SCUSD Observer

Sacramento, California

Archive for July 2010

The hinge the door swings on in education is the teacher

Commentary by Robert Bartron
Candidate for District 6 representative to the SCUSD School Board


The United States Marine Corps is known worldwide as a superior and ultra-effective force for good. When right must be defended or those in need must be quickly helped or a tough fight is thrown on us, our first reply is, “Send in the Marines!”

The Marine Corps is different from the other services because it has never been and never will be built around the newest weapon systems or high-tech gadgetry. The Marines have always been built around the Marine on the ground. All equipment, air power, armor, organization and supplies all have only one rationale for their existence. They exist to support the Marine carrying the rifle. Give a Marine a bayonet and a pistol and we expect him to win wars. We expect this because they are Marines. The Corps has always been successful because everything in it is there to support the grunt on the ground.

The Marine Corps organizational attitude is a good model for education. Everything in education should be built around the needs of the teachers. Teachers are the only persons in the education establishment that are in the classroom working with individual students. All supplies, equipment, technology, administrators, staff, bureaucrats, policies and programs should have only one rationale for their existence. They are there to support the one person in the whole system who does the job of daily defeating ignorance and inspiring success—the teacher. Give full support to teachers and students learn more and succeed. Weak support for what teachers need yields weakly prepared students. The hinge the door swings on in education is the teacher. Let me repeat that important concept: education should not be student focused; it should be teacher focused. Give the teacher support and basic tools and they can change the world. Deny the teacher the tools he/she needs and burden them with duties and bureaucracy not directly related to teaching and we will continue to lose the war against ignorance.

There are three connected words that are used in successful organizational models, whether it is in business or the military or education: Responsibilities, Authority, and Accountability. A person is given responsibilities to meet; plus the authority to meet those responsibilities; and then he/she is held accountable to properly use that authority to meet the responsibilities. Currently we give teachers great responsibilities, but then we undermine their authority to meet these. We also fail to understand how to properly hold teachers accountable for their performance. (Notice I said their performance and not the students’ achievements. Please see my discussion below about techniques on how to hold teachers accountable.) The purpose of the school board, superintendent and the school principal is to approach every situation with the understanding that they must support the teacher—to include the teacher’s authority. Of course, it is also the School Board’s, superintendent’s and school principal’s job to hold teachers accountable to use the authority correctly and consequently meet their responsibilities.

To restate the above paragraph in blunt terms: the Board, Superintendent, and principal should always support the teacher when students, parents or politicians are on the other side of an issue. Of course, if the teacher is wrong, then the teacher must be held accountable. But the automatic first attitude should always be to back-up the teacher. Only if investigation reveals the teacher is in the wrong should the attitude switch to correction or, if need be, just and quick punishment for the teacher. In too many instances, administrators are intimidated by the threat of lawsuits and/or bad publicity and first assume the teacher is guilty until proven innocent. This is no way to fulfill the primary responsibility to support the teachers.

In summary, center education on supporting effective teachers in daily classroom teaching and great student success will be achieved. The teacher is there to teach and everything and everyone else in education is there to support the teacher meet this mission.


Written by scusdobserver

July 31, 2010 at 7:33 am

Money not meetings

As many of you in Sacramento and California have already seen at Capitol Watch, California has still not released $71 million in education technology funding they received through stimulus money from the federal government LAST YEAR!

The legislature has finally authorized, and the CA Dept of Ed has started the process of getting out, half of that money which will be distributed based (which is called “formula money”) on Title One levels at each district.

The half that is still in budget limbo has to be spent on a competitive grant program. The CDE has already sent out an RFP for this program, had districts (like SCUSD) submit grant proposals, and the CDE graded them. When they went to the Legislature to get budget authority to send out the funds, they were denied. The Legislature would like to start a WHOLE new grant program based on longitudinal data systems. There is NO way that money will be spent within the ARRA deadlines if they do this.

The matter is now with the Budget Conferees, and given our current budget situation, will sit there until other more weighty matters are settled.

WHAT CAN YOU DO! If you are a teacher, parent, or otherwise living in SCUSD, Elk Grove USD, or San Juan USD please contact State Senator Darrell Steinberg‘s office at (916) 651-4006 and ask them to remove these funds from the regular budget process, and authorize the CDE to disburse them based on the grant RFP program that was put out last summer and is already in place. All of the districts I named have already applied for grants under that process, and we don’t want to do it again.

