SCUSD Observer

Sacramento, California

Archive for the ‘Teacher Layoffs’ Category

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)


Why the high school counselor issue is important to elementary teachers

During the recent labor agreement vote between SCTA and SCUSD, a lot of secondary teachers expressed concern that although elementary issues (CSR in K-3) were addressed, their primary concern, the reduction in the number of school counselors were not directly addressed by the agreement. Many voted for the agreement in spite of that, because they saw the value of elementary CSR. I think it is important to understand why this is so critical for all teachers (including elementary teachers like myself).  I had some conversations with two high school teachers in the district, Lori Jablonski (McClatchy) and Larry Ferlazzo (Luther Burbank), here is what I found out.

Counselors at high schools provide two valuable services. They help kids with emotional and other problems that need to get solved. Given how many students there are in a comprehensive high school (or even a middle school) and how they are distributed (multiple teachers), they can easily fall between the cracks. Having a counselor to refer students to is a critical safety net.

In addition, they advise students on what classes they will need to take to meet their academic goals. Many colleges require that a counselor write a recommendation letter for applicants for admission or scholarships. At McClatchy, they were originally set to have ONE counselor for the entire school of over 2,000. The Superintendent’s most recent email indicates that the level will be about 3x that figure. But, that would just be at QEIA schools (not McClatchy), and at those schools, it would mean shifting money from other programs (like CSR at Burbank). Even then, that would increase counselors to 1 per 1,000 or 1,500 students. Will that be enough? High school teachers don’t think so.

How would you feel as the parent of a student in one of these high schools? How do you feel as the elementary teacher of some of these students? All of us (elementary, middle, and high school teachers) spend a lot of time preparing these students to be college-ready, it would be a shame if they missed the “finish-line” because there wasn’t a counselor to help them with their paperwork. That’s why this issue is not just important for secondary. We need to make it clear that counselor staffing is our next priority and that any further money or savings should be spent on returning counselors.

Written by alicemercer

June 24, 2010 at 5:34 pm

Corporate restructuring

The news that Superintendent Jonathan Raymond is seeking permission from trustees to hire a chief accountability officer for SCUSD does not allay very real fears that Raymond is accelerating a push to develop a corporate education culture in Sacramento.

Consider these job titles: Chief Talent Officer, Chief Knowledge Officer, Chief Portfolio Officer…all with annual salary ranges between $125,000-175,000. New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, a strong proponent of privatization, devised this idea of “administrative restructuring.”

These executives (most who have never taught in a classroom or been a principal) make the rounds throughout the countries’ school systems while changing job titles and descriptions. It’s a smorgasboard of CEO’s. Raymond was a chief accountability officer before he was hired in Sacramento.

The ultimate goal is to run the school system like a corporation –SCUSD teachers will have continued pressure to “teach the test” and improve API scores — data will be relentlessly tracked and tied to performance by the chief accountability officer.

This reform leads to what education historian Diane Ravitch calls a huge mistake:

Teachers — not just union leaders — are unhappy, frustrated, and demoralized. So are parents, because they don’t like the high-stakes testing regime either. They don’t like that their children are losing time for the arts, science, history, geography, physical education, foreign languages, and everything that is not tested. They may not be well-informed, yet they know that their children are missing out on a good education.

Time for the board to step up

By Lori A. Jablonksi

Sixty-seven teachers at C.K. McClatchy High School voted this week to overwhelmingly support the collective bargaining agreement between the district and Sacramento City Teachers Association.

I want to make sure I do my best to convey the general sense and mood as
McClatchy teachers gave their approval to donate to the District over $1,000
annually for the next two years to fund elementary class-size reduction and
to establish a retiree benefit trust.

Teachers voted with no guarantee that the counselors we so desperately
need at the middle and high school levels will return.  And they did
so without any word whether pink-slipped high school teachers would be
back in the classrooms next year.  One teacher called his vote a “leap of
faith” that the Board will finally “get it” and start paying attention to
the budget and actual spending, rather than just approve what the District
staff presents.

Another, a teacher with teens soon to start college, had tears in her
eyes as she voted (actually, quite a few did).  She told me that with her
husband furloughed and with the astonishing increases in the price of
tuition she had no idea what she was going to do about her kids’
college future.  This agreement, she said, would essentially wipe away
what little discretionary income her family had left each month. (She
noted too, as did several others, that at least with furloughs they could
spend the day off at home. A bit of gallows humor, perhaps, in a
terrible situation.)  Nevertheless, she told me she voted for it, as did
over 90% of the McClatchy staff.

Most concerning to me, however, was the overall sense of skepticism
expressed that Superintendent Raymond and the members of the Board of
Trustees truly appreciate that the teachers have agreed to make a
significant financial sacrifice in order to repudiate the “race to the
bottom” mentality others were so quick to embrace:  that furloughs (teaching
fewer days!) in any way, shape or form are consistent with “putting kids

Now that the agreement has been ratified, the District, thanks in large part
to its teachers, should be celebrated far and wide as a place where the
school year was kept intact, students and families were not turned away
through furloughs, and the true education mission was preserved.

