Super Intentions at Oakland Public Schools

05/25/2011 01:35 pm ET

Originally published on, the premier source for youth generated news throughout the globe.

By: Pendarvis Harshaw

With unprecedented budget woes, the state of California broke and the city of Oakland broke-- what can Oakland Unified School District's new superintendent do to fix the city's public schools?

In 2003, the state of California took over the struggling Oakland school district after giving it the biggest California school district bailout ($100 million) in at least 20 years. Last month, control of the schools was finally handed back to the district. Control definitely does not come cheap; the district still owes the state of California $80 million, and will be paying it off in annual increments of $6 million. Into this financial crisis, enters a newly appointed superintendent, Tony Smith.Smith's task as the new superintendent is to aid the comeback of a lackluster school district that graduates fewer than 50 percent of its students. This is compounded by a 6-year-long tug-of-war over control of the school system between the city and the state.

Smith played offensive lineman as an undergraduate at the University of California, Berkeley, but now the new head administrator of the Oakland Unified school district is playing the position of a community quarterback.

The pressure of Smith's role in remaking the district is akin to running a two minute drill with the state championship on the line. But Smith has a game plan. He is bringing together a mixed huddle of community institutions and individuals alike; his theory is simple. If the city of Oakland helps Oakland schools, then the products of Oakland schools will help the city of Oakland. Smith says, "The school itself is a hub of community, and done well, it's a place of welcoming, a place where people feel happy- connected, joyful -- where real learning is happening, both for children and adults, and it's a place of transformation, a place of growth in a city."

Smith said Oakland public schools face the same educational disparities as other public schools in major US cities, like racism, classism, and unequal treatment of those who use English as a second language.

"We have to fundamentally change that system, and I don't think we can change it by changing schools; we have to change relationships in the community, with community members, with other agencies," Smith says.

So far Smith's intentions sound good, but now students will be waiting to see real change for Oakland schools. Will Smith's game plan better Oakland public schools? Or will the state have to intercept control once again? We'll just have to wait and see.

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