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Oakland School District Seeing Spike In Departing Principals

OAKLAND (KPIX 5) -- The Oakland Unified School District said 20 principals have quit over the summer, higher than the 10 to 12 that have left in recent years, according to district spokesperson John Sasaki.

"Is this a little bit more than normal? Yes, it's a little higher than at least in the few years that I've been here. But we always have some turnover in principals," said Sasaki.

It was a particularly tumultuous year for the OUSD. The teacher's strike shut down the district for seven days, the school board agreed to a $20 million dollar budget cut and an Alameda County Civil Grand Jury report found the district "thrives on dysfunction."

Leroy Gaines, the former principal at Acorn Woodland Elementary, said he had no regrets over his decision to leave. Gaines was also an executive principal who oversaw training for principals, and sat on the board of the union that represents OUSD principals.

"Just being in those spaces gave me a clear understanding of the sort of turmoil that not only Oakland, but the state is in, in terms of funding and our finances, and our ability to keep those in line and stay in the black," said Gaines.

Gaines is now the executive director of the Bay Area branch of New Leaders, a professional development training program for new principals. He said principals were squeezed in the conflict in between the teachers union and district, all while trying to keep the school operations running normally.

"It's very taxing. Like, having to bear that weight and being able to sit in the position of leading the people. Leading your teachers, parents and families at the site level. So that was tough," said Gaines.

Keith Brown is the president of the Oakland Education Association, the union that represents Oakland's teachers. He said the same pressures that are forcing teachers out of Oakland -- including lower wages and a high cost of living -- are affecting principals as well. And the strike helped to bring those issues to light.

"The strike is a step in the direction to improve our schools. So it's not to blame for principals leaving. It highlights some of the symptoms, the problems that have existed in the Oakland Unified School District that we seriously need to change right now," said Brown.

OUSD spokesperson Sasaki admitted that he labor dispute of the last school year might have led to some departures, but said he hadn't heard anyone specifically say that.

"Are there some that could've been impacted and decided to do something else because of the stress of the past school year? Possibly. That's entirely possible. But I have not heard that," said Sasaki.

"I think a big piece of the puzzle is going to be how is the district finding resources, and doing the fundraising and grant writing, to build the support, and work in a way that they're giving the principals training and the skill sets to get that work done at their schools," said Gaines.

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