George Koster


From Bankruptcy to Reinvention –

The City of Stockton


Episode 5:
Be the change you want to see

Listen Now | VOC Producers | Share | Episode 5

A transcript, lightly edited for clarity and length, follows.

Show Guest: Lange Luntao, Executive Director of Stockton Scholars and Reinvent Stockton Foundation

Series Introduction: Welcome to voices of the community which explores critical issues facing Northern California communities. We introduce you to the voices of community thought leaders and change makers who are working on solutions that face our fellow individual community members neighborhoods cities and our region.

Series Introduction:This is George Koster your host. This episode is part of our documentary series from bankruptcy to reinvention the city of Stockton California the documentary series attempts to provide listeners with the insights points of view and personal stories from the various voices of change makers working to reinvent the city of Stockton.

Series Introduction: The interviews were conducted from August to September 2016 leading up to the election of Mayor Michael Tubbs. Who's our Central character in the series. The interviews in the documentary series have been edited to fit into our show format. The unedited full interviews will be posted on my website George along with each episode of the series.

Show Guest Lange: I think the bigger issue though. Now that I'm a teacher is that I've seen the academic achievement of our students is impacted by the larger Community issues of poverty crime lack of economic opportunity. And I think for too long Stockton Unified Schools have you the work that we're doing in the classroom as being separate from the work that we're doing to uplift our communities. I think the assumption that we're operating under is that you can't fix schools without fixing communities.

Show Host George: In this episode. We feature the voice of Lange Luntao a third-generation teacher who has taught at Aspire Langston Hughes Academy and a self-proclaimed education nerd. Education is one of the few ladders out of poverty and like public schools throughout California Stockton's public school system has had many failings.

Lange shares his passion insights and organizational work with youth, parents and the school system as part of the nonprofit Reinvent South Stockton coalition's work to reinvent Stockton Unified School District.

Lange: My name is Lange Luntao, I am a teacher in Stockton. I teach college level sociology, economics and ethnic studies at Aspire Langston Hughes Academy.

And I work with the Reinvent South Stockton Coalition on the education organizing piece. Otherwise known as the South Stockton Schools Initiative.

George: Tell us a little bit more about the initiative itself. How did it get created who was behind it?

I think the assumption that we’re operating under is that you can’t fix schools without fixing communities.
— Lange Luntao, Stockton Scholars

Lange: Sure. The Reinvent South Stockton Coalition was founded three years ago under the leadership of Council Member Tubbs and the work of ah, a real Coalition of Community Leaders who recognized that there was great work being done in South Stockton to improve the lives of the thousands of residents who live there, but a lot of the work was being done in silos.

When the Reinvent South Stockton Coalition was founded. Part of the first year year and a half was all around Building Community buy-in and really making sure that the work that we were doing was rooted in things that community members want to see.

So kind of taking a page from The Playbook of Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas the County Supervisor in Los Angeles. Yeah. Yeah South Central LA

George: Who created the green invent model that I understand City Councilperson Tubbs based the reinvent on.

Lange: Yeah. So after Michael was elected one of the first things he did was he brought a team of folks down to LA to the Empowerment Congress, which has been running for the past two or three decades. And one of the features of the empowerment Congress is that it's a way for these civic agencies, the nonprofits community based organizations, government agencies that are entrusted with improving outcomes broadly for people in South Central, LA.

It provides an opportunity for those folks to come together and meet with residents once a year and for there to be regular feedback from residents to the folks who are entrusted with making those decisions about funding and policy that the efforts are not in vain and that the issues that matter most to community members are actually being addressed.

This isn't something that was new, people have done surveys in South Stockton before. First we brought together a great team of folks who had been doing good work in their own terrains and hadn't been able to break out of those silos. And second, we use this assessment as a launching point to really decide where we were going to spend our time and where we were going to leverage more investment and attention.

So when we did the survey it was very simple. We just knocked uh, door-to-door on over 800 hundred doors in South Stockton. We did these volunteer days almost every day for an entire month. It was I remember is August 2014. And one of the clearest responses we heard from community members were that the four biggest problems they identified in South Stockton and that they wanted someone to solve were: First in order schools or the quality of Education, Safety, Job Development and then access to Youth Recreational opportunities, which is kind of overlapping with education. So that's like the high-level answer. The on the ground answer is that our team is run by Educators.

