Guest Blog by Gary Yee, Former Superintendent of the Oakland Unified School District
On a recent visit to Allendale School, in the heart of East Oakland, I was struck by the visible presence of the Kenneth Rainin Foundation’s investments in infant, preschool and primary education. It brought me back to a visit almost three years ago with Director of Education Strategies & Ventures, Susan True, shortly after I became interim superintendent for the Oakland Public Schools.
Susan stated clearly that the Rainin Foundation had committed to improving education by focusing on the early years, while I had just decided to focus on high school graduation and college and career readiness. She convinced me that I could do both. But I wanted to challenge the Rainin Foundation to choose a spot and commit holistically. That spot was Allendale, and I could see the results three years later.
Principal Charles Miller, who was new to Oakland three years ago, proudly took me to three of the school’s programs that work together in an amazing way!
First, the transitional kindergarten class, taught by veteran educator Nancy Lee, occupied a language-rich classroom with read alouds, songs and students talking with each other, while the teacher and her Rainin Foundation-funded literacy tutor responded to children’s needs, encouraged the children, and asked them questions that helped build their oral language skills.
Then we visited the pre-k, one of the first in the city, which was also alive with activity. Charles explained that having the SEEDS of Learning professional development program for teachers, and the community volunteers for Reading Partners expands the adult interactions for the children, in ways that work well with the teachers’ literacy goals for every student. Charles also proposed that Rainin Foundation fund additional teaching staff to provide more intensive intervention and time for kindergarten teachers to plan, creating layers of tiered support that can reach every child in these classes. Now, teachers are able to identify and have a resource for struggling readers in kindergarten through third grade. The Foundation also funds a full-time Early Common Core Teacher Leader to build the success of transitional kindergarten to first grade children.
Finally, we spent time in an infant and toddler parent group that meets for two hours a day, twice a week. A program of Lotus Bloom, funded through a Rainin Foundation grant, parents and their very young children gain important language development skills in a fun and active group setting. While the infants are the center of attention, it is clear that the adult leaders focus on developing the skills and confidence of parents who come from the many neighborhoods and cultures that surround Allendale.
Charles shared that while only about half of the children will likely come to Allendale as students, he hopes that the influence of both the parents and children will be felt in the school in the coming years. Another piece of this educational mosaic, is the adult literacy class taught by veteran teacher Marilyn Noble—parents gain important English language skills, with the added benefit of daycare for their young children. Imagine Burmese, Mexican, Guatemalan, and Yemeni immigrant parents, and their children, learning not only English, but respect for each other’s culture, in a safe and intentional community of learners!
As I left, I was struck by the importance of leadership. First, the school leadership of the principal, Charles Miller, who could envision all the essential pieces of the educational puzzle and develop an instructional strategy that extended the public school beyond its traditional client to create a full service community school. Second, the strong teaching skills of veteran teachers like Nancy Lee, who are committed to developmentally appropriate instruction with an eye to literacy. And third, the Rainin Foundation’s system leadership in identifying important leverage points for early literacy development for children and parents.
Charles and Susan share the belief—and are proving—that if we support teachers and parents, children will have the relationships and experiences they need to be successful throughout their lives. Indeed, data from 2015-2016 shows big growth in the children’s early language and literacy.
Keep watching Allendale; great things are happening there!
Top photo: Allendale kindergartners with student teacher Elizabeth Waters, a former literacy tutor and soon-to-be teacher at Allendale. Photo credit: Stephanie Secrest.
Former Superintendent, Oakland Unified School District
Gary Yee is an Oakland native with more than 40 years of experience in education, including as a district teacher, principal and assistant superintendent. He served as the Superintendent of the Oakland Unified School District from 2013 to 2014. He began his career in public education in 1973 as a third-grade teacher at Cleveland Elementary School in Oakland. He also was a college-level faculty member and administrator at Holy Names University, Boston College and Oakland’s Merritt College.