Research

Oakland Case

This case documents the first 18 months of Oakland’s participation in By All Means and includes its activities through May 2017. We are hoping that city leaders and others will use this piece to understand how opportunities and obstacles unfold within specific contexts. Each city in the consortium is unique: Oakland is BAM’s only city located west of the Mississippi River, and has faced several external challenges during early phases of the initiative, including a transition in school district leadership and a public school budget crisis.

Background

Oakland is a mid-sized city of over 400,000 people located just east of San Francisco, and is among the most diverse cities in the nation. The Bay Area tech boom has brought an influx of workers, new restaurants, and a youthful energy to the city. It has also brought the challenges of gentrification, including stark income inequality and an acute housing crisis. In just a five-year period between 2011 and 2016, the median home price nearly doubled,1 and homelessness has become such a widespread problem that the city has put up storage sheds as a stop-gap measure.2 Libby Schaaf, who was born and raised in Oakland, was elected Oakland’s 50th mayor in 2014 on a platform of addressing economic and racial inequality city-wide. The issue of equity is an Oakland priority, and supporting the needs of students and families furthest from opportunity is deeply embedded in the Oakland work described below.

In January 2016, Mayor Schaaf, in partnership with the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD), East Bay College Fund, and the Oakland Public Education Fund, launched Oakland Promise, a cradle-to-career initiative aimed at tripling the number of college graduates from Oakland. At the time of the announcement, only about 10% of Oakland public school students who started ninth grade went on to complete college within five years of graduating from high school.3 Hoping to tackle this issue through a cross-sector partnership, the city, schools, and hundreds of partners joined forces to participate in one or more of four interrelated Oakland Promise initiatives:

  • Brilliant Baby, which supports the healthy development of babies by providing up to $1,000 for Oakland’s most economically marginalized families. It establishes college savings accounts (CSAs) seeded with $500 for babies and offers coaching and financial awards of up to $500 for parents/guardians to support their financial, academic, and parenting goals.
  • Kindergarten to College, which opens early college scholarships seeded with $100 for all Oakland public school kindergarteners, supports families to open their own CSA, offering up to $100 in savings incentives, and aims to instill a college-bound mindset through school-based activities.
  • Future Centers, which are college and career hubs in middle and high schools that provide college application and scholarship support, technology, and access to internships.
  • College Scholarship & Completion, an initiative through which students receive multi-year scholarships paired with persistence supports (one-to-one mentors, peer support, retreats, college partnerships) to provide the holistic supports needed to graduate and be successful in a career.

Between January 2016 and January 2017, Mayor Schaaf led an ambitious fundraising effort that raised approximately $25 million for the Promise’s first four years of operation. In its January 2017 progress report, Oakland Promise posted the following successes:

  • Brilliant Baby piloted a financial coaching program with 100 new parents.
  • Kindergarten to College partnered with 18 schools to award 1,250 early college scholarships.
  • Future Centers were established in seven schools and saw a 90 percent FAFSA/DREAM application completion rate among its three participating high schools.
  • College Scholarship & Completion supported 300 OUSD graduates with $2.5 million in multi-year scholarships and persistence support. 

Oakland Promise was launched in a landscape that was already engaging in innovative collective impact efforts, particularly ones focused on providing equity of opportunity for all children. In 2009, Oakland partnered with a number of philanthropists and community-based organizations to become a Full Service Community Schools district. Full service community schools were designed to act as hubs, providing opportunities that children need at every phase of development to be healthy and wholly supported from birth to graduation. Oakland is also a My Brother’s Keeper city, and released an action plan in May 2016 outlining the city’s efforts to ensure equity in outcomes for boys and men of color; both the city and the district have staff dedicated to improving outcomes for students of color. These undertakings are examples of some of the 20-plus significant initiatives underway when Oakland applied to participate in the By All Means initiative.

