February 20, 2004

Editorial:

City School Board Races Offer A Chance for Change

It is not clear exactly when the San Diego Unified School District made the commitment to a radical change in the way it taught its students, but a decision was made and the program that was implemented became known as the Blueprint for Student Success. To implement this program, it took a major re-make of the district from top to bottom. The re-make started with the hiring of Alan Bersin as Superintendent.

Bersin was hired as the lightening rod, with the responsibility paving the way for the implementation of the Blueprint. Bersin was to run the school district much like a business, from the top down, and more importantly, he was to ensure 100% dedication to this program from the staff, which included the firing of a dozen or so principals who did not buy into the program. There was a redirection of funding so that all available monies would go towards this program, and this included the firing of all teachers’ aides within the district. Bersin slashed and burned the educational brush in order to clear a pathway for Anthony Alvarado, the educational superintendent who would guide the implementation of the Blueprint.

The Blueprint model was created on the east coast where Alvarado implemented the program at a much smaller school district, and with much touted success. It was determined that this new program needed to be expanded to a much larger, and a more diverse, school district. San Diego City Schools was chosen for the plan, and it was assumed that the success experienced on the east coast would replicate itself here and would be touted throughout the nation as the new educational model. The Blueprint had the heaviest of hitters backing it. The students graduating through this program would be the future workforce, which would be dominated by computers, hence, you had companies such as Hewlett-Packard and the Bill Gates Foundation pouring millions of dollars into this program.

The final piece to this puzzle, to ensure unfretted implementation, was a school board that fully backed this program, which they found in Ron Ottinger, Sue Braun and Ed Lopez. This created a board majority that gave a blank check to Bersin and Alvarado.

This is, of course, a reader’s digest version of what happened with San Diego Unified School District and in no way details all that has transpired over the last six years, but instead to serve as a base on which we look at today’s school board races.

It was never a question of whether or not change was needed at city schools; it was needed. City schools had been failing in educating minority students, and something had to be done! The Blueprint, in and of itself, was not the problem. The problem was that the public was, for all intents and purposes, locked out of the discussion process.

School board members are elected to represent the views and concerns of the citizens of the district that elected them. They are the voice for their community, and it is through the elected board members that the community is able to provide input into the education of their children. This process broke down. The board majority was fully committed to the Blueprint, and for a couple of them, they had pinned their political future to this endeavor. Despite questions, outcries, protests and many meetings, the community’s voice went unheard and unanswered. The board majority forged ahead with the Blueprint.

While the supporters of the Blueprint can point to some success with the program, by and large, it has failed to live up to the larger promise of the Blueprint, and the future is not bright. The results of this, Alvarado has left the district, and two of the board majority, Ottinger and Lopez have decided not to run for re-election with their political future very much in question. Fran Zimmerman, a minority member of the board, also decided not to run for re-election getting gerrymandered out when district boundaries were re-drawn.

San Diego City School is at a crucial stage with the question of whether or not to scrap the Blueprint. While we can’t fault the sentiment and frustration with the Blueprint, we question the logic to scrap the whole plan.

First off, the school district has failed to educate Hispanic and minority children, and taking a step backwards, in the form of teaching to the standard, is not the answer.

Secondly, can the district handle another abrupt change of direction in its teaching philosophy and another re-make of the district?

And thirdly, millions upon millions of dollars have been spent in order to implement the plan and improve teaching. Are we willing to throw away this huge investment, and in turn sacrifice the next graduating class?

The lesson learned with the Blueprint, which Alan Bersin conceded to, was that parents needed to be a part of the process. All the candidates running have acknowledged the necessity of parent involvement. The major difference between candidates is concentrating on doing away with the Blueprint altogether and firing Bersin, or taking what works from the Blueprint and building upon that. At La Prensa San Diego, we believe in the latter and should support those candidates that support building on the positives of the Blueprint. We have spent too much money and have already sacrificed enough students’ education to go backwards and start over.

