Hey Oakland, Let’s Bring the Excitement Back to Mack

I just want to bring the excitement back to Mack. I want it to be a place we’re all proud of.

McClymonds High School is the place where I, and so much of my family, attended, and graduated. It’s also a place where too few kids graduate today.

Together, we—families, teachers, the district, community folks and activists like me—have a plan to change that. It’ll take all of us working together. And it’s going to take a lot of work.

On June 15, we started the foundation of that work at McClymonds.

It’s painfully clear that change is needed. According to data from the 2014-2015 school year, 4 in 10 students from McClymonds don’t graduate.

Even more concerning is that fewer than 35 students out of 286 met the standards on the 2014-2015 Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium tests for English, the new statewide measure for academic success. And fewer than 12 met the standard in math.

Our kids need us to do better.

Yet for as long as many of us can remember, the conversation between parents like me and the district has been either nonexistent or broken. But on June 15, we had a different kind of conversation.

After months of research and meetings with the Oakland Unified School District, myself and other families of past and current McClymonds students held a community action meeting on June 15 in the cafeteria of my alma mater.

For the first time that I can remember, we had a productive meeting with the district and close to 100 members of the West Oakland community were focused solely on our children and solutions that will help them now and in the future.

We shared how deeply McClymonds means to us, and how we want that same feeling to be a part of our kids’ memories of Mack. We voiced our concerns about the current state of not just McClymonds but a majority of our schools in Oakland. And we asked to be a larger part in helping to achieve quality and equity for our kids.

To be clear, a better conversation isn’t an outcome, it’s a starting point. But we now have a path to change McClymonds that will truly take into account what our community is asking for.

Our kids need a place that cares about them. We need teachers and school staff that are dedicated to our kids succeeding. We need investment from the teachers, from the district, and from the community.

What we’re asking for isn’t complicated and it isn’t hard to deliver. We want the same thing that every family wants — a safe place with caring teachers and staff that know and build relationships with our kids. We want our kids to have the same options and experiences available to kids who happen to live in a perceived better zip code. As I said, we want stable and skilled teachers and staff that invest in our children. We want our children prepared and supported for life beyond McClymonds. We need it.

As a member of United Families Building Community (UFBC), a family-led group working to improve the education for our kids, I got involved because I know we as a community need to do more for our current and future kids at McClymonds. We are learning how to advocate for our kids. The work takes time and practice. I have invested nearly a decade to this work, not only at McClymonds but in my West Oakland community. As a community organizer, I know firsthand how important community voice and involvement is in creating change.

I work with GO and want to thank them for supporting us, UFBC, in the McClymonds work. GO’s support in helping us find our voice was a key to our start. With GO’s support we are on the path to enact the change we want in our public schools.

For the last year, it was a small group working on changes to improve the student success at McClymonds. We appreciate and applaud the progress made but we also know that families need to have ownership and a voice in the process. And again, we voiced our concerns at the meeting on June 15.

UFBC spent months talking with over 300 individual community members about what they wanted at McClymonds. We knocked over 400 doors in West Oakland. We listened to 10% of McClymonds’ students and close to half of the staff at Mack. We learned that a successful redesign has:

  • A strong leader experienced in redesign and working with families
  • An inclusive design team known and trusted by the community
  • A design team willing to learn from other successful models
  • Trust built through community engagement
  • Teachers who feel a part of the process and have bought into the new model

We did not ask to stop the redesign. We asked for an additional year so that we receive the same things that other successful high schools in and outside Oakland have. We need a design team that includes families, students, educators, and community members working together for our students.

We need teachers that want to be at McClymonds. To do that we need OUSD and the union to work together so that Mack can attract and retain quality teachers. We need the freedom to have a say in our own staff and to have teachers, principals, counselors, and school workers that share the same vision. Those teachers need the freedom to tailor and offer course that not only appeal to our kids but also prepare them for life, college, and beyond.

I want this for McClymonds because Mack isn’t like family to me. It is family. It is a family that includes an NBA Hall of Famer (Bill Russell), an MLB Hall of Famer (Frank Robinson), former mayors, entertainers, and a long line of my family.

Not only am I a graduate of McClymonds (shout out to class of 1984), but my kids are graduates, my uncles, aunties, and grandparents all graduated from Mack. Someday, I hope my grandkids graduate from Mack.

As a parent, and concerned community member, I have seen these things work in other schools and I know we can make them work at McClymonds.

So let’s bring the excitement back to Mack. And let’s do it together. Our kids are counting on us.

Annette Miller is a 1984 McClymonds high school graduate, as well as a parent, a founding member of United Families Building Community, and a GO community organizer.

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