SCUSD Observer

Sacramento, California

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)


2 Responses

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  1. Leo,

    Great ideas.
    Thanks to you I read with enthusiasm Richard Barrera’s, San Diego Unified S.D. Board President, state of the district message about the “Community Model” of school improvement vs the “Corporate Model” and I was so impressed with San Diego’s choice for improving schools and educating children. The top-down corporate reform tore apart SDUSD under its previous superintendent (Bersin) and it is doomed to ultimate failure at many levels precisely because it IS non-collaborative. Boy, could we learn a lesson from them!

    I see no conflict with teachers and the collaborative model of school improvement. Except for a few selectively- hand-picked teachers and parents, I see little collaboration in our superintendents’ strategic plan. When will our school board get it?!?

    Thanks for the insight, Leo.

    Erik Knudson

    July 24, 2010 at 8:04 pm

  2. I must apologize: my first response to L’eo’ letter was one of frustration. I sarcastically commented:

    Hi All and Yo! I concur with L’eo’s reasoning…I would like to point out that once more we are dealing with this issue, It consumes a tremendous amount of the public discussion, year in and year out, with no satisfactory agreement. I would like to point to the words of that great educator: Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results Albert Einstein. If we are not going to fix it… can we just not talk about it anymore?

    This issue is much more important than the base politics that seems to suspend it. It is not about St. Hope or Sacramento Charter High School. It is simply about the public facility called Sac High that has been privatized.
    It seems to no longer be a public as the public’s voice is never heard. It has become a private school.

    Yeah so what!

    Sac High used to be one of the many public facilities that are made available to the community by SCUSD. I can think of few times since the beginning of the St. Hope controversy that there have been public events similar to those at our other community supported public high schools. I guess the point I am trying to make is a school is not just a school, it is a community center that provides so much more than education. It breaths life in to neighborhoods, it is where our families learn and play. When you privatize you don’t get a public education or a public facility, you get a private school

    SCUSD Web Site
    SCUSD Facilities Maintenance Department


    July 22, 2010 at 11:41 am

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