Four students dropped out of Oakland schools today.
This happens every school day. Year after year. Only half of African-American and Latino students graduate on time. But we have an opportunity to change this system -- this month the Oakland school board will hire a new superintendent to lead our public schools serving 46,000 students.
The new superintendent must act with urgency to improve the system and these results.
It's true that Oakland public schools have been improving. In a recent survey conducted by my organization, Oaklanders report high satisfaction with restorative justice programs that emphasize healing over punishment in school discipline.
People also praised the district's high school academies and career-related teaching with internships.
Yet only 45 percent of the more than 300 survey respondents agreed that public education in Oakland was "moving in the right direction." That troubling result, while not definitive, points to a widespread sense that, among many initiatives and the hard work of committed educators and community members, we need to do better for students.
In our survey and many meetings with parents and educators, we heard many suggestions for the new superintendent.
Recurring themes included the need to act with urgency, focus resources on the most impactful programs, and unleash the energy and motivation in school communities.
As one elementary school parent put it, "We have to stop the overwhelm."
The new superintendent needs to prioritize among many initiatives in a district widely perceived as top-heavy. Teachers and principals also report being overwhelmed with initiatives and wanting more opportunities to lead.
"Teachers across district and charter sites assume a variety of leadership positions to ensure that Oakland's students have what they need to succeed," one teacher writes, "but it's on top of the very demanding work they already do."
Principal leadership was highly rated, but many reported concerns about principals not being adequately supported and managing many competing demands.
The district's School Governance Policy of 2012 offered the principle that school communities -- staff, parents, students, community partners -- generally best know the specific academic and social needs of their students and how best to address them.
While the district should err on the side of giving schools decision-making power, this doesn't mean that schools can go it alone. They need central supports. So a key challenge of the new superintendent is to strike the right balance between investing in central programs that help schools improve -- such as Common Core and Restorative Justice resources -- and pushing badly needed resources to schools to use as they see fit.
The district also cannot and need not do it alone. The new superintendent must call on educators and community partners, including charter schools, to help provide a quality school option for the 10,000 students now in the lowest-performing schools where lost opportunity is concentrated. And community partnerships need to begin before preschool because much of the achievement gap is already in place in kindergarten.
The coming influx of new state funding is a golden opportunity to make progress but we must be sure that these funds are targeted to students of greatest need and to approaches with greatest promise.
As a colleague said recently, "Our children perish under the weight of the compromises of adults."
Not making those compromises will require all of us to work together to put student needs first and secure their future.
Jonathan Klein is executive director of Great Oakland Public Schools Leadership Center.