Um.. I'm a teacher when we started the Reinvent South Stockton Coalition Michael was a teacher at Langston Hughes. Our bread and butter in terms of our volunteers are all high school students and college students. So when we thought about the first steps that needed to be taken to improve South Stockton.

It was natural for us to start in our schools because we recognize that schools have a huge amount of potential young people have a huge amount of potential and schools should be the engine of this positive civic change and economic growth and there are still a lot of obstacles that are preventing that from happening.

George: So what would you say are some of the biggest obstacles? To Reinventing Stockton through the school district? Obviously first and foremost, everyone thinks of is money right? But would you say that there's the political will there the community will to enable  and to support those efforts?

Lange: Yeah. I think that there is. Schools are really complicated in any Urban School District.

It's tough to figure out how to improve the educational opportunities being offered to the 39,000 students that are attending school every day in Stockton. I know a lot of things that are going on. I think for too long there have, there have been low expectations of students and of schools in South Stockton. I think there have always been amazing dedicated tireless Educators both my parents were teachers in Stockton Unified for the entire careers.

My mom taught in southeast Stockton and my dad was born and raised in South Stockton and also taught most of his life at McKinley Elementary

George: My mom was also a teacher.

Lange: Yep,

George: In Stockton.

Lange: Yeah,

George: And than Lodi Unified

Lange: Wow, yeah,

George: Lathrop Unified, she was in adult education for Stockton Unified

Lange: Yeah. So I think that there are always been amazing, you know teachers that have worked their butts off and if they've been amazing gems of schools that have excelled. But, I think system-wide there have been ah complacency around what our students can achieve.

I go first to the data. I think it's indicative of the standards we've had for our students. That only one in three graduates in Stockton Unified is even graduating eligible to apply to a UC or CSU. So having completed all their A through GL requirements. So we're not even talking about this the high school students who start in ninth grade, but of the students who make it senior year only one in three can actually even submit that application to UC Santa Cruz or Sac State.

We have suspension and expulsion rates routinely that are three times the state average and less than one in three students in third grade are reading at reading level. So I think on the one hand from the perspective of what's going on in schools. I think that we've had this complacency that our students cannot succeed.

I think that the bigger issue though, now that I'm a teacher, is that I've seen the academic achievement of our students is impacted by the larger Community issues of poverty crime lack of Economic Opportunity. And I think for too long Stockton Unified Schools have viewed the work that we're doing in the classroom as being separate from the work that we're doing to uplift our communities.

I think the assumption that we're operating under is that you can't fix schools without fixing communities. The best schools in Stockton Unified have recognized that. Have figured out ways to bring community members in, whether it's through setting up community health clinics or real parent centers or figuring out ways to bring in curriculum and skills that are relevant for our students.

I think of schools like Health Careers Academy and Weber Academy, which is like a technical skills school that is doing amazing stuff to prepare students to enter high paid apprenticeships. But those schools are exceptions. And so the work we're doing in the South Stockton Schools Initiative has two objectives.

First, we serve as a voice for Education policy that promotes equity in Stockton Unified and particularly in South Stockton really bringing in research-based best practices from all over the state that we think might work here. And secondly to bridge the gap between community members and schools. Otherwise, ah.. Schools can't grow on their own.

So we do a lot of work taking kind of that organizing focus and bringing in parents, students, community members, whenever we can to the work to improve schools. We work with the district to make our data very open and transparent. So that we're all on the same page about where our weaknesses are and the strengths. One of the strengths is that we have a relatively high graduation rate, which is awesome.

Um.. especially when you compare Stockton Unified to districts like, Oakland Unified or or some districts in Southern California. We're doing a much better job of keeping our students through the four-year cohort, but now we need to work on making sure that they're going off to strong career training programs and strong college readiness programs.

I know that might not be a very sexy answer for you, but I think the work that we're doing in schools is so complicated but we view as being really critical. Because if we can improve honestly, if we can get fifty to a hundred more students to college from Stockton and specifically from South Stockton in the next 5 to 10 years.

