Initiative: Creating Joyful Schools
Reimagining Schools to be Places of Joy, Inclusion, and Beauty
- Our vision for joyful schools
- Our four areas of focus
- Measurable goals
- Past and present work in this area
- What we're hearing
- Working group participants
In Oakland’s vision, students feel safe, welcomed, and liberated in their daily environments — at home, in school, and in the community — and are active participants in their academic and social emotional success. Students and their families will understand the power and the choices that they have in their school and in their community.
Families, educators, community members, and partners will collectively ensure students have the opportunities and resources to build on their unique identities and to define their own visions for a beautiful, joyful, and inclusive learning experience in our multicultural, multiracial, multilingual society.
Schools will center inclusive programs and environments based on the experiences and voices of students and families, prioritizing deliberate investment in Black and Brown students who have historically been most marginalized and continue to face disparities. They will share accountability for student progress and co-design community feedback sessions to adjust program implementation and assess allocation of resources.
Educators will build relationships with students of color, the community, partners, parents, and families and design learning experiences together that affirm the cultures, languages, ethnicities, and racial identities of their students. They will partner to infuse joy and beauty into all learning environments, and students will be excited to learn.
Schools and communities will use restorative practices that are supportive of the identities of students to foster trusting relationships between students, community, and staff. Conflict, when it arises, will be addressed in restorative ways and used as an opportunity to build empathy, understanding, and solidarity across the school community.
During our strategic planning process in Spring 2021, our working group identified four focus areas. Each focus area includes a list of Year 1 actions and deliverables. Learn more about our actions and deliverables here. →
Center and listen to youth and families: Authentically engaging and involving youth as leaders in their education experience, building authentic relationships with families with two-way communication in primary languages, centering the experiences and voices of Black and Brown youth and families to define joy, beauty, and inclusion while building community consensus.
Invest in restorative practices: Ensuring restorative practices are truly integrated into the fabric of our schools, with monitoring of implementation.
Practice culturally responsive and linguistically sustaining practices: Creating welcoming practices and intentional work around bias and racism.
Ensure inspiring learning environments: Facilitating joyful learning spaces from home to school; designing classrooms, learning spaces, and opportunities that value joy and multiple ways of thinking and being; providing spaces for the community to gather and celebrate each other; and expanding outdoor spaces for youth.
The Strategic Plan includes a Superintendent’s Dashboard that describes the key metrics OUSD will be monitoring, which align with the Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP) goals. Learn more about the LCAP and Superintendent's Dashboard here. →
Students attend school every day: Reduce the chronic absenteeism rate (missing 10% or more of school days) for all students by 1.5 percentage points by 2024).
Schools are inclusive of all students: Reduce the out-of-school suspension rate by 3 percentage points and student expulsions by 6 percentage points for Black and students with disabilities by 2024.
Students and families are connected to schools: Increase the number of schools with at least 70% of students and parents who feel connected to their school by 6 percentage points by 2024.
Our working group conducted an analysis of past and present efforts in Oakland to better understand what work we are building on. Below is an overview of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) identified for this initiative. The full document with detailed SWOT analysis is available here. →
Strengths: Oakland shares values of inclusion and racial equity, and the Board, community, and schools have taken concrete actions to build cross-generational, cross-cultural solidarity. There is a basis of existing initiatives and strategies to support strong school climates, student experiences, and community partnerships, including restorative justice infrastructure.
Weaknesses: There is a lack of collective vision for change and a disconnect between shared values and lived experiences of students, families, and staff. While there is strong youth organizing, there is doubt about the authenticity of youth power in district decision-making. Restorative justice resources have been cut. There are fundamental tensions between liberatory visions and traditional practices and measures.
Opportunities: There is the opportunity to build a shared definition of joy, inclusion, and beauty and to align and expand existing practices, entities and work. Oakland can learn from other districts in this work. There is the potential to scale whole-school restorative practices.
Threats: Competing priorities threaten a sustained focus on this effort. A top-down approach that doesn’t deeply engage local school communities risks performative change.
The district held a series of listening sessions in early June 2021 to begin to collect feedback. Below is a summary of what we heard from our community. This has informed the start of Phase 3 and is shaping continued community learning and engagement. Learn more about how you can get involved here →
Question about expanding the focus to include all staff, admin, etc.: We changed the language throughout this section to “educator” to reflect the intent to include all staff.
Question about supports for teachers: In Year 1, we will continue to refine and define professional supports, beginning with restorative practices and home visit trainings.
Opportunities for students and parents to give feedback throughout the process: The intent of the entire initiative is to co-construct this work together with families and students; Focus Area 1 details some specific actions.
Opportunities to take a whole child approach that centers healing and wellness: Focus Area 4 describes some of the actions planned to ensure a whole child view guides the re-imagining of schools.
Opportunity for student/teacher ratios to be considered as part of a joyful and beautiful environment: Focus Area 4 can bring this consideration into the team’s work.
Need to prioritize Indigenous POC in family engagement: The intent is that all of the work in this initiative will be reflective of and responsive to these families, with Focus Area 3 describing key actions related to culturally responsive and linguistically sustaining practices.
Question about plans for improving relationships between families and educators, home visits, student and family feedback: Focus Areas 1 and 4 detail some initial actions intended to develop these relationships and feedback cycles.
By working in deep partnership with our community, we can transform school culture so we are better equipped to tap into the unique talents and gifts of every student and staff member in our district, and we can better break down barriers to student achievement. The following list includes participants of our Initiative 1 working group and reflects the key expertise and perspectives we need in this citywide effort.
Working Group Co-Chairs
Andrea Bustamante, OUSD
Monica Thomas, OUSD