Making Schools Work with Hederick Smith district wide reform

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district wide reform


February 1996: The San Diego teacher’s union launches a strike, demanding sizable salary increases and more school-based control. Superintendent Bertha Pendleton’s administration loses the battle: teachers get a 14% salary increase, plus new language on site-based governance.
Source: SD Union Tribune 6/29/98

1996: The San Diego Chamber of Commerce, dissatisfied with the continuing poor performance in the district and eager for change, makes contributions to school board candidates that support reform.

March 1998: Alan Bersin, a U.S. Attorney, is chosen to lead San Diego’s 140,000-student school system. His appointment receives considerable support from the local business community, though the s chool board is divided. Board member Frances Zimmerman is angered by how the decision was made, leading to tensions between supporters and opponents of reform over both the decision and, later, policy for reform.
Source: SD Union Tribune 6/10/00, 8/9/01; Zimmerman interview 2/21/05

July 1998: Alan Bersin is sworn in as superintendent on July 1, 1998. He immediately hires New York City’s District 2 Superintendent, Anthony Alvarado, as Academic Chancellor to bring his ideas about district-wide reform to San Diego. Bersin will attend to the political and administrative aspects of reform, while Alvarado will concentrate on implementing it.
Source: SD Union Tribune 6/1/99

September 1998: Bersin and Alvarado focus first on improving literacy instruction. When the school year begins, a uniform literacy curriculum is launched district-wide. Elementary school teachers are presented with a framework for teaching literacy, and each teacher is expected to spend three hours a day on reading, writing, listening and speaking – gatekeeper skills, experts say, that are essential for learning all other subjects.
Source: SD Union Tribune 6/1/99

Fall 1998: Some teachers and principals, accustomed to having greater autonomy over their classroom and curriculum, resist the new initiatives. They particularly object to Alvarado’s top-down approach.
Source: LA Times 6/24/99

Spring 1999: The local teacher’s union, the San Diego Education Association, squares off with Bersin and Alvarado over the plan to put peer coaches alongside teachers in the classrooms to help improve the quality of instruction. The union does not want the district to choose peer coaches, preferring instead to give that power to the staff at each school.
Source: SD Union Tribune 5/5/99, 5/14/99

May 4, 1999: The union organizes nearly 2,000 teachers to picket the San Diego Unified headquarters to protest Bersin’s plan to select peer coaches. Several days later, the two parties reach an agreement to put San Diego State University in charge of screening prospective teacher coaches.
Source: SD Union Tribune 5/5/99, 5/14/99; Alan Bersin Interview

June 1999: After a unanimous school board vote, 13 principals and two vice principals are removed from their jobs because they lack “the capacity for leadership.” They are escorted from their offices by police officers and security guards. All 15 employees were tenured and, therefore, could not be dismissed; they are reassigned to positions as teachers, gym coaches, counselors and librarians, taking pay cuts of $12,000 to $35,000. (In 2005, the district settles a lawsuit filed by the principals for $1 million.)
Source: SD Union Tribune 8/5/00, 6/21/99, 6/23/2005

September 2000: Elaine Fink, Alvarado’s deputy from New York’s District 2, is hired to run the Leadership Academy at the University of California-San Diego, designed to train principals for the San Diego school district. One of the major changes under the reforms is redefining the principal’s role – shifting the balance of the job to focus less on bureaucratic details, and more on improving instruction.
Source: SD Union Tribune 1/12/00; JS Interview w/Elaine Fink

Winter 2000: Bersin unveils the district’s “Blueprint for Success in a Standards-Based System,” he $49 million initiative is set to take effect in the fall. Bersin convinces the school board and the U.S. Department of Education to redirect Title I federal funding to pay for the program. Under this plan, most Title I money is no longer at the discretion of local schools, giving more flexibility and control to the central office.

The Blueprint:

  • Expanded teacher-training programs (peer coaches) and massive increases in professional development spending.
  • 600 classroom assistants are laid off to pay for 200 teaching coaches.
  • Students who don't meet academic standards will be held back in small classes. Some must repeat grades.
  • Intense literacy and math instruction (three-hour lessons for struggling students).
  • A required 3-hour reading and writing period in elementary schools.
  • Lengthened school year for some students to include intensive summer sessions.
  • Extended days for some students.
  • More money for books and materials.

Source: SD Union Tribune 1/3/00, 1/11/00, 8/5/00;

March 14, 2000: After a six-hour meeting and by a narrow 3-2 vote, the school board passes the Bersin-Alvarado "Blueprint.” An audience of 3,000 supporters and opponents pour into the school district offices. School Board President Edward Lopez supports Bersin’s goal to launch the program by the fall, despite protests from dissident board members John deBeck and Frances Zimmerman.
Source: SD Union Tribune 3/15/00

Fall 2000: Three of the five school board members are up for re-election. An unprecedented $500,000 is spent on television ads opposing Frances Zimmerman, funded primarily by local business leaders, including the late John Walton (Wal-Mart), Irwin Jacobs (Qualcomm), John Moores (San Diego Padres) and Malin Burnham (Leap Wireless). The ads urge voters to “tell Fran Zimmerman to stop voting against school reform.” However, the strategy creates a backlash campaign and gives Zimmerman momentum. She wins the election, keeping her seat on the board, but the 3-2 pro-Bersin majority remains.
Source: LA Times 10/17/00; SD Union Tribune 11/4/00