We will make a huge impact in terms of addressing the issues of poverty and crime. And it's really complicated to do that. But the other stuff can't be sustainable in the long-term unless we are preparing individual students, on a larger scale I gues.

George: And how can the community help? Because you were saying essentially one of the key ingredients is community involvement. So if someone was listening to this or you're having the conversation and they are a community member and they're saying to themselves... gee, what can I do to get involved? Or what should I do? Or is it showing up in volunteering? Is it voting for a bond issue?

Lange: So you asked about funding. The funding thing is is interesting in California because now there is a lot more money for schools.

George: Right ,

Lange: Four years ago the state legislature passed this huge expansion of money for high-needs school districts called the Local Control Funding Formula. And in Stockton, we're receiving a huge influx of new money.

Ah, one requirement of the law was that districts get feedback from community members particularly parents and other stakeholders and that we make decisions at the local level. So that in our neighborhood schools. We figure out what are the huge needs and how do we address those with new money? I would say like first we need people who are engaged at the neighborhood level.

That are willing to go to their schools and say hey like so what's happening to our 800 students every year? Where are they excelling? We have a ton of data now that's one of the great outcomes of No, Child Left Behind is one of the few good outcomes of No Child Left Behind. We know where our schools are. But now I think it will take parents and community members really having the tough conversations the honest conversations with their local school districts with their local teachers and principals around what the neighborhood needs are.

And so it's hard to say at a broad level. For me, because I know that we have a huge brain drain. I want us to be training many more students that go on to college and come back. We have jobs in Stockton. We don't have enough folks that are trained to take those jobs. That have either the Career Tech skills, or the college degree credentials to fill those jobs.

In Stockton Unified, aah last year we had 60 teacher vacancies, 60 full-time teacher vacancies, and we can't recruit teachers fast enough.

Show Midpoint / Show Host George: You're listening to voices of the community which explores critical issues facing Northern California communities. This is George Koster your host, and if you're just joining us in this episode, we are discussing the Reinvention of the City of Stockton California with our guest Lange Luntao. Lange is reviewing his work with both Reinvent South Stockton Coalition and the South Stockton Schools Initiative. Which are part of the ecosystem of wraparound organizations and services Mayor Tubbs and Community Leaders have created to address the educational, health, and economic development, issues facing their neighborhood and the community at large.

Lange: So at like the big level. I think there are issues that we need help with. Their issues that we need to mobilize community energy around. But I think that for me the the best thing that a community member in South Stockton can do, is go to their local district, their local school and asked the principal, you know where are we excelling and how can we use these new resources that we've been given and use this new opportunity to improve academic outcomes even more? For folks that are listening that community members in both Stockton and more broadly, I think it'll take us just shifting what we think about our students.

And I think about how one of the issues that we have in Stockton, is that we have several school districts within our city boundaries. Um, I think for too long there's been this division, and families have been afraid of each othe. Parents have you know had this fear that I can't send my kid to school with those kids. And I think that's led to huge barriers because now we're trying to rebuild a city that has been divided for a very long time.

Not only into different neighborhoods, but also into different like school systems. And so I think it will really take us recommitting to this idea that it takes a village to raise a child. That you know, a kid being a survivor, of a victim of gun violence in South Stockton matters to families and teachers and community members in north, east, and west Stockton. And that there are ways that we can innovatively address those issues as a community, whether it's through developing mentorship programs, whether it's through pushing our school district to invest more in intervention at an earlier level or whether it's like reconfiguring how we run our schools.

George: So that gets back to the big pool of money, right? that's now  flowing in from the state.

Lange: Yeah,

George: And the community is suppose to be engaged because in the past the funds were given to you know, the inter circle and they could deem where the money would go to.

Lange: Yeah,

George: As a community member how would someone get engaged in helping you know, what they show up at public meetings?

Lange: Yeah,

George: There's public Outreach. Do they talk to their City Council person or their supervisor?

Lange: Getting engaged is harder than it should be. And so we need to demand our policymakers make it easier. But to learn about how that money is, the money that were talking about that Local Control Funding formula is playing out in your local school district.

