OUSD school board members sitting behind the dais
Oakland Unified School District board members and superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell at the first in-person board meeting in 18 months on August 11, 2021 in Oakland, Calif. Credit: Kathryn Styer Martínez

The Oakland Unified School District board has two weeks to decide between nine people vying to represent East Oakland on the school board. Exactly how the remaining six board members will narrow that field spurred much of the discussion this week during a special meeting. 

The District 6 seat on the board has been vacant for more than a month, after former director Shanthi Gonzales resigned on May 2. Following her resignation, the OUSD board decided to fill the seat through an appointment process as opposed to a special election, and invited interested District 6 residents to apply. 

The pool of applicants includes OUSD parents, educators, and advocates. Many are long-time residents of Oakland and District 6, and a few attended OUSD schools themselves. Whoever is appointed will serve out what would have been the remainder of Gonzales’ term, which ends in January. Some of the applicants are also running for the seat in November, when regular school board elections are held for Districts 2, 4, and 6. 

During Tuesday’s meeting, the board voted to advance all nine applicants to next week’s interview round, where each candidate will have 20 minutes to answer questions from the board. A majority of at least four directors will have to agree on a single candidate for the position, leading some directors to wonder if it was a mistake to include all nine applicants in the interview round. 

“I think all of us on the board would much rather have a board appointment for the remainder of the term than trigger a special election if we can’t decide with four votes on a final appointment,” said Director Mike Hutchinson, who represents District 5. “And for me, it seems like the more people we interview, the harder it’s going to be to narrow it back down to one person with four votes.”

Others acknowledged that choosing from such a large pool could be daunting, but hesitated at eliminating any applicants before the board can hear from them during an interview. So directors brainstormed ideas about how to narrow the field after the interview stage, instead. 

“One option would be after the interviews, each of us lists our top four, and then we can tally them up,” said District 1 Director Sam Davis. “Or each board member could nominate somebody, and if there was a second, then that person could move on as a finalist.” 

Other suggestions included coming up with objective criteria and then ranking the applicants after the interviews, or having multiple interview stages as the field is narrowed. 

Hutchinson and District 3 Director VanCedric Williams were also concerned about individuals using this temporary appointment to gain an advantage heading into the November election. 

If the board isn’t able to decide on a single candidate by July 1, then the Alameda County Superintendent will call a special election. 

During public comment, several community members asked that the new District 6 rep be an OUSD parent and a long-time resident. Right now, only District 1 Director Sam Davis has a child currently attending an OUSD school. 

“We need somebody who is from this community to truly represent this community,” said Jill Karjian, an OUSD parent. “Of the nine applicants, you actually have a really good number of people who are parents and who are long-term residents of Oakland. Please consider that.”

In November 2020, four new board directors were elected: District 1 Director Davis, District 3 Director Williams, District 5 Director Hutchinson, and District 7 Director Clifford Thompson. This fall’s election could result in three more new directors, which would make the entire board in 2023 composed of newcomers with fewer than three years of experience on the board. 

Next Tuesday, June 21 at 6 p.m., the board will meet to conduct interviews with the nine applicants and decide on a process to eliminate some candidates. The date of the final appointment vote hasn’t been determined, but will likely be in the last week of June. 

Candidates have a range of experiences

The applications filed by the nine people vying for the District 6 appointment were made public by the district and are available to read online. We’ve compiled a brief summary of each individual below.

Azlinah Tambu
Tambu is a mom of two OUSD students and emerged this spring as a leader in the opposition to the district’s school closure plan, and is part of a group staying at Parker K-8 day and night, to protest its closure. Both of Tambu’s daughters attended Parker K-8. In her application, Tambu listed school closures and the district budget as the biggest issues facing OUSD. She’s lived in District 6 for eight years and in Oakland for 14. 

David (Joel) Velasquez
Velasquez is also an OUSD parent and is also running for the District 6 seat in November. An engineer and business owner, Velasquez has been involved in school and district committees for the past 20 years, and has been a resident of District 6 for eight years. His priorities are rebuilding trust between OUSD and the community, and working with the state to increase funding for OUSD.  

