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Cultivating common ground.

Teachers work with parents--even on the picket line--to improve education in Oakland.

When the 3,500-member Oakland (California) Education Association went on strike earlier this year, it galvanized parental support, won the backing of the local media, and brought teachers and community together to fight for better public schools.

OEA was spared the community backlash that often adds strife to strikes because of its long-standing commitment to parental involvement.

"They always say that a strike is not the way to involve parents," says Trish Gorham, a prep teacher at Washington Elementary School and former OEA board member. "But if you lay a foundation and do your homework, it is very possible."

For years? OEA has worked at establishing close ties to the community through efforts such as the NEA-backed Urban Initiative Project, which trained parents, teachers, administrators, and students to work as a team.

So as the strike loomed in fall 1995, OEA members were well positioned to invite educators, parents, and local media to almost 100 house meetings to discuss the teachers' demands.

And when the strike finally happened, it wasn't just a teachers' strike. It was an entire community saying that it was fed up with the way its public schools were run.

"I feel it was a real opportunity for Oakland to stand up and tell the whole state that we need to commit resources to our urban areas," said parent Laurel Dost during the strike.

The community knew that the teachers were on its side. "We emphasized the three its," says Gorham. "Raise teachers' salaries, reduce class size, and reallocate administrative resources."

Class sizes were out of control, some with as many as 60 students. District administration was top-heavy. Teachers had gone five years without a raise and had the lowest teacher salaries in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Striking teachers and parents organized alternative schools in churches, libraries, and homes. Few parents sent their children to the replacement teachers at public schools.

After five weeks of the strike, the district agreed to most of OEA's demands. Points included completing all principal, teacher, and student classroom assignments before the first day of school, reducing class sizes, and holding "Back to School" days for parents prior to the start of school.

Now that the school district has made its promises, OEA is working with parent and religious organizations to make sure that they're kept.

"The community has to own these schools," concludes OEA Executive Director Ward Rountree.

COPYRIGHT 1996 National Education Association of the United States
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:educational effort in Oakland
Author:Oliver, Dax
Publication:NEA Today
Date:Oct 1, 1996
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