Urban Education

February 28, 2001 1 min read

Youthful Vision: Just when Jason Hodge thinks everyone is over the age thing, it comes up again. It was an obvious issue when, at 21, he ran for a seat on the Oakland, Calif., school board in 1996—and won.

Jason Hodge

During that campaign, Mr. Hodge pointed out that he could relate to the needs of students because, having graduated from Oakland’s Skyline High School just four years earlier, he was almost one himself.

“There were problems in the district, and I wanted to return and make sure the voices of young people were heard,” said Hodge, who works as a city administrator for Oakland.

Emboldened by his re-election last year, when he garnered 70 percent of the votes cast, Mr. Hodge decided to seek election by his peers as board president.

Again, questions of age came up. Although he was a four-year board veteran, he was just 25.

“The funny thing is,” he said, “the question of age only comes up when I take on a new race. I thought everyone had forgotten my age, but it came up when I wanted to be president. I didn’t think it was an issue.”

Apparently, it was not a big enough issue to prevent his ascension to the presidency of the board overseeing the 54,000-student district in January. He is the youngest person ever to hold the job.

The novelty of his youth, however, is likely to give way to the tremendous challenge of running a school board that is in the throes of change.

A ballot measure passed last spring raised the number of board seats from seven to 10, and gave Oakland’s reform- minded mayor, Jerry Brown, the authority to pick the new members. Newspaper columnist Chip Johnson summarized the task facing Mr. Hodge in a piece that appeared last month in the San Francisco Chronicle.

“If Jason Hodge wants to be remembered as more than just the youngest school board member ever,” Mr. Johnson advised, “the one skill that he must master immediately is political bridge-building in a city where burning bridges has become the norm on the Oakland school board.”

Mr. Hodge, a 1998 graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in English literature, welcomes the challenge.

After all, he also wants change. Not only did he support replacing the district’s superintendent two years ago, but he also wants to push more authority to schools. “I’m not wedded to tradition,” he said.

—Robert C. Johnston

A version of this article appeared in the February 28, 2001 edition of Education Week