At the systems level, the Youth Ventures Joint Powers Authority (JPA) coordinates services and programming for children from Alameda County, OUSD, and the City of Oakland. The JPA’s status as a Joint Powers Authority—a distinct legal entity through which two or more public authorities can jointly exercise power—had allowed the county, the city, and the school district to meaningfully work together in service of eliminating health, wealth, and education disparities in Oakland so children can thrive. Typically chaired by the mayor, superintendent, and county supervisor, the JPA grew out of the 1998 national Urban Health Initiative of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, through which the three major public entities developed and implemented far-reaching systems change efforts. When the initiative ended, their collective work evolved to become the JPA in 2006.

In early 2016, Kaiser Permanente, Oakland’s largest private sector employer, became involved with the JPA and expressed interest in helping it “become a viable, sustainable, backbone collective impact organization in Oakland” through funding and in-kind support. At the March meeting of the JPA, Schaaf shared that “in addition to an $826,050 grant to the JPA, Kaiser will also support a contract with [consulting firm] FSG to assist with framing [JPA’s] governance structure, and aligning the work across” the organization’s board, steering committee, and working teams.4 As a result of FSG’s analysis, the JPA established the Oakland Thrives Leadership Council in July 2016. Made up of civic and business leaders, its purpose is to involve the broader civic community in the work to raise young adults who graduate from high school with the potential to go to college, have a career, and be successful. The Leadership Council is chaired by Schaaf and an executive vice president of Kaiser Permanente and—together with the JPA and FSG—was instrumental in developing the JPA’s data dashboard and “Impact Tables,” which are working groups setting goals and outlining strategies to address challenges in education, health, wealth, housing, and safety (for more details, see Data).

Joining By All Means

As Oakland’s mayor and superintendent were preparing to announce their Oakland Promise partnership, the Education Redesign Lab, headed by Paul Reville, was preparing to launch its By All Means initiative and was seeking out partner cities to participate as “laboratories” of innovation to create a children’s opportunity agenda. These laboratories, Reville hoped, would work to reimagine and implement new, personalized systems of education and youth development, focusing on expanding access to out-of-school learning, integrating health and social services into schools, and individualizing education to meet the needs of every child.

It was the former Director of Communications at OUSD who first brought By All Means to Oakland’s attention. He sent the opportunity to city and OUSD leadership, who hadn’t yet launched Oakland Promise, seeing it as a great way to highlight their budding partnership. The President of OUSD’s school board, James Harris, learned about it “as an opportunity to share and really express some of the cross-pollination work we had started about three or four years ago at the JPA.” Harris, OUSD, and the city were “happy to know that there were other folks out there doing similar work. It felt like collective impact and collaboration were really strategies to improve outcomes for students and children.” With the city, school district, and school board in agreement, Oakland officially applied to join the By All Means consortium.

Getting Started

Forming the Cabinet

Knowing that Oakland’s landscape in this area was already crowded, the Oakland team—a group of people chosen by the mayor’s office to attend BAM convenings—decided shortly after the May 2016 convening that the JPA would act as Oakland’s Children’s Cabinet. The team’s reasoning was that the JPA, which meets every six to eight weeks, comprised many of the same leaders suggested by BAM: in addition to having typical BAM cabinet members such as the mayor, superintendent, director of human services, city council president, and the school board president, it also included executive representation from the county government and the Oakland police department.

At the time of Oakland’s decision to use the JPA as their Children’s Cabinet, the JPA was actively searching for a new CEO. Lisa Villarreal was named to the post in August 2016. The following month, the mayor’s ‎Director of Education, David Silver, introduced By All Means to JPA members and solicited suggestions for a BAM-sponsored consultant. In November 2016, two new members were added to the JPA: senior leadership from Alameda County’s early childhood effort and from the area’s community college district.

