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November 6, 2018 — California General Election
School

Oakland Unified School DistrictCandidate for School Director, Trustee Area 6

Photo of Shanthi Gonzales

Shanthi Gonzales

Incumbent
13,964 votes (98.4%)Winning
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My Top 3 Priorities

  • Continuing to provide strong oversight for our district's budget and resources.
  • Continuing to organize with parents and community to build support for public schools for the common good and challenging the growth of privatization and charter schools, which is undermining our district's fiscal health.
  • Continuing to narrow the focus of our district to direct more resources to school sites and invest more of our budget into improving our schools and less in our central administration.

Experience

Experience

Profession:Incumbent School Board Member and Leadership Coach
Oakland School Board Director, District 6, Oakland Unified School District Board of Education — Elected position (2015–current)
Organizer, East Bay Spanish Language Meetup — Appointed position (2009–current)
Oakland Library Commissioner, Oakland Library Advisory Commission — Appointed position (2011–2015)
Commissioner, Alameda County Human Relations Commission — Appointed position (2013–2015)

Education

San Francisco State University MA, Political Science (2012)
Cal State East Bay BA, History and Political Science (2001)

Biography

Shanthi is a Bay Area native, born in Hayward, and raised there, and in Modesto and Castro Valley, where she went to Canyon Middle School and Castro Valley High School.  Shanthi is a product of great public schools, and gives a lot of credit to the teachers and caring adults she had access to in school for her success and her love of learning.

Shanthi grew up in an activist family, with a father who organized for Chavez and the United Farm Workers before going to law school to become a legal aid attorney for California Rural Legal Assistance.  Her mother was a Montessori teacher who was a social worker with Alameda County for over 40 years.  Shanthi grew up on picket lines, at protest rallies and community organizing meetings.  She did her first phonebanking around the age of 10 for a progressive candidate in Hayward. 

Shanthi's first campaign was during high school, when she was recruited to the No on Proposition 187 campaign by Californians for Justice (CFJ).  Proposition 187, if implemented, would have denied access to any public services for undocumented families in California, including schools.  While they did not defeat the initiative, they were successful in every precinct that CFJ worked in.  She was hooked by the realization that her organizing had made a difference.  She went on to work with CFJ on many economic and racial justice campaigns, launching a career in organizing and service to her community.

When Shanthi started working, she went to work for SEIU United Healthcare Workers West, where she organized home care workers, most of whom earned minimum wage and no benefits prior to unionization.  She realized how critical a strong labor movement is in creating economic security for low-income communities of color, and also discovered a passion for leadership development, which is the focus of her volunteer work in the community today. 

Leadership development has been an important role Shanthi plays in the organizations she is involved in.  Prior to being elected to the School Board, she served as Vice Chair of the Oakland Library Advisory Commission (LAC), and is proud of the role she played in reviving the LAC, developing capacity for advocacy for Oakland's libraries and helping to bring about greater cooperation and coordination of all library advocates in Oakland.  She also served as Vice President of the Board of La Raza Centro Legal, where she helped to build the internal capacity of the board, freeing up staff time to focus more on serving clients.

On the OUSD Board of Education, Shanthi Chairs the Budget & Finance Committee and serves as the Board Liasion to the Audit Committee and the Measure G Committee.

During the day, Shanthi is a freelance Leadership Coach and is working toward getting her teaching credential at Mills College. 

Shanthi studied Political Science and History in college at Cal State East Bay, where she worked for The Pioneer student newspaper, covering local politics in Southern Alameda County and also briefly served as Editor in Chief.  She also has an MA in Political Science from San Francisco State University, and studied International Relations and Political Economy in a PhD program at the University of Maryland.

Who supports this candidate?

Organizations (2)

  • Alameda County Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO
  • Network for Public Education Action

Elected Officials (3)

  • State Senator Nancy Skinner
  • Assemblymember Rob Bonta
  • Assemblymember Tony Thurmond

Who gave money to this candidate?

