Come January, Alameda County will have a new superintendent of schools: Alysse Castro.
With more than three-quarters of the votes counted, Castro held a nearly 7% lead over incumbent L.K. Monroe, or about 15,000 votes. Castro trailed in the race early on, but carved out a lead last Friday that has only grown since then, leading her to declare victory on Wednesday. Since Castro received more than 50% of the vote, there won’t be a runoff and Castro will take office in January.
Currently the executive director of county schools for San Francisco Unified, Castro was heavily supported by educators and school staff and gained endorsements from local and statewide teachers unions. One of her campaign priorities is using the Alameda County Office of Education to provide more mental health and counseling support to teachers and schools, especially as students are recovering from the pandemic.
“Educators are really on the front lines of seeing how much need there is,” Castro told The Oaklandside on Wednesday. “It’s just one more challenge in the learning environment and they see what a difference it makes to have those kinds of supports or not have them.”
In her current position with SFUSD, Castro oversees the alternative schools that serve expelled students, students in juvenile detention, and other students with high needs. As Alameda County Superintendent, Castro wants to strengthen the county’s alternative schools so that fewer students get caught in the school-to-prison pipeline, which describes disciplinary policies that push students out of schools and into the criminal justice system, and disproportionately harm Black boys.
Many school districts are struggling to hire qualified teachers and staff, so another focus of Castro’s will be to bolster the educator pipeline and professional development opportunities. The Oakland Education Association teachers’ union also supported Castro’s campaign.
“When you listen to Alysse Castro talk, she talked about investing in community schools, ensuring that our students have mental health services and other social services they need,” said Ismael Armendariz, the first vice president of OEA. “We believe that Superintendent Alysse Castro will align with our vision for full-scale community schools in Oakland.”
The county superintendent also has a fiscal oversight role for local school districts, and in Oakland, Castro said her goal is to work with OUSD leaders to get the district out of debt as soon as possible. OUSD is still paying off the remains of a $100 million loan it received after being taken over by the state in 2003. As long as the debt is outstanding, the county office of education will have an enhanced oversight role of OUSD, and can veto any budget decisions that district leaders make.
“The most important thing for me is predictability and transparency,” said OUSD Board President Gary Yee about the county superintendent’s role with the district. “I look forward to meeting with [Castro] and finding out more about how she sees her role in Oakland.”
Budget mismanagement and reduced state funding due to declining enrollment has led the district to permanently close schools as a cost-saving measure several times in the past few decades. This year, OUSD closed two schools, Community Day and Parker K-8, and plans to close five more next year.
“Ultimately, I want to be in partnership with the elected school boards to help them accomplish the vision they were elected to bring to their districts,” Castro said. “In Oakland specifically, we have 20 years of testing this strategy of closing schools to save money, and it has consistently not gotten the results that folks are looking for.”
Castro’s win wasn’t the only upset in the June primaries. Yesenia Sanchez, a sheriff’s commander at Santa Rita Jail, ousted her boss Sheriff Gregory Ahern and received 52% of the vote, eliminating the need for a runoff in November for that race.
Outgoing Superintendent Monroe released a statement to The Oaklandside on Tuesday evening conceding the race and expressing her disappointment at the result. Her focus for her remaining six months in office will be on the students of Alameda County, Monroe said. She has been in office since 2015.
“We must continue to do all that we can as communities to support our children and our schools,” Monroe said. “While my tenure as Superintendent of Schools in Alameda County will be coming to a close, I remain as committed as ever to being a source of service and support. I wish my successor the best.”