Defining the Work

At the November 2016 convening, the Oakland team had a breakthrough in aligning their multiple efforts. During the city’s “team time” sessions, new JPA CEO Lisa Villarreal worked with the mayor and the BAM team to develop a new model for aligning how the JPA and the Oakland Thrives Leadership Council would coordinate activities. The group also discussed the complex work on the five Impact Tables and the initial focus for the city’s BAM work: rapidly expanding the number of Future Centers located in Oakland’s middle and high schools. The team invited a special guest to this convening: city planning and equity expert Ricardo Huerta Niño, who, shortly thereafter, became Oakland’s BAM-sponsored consultant and new Director of Collective Impact.

Just a few days after the November convening, the Future Centers’ biggest champion, Superintendent Wilson, announced that he would be leaving Oakland to become Chancellor of D.C. Public Schools beginning February 2017. Despite this surprising and hasty departure, Huerta Niño began his efforts to elevate and accelerate the expansion of the Future Centers. Over the spring of 2017 the group experienced successes around the Future Centers: in particular, the growing partnership between the district’s Future Center leaders and Community Schools leaders, which has led to staff from both efforts within several schools coordinating, for the first time ever, services and supports for students in multiple schools. But the group also came up against a major challenge: having lost Superintendent Wilson, the Future Centers’ major champion, it was unclear whether the funding which had been committed for their expansion would materialize for the 2017-2018 school year, in light of OUSD’s publicly emerging budget crisis. A private funder also indicated his intention to pull back on future funding for the Centers.

By the time of the May 2017 convening, it had become evident that the JPA was too broad of a governance structure, dealing with policy questions at too high a level, to accelerate the specific child-facing initiatives Oakland had identified as a part of their BAM partnership. Recognizing this, the Oakland team—most of whom had consistently attended convenings since the start of the initiative—instituted smaller, monthly steering committee meetings that would be punctuated by larger quarterly meetings that include the mayor and superintendent. Just a few weeks earlier, Oakland had announced the new OUSD superintendent to be Kyla Johnson-Trammell, an Oakland native who had been working in the district for 19 years. Her tenure was scheduled to begin July 1, 2017, and the team hoped that the new BAM structure would also provide the opportunity to fully integrate Johnson-Trammell’s vision into their work.

Elements Affecting Success

Leadership

A Mayoral Priority

Even though the Oakland mayor does not officially oversee education, Mayor Schaaf has used her convening power and political leadership to move an education agenda; she is passionate about improving education. “As mayors,” Schaaf shared, “we have the opportunity to change how public systems work, as opposed to just starting another program. We also have the opportunity to scale things…. As the controllers of these giant public systems that affect everybody, we can change culture. We can change the expectations and beliefs of an entire generation of children. There is no nonprofit organization that can deliver that kind of promise, and we should really be aware of that opportunity that only government has.” In addition to using philanthropic support as an impetus to fund Silver’s position in her office, Schaaf annually celebrates her birthday as a fundraising gala for Oakland Promise.

District Leadership Change

Superintendent Wilson’s mid-year departure caught many by surprise. Because the superintendent-mayor relationship is central to BAM’s theory of action, the superintendent transition had implications for the pace and direction of the BAM work. First, Wilson was the primary champion of the Future Centers, so his departure affected the pace and immediate feasibility of their expansion. In light of this, it was impossible for the team to accelerate progress in a meaningful way until a new superintendent was named. The team used the transition as an opportunity to take a step back and evaluate options for creating a broader college-going culture in the city. Oakland has been adaptive in face of this challenge and is actively planning to incorporate Johnson-Trammell’s vision into their work.

Cabinet

Between recent wins and new leadership, the decade-old JPA has experienced an exciting revitalization in Oakland. There is a growing interest among agencies to join the JPA. Its charter members, the City of Oakland, the County of Alameda, and OUSD, were joined by the Alameda County Office of Education, First 5 Alameda County, and Peralta Community College District in 2016. Others, including the Housing Authority, are actively interested in joining as well. The existence of formal governance structures and processes has facilitated organized collaboration between members. In March 2017, JPA’s bylaws were being actively revisited in response to its revitalization.

