Is this who should be shaping the strategic future of our schools?

IT IS TIME for Superintendent Johnson-Trammell to live up to her stated values of TRANSPARENT AND HONEST COMMUNICATION and explain HOW relying on a consultant who is named as a defendant in an alleged immigration controversy, was accused by Black students of ignoring their concerns about racial harassment and of referring students to police for minor infractions, and has a billionaire-backed agenda, is putting students at the center of our Sanctuary District. At a time when OUSD is declaring #BlackLivesMatter and we are on the verge of getting police OUT of our schools, having Dr. Tommy Chang shape our strategic plan for the next three years is totally inappropriate.

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When Superintendent Antwan Wilson resigned and the full scope of the trauma caused by his mismanagement and overspending became clear, Parents United believed that we had a “unique opportunity to learn from the mistakes of the past, and select a new leader who is committed to making a difference in our students’ lives and who will stay in Oakland long enough to see those changes through.”  In the 16 years leading up to that point, OUSD had a revolving door of 9 superintendents, half of which were Broad Academy Graduates, a billionaire-funded institution where churn and burn is a prominent feature. Administrative salaries in OUSD ballooned while students suffered, and the Oakland community demanded a change: a local superintendent who is invested in Oakland and not beholden to billionaire special interests. 

The Black Organizing Project (“BOP”) made clear that OUSD needed to divest from the Broad Academy: 

The Broad Urban Superintendents Academy is financed by the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation.5 Eli is a billionaire real estate developer from Los Angeles who has ambitions to completely “remake” public education. According to an article by the New York Times “His foundation has pumped $144 million into charter schools across the country, is embroiled in a battle to expand the number of charters in his home city, and has issued a handbook on how to close troubled public schools.”6 The corporate interests and consistent ties with OUSD is a cause for concern. Are corporate billionaires, who are interested in how to expand their capital, really concerned about the education of underserved Black and Brown students? The answer is simple. No! We do not need anymore superintendents with corporate connections and affiliations. Oakland students do not need corporate candidates, with corporate aspirations to lead their school district. We need educators and leaders who are truly invested in the success of Oakland students. We need the community. (bolded emphasis added).

The mandate was clear. Center our most vulnerable students. Be inclusive of student and parent voices. Be transparent. Reject the misguided policies of previous administrations which undermined our public schools and failed our students. 

OUSD has too many consultants – according to the Alameda County Grand Jury three times the state average. You would expect, then, that the administration, and the Board of Education, would scrutinize potential consultants to ensure that they are qualified, necessary and in keeping with the values of our district. So WHY has OUSD hired a consultant who was forced to resign from his last Superintendent job just one week after being accused of disclosing student discipline records to local police and ICE, allegedly resulting in at least one student deportation? OUSD is a Sanctuary District [at least regarding immigration – as Black students, BOP, and others have rightfully pointed out in recent weeks, OUSD is not a sanctuary from police terror for our students], and our students deserve to have that value reflected in the people that are hired to shape and execute district policy. 

Buried in the consent agenda for the board meeting on November 13, 2019 was a no-bid contract with Tommy Chang of Chula Vista to provide “support for strategic planning.” The board approved 6 to 0 (with one absence) the consent agenda after retreating to a private room upstairs while the community protested the board’s lack of transparency and responsiveness to their concerns. There was no discussion, no questions by board members, just one vote on all 67 items in the consent agenda.

According to the contract attached to the agenda, Tommy Chang is tasked with:

  • Refining communications
  • Publishing an updated Strategic Plan 
  • Participating in Senior Leadership Team meetings and decision making
  • Making recommendations for potential organizational redesign
  • Driving and refining the Superintendent’s work plan

The “Specific Outcomes” for this contract are identified as follows: “These contractor services will result in a new district strategic plan; augmented and enhanced strategic communications to transparently and effectively engage and communicate with stakeholders about district priorities and direction; increased central office leadership capacity; and recommendations and plans for continued movement toward coherent and effective central office.” The contract is to run from November 1, 2019 through June 30, 2020 for a total amount of $78,000.00.

However, according to documents received pursuant to a Public Records Request  Dr. Chang’s work was already underway on September 5th, 2019, some two months prior to the date of the contract approved by the board. According to that email (which you can read in its entirety below) Superintendent Johnson-Trammell is “working closely” with this consultant to “reshape” the Superintendent’s work plan, provide communication strategy and support the Superintendent in the development of a new 5 year Strategic Plan.

