Section 1

Hope for the Future

Two Decades of Organizing: For 22 years, Emma Paulino has been organizing for education justice in Oakland.

Discussion Questions

What does it mean for parent leaders to work with an organizer who has experienced the same struggles they’re experiencing?

Understanding school and district data has been empowering for parents. But, as Emma notes, it can trigger questions and concerns and also create tension with school and district staff. How can school data be used to inform conversations and identify needs, rather than as a way of shaming or punishing schools?

OCO Action

OCO’s education organizing has spanned several decades in Oakland. This archival footage shows a 1999 organizing meeting at St Elizabeth’s Parish, where OCO began in the early 1970s.

Discussion Questions

In Oakland and around the country, grassroots organizing has been a catalyst for positive change in schools. What’s the power of community organizing? How would an organizing effort advance equity in your local schools?




Visiting Life Academy

Fremont High School parents visit Life Academy to deepen their understanding of what it takes to create a strong and vibrant school.

Discussion Questions

What would it mean for parents, students, and educators in your community to visit high-performing schools? What emotions might it elicit? How would the experience help to advance a shared vision for strong, community-engaged schools in your neighborhood?

School visits at times can be difficult for parents, who might blame themselves not knowing that the schools are of uneven quality or for assuming that school leaders always know best. How can community groups be prepared to support the varied responses of parents to what they learn and see on school site visits?


Passing Proposition 30

OCO parent and student leaders were instrumental in passing Proposition 30, a tax on upper-income earners in California that brought much-needed funding to public schools.

Discussion Questions

OCO’s work on Proposition 30 helped the organization build a new kind of power in Oakland. How would voter engagement work build your organization’s power and influence?

What would help you to build civic engagement capacity in your community?

Section 2

Peace March

Life Academy students take their learning and values to the streets, organizing a march and rally to stop gun violence in Oakland.

Discussion Questions

In the clip, Life Academy Teacher Pablo Venturino talks about “meaningful action,” and helping students understand how “academic skills can be used to change their realities.” How would this philosophy of teaching and learning impact student engagement and build their leadership skills?

Life Academy Principal Preston Thomas notes that despite losing two students to gun violence, the school posted the largest academic gains in the district. How can schools create a supportive and safe school community for students, especially those experiencing insecurity and trauma?


After returning home to Oakland, Robert Paige reflects on his incarceration.

Discussion Questions

Robert talks of being “low and broke” and without support after high school. What can schools and communities do to better prepare young people for the challenges they face after high school?

Robert chose to become a youth organizer when he returned to Oakland. How could youth organizing be a catalyst for leadership and change among young people in your community?

Section 3

Senior Defense

Every senior at Life Academy is responsible for completing an in-depth study of a topic of their choosing and then presenting their findings before a panel of teachers, peers, and community members.

Discussion Questions

How does the Senior Defense compare to the teaching and learning in your local high school?
How would project-based lessons, like the Senior Defense, engage and prepare students in your school or district?

The Senior Defense provides an opportunity for students like Carmen Rivera to explore critical issues in their community, such as gun violence or lack of available health care. How might your school create opportunities for students to connect learning to community issues and concerns?

Biology Class

The biology and English teachers at Life Academy worked together to design a joint lesson on genetic testing, creating a character and storyline that connects the course work in both classes. “It just adds a whole different energy to the classroom if you can come up with really engaging and interactive curriculum,” says biology teacher Claire Crossett.

Discussion Questions

What do you notice about the students in Claire Crossett’s class?
How does their engagement compare to the engagement of students you know?

Students in Claire Crossett’s class work in teams to conduct and analyze the genetic testing. What are the benefits of team-based lessons? What are the challenges?

Life Academy’s biology lab makes hands-on learning possible for its students, but not all schools have access to these state-of-the-art tools. Do all students and teachers in your district have access to the science labs and supporting materials?

Section 4

Supporting Teachers

In Oakland and around the country, investing in teachers is critical to student success.

Discussion Questions

Life Academy teacher Suneal Kolluri talks about the difficulty keeping experienced teachers. Is teacher retention a problem in your school or district? What are the factors that might contribute to high teacher turnover?
How does your school or district support teachers? What are the opportunities for professional development and leadership?

Middle School Writing Class

Opening a middle school at Life Academy has been key to students entering high school
with the skills needed to be on track for graduation and prepared for college-level work.

Discussion Questions

Students in Eva Oliver’s middle school classroom are engaged. They are having fun as they’re learning. What about the class made it engaging for students? What are some examples of engaging curriculum and projects in your school? How might students be more engaged?

Because they entered Life Academy below grade level, some graduates were needing remediation classes in college. How does the need for remediation undermine student success?

Section 5

Superintendent Dr. Anthony Smith Meets with OCO

As Superintendent Anthony Smith prepares to consolidate the small schools at Fremont High School, families and community members push for involvement.

Discussion Questions

In the film, Fremont Principal Dan Hurst says Oakland has had 7 superintendents in his 12 years in the district. How do you think the instability in district leadership impacts students, school staff, and families?
What can school boards do to increase stability in the superintendent position? What can communities do?

Policy Meeting

In an attempt to provide school sites with more decision-making authority, community
groups in Oakland organized to pass the district’s Shared Governance Policy.

Discussion Questions

In the clip, OCO organizer Katy Nunez-Adler says, “transformation never happens at the top.” Do you agree? How have you experienced positive change in your district? What does it take to sustain improvement?

In her comments to the Oakland School Board, a community leader says, “When you have parents and teachers and administration working together you can build that support, rather than working against each other and people pointing fingers.” How could parents and teachers partner more effectively in your school or district? What are the barriers? What would be the benefits of deeper partnerships?

Section 6

Get Out the Vote

In 2012, OCO was part of a grassroots organizing effort to increase voter turnout, which made a significant difference in the outcome of the Proposition 30 ballot initiative.

Discussion Questions

How does work on voter engagement build power of community-based organizations?
What education funding initiatives are needed in your community?





Election Results at Life Academy

Latino mothers, many of whom are unable to vote themselves, and who have experienced negative stereotyping, reflect on their role in passing Proposition 30. Veteran organizer Emma Paulino remembers when she first started she felt nervous and fearful. “But I did it. And that’s what you need to do. Be afraid, but do it.”

Discussion Questions

What are some of the fears you’ve had to overcome in order to get involved in an issue you cared deeply about? What was the impact—for yourself and for your community?

In what ways have group actions in your community helped to build power to impact change?

The additional resources from Proposition 30 paved the way for California to adopt a new funding formula, based on student need. How are schools funded in your state? To what extent does the funding formula address or compound inequities?