The revitalization is thanks in large part to the creation of the Oakland Thrives Leadership Council, the Impact Tables, and the new data dashboard (for more details, see Data). Schaaf, who joined the JPA as a council member before her election as mayor, shared that through this active, collective impact work the JPA has seen a transformation. Similarly, Harris noted that “it has really been fun to see the organization come back to life and to see all the people from the different sectors of Oakland and the County of Alameda coming together in the name of kids. It's really, really a great thing to see.”

Partnerships and Relationships

The landscape in Oakland, BAM's biggest city, is large and complicated. In this regard, Oakland has the added challenge of contextualizing BAM and articulating where it intersects with numerous pre-existing efforts. Among competing priorities, the city’s BAM agenda and work plan weren’t set in motion until well into the initiative, when the BAM-sponsored consultant was brought on board. His presence was instrumental in aligning the work and moving things forward, and the team hoped to see an acceleration of Oakland’s existing collective impact work through his presence.

Oakland’s pre-existing work is both an asset and a drawback, because aligning numerous initiatives and collectively setting priorities is an ongoing challenge. Schaaf, however, is skilled at making the most of this pre-existing landscape: “I think what has allowed us to scale and get huge traction very quickly is our belief in partnerships. We have not tried to reinvent the wheel or layer on a new program. We are the government: we are trying to change the way that the institution works, not add yet another program.”

Schaaf shared a number of examples to illustrate the ways that Oakland has capitalized on and aligned with numerous existing efforts by engaging in partnership and collaboration with trusted, valuable organizations across the city. First, Oakland Promise’s Brilliant Baby initiative—which gives babies born into poverty $500 college savings accounts and offers financial coaching for parents—is introduced to parents by the children's hospital. As Schaaf quipped, “Who is more trusted than a child's pediatrician?”

Another example is their partnership with the Unity Council, a culturally competent organization that runs early Head Start in Oakland’s Latino community. The Unity Council introduces the Brilliant Baby message, gives the gift of a $500 college savings account, and also provides a warm and trusted invitation to the financial coaching services. According to Schaaf, “This is what has allowed us to scale and reach people in a very trusted way very quickly.”

External Factors: Lab Support

Consultant

The consultant experience in Oakland has differed markedly from other BAM cities in two ways. First, Oakland was the only city to combine the part-time role with a second part-time position to create a full-time position. This position, Director of Collective Impact, has been housed in the mayor’s office rather than filled by an independent consultant, as in the other By All Means cities. This layer of independence has proven to be an important factor in the other cities, as it enhances the consultant's ability to effectively facilitate the cabinet and the implementation of its initiatives. The Lab has observed that the neutral, third-party aspect of the consultant’s role has been advantageous in moving the BAM work forward.

Second, Oakland did not have a BAM-sponsored consultant until toward the end of the first year. This delay in hiring was caused by a multitude of factors, including the logistics created by the combined role and the fact that in larger cities, processes tend to move more slowly. This initial absence of a facilitator slowed Oakland’s progress in undertaking BAM-specific work.

Convenings

In spite of the difficulty Oakland has had in fully integrating the BAM framework, participants agreed that attending the convenings as an Oakland team has been beneficial to cross-sector collaboration on behalf of children in the city. For Oakland, the convenings have provided opportunities to come together for focused periods of time and deepen relationships across agencies. “Carving out the time is really important,” shared a senior leader at Kaiser. “When we're all back here at home and doing our day-to-day work, sometimes it's a challenge to just sit down and carve out the time to think freely and strategically. Just convening everybody together is incredibly important.” Silver, from the mayor’s office, agreed: “Getting all of us out of here and in a room together to talk is actually a big deal. Having that work time just doesn't happen given all the other priorities.”

