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Oakland CA School: Amazing Empowerment Transformation

How did this school district begin to change into the new-paradigm?

Comprised of over 38,000 students, Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) is the fourteenth largest school district in California. The challenges faced by OUSD are immense. Serving a high risk population of minorities living in poverty with a third of the students being English Language Learners, Oakland’s students were likely to become victims of drop out, violence, gangs, poor health and even death. Recognizing the risks facing his students, Superintendent Antwan Wilson set to work devising a plan to support students in his community. He developed a Strategic Plan called “Pathways to Excellence”, (www.thrivingstudents.org) where he linked many programs and initiatives to student academic growth such as recruiting high quality talent and career readiness programs. “In addition to these programs, he adopted a Community Schools model and a social and emotional focus that would empower ALL students, regardless of their socio-economic or socio-historical background, to thrive.” 

Community School Model:

“The Community School Vision: A community school is both a place and a set of partnerships between school and community. It has an integrated focus on academics, youth development, family support, health and social services, and community development. Its curriculum emphasizes real-world learning through community problem solving and service. By extending the school day and week, it reaches families and community residents. The community school is uniquely equipped to develop an educated citizenry, to strengthen family and community, and to nurture democracy in the twenty-first century.”

In this model, OUSD provides services for health care needs, emergency services, food, shelter, and personal support for students during and after school hours


Social and Emotional Learning and Leadership Development:

  • Self-Awareness- self-assessment, feeling identification and behavior and belief acceptance
  • Self-Management- regulating emotions, managing stress, self-motivation
  • Social Awareness- empathy, recognizing supports and socio-historical context
  • Relationship Skills- Cooperating, seeking and providing help
  • Responsible Decision Making- evaluating realistic outcomes, forming relationships

Growth and Future Initiatives:

The underlying goal of the Oakland Unified School District is “to build and operate a district that cares for the whole child, eliminates inequity, and provides all students with an excellent teacher each and every day.” Below are indicators of their success in meeting this goal:

  • National Blue Ribbon School Status Achieved
  • In the past two years, OUSD employees have been named California Teachers of the Year
  • 10 sites have been recognized as California Distinguished Schools
  • Between 2011 and 2013, OUSD’s graduation rate improved by 8.1 percent, while the dropout rate fell by 9.0 percent
  • OUSD operates 15 school-based health clinics, the most per capita of any school district in the country
  • Selected to participate in a special initiative by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) to help students manage emotions, achieve positive goals, show empathy for others, maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.
  • Dedicated to attracting, retaining, and rewarding teachers by offering generous benefits and salaries making OUSD an “employer of choice in the Bay Area”


Reflections from Corrie Hill-Price

It is clear that Oakland United School District has reached for empowerment practices out of necessity. Without empowering programs, many Oakland students would become victims of their surroundings.  Community involvement is key to the success of these students. The programs I outlined above directly teach students the skills they need to live W.E.L.L. (Wellness, Empowerment, Leadership, and Living your Legacy) lives. As schools become paired partner with families, community, health care, and philanthropic organizations everyone benefits. The community school model is beneficial to not only high risk populations but for all students. As students become more connected with their community they also develop more ownership and engagement which help shift the whole community into W.E.L.L. citizens. If OUSD can show growth through such adversity what could these programs do for our schools?