two students sit at a table practicing letterforms. the student on the right is smiling at the camera.

Photo courtesy of Education for Change.

Kindergarten students practice handwriting at Learning Without Limits.

Nurturing Confident, Capable, Joyful Learners

Literacy is a powerful key that opens doors to knowledge and possibility. The Kenneth Rainin Foundation believes that all Oakland children should have the literacy skills to communicate, learn and thrive by third grade. In 2023, Foundation grantees centered families and communities, mentored educators and embraced evidenced-based practices to help children become confident, capable and joyful learners.

In September, the Rainin Foundation welcomed Education Program Officer, Nicole Kendrick. Nicole brings a deep commitment to early childhood education and is driven to remove barriers contributing to inequitable outcomes for underserved students. Under the leadership of Dana Cilono, our Education Team continued to invest in community-led solutions that support all Oakland children learning.

“Our Education grantees and community partners hold vital insights to advancing equitable literacy solutions in Oakland.”

Shelley Trott, Chief Program Officer

two people stand closely and smile at the camera. The person on the right is holding a Literacy Liberator Fellowship certificate

Photo courtesy of The Oakland Reach.

Bredejah Houston (right) receives a Literacy Liberator Fellowship certificate from The Oakland Reach’s Jessica Fyles. The Oakland Reach has trained nearly 200 tutors to support 5,500 students across 38 schools in Oakland Unified School District.

Valuing And Engaging Families  

Families bring essential knowledge, abilities and aspirations that are fundamental to children’s education. Oakland’s Black- and Brown-led advocacy organizations are models for how families enhance literacy instruction and learning in schools. The Oakland REACH trained parents and caregivers to become Literacy Liberators and provide high-dosage tutoring to students in Oakland Unified School District (OUSD). This approach is accelerating student learning. 3Ls Academy engages families in every level of their programmatic work. In four schools in Oakland’s Sobrante Park, their Lit Lab Academy programs are improving instruction and student outcomes through family and neighbor partnerships, targeted after-school interventions and professional development.

The more the children know you and trust you, the more they’re willing to engage in what you’re trying to teach them.” 

Susana Aguilar, one of The Oakland REACH’s Literacy Liberators, as quoted in the 74 million.

GRANTEE REFLECTION Families Need Champions And Co-Conspirators
a group of 16 people, many holding paper certificates and smiling under an arc of balloons

Photo courtesy of Families in Action.

ASCEND school leaders celebrate with parents at a Literacy Leadership Institute graduation ceremony. Through coalition building, individual coaching, education campaigns and their signature leadership institutes, Families in Action is increasing equity and access to quality education.

Building Trusting Relationships

Our grantees are redefining what’s possible when families are seen and supported as leaders. High Expectations addresses biases and creates a school culture where all families feel welcomed and valued by teachers. Our funding supported capacity building opportunities to strengthen those relationships and help families use data to advocate for high-quality education. First-time grantee Families in Action elevates families’ aspirations for their children and helps schools become better partners with them. Their signature Family Literacy Leadership Institute brings parents and teachers together to build trust and mutuality. Families also gain visibility and knowledge about the classroom by observing teachers and assessing if they are meeting standards.

More equity will come about when we stop working on behalf of our families and instead work with our families.

Kimi Kean, founder and Executive Director, Families in Action

group of people with large toothy smiles, face the camera with arms wrapped around each other's backs

Photo credit: Darius Riley

Lead Liberated works with Oakland Unified School District, Education For Change and Aspire schools to implement equitable anti-racist practices through coaching and training for leaders and educators.

Cultivating A Healthy Environment For Teachers And Students

Retaining the adults who teach our children is necessary for student achievement. Our grantees were important partners in cultivating supportive school cultures and learning environments, and sustaining the mental health of teachers. The Teaching Well improves educator retention by promoting human-centered policies and facilitating decolonized trauma healing at seven Oakland schools. Their equity-centered approach helps foster self and collective wellness, which in turn improves child learning. Oakland Starting Smart and Strong nurtures a supportive and professional learning community for early care providers through the Early Learning Symposium along with trainings and facilitated conversations.

Early childhood educators hunger for spaces where they can be in community to learn with and from each other. Being seen and heard is really powerful.

Dana Cilono, Director, Education Strategy & Ventures

ten students wearing bright blue headphones look at laptops while seated at long tables in a classroom.

Photo courtesy of Ignite! Reading.

Ignite! Reading provides students with virtual, one-on-one tutoring in the classroom.

Embracing Evidence-Based Practices

Grantees are working together to provide equitable access to proven practices that are grounded in the science of reading. Literacy advocate FULCRUM partnered with Ignite! Reading to bring highly trained virtual tutors to more Oakland students. Tutors provide 15 minutes of daily instruction, which is doubling students’ expected reading growth. The program is easy for teachers to implement and helps relieve urgent staffing challenges at schools.

FluentSeeds also partnered with Oakland Unified School District, Education for Change and The Oakland Reach to boost literacy outcomes through their signature coaching and training in evidence-based instruction. Pre-kindergarten through second grade teachers, tutors and childcare providers learned how to deepen students’ foundational literacy skills. FluentSeeds enhanced its proven Response to Intervention infrastructure to measure the impact of their literacy interventions. They confirmed that educators from nontraditional pathways, such as community-based certification or mentorship programs, can be as effective as credentialed teachers. FluentSeeds shows us how students benefit when an evidence-based program is intentional about implementation, data collection and capacity-building.