Having this dedicated time has deepened relationships across Oakland silos. After the May 2017 convening, 90% of the Oakland team reported that they collaborate more with other agencies and organizations in their cities after having joined By All Means. The convenings have brought partners like Kaiser even closer to the work while “improving communication, establishing stronger relationships with an expectation of continuing to meet and communicate, and preparing a foundation for ongoing collective impact work.” This, for Villarreal, has aligned strongly with the vision and mission she inherited as the JPA’s new CEO: “It's played right into what I need to be doing and it adds more clout and proof to the fact that we need to be working on cross-sector collaboration. I don't think that I would be as far along in my relationships and communication with the people on the team, and the people that they work with, had we not had the two convenings that I've been to.” Team members have noted that the convenings have resulted in it being easier to meet with and get information from one another, particularly high-ranking officials who would typically take weeks to reach.

The convenings have had this effect even within the school district. As a result of attending the convenings together, the leaders of the Community Schools and Future Centers initiatives—both housed in OUSD—have begun coordinating for the first time. Their staffs are meeting regularly and collaborating on implementing a whole-child approach for students being supported by both efforts. As one person close to the initiatives shared, “We have a real referral process…. When you talk about servicing the whole child, the fact that we can better do that together is really helpful and I think something that the convenings and Impact Table have helped speed along.”

Other Supports

Mayor Schaaf has acknowledged that one of the most important ways the BAM partnership has supported Oakland’s work is through the credibility and validation that the Harvard affiliation provides. The Lab has introduced the team to key experts and funders, elevated Oakland Promise, and provided highly visible speaking opportunities for Schaaf to discuss Oakland’s vision (for example, Reville invited Schaaf to participate in a panel at the popular Arizona State University/Global Silicon Valley Summit where the mayor had the chance to meet a number of business leaders interested in Oakland’s agenda for children). In the absence of a consultant for nearly a year, the Lab’s staff also played a significant role working with Oakland to identify and organize their BAM-specific work and, after the addition of a consultant, has continued to assist the city in collaborating across silos and moving an agenda. Finally, Reville periodically schedules calls with the mayors to serve as a thought partner on their education strategy.

Data

Oakland is an outcomes-oriented city and believes in using strong data to guide decision-making. In March 2017, Oakland was selected to be the first city in the nation to develop and pilot a comprehensive data platform. With funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies, and in partnership with the equity agenda launched by My Brother’s Keeper (now a project of the Obama Foundation), Oakland has begun to develop an Equity Intelligence Platform (EIP), a comprehensive, cross-agency data dashboard that will be the first of its kind in the nation. The EIP is aimed at making local data come alive, specifically to improve outcomes for boys and young men of color, by organizing and presenting local data in a way that increases accountability and supports policy and system change. City managers, community-based organizations, and provider agencies will use the EIP to measure and track progress in improving outcomes for boys and young men of color.

This platform is being developed in alignment with the goals of the JPA’s five Impact Tables, which work to identify discrete short- and long-term goals for the city in the areas of education, health, wealth, housing, and safety. These Impact Tables, supported by their Kaiser-funded Program Managers and JPA-appointed chairs, have done a lot of work to date on identifying goals, solidifying outcomes, and backward planning to identify benchmarks and strategies to reach those goals.

Funding

JPA

Increased funding from members and partners has accelerated the JPA’s collective impact efforts. The JPA is funded by the annual contributions of member agencies, who pay to maintain their status as members, so the JPA’s increased membership has been beneficial financially. A co-chair of the JPA’s Oakland Thrives Leadership Council, Kaiser Permanente has contributed significant funding to accelerate the work of the Impact Tables, allowing the JPA to hire a program manager for each of the five tables (education, health, wealth, housing, and safety). Additionally, a significant gift from Bloomberg Philanthropies is funding the JPA’s ambitious data dashboard effort.

Oakland Promise

The Oakland Promise is funded by annual contributions from the City of Oakland, OUSD, and the East Bay College Fund, as well as a number of private gifts from donors such as Kaiser Permanente, the Benioffs (of Salesforce), and Pacific Gas and Electric Company. Mayor Schaaf uses her visibility and position of leadership—as well as her birthday event—to continue directing funds to the Promise.