To see who is funding campaigns in Oakland, visit Open Disclosure Oakland.

Political Beliefs

Political Philosophy

I believe that education is the most critical service that our government provides, that people have a right to develop their capabilities, and that developing the skills and leadership of our youth and community is perhaps the most important thing that we do as elected leaders.  

Below are some of the things I have learned during my first term on the board.

1. There are no silver bullets. 

I do not believe in the idea of 'school transformation.'  Every school in Oakland that has made major progress has had five main factors at play:

  • sustained focus,
  • sustained investment,
  • stable leadership,
  • genuine involvement of families and the school community and,
  • hard, hard work.  

Strong leadership is necessary, but not sufficient.  What the best leaders seem to do is to inspire others in the school community to believe in their vision for the school, and then to build the capacity of everyone else in the school community to own and implement a piece of the vision.  Building capacity does three things: it builds the level of investment that everyone has in the success of the school, it broadens the base of people providing leadership within the school, and it simultaneously prevents burnout of Principals.  

2. There are no universal solutions.

Each school is different, and so must their approaches be to addressing the challenges facing them.  Some of the factors that affect how much and what kind of change a school can move include: the experience level of the faculty, the experience level of the principal, in general and at that school, the most pressing challenges facing the school, the willingness of the teachers to embrace the idea being proposed, the level of engagement of the parents in the school community, the resources the school has available for training, and most critically, how much social trust exists among people in the school community.  Change is always easier to implement in a school that has built up a good deal of social trust among those in the school community.

The importance of building trust in the school community is part of why it is so critical that people in the school community be involved in analyzing the issues facing their particular students, and identifying and offering up potential solutions.  Soliciting the involvement and ideas of others is an important way of showing respect and concern (I also think we end up with better decisions that way).

It is also true that we cannot just assume that an idea that has worked in one school community will work in another.  This assumption is one of the things that drives me crazy about corporate school reform.  Each community is different, and so is each school.  If the school community is not included in identifying the solutions being implemented, they will often not embrace the  idea and the experiment will fail, if not immediately then as soon as something else becomes the priority.  This is especially true in large districts such as Oakland.

3. Relationships are everything (well, almost everything).

Strong relationships are what make it possible to work as a team with families to improve student achievement, which is critical because we can control only a small part of students' success.  If we can work with families on what they do at home with students, it is a huge service to our students.

Of course students still need all the things students always need: good teachers, safe schools, challenging curriculum, etc.  But nearly everything that students need to succeed is more likely to come about when there are trusting relationships in the school - between the principal and the central administration, between the teachers/staff and the principal, among teachers and staff, between staff and parents, among parents and other parents, and even between the School Board and the staff.

The fact that relationships are so critical is one of the reasons that our high turnover rate is a genuine emergency. It's hard to build relationships if staffing is fundamentally unstable at school sites.

It is definitely the case that we need more resources to deliver the education our students deserve, but even that is dependent on a trusting relationship between Oakland (and California) voters and our school district/s.  

Therefore, one of the most high leverage things that we can do is to design everything that we do as a school district with an eye toward building more trusting relationships among those in our school communities and our district.  The best way to do that is a tough question, but here are some things that I think help to build trust:

  • Including people who are affected by decisions in decision-making.  I mean really including them, rather than saying "Here's what we are doing.  What do you think?"
  • Listening to people, including those we disagree with or don't like, and remembering that we are all in this together.
  • Working toward the highest possible level of transparency, especially regarding how decisions are made and how district resources are used.  
  • Creating a culture of predictability, through operating with integrity (doing what we say we are going to do).
  • Recognizing the contributions of every member of the district, especially those who are working with our students on a daily basis.  
  • Developing leadership at all levels of the district and empowering leaders with responsibility for the success of students.

It has been revelatory for me to learn that I can learn to work with and build trust with people that I don't agree with and sometimes do not like, when I focus on what we have in common, which is what we are trying to do for students, which is a skill I have had to develop since joining the board. It's the hardest part of the role, but also what I have learned the most from doing.

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