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Hello! I’m reporter Ashley McBride, and I’m joining The Oaklandside after covering school districts, charter schools, and community colleges in San Antonio, Texas. Before that, I lived and worked in the Bay Area, covering a little of everything at the San Francisco Chronicle. There, I spent a few weeks covering the 2019 Oakland teachers’ strike, including what led to the walk-offs and what happened when the dust settled. That work introduced me to the Oakland schools community and landscape, and I’m so glad to be back.
Equity and disparities have long been reporting interests of mine. While at the San Antonio Express-News, I wrote about how one high-poverty elementary school motivates its students to become high achievers despite major obstacles, and how the community college district, in a city that ranks highest for poverty among large U.S. metropolitan areas, is addressing student homelessness.
At the San Francisco Chronicle, I looked at Oakland schools’ restorative justice program, which was then on the chopping block thanks to budget cuts, and how the program helped to reduce suspensions of Black boys. I also examined homelessness and the lack of resources in the Bayview, the historically Black San Francisco neighborhood. For another story, I got to talk to a doula about the alarming maternal and infant mortality rates for Black women in San Francisco, and how she was working to reverse them.
At The Oaklandside, I’m excited to dig into the root causes behind such disparities and ask questions through an equity lens: Who is being impacted most severely? Who is benefiting? Who’s being left out? I’ll also report on how the district spends its money, the impact of school closures, and how charter schools fit into the school landscape — all topics Oaklanders told us they want to better understand in the months leading up to our launch.
Right now, public education is facing a turning point in Oakland and across the country. The coronavirus pandemic closed schools, sent students home, and left teachers to figure out how to convert their last two months of lessons to a virtual format. The economy plummeted, leaving districts that usually rely on tax revenue reeling.
Now, school leaders in Oakland must decide the safest way to reopen schools with less money and in a way that satisfies everyone. Teachers are concerned about whether they’ll be able to enforce physical distancing and face-covering requirements in their students/ Parents are stressed out and want to send their children back to school so they can return to work. Public health experts worry about a second COVID-19 outbreak. Students may be regressing academically for any number of reasons, including those who don’t have stable Internet at home and can’t fully participate in distance learning.
That was all before George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis, sparking nationwide protests against racism and police brutality. The reckoning has influenced local protests, with Oakland activists and many parents and students calling for schools to cut OUSD’s special school police force altogether and examine how their policies might lead to students being criminalized.
School leaders are grappling with all of this, and more change in yet to come. In November, four of the Oakland school board’s seven members are up for election and none are running, leaving the seat open to challengers who have been critical of district leadership. When they take their seat on the dais in January, those newcomers will make up a majority and could start taking the district in a new direction.
This crossroads is why I’m so eager to join The Oaklandside and start reporting on this pivotal moment. I’m always interested in hearing from you—my email is firstname.lastname@example.org, and I hope you’ll share tips and feedback with us through this simple web form as well. Thank you for reading, and I looking forward to serving our community through this all-important beat.