Future Centers

Oakland’s effort to expand the Future Centers has run into a number of financial challenges. In January 2017, the district's budget deficit triggered a conversation amongst all stakeholders about priorities: slashing millions of dollars from the budget would entail funding some programs at the expense of others. With the departure of the Future Centers’ primary champion, Superintendent Wilson, it became unclear if the immediate expansion of Future Centers would remain a priority for the 2017-2018 school year. Amidst OUSD’s budget shortfall, Oakland struggled to gain additional outside funding for them as well. While Salesforce.org provided funding for expanding Future Centers during the 2016-2017 school year, it is unlikely they will continue funding the partnership. As such, leaders are exploring other opportunities and partnerships to ensure all middle and high school students have access to high quality college and career access supports.

Conclusions

Oakland is a city with visionary leaders and a wealth of civic and community organizations dedicated to improving the lives of children. Since the launch of By All Means, the city has seen significant progress in aligning major initiatives—including Oakland Promise, Oakland Thrives Leadership Council, the JPA, and others—into a strategic collective impact agenda. At the same time, Oakland continues to face challenges in closing achievement and opportunity gaps. Oakland’s plans for accelerating initiatives through By All Means was significantly impacted by the unexpected departure of Superintendent Antwan Wilson, by the delayed start and multiple commitments of the BAM-sponsored consultant, and by OUSD’s budget challenges.

The negative impact of the superintendent’s mid-year departure on Oakland’s first By All Means initiative, the expansion of the Future Centers, suggests that broad-based buy-in by city and civic leaders is critical to making progress over time and in the face of leadership transitions. Additionally, in such a large city with so many key leaders, the part-time nature of the consultant’s role was not adequate, and the fact that he was not hired earlier in the process also impacted Oakland’s progress. Furthermore, Oakland’s experience suggests that a consultant not affiliated with the city or district would likely result in a more effective approach to facilitating this complex work.

As it moves forward, Oakland is continuing its efforts to align its supports for children into a more unified governance structure that incorporates the measures identified in the Impact Tables as benchmarks. The mayor’s leadership in both public and private resource development will clearly have a long-lasting impact, enabling so many of Oakland’s youth to make college a reality.

Where Are They Now?

In the time since our research concluded in May 2017, Oakland’s work has evolved in the following ways:

  • The Future Centers successfully expanded from seven schools to 10 schools in the 2017-2018 school year, and talks are underway between city and OUSD leadership on the expansion of Future Centers moving forward.
  • The Oakland Promise published its 2018 progress report, sharing the following successes: Schaaf has raised $32 million in funding for the first four years of operation; Brilliant Baby has awarded over 150 babies with $500 college savings accounts; Kindergarten to College is now at 35 Oakland elementary schools, has awarded 4,300 students $100 early college scholarships, and supported 200+ families in opening CSAs; Future Centers have seen dramatic results for students, of whom 77% enrolled in college directly after high school graduation, 88% applied to at least one college, and 90% completed the FAFSA or DREAM application; and College Scholarship & Completion has supported nearly 700 OUSD graduates with $5.5 million in multi-year scholarships and persistence support.
  • Oakland leaders are currently advancing a ballot measure to ensure sustainable public funding for Oakland Promise and the expansion of early childhood slots. This measure, if passed in the 2018 election, is anticipated to raise approximately $27 million annually.
  • Kyla Johnson-Trammell began her tenure as Oakland Superintendent in July 2017 and attended BAM’s November 2017 convening, along with her chief of staff. A By All Means working group is focused on identifying a few key focus areas—informed by the JPA’s Impact Table work and prioritized by the mayor, superintendent, and county leaders—to tackle over the next several years.

 

City Takeaways

  • The By All Means model should be adapted in larger cities to accommodate their complex environments. For example, in larger communities coordinating across multiple efforts is critical to success.

  • Having a strong facilitator in place at the outset is necessary to keep the collective impact work prioritized and moving forward.

  • Getting early buy-in from key stakeholders helps sustain momentum through leadership transitions.