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From the Archives: Naudika Williams and The Power of Student Voice

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In 2014, Naudika Williams decided to take a stand for her community. As a new Oakland Unified School District student, she saw the disparities between how schools with lower income students and students of color were provided with drastically less resources.

She became a member of Californians for Justice, and in 2014, helped lead the Student Voice Campaign. This campaign was in response to the historic passing of the Local Control Funding Formula in 2013. The LCFF was a new and equitable formula for funding CA schools. However, student voice was originally missing from the decision-making process on how school funds should be spent. The Student Voice Campaign exposed that central flaw in LCFF, and highlighted the value of student voice in these decisions.

“This is the reason I stand before you today– because I, one of many California students, decided that our voices should not only be heard but reflected in our schools. And with that, in 2014, we started the Student Voice Campaign.” 

Naudika and her peers testified for months in front of the State Board of Education, when finally President Mike Kirst and the Board declared, “students are essential to the school stakeholder engagement process.”

From there, Naudika felt like the potential of her community was limitless, and went on to win Student Voice for 1,001 school districts in California. She spent the rest of that year giving her input on school spending through LCFF and spearheaded the first and largest Student Advisory Committee in Oakland Unified School District. Through the committee she pushed for $4 million dollars of the Local Control Funding Formula funds to be sent directly to school sites. 50 teachers were hired district wide, and student advisors and restorative justice coordinators to support youth. 

Read below for the speech Naudika delivered during the 2017 National Family and Community Engagement Conference, hosted by the Institute for Educational Leadership. Challenge yourself to take some of the action steps listed here so you can help #LeadTogether for racial justice and equity in our schools:

  • Teachers, print this speech for your students to read and group share about it! 
  • Policy Makers, share this speech amongst your colleagues, and ask how you can increasingly center your work in student voice. 
  • Students, be empowered; Your voice is the guiding light of our education system and the heart of our communities.

My name is Naudika Williams. I am a recent graduate from Oakland High, and a continuous student leader at Californians for Justice. 

Because of Californians for Justice, a statewide organization that believes that students are the leaders we need to transform our schools I am proud of who I am, my history, and where I come from. 

But, I didn’t always feel this way. For nine years of my life, I came from a different world. I was used to my environment in Pacifica: a predominantly affluent community, where the library was bigger than Oakland High’s gym, my textbooks were up to date, and our classes weren’t overcrowded.  In Pacifica, adequate resources and basic necessities weren’t issues for most kids at home and school because our school had the resources. 

A few years later, my mom, my sister and I moved out of my grandma’s house. We couldn’t afford to live on our own in Pacifica, so we moved to Oakland when I was in Middle School. Living in Oakland, I started to see the conditions in communities of color and how different they were to places like Pacifica. I began to ask myself: Why are schools with low-income, students of color a lot poorer and have less resources? I didn’t understand. I didn’t like it. 

In my first day at Oakland Unified School District, what was most jarring was that students believed that they were never meant to be successful — never meant to become anything more than the stereotypes attached to them because of their skin color, the countries they fled to escape violence and the languages they spoke. 

Suddenly, the jokes about dropping out and having stereotypical jobs were the only options for us. Having attended good schools in Pacifica, I wanted to change that for Oakland students. 

At Californians for Justice I found a space to change my education. And it was all with students, like myself, through their leadership and engagement making the kind of school transformation we want to see. I saw that we are so much more than any stereotype, outcome, or test score — we are the future generation. 

Despite being the generation of the future, when it comes to putting forth our best education policies, students are typically left out.

In 2013, Governor Jerry Brown passed one the most historical education funding formulas in America – the Local Control Funding Formula. And while students from Californians for Justice and other youth organizations like Inner City Struggle marched, testified and advocated for an equitable funding formula for California schools for over 10 years — when the equitable formula (now known as the Local Control Funding Formula) was passed; administrators, teachers, and parents were given a voice on how school funds should be spent. Students were not included. 

This is the reason I stand before you today– because I, one of many California students, decided that our voices should not only be heard but reflected in our schools. And with that, in 2014, we started the Student Voice Campaign.

When I joined the Student Voice Campaign, speaking before the State Board of Education was daunting; to be honest, at the time I didn’t believe we would convince the Board of Education that student voice in schools mattered. My peers, who were low-income students, immigrants and in foster care, were skeptical that education leaders would listen to what students like us had to say. 

We had become so used to being left behind that we didn’t realize the potential impact of our individual and collective leadership. 

After months of testifying at the state board and meeting with board members, President Mike Kirst and the Board of Education released a statement that declared: “students are essential to the school stakeholder engagement process.”

It was then that I realized that our potential was limitless.

We can be apart of improving schools, just as much as any administrator or adult. Several months later, we would go on to win student voice for all 1,001 school districts in California. Now, thousands of students in California have weighed in on their school’s local accountability plans to improve their schools. 

But I didn’t stop there. While I realized my voice is important– my voice doesn’t mean much when it isn’t valued or reflected in our schools. 

So that same year students were declared essential to stakeholder engagement process in California schools I continued to be involved with the Local Control Funding Formula through its budgeting plan process at Oakland Unified School District. 

I started out advocating for the first and largest Student Advisory Committee. My district, OUSD was the first public school district in California to implement a student advisory committee. When our school leaders and board members approved it, I became a student adviser and quickly the student director of the Local Control Accountability Plan Student Advisory Committee. 

I watched the Student Advisory Committee grow from my co-director and I, to a group of passionate students from different Oakland schools who shared their experiences and represented students with different needs.

We attended long community engagement meetings that were hardly student friendly or accessible to parents. They were boring and were more like lectures. Rather than complain, we decided we’d change the culture of how we do things — how we share information to students and families. We designed our meetings to be more interactive. We incorporated icebreakers and more conversations into our meetings. We brought new ideas that challenged what educators were used to, and made the community engagement process much more exciting and relevant to those in the room.

Through our work in the Student Advisory Committee, we were able to prioritize equity in our  district. We pushed $4 million dollars of the Local Control Funding Formula funds to be sent directly to school sites so they could have more control over what they needed in school. We hired 50 teachers district wide, and student advisors and restorative justice coordinators to support youth. These implementations in our district reflected what students needed in our schools. Equally important, students saw the impacts of our recommendations for the budget because the district could incorporate parent and student input.

During the two years I stayed engaged I witnessed the incredible impact of not just student voice, but student leadership and engagement. This is the legacy that I will leave behind as an Oakland High graduate. 

And it is my legacy and personal experiences that continue to shape my leadership, and vision for public education. 

Join the Fight for Racial and Educational Justice!