“Oakland Unified School District is my heart. I grew up here.”
Tuesday, July 7, 2020
by: Dr. Kyla Johnson

Section: From Contributors


Dr. Kyla Johnson-Trammell, Superintendent of Oakland Unified School District in California

“Oakland Unified School District is my heart. I grew up here.”

To some, Kyla Johnson-Trammell was destined to lead Oakland Unified School District. She was raised in Oakland and attended OUSD elementary and middle schools before heading to a private high school in Marin County. She received a top-flight college education at the University of Pennsylvania. That’s where she realized she would dedicate her life to education.

“My kids attend our schools. And I have dedicated almost my entire professional life to the district. It is my goal every day to improve the quality of the education we provide our students, and the working environment for all of our employees.” — Dr. Kyla Johnson-Trammell

To some, Kyla Johnson-Trammell was destined to lead Oakland Unified School District. She was raised in Oakland and attended OUSD elementary and middle schools before heading to a private high school in Marin County. She received a top-flight college education at the University of Pennsylvania. That’s where she realized she would dedicate her life to education. 

Once she set foot in a classroom as a student teacher, her future was sealed. While working in OUSD, she completed her doctorate in educational leadership at the University of California.

For the Oakland native, there wasn’t any question where she would teach. Johnson-Trammell wanted to come home. Since then, she has spent all but two of her 23 years in education in OUSD, rising quickly through the ranks. She was a teacher for just two years before becoming a teacher coach. Three years later, she became an assistant principal in Mount Diablo Unified School District. Two years after that, she returned to OUSD as a principal. From that point on, she became an associate superintendent, a network superintendent and interim deputy superintendent. In 2017, the OUSD Board of Education chose Dr. Johnson-Trammell to be the district’s new superintendent. 

In the three years she has been at the helm, she has faced just about everything a superintendent can face. She has led the district through issues such as the discovery of trace amounts of lead in water sources at multiple schools, closures of schools due to smoke from nearby major wildfires, and because of utility-driven fire related power outages, the closure of one high school from a groundwater plume of a toxic chemical. She has also led the district through an acrimonious seven-day teachers strike, the shuttering of schools and district offices during the coronavirus pandemic and the ever-present issues of race and equal treatment under the law related to having police in schools. All this happened as district graduation rates rose and suspension rates declined.

When Johnson-Trammell took over as superintendent, OUSD was in a fiscal crisis. She immediately established three priorities to get the district on track to long-term quality and sustainability: fiscal vitality, quality community Schools and organizational wellness. She led the district from crisis to stability, bringing the community together through collaborative problem-solving, greater transparency and building stronger relational trust.  

In Oakland, Whole Child Education is not just a tagline or jingle. Dr. Johnson-Trammell doesn’t just talk the talk, she walks the walk. In fact, she is the capstone in Milbrey McLaughlin’s latest book, “The Way We Do School: The Making of Oakland’s Full Service Community School District,” a 10-year retrospective of Oakland’s district-wide community schools initiative.

This grounding in Whole Child Education allowed Johnson-Trammell to lead an extraordinary response to COVID-19. She quickly enacted school closures days before shelter-in place orders took effect out of an abundance of caution for the health and safety of her students, families and staff. The district announced closures on a Friday, and the following Monday, OUSD had 12 food distribution sites up and running, serving thousands of meals to students in need twice a week. In three months, the district has served more than 2.5 million student meals.

Additionally, in partnership with the Mayor’s Office and the Oakland Public Education Fund, Johnson-Trammell launched two massive fundraising efforts to meet the needs of students and families: the COVID-19 Relief Fund and the #OaklandUndivided Closing the Digital Divide campaign. The COVID-19 Relief Fund has raised more than $1.8 million, with a major portion distributed as cash assistance to the highest-needs families affected by the pandemic. #OaklandUndivided quickly met its year one target of $12.5 million and will provide 25,000 computers, internet connectivity and tech support to students in need. 

Yet, Johnson-Trammell didn’t wait for these efforts to pay off to pivot to distance learning. OUSD loaned to students more than 18,000 classroom Chromebooks for at-home use for the last half of the spring semester and the summer.

In response to the police killing of George Floyd, Johnson-Trammell immediately spoke out in solidarity with the national call for racial equity, justice and police reform. With the advocacy of the local Black Organizing Project, student leaders and other voices for change, she announced on June 10 that OUSD would reimagine its school district police department and create a plan for safe, welcoming and supportive learning environments with no officers in schools.

Dr. Johnson-Trammell’s contract was recently extended by the Board of Education for another three years. She is committed to staying the course and doubling down on improving outcomes for students furthest from success. The extended contract will make her the longest serving OUSD superintendent in half a century.

Dr. Johnson-Trammell is first a wife and mom; second, an educator. She wants for all Oakland students what she wants for her own children — welcoming, caring and supportive school environments that hold all students and staff to high standards, and where all students graduate prepared for college, career and community success. She leads with the heart of a mother, and the intelligence, courage and determination of an Oakland-grown superintendent.

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