It is now time to ask SCUSD board members to step up and match the
commitment shown by District teachers to keep cuts as far away from the kids
as possible.

Over the past year, I have joined others, including Board Member
Rodriguez, in advocating for a “line-by-line” budget review public work shop
in order to ensure that all dollars budgeted and spent are done so with
priority concerns–our kids’ classroom learning experience–in mind.

This is a plea to create such a process.

It will help re-assure teachers, parents and the community, at this
crucial time when so many are sacrificing so much, that the District Board
of Trustees are determined to leave no stone unturned to find ways to reduce
the cuts to teaching and support staff going forward.   We might even
discover a way to fully fund our middle and high school counselors and
restore some reality to the oft-stated principle that we believe in
nurturing a college-going culture in this district.

Agreement passes

SCTA reports that there were 1607 ballots qualifying.

The final vote was:
1009  YES
598  NO
63%  support

With these results, the proposed contract has been ratified by the membership.

Governing coherently

At tonight’s school board meeting, the trustees will be discussing and acting on the idea of coherent governance. Also on the table is the approval of the Capitol Collegiate Academy Charter School, the 2011 budget, and a reduction in force of classified and certificated employees.

Public comment is scheduled for 10:17 p.m.

My Children are not Widgets

Sometimes I’m amazed at how my two children could have come from the same gene pool and be so different.  From the very beginning this was clear.  As an infant, my son needed to be held while we walked around the house constantly.  The moment we tried to set him down…”WAAAAAAA!!!!!”  My daughter, at the same age, could be put down in her crib wide-awake and she would soothe herself to sleep.  As a preschooler, my daughter was debilitatingly shy.  (FYI-Microsoft Word tells me that debilitatingly is not a real word, but I will continue to use it anyway.  Take that, Bill Gates) If we went out in public, you could see the fear on her face as people approached her.  My son, however, was comfortable starting a conversation with whatever kid, teen or adult happened to be within earshot.  Many a stranger has been privileged to learn the finer details of the Thomas the Tank Engine saga.  His comfort in social situations continues to this day.

Now, these two children in elementary school are still very different.  One is amazingly academically focused, creating new work assignments when the ones assigned by the teacher are completed.  The other spends homework time creating incredible things out of Legos and brainstorming questions about what would happen if the guy from Avatar teamed up with Qui-Gon Jin and they created a super spaceship.  (OK, I totally made up that question, but it’s usually something like that)

Why am I divulging this personal information about my kids?  Stay with me.  I’m going somewhere with this.

Our current education system is based on a principle that all children, families, and teachers are the same.  We have a one size fits all mentality when it comes to curriculum, behavior management, and selection of teachers.  This attitude may work great in the industrial world, where the final product is some random widget that can only be created one way.  But guess what…

My children are not widgets.

If my two kids, who came from the same gene pool, are so different, think about how many individuals there are among the students in our school, our district, and our community.  Different kids have different personalities.  Different kids learn in different ways.  Different teachers teach in different ways.  These are all things that we should appreciate, not ignore.

I understand that some of my concerns stem from decisions made at the state level, where a lot of the curriculum requirements are determined.  But I also know that there are many teachers in SCUSD and beyond that are truly amazing, and despite the fact that they must use the curriculum approved for all students, manage to make it interesting, fun, and work to the strengths of each individual student.

And, like in all professions, there are those who are just not good at their job.

Unfortunately, we have a personnel system that is entirely based on seniority.  The Board of Education, district administration, Sacramento City Teachers Association, and our community as a whole have accepted a system that bases teachers’ value solely on how long they have continued to show up for work.  Sure, experience is important, but it’s not the only thing.  My kids have had amazing teachers that have been brand new to this career, and others that have been teaching long enough that they could have been my teachers.  But they have also had some teachers that, if I had the authority, would have been sent packing years ago.  I’m sure there is a widget-making factory for them somewhere.

My point is this: We need the best teachers with the best ability to adapt to the needs of our children.  Whatever that takes.  In the future I will discuss some possibilities for how to evaluate teachers in a way that includes both experience and results.  Not just test results, but actual results.  Those amazing teachers that I referenced…I want them to stay.   In those tough budget times where pink slips are given to our teachers, job security needs to be there for the best teachers, not just for those with the most seniority.  Experience does not automatically equal ability and interest.  For example, I have had far more time on this earth than my son, but he can do a far better job at answering those questions about Qui-Gon Jin and that Avatar dude.

I know I’m not alone with these ideas.  I talk with other parents about this all the time.  In New York, a bill would allow principals to decide who stays and who gets laid off. Randi Weingarten, the President of the American Federation of Teachers, when asked about keeping ineffective teachers, has stated that we need “far better evaluation systems where you actually look at somebody’s performance instead of these drive-by evaluations…” (Real Time with Bill Maher, 3/26/10). Clearly, this is an issue worthy of discussion.

We need to figure out how to best serve every student, and what structural system will best enable that to happen.  We can all agree to put our students first.  Let’s also agree that our children and teachers are not interchangeable widgets.

Written by Michael Minnick

April 16, 2010 at 11:22 pm