Written by alicemercer

July 29, 2010 at 2:01 pm

Posted in Budget, Title 1

No prisoners redux

Written by scusdobserver

July 23, 2010 at 2:26 pm

Posted in Budget

Tagged with

Take no prisoners, er…teachers

By Leo Bennett-Cauchon

Let’s pledge that children come first at Sac City Unified.
Let’s promise to put a child’s best interest at the heart of every decision we make.
Let’s stand up together.
What would happen?

Dear Board Members:

For your consideration tonight and this coming school year I would like to offer an alternative vision from my home town. I have many nieces and nephews in San Diego so I continue to follow education where I began public school teaching. This was during the Alan Bersin era of top down change.

This era is featured by Diane Ravitch in her recent book which I hope you are pondering. Here are some excerpts from an interview with her on SDUSD’s experience with the pilot project of the change model that SCUSD is adopting in many ways, even if it is dressed in a gentler style.

Why San Diego? What is it about the battles here that proved important for you in illustrating a larger point about school reform?
San Diego was a very important district in the current reform narrative because it was the first big district to apply the top-down approach. The leadership knew exactly what teachers should be doing, and they required compliance. Its “take-no-prisoners” approach was subsequently copied by Joel Klein in New York City and Michelle Rhee in Washington, D.C.

Conflict is a sign of failed leadership in education. When one is running a prison system, it is important to have a tough, top-down style, because you can’t take chances. But in education, the leadership must rely on the teachers to do the daily work. If the leadership does not win their willing, even enthusiastic, support, then the reforms will stall. Teachers are educated adults; they have experience with students. They don’t like to be treated like children. They need to feel respected.

There are plenty of problems in San Diego but I do think that the board majority there (which also operates with a policy governance model) can provide examples that are worth your consideration.

Below is an excerpt from the March annual State of the District speech by the board president. I urge you to consider placing the vision of community-driven change ahead of chief-driven change:

“The competing vision for reform comes from what I would characterize as the community model. This vision sees change as fundamentally coming from those closest to kids – teachers, parents, principals, support staff at the school such as paraeducators, counselors, librarians and office staff, community volunteers and even students themselves. The community model puts its faith in strong relationships built between people within a school community, striving for what University of Chicago professors Anthony Bryk and Barbara Schneider term ‘Trust in Schools.’ ” (SDUSD President)

Closing schools = turnaround?

In September, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and the Obama administration are set to announce the “winner” states that will receive Race to the Top funding, an ongoing competitive grants program that hands out money to states that can prove they’re sufficiently committed to education reform.

To recap, Race to the Top funding is incumbent on four “turnaround” models — all of which we’re seeing in the political machinations taking place in our own school district. They are:

  • Turnaround model: Replace the principal and rehire no more than 50% of the staff, and grant the principal sufficient operational flexibility (including in staffing, calendars/time and budgeting) to fully implement a comprehensive approach to substantially improve student outcomes.
  • Restart model: Convert a school or close and reopen it under a charter school operator, a charter management organization, or an education management organization that has been selected through a rigorous review process.
  • School closure: Close a school and enroll the students who attended that school in other schools in the district that are higher achieving.
  • Transformation model: Implement each of the following strategies: (1) replace the principal and take steps to increase teacher and school leader effectiveness; (2) institute comprehensive instructional reforms; (3) increase learning time and create community-oriented schools; and (4) provide operational flexibility and sustained support.

In the Washington Post today, writer Valerie Strauss shares a letter from parent activist, Rita Solnet:

Secretary Duncan, you have an opportunity to be the hero this country needs. You have the ability to stop these initiatives and regroup. Gain input from all levels of ’stakeholders’ in the process, gain endorsement of a new plan–a plan in which all levels of stakeholders take pride in developing and launching. Congresswoman Judy Chu’s plan is a great first start. The DOE’s proposed four (4) turnaround models [for the worst schools in each state] will not work. Scrap them, start over. Closing public schools should not be an option.

Written by scusdobserver

July 19, 2010 at 7:38 am

Teacher raises afoot?

From the Trenches

Optimism on School’s Chief Hiring Practice:

We teachers have all been sacrificing lately for the good of students and the financial solvency of SCUSD. I have an SCUSD-tested plan, however, to help us improve our financial and working condition, especially in light of the SCTA-generated concessions to our District. Here’s what we do.