Every school district is required to have a website where they share their local control accountability plan their El Cap. In Stockton Unified all you need to do is go to the website Stockton USD and click on the El Cap site and it breaks down the funding.  In a less than accessible way. I wish that they would do it a little bit better and also asked and also gives a calendar of events for all the community outreach sessions. But I think beyond that it's as easy as just going to your local principal and saying hey, I want to see our data and I want to figure out how I can be useful.

I think sometimes those one-on-one those face-to-face conversations are more productive and I think most School administrators. I think most teachers want to have those conversations. They just don't often happen.

George: So let's turn to kind of some lessons learned. You guys have been at for about three years. And have best practices been developed out of your execution of with appears to be like a pilot?

Lange: Sure,

George: And then from that are their schools or organizations and schools together that you would point to that are examples of where you guys are going?

Lange: Sure, so lessons learned over the, our work in the last, the last three. Well, you know the South Stockton Schools Initiative is only been around for a year.

George: Ok,

Lange: So we're just coming up on our first year working in that in an education sphere.

George: Right,

Lange: It's been a really busy year,

George: Lots of lessons,

Lange: Lots of  lessons,

George: That you are still capturing

Lange: Still capturing but I think the most heartening lesson has been that that there are dozens, hundreds of community members that that want a say in how their schools are run.

The evidence I have for that is that we had three big community events this year. Last fall we mobilized a bunch of folks in preparation for the selection of our new superintendent. Stockton Unified was searching for a superintendent. It was seeking Community input. Um.., it wasn't getting much.

So we decided to host a community coming together in South Stockton and 55 people came to the event and had a really great deep conversation about the sort of superintendent they wanted to see. The report is online. But basically they wanted to see a superintendent that was that could offer some stability that understood how to work with a low-income community that came from Stockton and really got how to treat family members and community members with respect. We are very proud that the new superintendent Eliseo Dávalos, who just started in Stockton Unified two months ago exhibits many of those characteristics. I think that's a step in the right direction and I applaud our school district, and our school board members for making the right choice there. I'm very optimistic about that.

I think we also found that even with these like really heady complicated issues like the local Control Funding Formula and El Cap, I think often these systems make it way too hard to have a voice. But we found that when you prioritize relationships with family members with teachers with local community leaders, then you can really get to those honest conversations.

We've had a lot of really great conversations and really great action over the past year around what will it take to actually prepare a student for the real world. My bias is that I think like I think we have huge college gaps in our community. And that also might come from the fact that I teach at a charter school that expects all of our students to graduate ready for college all hundred percent of them and they do.

But I have been grateful for the... I've been grateful for the community members who have come out and said, you know, like we really really. The thing that we want most is is strong Career Technical education, um.. So that our kids can get those jobs in Solar Tech so that we can become the Hub of Green Energy. Um.. And I think that our policymakers don't often have enough time or make enough time to have those deep conversations. For us when we were breaking down the details of this Local Control Funding formula the El Cap it took us four two hour sessions with a group of 20 parents to explain the broader context both like what a school budget is. And then the impact of this money. And then also expose them to different models that school districts around the state are experimenting with. So that was eight hours like and I can't imagine any school system.

It's hard to find that time. And the contest of like these, you know weekly board meetings and the structure that has been built for community members to get involved, but it's really valuable. And I think the feedback we you gain is really valuable. As a result of that, we recognize that our community members really wanted to see strong goals, strong specific goals.

Like we have all recognized that Stockton Schools are underperforming but, what they want to see from the district is if we're spending all this money, where do we hope to be in the next two to three years? So that we could have somewhere to work towards. And so that if our priority was college readiness, that community members could have a weigh-in they could know what their role should be and we've had some success there.

In terms of schools and models that were looking to replicate, I think that we're hoping to see more Community Schools pop up. And more schools develop that are really engaged with the lived experiences not only of our students but also their families. And so schools that come to mind that we've really tried to learn from our schools like Roses and Concrete in Oakland, which was founded just several years ago that is kind of reframing the role of a school not as you know, a bastion of learning that is separate from the community, but as a hub for parents students and as a hub for Community Change.