“…School systems rely on untrue narratives to excuse abysmal literacy results, especially for Black and Brown kids. Our program is evidence that when given equitable access to consistent, high-quality, evidence-based instruction, kids can learn to read at high levels of achievement.”

Jessica Reid Sliwerski, Founder, Ignite! Reading

Three children hold age-appropriate books while smiling toward the camera. In the background is a playground and a school building

Photo courtesy of Oakland Literacy Coalition.

Oakland Literacy Coalition distributes high quality, culturally affirming books through the Eat. Learn. Play. Bus.

Strengthening And Aligning The Literacy Ecosystem

Supporting students to become confident, capable readers also requires an interdependent mix of partners working in concert to address varied needs. Our grantees’ work illustrates the promise of strengthening and aligning the early learning ecosystem. Steeped in a deep understanding of Oakland’s literacy gaps and the science of reading, FULCRUM works relentlessly to promote evidence-based instruction. Their presentations and conversations are inspiring a movement of state and school system leaders, educators, community organizations and parents to advocate for proven practices that teach children to read.

The Oakland Literacy Coalition is critical to citywide literacy collaborations, ensuring that literacy efforts work synergistically and are aligned to the science of reading. Our funding supported the development of their three-year strategic roadmap, which aims to strengthen the literacy ecosystem and enable the conditions for all students to learn and grow.

To build a literacy ecosystem that supports multilingual learners, the Foundation joined other funders in the Emerging Bilingual Collaborative. In California, 60% of children from birth to five years old and 19% of K-12 students are multilingual learners. Our grant contributes to a pooled fund to drive multilingual priorities supporting students, families and educators across three geographic areas of California, including Oakland.

“In Oakland, literacy isn’t just a word; it’s a force that shapes the future.”

Cassie Perham and Sanam Jorjani, Co-Executive Directors, Oakland Literacy Coalition

a teacher smiles while working with two elementary age students at a small table.

Photo courtesy of Education For Change.

Kindergarten Teacher Ms. Renton leads small group instruction. By partnering with FluentSeeds and family-serving organizations, Education for Change is a model for how to surround children with literacy support.

Listening And Learning

When our relationships with grantees are grounded in trust, interdependence and solidarity, we shift power to the communities we serve. We improved our grantmaking practices to reduce burdens for grant seekers and grantees in our application and reporting requirements. In 2023, the Oakland Literacy Coalition facilitated a funder roundtable that catalyzed new insights about building trusting relationships. Nonprofits emphasized the need for funders to show up and learn with grantees, and to ensure that listening is followed by action.

These insights affirmed our belief that listening and learning are essential to strengthening our grantmaking strategies and improving our practices. In 2020-2021, our Community Strategy Council informed shifts in our strategies to help to address systemic barriers to learning. Their wisdom elevated the importance of funding approaches that are created by and for the communities we support. This year, we gathered stakeholder feedback and used our equity-driven evaluation framework to assess our strategies and how they are impacting student outcomes. We remain committed to ensuring all Oakland children receive a high-quality education and look forward to sharing more bright spots and learnings in 2024.

families and children are seated at long tables in child-size chairs. They are turned and smiling at the camera The tables are full of plates of food.

Photo credit: Maria Malaga and Johana Flores

East Bay Agency for Children’s Little Steps to College is an early learning program that also expands family capacity.

Investing In Thriving Learning Communities:
2023 Grantees

The Rainin Foundation invested over $5.8 million in 2023 to improve literacy among Oakland’s children.

Education grantmaking supports programs that help ensure Oakland children are ready for kindergarten and reading successfully by third grade.

Note: Financials are subject to audit verification.

pie chart shows .11 million in program-related expenses and 5.7 million in grantmaking


Our grantmaking supports equitable literacy approaches in partnership with underserved communities to ensure that all Oakland children have the literacy skills to communicate, learn and thrive by the beginning of third grade. We are honored to partner with these organizations. Learn more about the 2023 Education Program grant recipients.

3Ls Academy

Aspire Public Schools

Boon Philanthropy, Inc.

East Bay Agency for Children

Eat. Learn. Play. Foundation

Education for Change

Education Resource Strategies

EDvance College

Emerging Bilingual Collaborative

Families in Action Oakland

Family Engagement Lab



High Expectations

Ignite! Reading

Kristi Yamaguchi’s Always Dream

Lead Liberated (formerly Educate 78)

Lighthouse Community Public Schools

Lotus Bloom

Mindful Life Project

Oakland Literacy Coalition

Oakland Public Library

Oakland Starting Smart and Strong

Oakland Unified School District

Reading Partners

Springboard Collaborative

The Oakland REACH

The Teaching Well


This discretionary fund supports exceptional and emerging opportunities that will have an outsized impact and move us closer toward our vision of all Oakland children reading at or above grade level, no one suffering from Inflammatory Bowel Disease and Bay Area artists thriving.

Tandem, Partners in Early Learning


Explore the Foundation’s website to learn more about our Education program and meet our staff and Board members.