May 13, 2005

Latino leaders against Bersin appointment

By Pablo Jaime Sainz

After Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger announced he had selected San Diego City Schools Superintendent Alan Bersin as State Secretary of Education, educational leaders in San Diego, especially Latinos, reacted fiercely against the appointment.

Bersin, who was fired from his post as superintendent by the School Board, will leave San Diego City Schools on June 30. Bersin would begin his new role as Secretary of Education on July 1.

He had been superintendent since 1998, after a career as a lawyer and after being called the first “Border Czar” for his work with the Border Patrol.

Bersin was a controversial superintendent during his tenure at San Diego City Schools.

Some teachers claim he was very anti-teacher, while some parents said he disregarded the community.

Dr. Jesús Nieto, professor in the Teacher Education Department, at San Diego State University (SDSU), said that Bersin’s appointment will only negatively affect California education system.

“I think he’s a disaster as superintendent. He will be an even bigger disaster when he gets more power as Secretary of Education,” said Nieto, who has been preparing future teachers at SDSU since 1999. “Bersin is anti-teacher, and as far as I’m concerned, he’s anti-student. Bersin is basically being forced out of San Diego and the governor wants to kick him upstairs.”

Another educational leader who is against Bersin’s appointment is former San Diego City Schools board member Frances O’Neill Zimmerman.

“Now is the opportune moment to derail the unfortunate Bersin nomination to the State Board of Education,” Zimmerman said. “The Governor’s polling is down 20 points; he has alienated teachers and nurses and  other public service workers; he is desperately stirring up anti-immigrant sentiment and the wrath of Latinos and others; and he has disastrously named a perenially-ambitious, fading-star, litigator and ex-border czar-superintendent to the State Board of Education.”

On a May 6 editorial, La Prensa San Diego criticized the governor’s decision and stated how the general community views Bersin’s appointment.

“The selection of Alan Bersin , to serve as State Education Secretary, by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, is viewed as a slap in the face to all of those whose lives were impacted by his actions during his tenure, as the Superintendent of San Diego City Schools,” reads the editorial.

La Prensa’s editorial said that Bersin’s time as superintendent was negative for the community in general.

“[Bersin] became better known as the first ‘Border Czar’ for promoting major Border Patrol operations,” reads the editorial. “Mr. Bersin brought his ‘Border Czar’ attitude to his job as Superintendent of City Schools. He was a political appointee to serve political ends. Little of which had to do with providing our children with an education!”

Bersin’s critics have said that Latino students paid the consecuences of his policies.

“The issues were many and varied from the demotion and/or firing of Hispanic school Principals, who had successful track records and were adored by the school’s community,” stated La Prensa’s editorial. “They were replaced by non-Hispanic, non-Spanish speaking Principals, despite parent protest. And the most egregious result, of Bersin’s tenure, was the lack of parental participation with their local schools and the derogation they experienced at School Board meetings.”

Nieto called Bersin “anti-Latino.”

“I think he’s the worst possible choice for Latinos. I mean, what an insult to select a former Border Patrol czar!”

Zimmerman said that the community can still stop Bersin’s appointment.

She urged the public to send letters to the State Senate Rules Committee asking senators not to aprove Bersin as Secretary of Education.

“Bersin’s appointment to the State Board of Education is not a done-deal,” Zimmerman said. “Bersin’s appointment can be stopped in the Senate Rules Committee with sufficient public comment now.”

Nieto, who said that many of the students he’s trained at SDSU are now teachers at San Diego City Schools, said that at least there’s something to celebrate.

“I would say that we must be celebrating that Bersin will be leaving San Diego. I hope we find a better person than him.”

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