Keeping students at the center in uncertain times

It’s overwhelming to reflect back on the events of the final semester of the 2019-20 school year: a global pandemic, shelter-in-place orders, school closures, the start of an economic recession, and — most recently — national protests and displays of solidarity calling for an end to the flagrant and longstanding injustices endured within Black communities. 

The events of the past few months have laid bare the disparities across our systems and reinforced the need for dramatic change. Already we are seeing district leaders and elected officials make calls to dismantle the district’s police department in Oakland and to terminate contracts with local police departments for school resource officers and campus police in West Contra Costa. But more must be done to rethink and reshape the path to resources, safety, opportunity, and power in our Black and other underserved communities.

We are unapologetic about keeping students at the center of everything we do, and with so much unknown about the year ahead, we will be fighting more than ever to keep decision-making focused on the needs of children. This means advocating to keep impending budget cuts as far away from students and classrooms as possible, calling on our leaders to address the many challenges of distance learning as they prepare for a new school year, and ensuring that families have a clear avenue to inform policies and practices that have a direct impact on their children’s lives.

As the month of June winds down, I invite you to read more about how our teams in Oakland, West Contra Costa, and Fresno are meeting the moment during this unprecedented year and how they are preparing for the road ahead. I remain grateful for their unwavering commitment to serve the communities we call home, and for the support and partnership you all continue to provide year after year.

In community, 

Jonathan Klein, Co-Founder and CEO

Partnering to Support Families In Need

At GO, we have always worked to ensure that every child has access to a high quality education. However, we also recognize that driving towards system-level change does not always meet the more immediate needs of our underserved families, especially during a pandemic. Many of the families in our networks shared that the extended closures have led to lost wages and layoffs, and that even with parts of California now re-opening, they remain concerned about their family’s financial health. To that end, we partnered with the Family Independence Initiative to provide direct financial relief to families in need. In total, our teams helped distribute over $370,000 of unrestricted dollars to families across our local networks over the last few weeks.

The work to address community needs didn’t stop there. In addition to helping families access direct aid, GO West Contra Costa also worked with local technology companies and district staff to provide 1,000 families with hotspots and internet access. The team then partnered with the Oakland-based Numi Foundation to get bags of fresh produce delivered weekly to over 110 local families.

Bringing Communities Together to Inform the 2020-21 School Year

There are a great deal of unanswered questions about what school will look like this fall, but our teams are determined to see that our schools avoid falling back into the “business as usual” mentality that has led to poor fiscal management practices, lackluster community engagement, and — most critically — chronic opportunity gaps for our young people. 

With discussions about the 2020-21 school year in full swing, our teams are actively engaging their respective communities to hear what’s top of mind for students, parents, and educators when thinking about the next school year, and planning their advocacy around how to ensure these voices and perspectives inform decision-making.

In Oakland…

There are many decisions to be made in the upcoming months about when and how to safely reopen schools. And, with much to factor into each decision, GO Oakland stands firm in their belief that family voices must play an integral role in the process. 

To that end, GO Oakland launched the #SchoolAfterCOVID community survey last month in partnership with the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) as an opportunity for families to give feedback about their distance learning experiences and share their hopes and priorities for the year ahead. The team also partnered with several local organizations to broaden community outreach and ensure a representative survey. Their efforts paid off — more than 4,500 families across Oakland completed the #SchoolAfterCOVID survey in five languages. 

GO Oakland plans to publicly release the results of the #SchoolAfterCOVID survey at the end of the month. The team is also hosting a number of virtual community sessions this week and next to share the survey results and gather feedback that will help inform their advocacy efforts for the upcoming year; more than 100 Oakland families have already signed up to be part of these online discussions.

In West Contra Costa…

In one of GO West Contra Costa’s recent communications, the team called on West Contra Costa’s leaders to move out of rapid response mode and to start planning for the 2020-21 school year by creating a clear and courageous vision centered on student success. The piece elevated distance learning concerns from GO West Contra Costa’s parent network and identified four key elements to incorporate into next year’s vision: clarity on the “floor” of instruction, a robust plan for student assessments, integration between the district’s budget and academic goals, and authentic family engagement. These four focal areas will serve as the foundation for GO West Contra Costa’s advocacy work this fall. 

Looking ahead, GO West Contra Costa will also be working to support parents as they navigate an uncertain year with limited summer learning opportunities, little to no data, and imminent budget cuts. The team has already worked to secure summer school spots for 482 children — who wouldn’t otherwise have access to summer support — in partnership with the Springboard Collaborative and other community organizations. West Contra Costa parents can then expect to receive parent conference coaching and leadership development opportunities through the Family Leaders Program (FLP) starting this fall. The team has moved the FLP Core Program entirely online for the foreseeable future. Maribel Lopez, GO West Contra Costa’s Director of Community Leadership, condensed the five-week program into eight hours of online instruction and five live Zoom office hours that cover topics like school governance, data analysis, organizing and advocacy. The first online cohort is expected to graduate by the end of next week. 

In Fresno…

For weeks now, the GO Fresno team has seen the level of concern rise within their network around Fresno Unified’s budget outlook for the coming years. The fears of many were validated when, during a special meeting held on June 4, Fresno Unified’s Board of Trustees previewed the district’s current financial situation and discussed potential ways to go about cutting millions of dollars from the district’s budget over the next three years. 

In response to the district’s financial reality, the GO Fresno team convened community members to discuss the current economic recession and its potential effects on programs and services that support Fresno’s most vulnerable students. After a brief presentation from GO Fresno’s Executive Director, Mike Espinoza, attendees shared their concerns and wishes for Fresno’s public schools during this period of economic instability, particularly around how district leaders must involve the community as they finalize their plans for multi-year budget cuts. The meetings ended with 50 Black and Latino parents, educators, and allies committed to ensuring that community voices would heavily inform the district’s decision-making process.

Moving forward, GO Fresno will continue to champion transparency and community accountability, and unapologetically demand that Fresno’s leaders dismantle oppressive structures that limit access and opportunity for communities of color; and instead adopt policies and budget priorities that move the needle for the children who need it most.

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