Small Public Schools, Big Positive Impact
Schools require a lot of resources and support to fulfill their missions and set children on the path to success. The Oakland Small Schools Foundation (OSSF) of Oakland, California, strives to improve the quality of the city’s innovative small public schools by providing strategic planning services, helping secure needed resources, and engaging in other activities to promote school excellence. The organization has a unique partnership with the University of California, Berkeley, in which graduate students have the opportunity to develop sustainability plans for Oakland’s experimental small schools. One dedicated student in this program is Jeff Kang, 27, who is working toward his MBA degree at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. Through information gathering and analysis, he is creating a plan for success for the small school to which he has been paired. Check out how Jeff is making a big positive impact on a small public school in this week’s Nonprofit Spotlight.
Oakland Small Schools Foundation (OSSF)
University of California, Berkeley
Haas School of Business, MBA
(Class of 2008)
University of Pennsylvania
Computer and Telecommunication Engineering
Ashoka: Innovators for the Public
Booz Allen Hamilton
About the non-profit
To paraphrase their vision, the Oakland Small Schools Foundation (OSSF) supports Oakland’s innovative small public schools by identifying, securing and managing resources to meet the underfunded needs of children in the community. Established by dedicated principals and business leaders, the foundation provides services around fundraising and evaluation and measurement. OSSF’s program initiatives include the Residency Program in partnership with UC Berkeley, education speaker series, and after school program collaboratives that all serve to achieve their overall vision. The foundation currently serves over 30 small schools in Oakland, and is led by a small, but fearless staff who dare to inspire. As part of the OSSF Residency program, I am partnered with the Castlemont Business and Technology School in Oakland.
What are your day-to-day responsibilities?
All Residents in the program share the same objective: to develop a sustainability plan for our respective schools to help them build a lasting model for success. My responsibilities fall into three larger areas.
First, I meet with the principal, teachers and students of the school about once or twice a week to gather information and trade thoughts and ideas. These interactions can be informal meetings, short visits, or meeting observations, but they all serve the ultimate purpose to study the gap between existing conditions and the vision for the future.
Second, I work offsite to process and analyze the information that I have gathered. Here I am reading through interview notes, pouring through documents and data provided by the school, and researching relevant best practices and case studies. With all the other school and work activities going on, it is critical to keep the work moving at a weekly rate.
Third, I meet once or twice a month with the OSSF Resident Cohort to report progress and interim results and findings. There are five Residents this year, and each of us works with a different school with unique traits and characteristics. However, there are commonalities amongst some of the issues and lessons learned, and it is valuable to be able to share information with peers on a regular basis. This is really a central activity of the program, and it is facilitated and managed by the OSSF leaders. As a side project, I am taking a marketing and fundraising course at Haas, and am using my OSSF Residency project for the course. As part of this course, I am also developing a marketing and fundraising plan for the CBITS in addition to their Sustainability Plan.
Most notable milestones
The program has just started, but just a few weeks ago the cohort group reported back our Existing Conditions Report, which baselines the operations and major priorities of the school. This gave each one of us the opportunity to get a first-hand view of the school through a deep set of interviews and observations, which was a great experience for somebody without a background in education and non-profits.
Just a few weeks ago, the cohort had the opportunity to have dinner with Emma Paulino in Oakland to discuss her experiences and history. Emma was a pioneer and champion for the Small Schools Movement. As a dedicated and concerned parent, she questioned Oakland’s failing system and took action with other community leaders in order to provide local under-served youth with the opportunities and resources that they deserve. It was really something to meet her and to hear her story. I believe all of us were truly inspired.
What’s the niche?
The OSSF Residency program is a unique bridge that allows Berkeley graduate students to have a meaningful impact on number of Oakland Small Schools while gaining invaluable exposure to education and this experimental school system. OSSF is doing well to leveraging its partnership with Berkeley as well as its trusted relationships with their small schools, which makes this program particularly special.
What’s the biggest challenge?
One of the bigger challenges that the OSSF Residency program faces is that even when Residents are provided with a clear objective in their projects, there are so many variables and obstacles that small schools face on a daily basis. Principals, parents and teachers are all striving to help their students meet basic academic standards. But at the same time, the school needs to worry about sustaining its funding base, building a unique identity to attract and retain students, and operating as a small independent organization with limited district support and guidance. The program is only four months long, so getting the Residents acclimated to this new environment while trying to produce valuable and timely work products is truly a challenge.
What’s in store for the future?
For us as Residents, we are about half way through the program. We are each looking forward to developing our final recommendations and plans, and presenting them to our schools and the cohort in April. The hope is that we can have a lasting impact on the schools by providing not just a plan for the next few years, but by contributing a sound foundation for the school’s operations upon which it can grow and thrive.