David Correa
Correa spent 10 years as a middle school teacher in OUSD and is now a manager at the Victoria Theatre in San Francisco. Correa has two children in elementary school and has lived in Oakland for 12 years, seven of them in District 6. In his application, Correa drew on his experiences as a teacher and seeing disparities at different schools, which motivated him to apply for the position. He also wants to improve teacher retention in OUSD.

Janell Hampton
Hampton has lived in Oakland for nearly four decades, including 10 years in District 6. Hampton is currently a labor representative for the California School Employees Association, which includes food service workers, custodians and groundskeepers, paraeducators, bus drivers, security officers, and other school support staff. She represented rank-and-file officers in OUSD’s school police department, which was disbanded in 2020. Hampton emphasized her expertise in bridging relationships between labor and management, and wants to build a more trusting relationship between the school district and board, and the District 6 community. Hampton graduated from Skyline High School.

Julie Mendoza
Mendoza worked as an English/Language Arts teacher at Roosevelt Middle School and wants to provide more academic and social and emotional support to students in District 6, who are faced with gun violence and dangerous streets in their neighborhoods. Her biggest priority is improving staff retention, including for nurses, counselors, administrators, and teachers. As a teacher and department chair, Mendoza supported new teachers and helped teachers and students build relationships with each other. Mendoza has spent nine years in Oakland, and four in District 6.

Kim Davis
Davis is a long-time education advocate in OUSD and created the group Parents United for Public Schools in 2014 and has lived in District 6 for 19 years. In her application, Davis wrote that she has resisted suggestions from others that she run for the school board, believing that the district should be represented by a Black or brown resident of East Oakland. But with a vacancy at a time when OUSD is facing controversies over school closures, recovering from the pandemic’s impacts on education, Davis decided to apply. She identified the district budget, teacher retention, and equity and community engagement as her priorities.  

Kyra Mungia
Mungia taught kindergarten and first grade at Horace Mann Elementary for three years and now serves as Mayor Libby Schaaf’s deputy director of education. Disparities between students of color and white students in reading levels and other academic outcomes motivated Mungia to apply for the position. She is also running for the seat in November. For Mungia, the biggest issues facing the district are reducing disparities in student achievement, re-establishing trust between the district and families, and creating a sustainable budget. Mungia has lived in District 6 for two years and Oakland for nine years.

Natalee Kēhaulani Bauer
Bauer is a professor and chair of the Race, Gender, and Sexuality Studies department at Mills College and taught in OUSD schools from 1997 to 2005. As a doctoral candidate at UC Berkeley, Bauer also mentored early-career teachers in OUSD and consulted with school leaders. Decreasing enrollment, teacher turnover, and budget issues topped Bauer’s list for the most significant challenges facing OUSD. Bauer’s children attend Mills College Children’s School, in part because they were waitlisted at OUSD schools when they tried enrolling in district schools. Bauer has lived in District 6 for three years and in Oakland for 27 years.

Tamecca Brewer (Anderson)
Brewer has been a District 6 resident for 22 years and spent four years as a math teacher in OUSD from 1995 to 1999. She currently works as an assistant manager for the Alameda County Library system. Brewer attended OUSD schools, her parents taught in OUSD, and her daughter attended OUSD for most of her school years. Brewer wrote that she would use equity and data to driver her decision-making as a school board member and her goals are to improve student achievement, support families impacted by school closures, and addressing budget concerns by cutting frivolous spending.  

Ashley McBride writes about education equity for The Oaklandside. Her work covers Oakland’s public district and charter schools. Before joining The Oaklandside in 2020, Ashley was a reporter for the San Antonio Express-News and the San Francisco Chronicle as a Hearst Journalism Fellow, and has held positions at the Poynter Institute and the Palm Beach Post. Ashley earned her master’s degree in journalism from Syracuse University.