2001 - 2005: Charity foundations including the National Science, Gates, Hewlett, Qualcomm, Carnegie and Intel continue to support school reform, contributing more than $50 million over four years.
Source: SD Union Tribune 10/27/02

June 2001: Tensions run high as election season approaches. A union survey of 8,500 teachers reveals discontent among 65 percent. But the district administration is skeptical of the survey and its methodology.
Source: SD Union Tribune 6/26/01

October 2001: Sue Braun steps down as board president after public uproar over an e-mail she sent. Shortly after a board meeting, she wrote that Zimmerman and deBeck ought to be shot. Ron Ottinger, the new board president, tries to ease the acrimony and chaos during meetings by bringing in a group therapist.
Source: SD Union Tribune 10/10/01; Board Meeting Video 10/23/2001

August 2002: After three years of reform, achievement improves in some areas throughout the district:

  • API rankings for 2002 show that 83% of San Diego's elementary schools met their individually set academic targets, up 17 percentage points from the previous year. The number of failing schools between 2001 and 2002 decreases by almost half.
  • More than 60% of the district’s second graders read at or above the national average, compared with 43% in 1998.
  • 65% of second graders score at or above the national average in math, compared with 50% in 1998.
However, test scores are flat or down in some secondary grades.
Source: SD Union Tribune 08/26/02, 08/31/02

Fall 2002: The school board seat of Sue Braun, a Bersin supporter, is open in the 2002 election, threatening his 3-2 majority. Behavior in school board meetings improves little as personal attacks are ramped up. Zimmerman and other opponents compare Bersin, who is Jewish, and his reforms to an “Anschluss,” a term that describes Hitler’s takeover of Austria of 1938. Teachers chant “Heil Fuhrer Bersin” at protests.

The opposition’s candidate, a former Navy Commander, loses credibility when it’s revealed that while serving he was stripped of his command after assaulting crewmembers. Katherine Nakamura wins the election and portrays herself as an impartial, if reserved, supporter of the Bersin reforms. John deBeck retains his seat.
Source: SD Union Tribune 2/27/02, 4/13/02, 5/15/02, 5/3/02, 8/17/02, 9/29/02

October 2002: The local civic group, San Diego Dialogue, reviews the Blueprint's results in detail. The group, which includes the chancellor of UCSD and the presidents of San Diego State University and the University of San Diego, reports "demonstrable gains in student achievement in the core subject areas of reading and mathematics." It also notes a "narrowing of the achievement gap between white students and students of color." Their report concludes that although "San Diego's performance gains are not unique in California, San Diego's absolute levels of performance continue to equal or exceed those of similar school districts in other parts of the state."
Source: SD Union Tribune 10/27/02

November 2002: A new climate emerges following the November 2002 elections. Anticipated reductions in state funding raise fears of potential layoffs and program cuts. Bersin calls off expansion of the Blueprint due to limited funds.
Source: SD Union Tribune 11/8/02

February 2003: After five years as Chancellor of Instruction, Anthony Alvarado has decided to vacate his post. Bersin says Alvarado’s departure is a mutually reached agreement. Alvarado will officially be off the district payroll in September 2003.
Source: SD Union Tribune 2/5/03; (PDF - Adobe Reader Required)

February 2004: Researchers at the American Enterprise Institute note improved literacy skills of elementary school children under the Blueprint model. But the reforms are deemed largely ineffective in middle and high school.

  • Elementary students scoring in the 50th percentile range in reading on the Stanford Achievement Test rose from 44% in 1998 to 57% in 2003.
  • Progress was steepest among minority students and low-performing schools.
  • Fewer gains for in middle and the high school students.
Source: SD Union Tribune 11/5/04, 9/28/04; Education Week 10/6/04

September 2004: School Board member Frances Zimmerman equates Bersin and Board President Ron Ottinger’s implementation of “No Child Left Behind” to the actions of Jews who “shepherded their own people onto the trains” in Nazi Germany. Zimmerman is censured for the comment.
Source: SD Union Tribune 9/29/04, 9/30/04, 10/14/04

Fall 2004: Board members Zimmerman and Ottinger decide not to seek re-election. With Lopez also leaving office, three seats are open. Three new board members, all skeptical of reforms, are sworn in.
Source: SD Union Tribune 12/5/03, 11/6/04

November 2004: A week after the new board is sworn in, the teacher’s union calls for Bersin’s replacement.
Source: SD Union Tribune 11/8/04

January 2005: Bersin agrees to step down from his post as superintendent. The school board buys out his contract at a cost of $283,000. He will leave on June 30th, a year before his contract expires.
Source: SD Union Tribune 11/6/04

April 30, 2005: California governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, names Bersin as new state Secretary of Education. Bersin is also appointed to the state Board of Education.
Source: SD Union Tribune 4/30/05

July 2003: The San Diego School Board unanimously votes to hire Carl Cohn as superintendent. Cohn was a former superintendent of the Long Beach school district where he served for 10 years. Most recently he was a Clinical Professor at the University of Southern California’s School of Education.
Source: (PDF - Adobe Reader Required); (PDF - Adobe Reader Required)

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