Best way to stay ahead
I believe that for both the Oakland Small Schools and the OSSF Residency program, the key is staying true to the vision and being mission-driven to no end. It is always important to look outside your own world and to consider the competitive landscape, but starting with and sticking to your guns is essential – particularly when there is no clear direct competition. For CBITS, their reason for existing is to provide quality education to prepare kids for college and entry level employment. What makes them unique is their business and technology approach to teaching, which in a way can be a competitive advantage over other small schools. But it all comes down to this: if they don’t teach kids the basic lessons and subjects, they won’t be able to compete at all.
The same goes for OSSF and its residency program. The mission is to provide business and policy school students with innovative work opportunities in education reform to expand the pipeline of talent into the field. By following this mission and playing to its strengths, the OSSF Residency program will continue to carve out a strong value proposition for both the schools and the Residents.
Guiding principle in life
Have balance. I have found that it is the one way that I can truly be happy and healthy.
Yardstick of success
Again, it’s balance. If I am too happy, I might be too complacent. If I am too focused, I may lose sight of the big picture. I am successful if I am balanced and centered.
Goal yet to be achieved
We are currently trying to provide frameworks and tools for schools to become sustainable, which is a fundamental building block. It seems to me that one of the next levels is to really help these unique schools to leverage their unique capabilities and strengths. For my school, for example, instead of coming in with a sustainability plan, my hope is that in the near future the OSSF Residents will be talking about planning, executing and marketing innovative initiatives, such as a business-focused internship program with local East Bay companies for high school students.
Best practical advice
Wake up early and don’t wait to start your day. While I see the value of this advice, I will admit that it is still a challenge for me to consistently follow it.
“We’re together on this…”
-OSSF 2007 Cohort Team
Well I need all the mentors I can get, so there are quite a few. First, my Haas colleagues. The students and advisers here are just incredibly well-versed in different areas and topics, and most importantly, they are approachable and like-minded. It’s inspiring to be around these folks everyday because they are all so determined to make a difference while marching to the beat of their own drums.
My parents and my family have always shown me how to act without telling me how to act. It’s such a simple thing, really, but I only have grown to appreciate it after years of living out on my own.
Finally, it might seem cliche, but a key guiding force for me has been my girlfriend. Since we met, she’s faced up and challenged me to find and follow my path without straying. We keep each other centered, and I owe a lot of my progress and happiness as an individual to her.
What motivated you to get started?
I applied for the OSSF Residency program because I wanted to get a good first hand look at some burning issues in urban public school districts in our community, and I wanted to work with these innovative schools to see how they addressing these problems. I also felt that I could make an impact, and that is the main reason why all of us are here doing this program.
Like best about what you do?
I like seeing the canvas of my work when i walk into CBITS (my school). The teachers, the leaders, the students, and even the parents and community members. I get to hear them, talk to them, and shake their hands. Coming from a world in consulting where I rarely reach the ground level of my work, I feel fortunate to be in this position.
Like least about what you do?
It’s only a four-month program…
At age 10, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a car designer. I remember thinking it was so cool and I used to draw cars all day – flying cars, racing cars, or station wagons. Little did I know that it takes much more than sketches to make all of that happen.
What was your first job?
In high school, I started out soldering circuit boards for engineering laboratory classes at the University of Illinois. What can I say about that? I guess I learned some hand-eye coordination and I definitely learned lessons in having patience.
Biggest pastimes outside of work
Soccer. Coaching, playing and watching. It has always been a huge part of my life since I can remember. I always play in some kind of league, and the when the World Cup comes around, it is such a blissful four weeks. I can’t wait until 2010.
Person most interested in meeting
My grandfather, who passed away when I was ten. He quietly raised me, and although we always had a language barrier (he spoke very little English and I spoke even less Korean). He probably knows me better than most other people. I’d love to share with him where my life has taken me, and to learn about more about his experiences.
Leader in business most interested in meeting
Bill Gates, simply because of the impact he can have through philanthropy. One of the things I’d ask him is about his view on how young business leaders can create meaningful impact. Is the model to build and accumulate private wealth and then to re-distribute to society (as he did), or does he now see the value of building solutions by integrating business ideas with social values with double or triple bottom line objectives? Plus, it’d be fun to show him my MacBook.
Three interesting facts about yourself
- I was born in New Jersey.
- I had to go through nursery school two times (slow starter).
- I lose or break something (folder, accessory, electronic device) roughly once a week.
Three characteristics that describe you
Three greatest passions
- Food (cooking/eating, especially with my family, friends and loved ones)
“Siddhartha” by Herman Hesse
This is tough. I’d say right now it is CBITS and its drive to raise funding for some of its key priority areas, such as capacity and professional development and the drive to achieve a 1:1 student to computer ratio. Please visit OSSF for details on how to donate!
Who would you like to be contacted by?
As a business student trying to break into education, I am always open to building relationships with individuals or organizations that are taking a business or entrepreneurial approach to education reform. I have no specific list, but am always open to engaging in conversations around innovative approaches and ideas in education.
Interview by Vanessa Chan
Introduction by Preeti Aroon
Edited by Valerie Enriquez