Apply to the SCUSD school board to use the title, “Chief”, in front of our employee classification. For example, I would take over the moniker, Chief 6th Grade G.A.T.E. Teacher of Phoebe Hearst (it’s better to use capital letters…more credibility). You can immediately see how much more grandeur it gives a lowly teacher. But there are a host of reasons why we all should use the title, Chief:

*It improves student discipline. We all understand the importance of students deferring to classroom authority. Quiet kids make for productive kids.

*Classroom learning is enhanced. Studies show that totally compliant children make marked gains on standardized tests, the only true reliable test of student achievement.

*Teacher appearance necessarily will approach some higher standard. Let’s face it, a Chief Anything can’t come to school to improve learning for students in, say, jeans and sneakers!?! I’m a proponent of the bowtie, for example. You all must have lots of ideas on how we can dress ourselves more properly. Let’s do mandatory in-service on how to enrich a school community by what Chief Teachers wear. If only we could enlist some administrative help with teacher wardrobes.

*Parent-teacher conferences will go more smoothly and there will be more of them as well. No parent is going to dare skip the chance to talk to a “Chief” Teacher, and those pesky questions about student progress will be a thing of the past.

But this is the best news. We’ll all get huge raises. I don’t know how the Superintendent does it, but it’ll happen. He’s so confident that he replaced the Chief Financial Officer of SCUSD with a Chief Communications Officer. The financial predicament we face must not be all that bad, I guess! Maybe we’ll all just talk our way through the mess. I’m all for it anyway; it’s way easier than doing math and stuff.

So that’s one chief at $100,000 plus per year. His Chief of Staff? Again up into the six figures. The new proposed Chief of Family and Parent Engagement is expected to cost a bundle. We don’t exactly know how much the new Chief of Accountability will make, but the District spent $52,000 for a North Carolina outfit (none available in our state, I guess) to study accountability for us, so you know it’s going to cost a lot to hire someone to oversee how students, and eventually teachers are doing. Gotta be in the $100,000 plus range, though. All totaled SCUSD boasts seven new chiefs and counting. Heck, Mr. Raymond is spending thousands of dollars just to move secretaries, I hear. So any of you certificated people out there that know some secretaries, let them know about what we can do for them, too. Let’s spread the wealth!

So my plan then, placing a capital Chief in front of our lowly titles, will automatically generate an average salary increase of $42,000 per year, roughly $1 for every student we serve— if you look at finances the way our District does. And don’t worry about the school board; they’ve approved every Chief thrown at them. Besides, the Sacramento Bee hasn’t questioned the impropriety of any of our Chief’s Chiefs. It’s all on the up and up. You see, friends, we’re golden; we can’t lose.

So let’s start applying then. The District is apparently long on dollars, longer on Chiefs. The only thing we may be in short supply of is common sense. But we can solve that with a new position…..Chief of Better Judgment. Of course, we’ll have to run that by the SCUSD Communications Department for fiscal soundness.

Erik Knudson
Applying for Chief Random Article Writer status as the Need Arises

Truth in transcript

Yesterday, we published the transcript of this week’s  interview with Jonathan Raymond on Capital Public Radio. One of our astute readers (and contributors), Leo Bennett-Cauchon, did a little research (see below).


Raymond: “… We have to balance either way and we were prepared to do it by making reductions which would have increased our class sizes as well as would have eliminated the vast majority of our counselors at our high schools.”

Reality: estimated actuals 09-2010 = 28 M decrease. 10-11 = 16 M increase (pdf pg 20). Both are inaccurate projections but not balanced. 09-10 was balanced this time last year.

Raymond: “… Many of the categorical funds, these are the special dollars for state and federal programs are being reduced and there are positions — again 90 percent of our budget is personnel, so when the funding goes down we have to make corresponding reductions.”

Reality: Restricted Balance (categorical): 09-10 = 7 M. 10-11 = 23 M (pdf pg 30)

Raymond: “So we’re not adding another position, in fact, we’re reducing the cabinet level positions from eight positions down to seven.”

Past Reality: Interim Superintendent’s Reorganized Cabinet = 6 ( December Cabinet – Chief of Staff = 6). (pdf pg 2)

Current Reality: April Cabinet + Chief Accountability + Chief Engagement = 12. (pdf pg 1)

Future Reality: ?

Written by scusdobserver

July 9, 2010 at 7:24 am