Email obtained via a Public Records Act Request from OUSD:

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The Superintendent provided a partial introduction to this consultant, Dr. Tommy Chang, in the above letter to her Senior Leadership Team, but she left out key details which should be noted:

  1. Tommy Chang is a graduate of the Broad Academy,¹ class of 2014-15 (just a year after former OUSD Superintendent Antwan Wilson).
  2. He is also a member of Chiefs for Change, class of 2016 (again, just a year after former Superintendent Wilson) – Chiefs for Change was founded by Jeb Bush and his Foundation for Educational Excellence – with board member Betsy DeVos.
  3. Dr Chang recently became affiliated with Great Public Schools Now, an organization funded by Eli Broad with the mission of doubling the number of charter schools in LAUSD. 
  4. Dr Chang was the Regional Director for Advocacy and Policy for the California Charter School Association in Southern California before being hand picked by the new Los Angeles Unified School District (“LAUSD”) Superintendent John Deasy (a fellow Broad Academy graduate) to act as his Chief of Staff. Superintendent Deasy was forced to resign in disgrace, followed soon after by the resignation or demotion of most of the high ranking senior staff he had appointed, including Dr. Chang.
  5. Dr Chang was indeed the Superintendent of Boston Public Schools (“BPS”), but he himself was forced to resign halfway through his contract just one week after being named in a lawsuit alleging that BPS had provided student information to ICE – the Federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency – which allegedly resulted in at least one student being deported to El Salvador and threatened hundreds more. Superintendent Johnson-Trammell claims that Dr Chang “shares our collective values” – but documents recently obtained in Boston show that Dr Chang allowed “a greater cooperation between BPS and ICE than Chang had previously admitted” which is most certainly not in line with OUSD’s Sanctuary Policy. The lawsuit is still pending, and Dr Chang has denied any wrongdoing, but it is an affront to our students, and our district’s stated values, that the person who is acting as a shadow Superintendent shaping the future of our Sanctuary District is possibly connected to Trump’s abhorrent anti-immigrant policies.
  6. Dr. Chang has also been criticized for ignoring the concerns of Black students at the elite Boston Latin School, an exclusive “exam” school (meaning you must pass an academic test to attend) with an African American population of just 8% in a district that is 35% Black. Dr Chang stood behind the Principal of Boston Latin who Black students accused of ignoring threats of lynching and racial harrassment which resulted in an investigation by the United States Department of Justice. Dr Chang “cavalierly” refused to reopen an investigation and was not responsive to the concerns of the Black community
  7. In addition, Boston Public Schools under Dr Chang’s leadership routinely forwarded school police reports on students to the Boston Police Department for petty incidents including spray-painting graffiti and multiple times where students were stopped and frisked for weapons, but none were found. This kind of over-policing of our students is something that students, parents and the Black Organizing Project have been concerned about for years.
  8. Parents also accused Superintendent Chang of undermining the needs of students of color, saying that: “choosing to cut $32 million from a budget that serves mostly students of color is institutional racism” and would “widen, rather than close, the achievement gap.” 
  9. Further, he was criticized for not restoring $5 million previously cut to special education for children with autism, emotional impairments and other disabilities. All of this in a budget that Dr Chang said represented the district’s values of “equity, coherence and innovation.”
  10. Dr Chang’s leadership and administrative capabilities were also questioned. After his abrupt departure from Boston, a city official stated that: ““The superintendent had an inability to communicate effectively with families in the district and with his own team,” said Annissa Essaibi-George, a city councilor who heads the education committee and who formerly taught in the city schools. “He wasn’t able to motivate individuals to get the job done” (emphasis added). Concerns about a lack of transparency were also raised. This is who the Superintendent has chosen to mentor her in a time of upheaval and distress in our district, when families and teachers are crying out for transparent and effective communication about school closures: a man who was forced out of his last district because of a lack of transparency and an inability to communicate with families or motivate staff, as well as a history of uncertain leadership. 

So, assuming that we actually need ANOTHER consultant to guide us, is Dr Chang the right person for the job? The answer is a resounding “hell no”. The fact that Dr Chang is credibly accused of providing student incident reports to ICE, putting students at risk of deportation is enough reason to disqualify him. That he has a history of mistrust and over-policing in the African American community is enough. That he was forced to resign and described as “unable to communicate” effectively, not just with families but with members of his own team, and “wasn’t able to motivate people” makes him absolutely unqualified to “coach key leadership members” and bring about “organizational coherence”. That he is a Broad Academy trained disgraced former superintendent is enough. Dr Chang does not represent our values of sanctuary and equity, and he lacks the skills needed to undo years of dysfunction that have led us to this place. Dr. Chang should not be visioning the future of OUSD. 

1. The Broad Academy is funded by real estate billionaire Eli Broad to train superintendents how to run a public school system just like a business, with burn and churn being a prominent feature.

 

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