Mythology and San Diego schools
Over the past year some have claimed that the San Diego Unified School District has become controlled by interests that are harmful to the education of our children. Others see that programs that help children have been protected. A few myths have caused this confusion about who actually controls our schools.
Myth No. 1: The current school board was “installed” by the teachers’ union.
It is certainly a fact that the three candidates endorsed by the teachers’ union won the last election. However, when Shelia Jackson first ran for the board, the teachers’ union supported her opponent. She won anyway. She easily won re-election last year. Richard Barrera was unopposed in his election, so the endorsement had no effect on the results. I decided to challenge an incumbent last year and won. Many candidates have gained the teachers’ endorsement and still lost.
While our teachers may not have been pleased with some of my actions in the past year, I have always tried to listen to their point of view. We need to engage them in finding solutions to the problems we face.
Myth No. 2: The three board members who won the last election always vote as a bloc.
While we have had similar views on many issues, we have also disagreed on others. The “board majority” has disagreed on issues ranging from the downtown library to the weapons ban to personnel decisions to Title I allocations and many other budget decisions. We actually have five independent-minded board members.
Myth No. 3: The current board favors grown-ups over children.
A reluctance to lay off teachers has been mischaracterized as favoring adults. Increasing class sizes hurts children. Layoffs automatically result in larger class sizes, and the public has strongly objected to this. Layoffs are also disproportionately harmful to poor schools that can lose almost all of their staffs. Laying off teachers must be a last resort.
The budget adopted June 30 clearly affected adults more than children. Hundreds of central office positions were eliminated. Expensive consultants and outside contracts were eliminated. Those cuts hurt adults, not children.
Myth No. 4: Student achievement in San Diego schools is deteriorating. We have a long way to go in student achievement, but district test scores have improved. Science scores have steadily improved for several years. Basic skills scores went up recently and our eighth-grade math scores were among the highest in the nation. The board recently designated student achievement as its single highest priority in budget planning.
If we operate as if the above myths are facts, we will not find the right solutions for improving our schools. In the past we have looked for new superintendents to come in and solve all of our problems. While they may bring in some good new ideas, in their zeal they often throw out programs that are already working in San Diego.
Our district is developing a 10-year educational plan for San Diego schools. We will seek community feedback on the details. We will then hire a superintendent to implement the plan. This board has decided to do this, too, in an open manner.