education system that has struggled with racism and ineffectiveness over time, despite good intentions and hard work by many people operating within the system. We’ve also supported educators to get closer to decision-making tables to shape policies and practices that impact their work on behalf of students and families. To date, more than 350 family leaders and educators have participated in our fellowships.

Fundamentally, we’ve made a bet on our communities by increasing transparency and engagement about district decision-making, performance, and student outcomes.  We’ve worked to provide families and educators more avenues to engage and shape policies, budgets, superintendent searches, and school board elections. This work is critical today as educators and district leaders work to address the inequities exacerbated and revealed more fully by the pandemic. Recent examples include: Oakland family survey and demands, West Contra Costa’s budget framework, and Fresno ensuring public information.

As I pass the baton to Darcel and our team, I am also incredibly humbled by how much there is still to do. The urgency GO felt as we began twelve years ago has intensified given the repercussions of the current COVID-19 pandemic. SBAC scores (Fresno, Oakland, West Contra Costa) from the 2018-19 school year (before the pandemic) remind us all that we are, in fact, still far from ensuring all students are receiving high-quality educational opportunities. This is unacceptable, and GO is determined to continue contributing, learning, and partnering to change this reality for students and families throughout California.

2020 has been a challenge for our country, communities, and organization. In March, we closed our offices and pivoted to take our programming and campaigns into a fully digital and virtual space. Our teams have worked tirelessly to convene and advocate around equity issues and provide direct service to families (distributing $500 cash disbursements to 800 families in need in partnership with the Family Independence Initiative).

As our communities prepare for the new school year, the dual pandemics of COVID-19 and racism continue to plague the health, safety, and well-being of millions of Californians. Our privilege is not lost on any of us at GO — privilege to do our helping work, have healthcare and steady paychecks, and work with partners, educators, and family leaders who sacrifice and push day-after-day to create better opportunities for our young people and public schools.

As some of you know, I tested positive for COVID-19 in April. My symptoms developed just as shelter-in-place began in March and persist off and on through today. I’m expected to make a full recovery, and I’m also intimately familiar with the severity of the virus. I share this because I know there are still some in our communities who downplay the virus’s risks. No longer contagious, as I drive around Oakland, I see massive needs for greater awareness and accessibility to masks with so many people moving about without them. As I sign off from this list, I urge everyone to continue to amplify public health messages and support organizations and agencies working to keep our communities healthy. We could not be more interdependent for our collective health than we are today.

Thank you for being in community and service with me. As always, I remain hopeful that the best is yet to come.

With gratitude, 

Jonathan Klein, Co-Founder and CEO

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