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Driving equity through holistic student support

Here’s how the Oakland Unified School District is using technology to create equity through holistic student support.

5 min read


Driving equity through holistic student support


It’s nearly impossible to learn when you’re hungry. When families are worried about where their next meal will come from, being that first teacher for a child is a challenge. It’s these inequities in critical areas like health, education, and food security that make community schools, like ours in Oakland Unified School District, vital to holistic student success.

OUSD is located in the second most diverse city in the country, where 33% of students are English Language Learners and 72% qualify for free and reduced-price lunch. For our team, equity isn’t just an aspirational ideal — it’s foundational to how we support our 81 schools, our 36,000 students and our staff.

With equity as our north star, we developed a community schools model to support the whole child. We serve our students by integrating powerful classroom instruction with much needed support and service to ensure they have what they need to thrive. These community school services include everything from counseling and mental health support to food and shelter. 

But devising a comprehensive model that cultivates young critical thinkers prepared for college, career and community success is easier said than done.

Supporting students holistically

Connecting students with these comprehensive services is critical work, especially in an environment turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic. Referral forms get lost, paperwork falls through the cracks and relying on students to get parent-signed documents creates challenges.

Until we rolled out a new tool in January of 2020, the process for managing this important work had largely been manual. We used a mix of whatever tools were readily available, from spreadsheets and email threads to hand-written documents. That inefficient process was unsustainable. We knew we had to improve our systems and organize our data; it would pay dividends in how we support our students.

What’s important is getting the right services to the right students at the right time to operationalize equity, and we needed a single solution that could efficiently and effectively connect a student’s needs from referral to service. From the beginning, we had a vision of what this solution would look like: a universal, single point-of-entry student record that would allow us to track every service and support that each student receives at all of our schools.

Scaling change through technology

Digitizing the process of tracking the services that our students receive only made sense. As a longtime partner of Salesforce, we already leveraged the Salesforce platform as an asset management tool to keep track of some 5,000 science kits. 

After many conversations, onsite learning, and co-development, the Education Cloud team unveiled a new student support tool for OUSD — aligned with the needs of students, families, and staff.

This solution now helps our team triage individual student needs, reduce the amount of time it takes to connect students with services, and track student outcomes. Most importantly, automating these formerly manual processes allows our staff to spend more time where it matters most: with our students. Our teachers have a streamlined way to make referrals and receive immediate feedback on actions and progress for their students. Our counselors, social workers, and other vital team members can easily connect students with the services they need to succeed — both in school and in life.

It’s been inspiring and exciting to see how the work at OUSD has informed the development of a new system that will positively affect more school districts. Using digital platforms to illuminate each child is truly what I personally believe to be technology matched with social justice.

Empowered to drive student success

Streamlining the personalized support we offer our students is critical, but it’s only one thing we prioritized in seeking a tool that would fill our needs. Having a solution that provided a 360-degree view of student data was a vital component. Having data the entire team can utilize enriches the conversation so that staff recommendations are more likely to have a higher level of impact on student success.

Although our first school year using this platform was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, some of the early results are promising. We’re matching a student from referral to service 36% more quickly*, and staff is using the tool to connect students with services during school closures.

Serving the whole child in an equitable way means operationalizing the ideas behind equity. It means having the right infrastructure to collect the data you need to make the best decisions that support equity. It means allocating resources in a way that best supports each child’s needs. And it means building strategic partnerships at scale. This critical work leads to supporting students holistically and closing the opportunity gap, which is foundational to building a public school system that’s grounded in equity and social justice.

Just as the year 2020 brought a pandemic that exacerbated existing inequities in our school systems nationwide, the years to come will bring unforeseen challenges that will impact students everywhere. Providing schools with the digital infrastructure and necessary tools to serve the whole child isn’t just important, it’s imperative for helping every student thrive.

*Note: These are preliminary results based on a pilot during the 2019-2020 school year, which was disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.


Dr. Kyla Johnson-Trammell has led Oakland Unified School District as superintendent since July 2017. Johnson-Trammell has spent most of her 23 years in education at OUSD and it’s where she received her own primary education. The district uses Salesforce to manage its student support services.

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