In District A, we have two school district candidates who are both heavily involved with their community, Mitz Lee and Miyo Reff. The both have demonstrated a deep dedication to the education of all students. The difference lies in that Miyo Reff wants to build on the strengths of the Blueprint and believes in the collaborative decision making process that includes the teachers and parents. Mitz Lee wants to scrap the whole process and focus on teaching to the standards. For this reason we endorse Miyo Reff for District A in the San Diego Unified School District.

District E has three candidates, who in one form or another support certain aspects of the Blueprint with an eye toward building upon its successes, but of the three, Sharon Whitehurst-Payne presents a more concise vision of what needs to be done with the district. Whitehurst-Payne advocates keeping class sizes at 20 students, cutting instructional leaders and school site administrators, and to reign in the excessive spending on the Blueprint. We endorse Sharon Whitehurst-Payne for District E.

Then there is District D. District D deserves special attention. It is a district that is the core of the City of San Diego, encompassing Logan Heights, Sherman Heights, City Heights, North Park, Hillcrest, and borders National City. This district has a high concentration of Hispanics and of all the districts was impacted the most by the Blueprint for Students Success.

Beloved bilingual principals were fired from the schools in this area and replaced by monolingual principals. Programs that were directed at Hispanic students had monies redirected in support of the Blueprint, parents organized, held meetings and protested in opposition to the Blueprint. Schools tried to opt out of the Blueprint via the charter school program only to be turned down. Parents were frustrated by the stonewalling approach from a majority of the school board and felt that they were no longer welcome on school campuses.

It is against this backdrop that four candidates filed papers to run for office, yet only one qualified to be on the ballot – Benjamin Hueso. Three candidates failed to gather the required 200 signatures of registered voters from the district, but Luis Acle was able to take his case to court and through a court order have his name added to the ballot. The two other candidates are running as write in candidates, Pilar Arballo and Guadalupe Corona.

The two candidates with their names on the ballot have an extraordinary advantage over the two write in candidates, which for the voters of District D is a shame. The least qualified candidates to represent this district are Benjamin Hueso and Luis Acle.

Of all nine candidates running for San Diego City School Board, Hueso is the only candidate that has given his full support to the Blueprint and Alan Bersin, which tells us that he is totally out of touch with the district he hopes to represent. If Hueso had been involved with the school board and the issues over the past six years, if he had been involved with educational debate, if he had been with the parents from this community fighting for the best education possible, Hueso would not be a staunch supporter of the Blueprint, and he clearly is not the voice reflecting the sentiments of this community.

Hueso is a political wannabe, and he sees this school board seat as his first step up the political ladder. He has grabbed onto the political coattails of the Inzunza political machine and is the only school board candidate with a paid political consultant, who is also a part of the Inzunza machine. By supporting Bersin and the Blueprint, Hueso is hoping to attract the same money and support from the Chamber of Commerce, the local daily paper, and big business that supported the board majority in implementing the Blueprint and also poured millions of dollars in an attempt to oust the minority voice of the school board. Hueso is exactly what this district doesn’t need! This district has had enough of this type of representation in Ron Ottinger. It is time that this district have someone who represents the community of District D.

Luis Acle is a career bureaucrat who has worked in and around politics for most of his life. He has run for office several times before, unsuccessfully, and is once again running. Acle has not been involved with this community publicly or with the discourse over the issues of public education in the past. He is another candidate who has not been to school board meetings in the past six years during the implementation of the Blueprint. He has few ideas on what needs to be done if he’s elected. His strongest case for being on the school board is that he is the parent of two students enrolled in district schools.

The two best-qualified candidates for this district seat are the two candidates whose names won’t appear on the ballot and who are facing a very difficult uphill climb to be one of the two candidates in the general elections.

Of the two, Pilar Arballo is the best candidate to represent this district. Primarily, she has a strong base of grassroots community support from within the district. She has been involved in education, as an advocate and as a teacher at Rosa Parks Elementary, Cesar Chavez Continuing Education and Memorial Academy High schools, she is willing to work with the Blueprint, by bringing in all stake holders in the decision-making process. It is for these reason that we Endorse Pilar Arballo for District D.

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