Gustavo Ontiveros, 24, has dreamt of becoming a high school math teacher since he was a teenager growing up in Salinas, California. He discovered his passion while helping one of his teachers tutor his fellow students in math.
After his father was deported when he was a child, Ontiveros’ mother worked as a fieldworker to support him and his brother. Ontiveros was later accepted to UC Berkeley and graduated in 2018. He then began teaching at Rudsdale Continuation High School in Oakland under an emergency teaching permit, granted to individuals who haven’t yet completed their teaching credential.
Emergency permits are often used to fill vacancies in school districts that are struggling to hire credentialed teachers. Emergency permit holders who want to become full-fledged teachers must enroll in a full-time graduate program while student teaching to gain their credential.
How to apply
Oakland Unified School District is currently accepting applicants for the Oakland Teacher Residency and the Teachers Rooted in Oakland program for the 2022-2023 school year. Apply at ousd.org/OTR
For Ontiveros, that’s where the Teachers Rooted in Oakland program stepped in. The initiative—a privately funded partnership between the city and the Oakland Unified School District—supports educators with subsidized housing while they take on a student teaching assignment in an Oakland school and work to earn their credential. The program began last fall with 12 student teachers, and on Wednesday, Mayor Libby Schaaf announced it will be adding 18 more teacher residents, raising the total to 30. The program expansion includes the opening of a new apartment building on Martin Luther King Jr. Way, which opened in July and will house participants. The program will also be receiving new financial support from several community organizations and foundations.
The mission of Teachers Rooted in Oakland is to recruit and retain student teachers of color by offering them affordable housing in the city and a $1,500 stipend each month while they are student teaching. Student teachers pay a quarter to a third of their stipend on rent, or $375 to $450. Once they’ve earned their teaching credential, participants will receive $500 a month on top of their teacher salary to help offset living costs, in exchange for committing to teach in Oakland schools for four years.
Ontiveros is completing his student teaching at Oakland Technical High School, where he works with his mentor, Johanna Langill, teaching algebra to ninth graders. He’s also enrolled in a credential program at UC Berkeley.
“This gives teachers the opportunity to show up as their best selves in the classroom without having to commute [from outside of Oakland], whether that’s related to time or money,” Ontiveros said. “It also allows teachers to be more present in the classroom.”
Teachers Rooted in Oakland aims to address several issues, like teacher diversity, teacher recruitment and retention, and housing affordability. But it won’t solve those problems completely, said OUSD Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell.
“None of what we’re doing here actually substitutes for increasing the pay of having talented people in the classroom,” she said. “The cost of housing, and the cost of actually being credentialed is hella expensive. Those things push people who want to be in front of our kids out of the door.”
In OUSD, brand new teachers make just under $52,000 a year. The exams that educators must take to get their credentials can cost hundreds of dollars, and more if teachers have to take them more than once to pass.
Last year, of the 1,147 individuals who applied to be a teacher in Oakland Unified School District, only 24% of them lived in Oakland. Out of the 206 new teachers who were hired, only 78 of them live in Oakland, according to district data.
In February, 1,166 OUSD teachers were surveyed about what factors would make them want to stay or leave their jobs. Housing affordability was the top reason motivating teachers to leave the district, with 54% saying it made them want to leave or strongly want to leave.
The district’s teacher retention rates have rebounded over the past several years. Eighty-four percent of teachers returned during the 2019-2020 school year, the most recent data available, up from 78% five years ago. Retention rates for Black and Latino educators have increased from 73% and 77% percent respectively during the 2016-2017 year to 84% and 83% during the 2019-2020 school year.
The expanded program is financed completely by private foundations and organizations, including the Akonadi Foundation, Bank of America, the Hellman Foundation, the California Endowment, the Lisa Stone Pritzker Foundation, and the Teachers Housing Cooperative. Funding will support five cohorts of residents over the next nine years, during their student teaching year and for four years after that.
Riaz Capital, a real estate developer, constructed the new apartment building on Martin Luther King Jr. Way that houses the student teachers, including Ontiveros. The Paloma Apartments in the Laurel District also provide affordable housing to student teachers in the program. During the announcement Wednesday, Schaaf called on more real estate developers and community foundations to support the program, and for the elected officials in attendance to take action on policies that will increase teacher pay, and increase affordable housing in the Bay Area.
“We don’t believe that (Teachers Rooted in Oakland) is the ultimate answer. It’s showing what needs to be done and how to do it, but it needs to be done at scale,” she said. “The root causes of systemic racism, of disparities of unaffordability and low teacher pay, need to be addressed systematically. And that is your work, my colleagues.”
The budget that Governor Gavin Newsom signed this summer includes funding for teacher residencies that Oakland can compete for, said Assemblymember Buffy Wicks, who represents the East Bay. And more subsidized housing for Oakland teachers is on the way—earlier this year, the OUSD school board voted to grant long-term leases on two of its vacant properties that will eventually become housing for OUSD teachers and staff.