I think our goals are pretty simple. We just we want students to leave Stockton Unified as prepared as they can be. We're looking for any research-based methods that we can try. And so I guess I'm excited that there's a lot of energy not only at the school district level, but that there are dozens of teachers that have been seeing the work of our youth organizing team that have seen our work to kind of to beautify Community spaces to reclaim parks to address like holistic health issues health concerns to fight the school to Prison Pipeline. And have been figuring out ways to get students involved in all of those Community change actions that are happening outside of the classroom. And however, we can like harness more that energy. I think we'll be successful.

George: Final question, what would you say is the been the biggest impact within this one year? Obviously, it's new. Do you feel like there's one thing that's kind of an aha moment for your efforts this year?

Lange: I think I'm just I'm just really heartened that we I'm really heartened that we have a community of students who are beginning to see that they have a role in improving their schools.

That speak the language of Education policy that are able to research the data around their schools and can tell us you know, what are the points of strength and what the point of weakness. And I'm really heartened that we have that there are students in Stockton who are developing those critical thinking skills that I think sometimes our policy leaders have lacked.

Their doing the hard work of researching programs and education policies that um, other communities are trying to boost units and shrink the achievement Gap and boost academic outcomes. And in many ways our students are leading our education policymakers. And are helping them take those bold steps to improve our schools. I'm really impressed and I've been given a lot of hope, because I think we're seeing more and more that young people are stepping up and are saying, you know, these are our schools.

And we were not complacent that we're not going to stand by as as our peers and our siblings and the rest of our families continue to lack the education, the high quality educational opportunities that they deserve. And so they're really figuring out ways to get involved whether that's to clean up a park on a weekend or to develop a proposal for the use of this LCF money, which we have a group of 40 students right now that are that are preparing to bring back the school board. So I guess I'm just really excited to see that, a lot of this change is being driven by students, who are in schools every day and see their roles as leading change rather than waiting for change to happen to them.

Episode Outro: That's it for this episode of voices of the community. When we conducted this interview in late summer of 2016 Lange was running for a seat on the Stockton Unified School District Board. Lange went on to win his election and is a board of trustee for Stockton Unified School District. Lange continues his work with Mayor Tubbs to Reinvent Stockton through his role as Executive Director of the Reinvent Stockton Foundation created by Mayor Tubbs.

The Reinvent Stockton Foundation has created the Stockton Scholars, which is a guaranteed college scholarship for any Stockton Unified School District Graduate. Stockton Scholars was born out of Mayor Tubbs' Phoenix Scholars Program. Please listen to the interview with Mayor Tubbs' old college friend Rebekah Fenton who shares background on the Phoenix Scholars Program with my co-producer Nick McClendon in Episode 1.

In today's episode Lange references youth organizer Jasmine Dellafosse who is featured in Episode 7 regarding her work in organizing youth as part of the Reinvent South Stockton Coalition.

Series Outro: Voices of the community as a labor of love. This documentary series on the City of Stockton's reinvention is a tribute to my mother Josephine Koster Wiley who grew up in South Stockton and passed away during the production of the documentary series. My mom was a first generation Italian immigrant whose family migrated to Stockton and owned a motel on the Old Charter way now renamed Martin Luther King Boulevard in the Heart of South Stockton. Mayor Michael Tubbs also grew up in South Stockton with his single mother Racole Dixon.

Throughout the series, you'll hear voices of community members who are working with Michael Tubbs in both creating new organizations as well as working with fellow community members to reinvent both South Stockton and the greater Stockton Community.

Series Credits: I want to thank my associate producers Eric Estrada and Nick McClendon as well as advising producer Malcolm Cecil. Please go to to check out our next episode of From Bankruptcy to Reinvention - The City of Stockton California documentary series as well as our archived past shows which feature community voices working on solutions to critical issues facing Northern California communities. Please rate us on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts and share this story with your friends. Follow us on twitter @georgekoster and email us at  I'm George Koster in San Francisco and thank you for listening.

In memoriam of Jo Koster Wyllie

This has been an Alien Boy Production.


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