By Yvette tenBerge
Thousands of protesting teachers covered the sidewalks and lawn outside of the 4100 Normal Street offices of the San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) Tuesday, May 14 to speak out against the education reforms and management style of Superintendent Alan Bersin.
After the board announced a 1.36 percent pay raise for teachers, which contrasted sharply with the 7.5 percent raise that select administrators were given in December, teachers gathered in clusters arranged by schools to rally behind the President of the San Diego Education Association, Marc Knapp, and its Executive Director, Robin Whitlow.
Noting the disproportionate amount of attention Board President Ron Ottinger had earlier focused on a “Hail Fuhrer Bersin” sign that one teacher outside of Bersin’s April State of the District Address had waived, teachers found creative ways to voice their sentiments.
The back of a truck from which Mr. Knapp spoke was decorated in a classroom-type setting and a life-sized stuffed doll of Mr. Bersin was seated next to a faceless doll called “The Invisible Man” symbolizing the rarely seen Chancellor of Instruction, Anthony Alvarado. Attached to Bersin’s smiling face were the words, “Blah, Blah, Blah” as a reflection of the teachers union’s sentiment that Mr. Bersin’s offer to extend the “olive branch” to the union and his promise to give teachers more of a say in their classrooms were little more than public relations schemes.
When asked why teachers throughout the district traveled the distance this week to unite and march, Ms. Whitlow pointed to the words “Enough is Enough” that were written on butcher paper attached to the front of the truck from which Knapp spoke.
“We are here to show the school board and our Superintendent that it’s the kids who count, and that the Blueprint has not included the teachers, parents or the community,” says Ms. Whitlow, raising her voice to be heard over the Bob Marley song “Get Up, Stand Up,” and above the voices of other teachers. “Test scores are down; the drop-out rate is going up, and the district has a $33 million deficit.”
Peggy Cozi of Linda Vista Annex was one of the many teachers who proudly held her hand-made sign high until Mr. Knapp reminded them that those on the lawn needed to keep their signs low for security reasons until the 5:00 p.m. march around the block.
“I have been angry for a long time. I am angry about the Blueprint, and I am angry that teachers are not respected and given any say in education policies,” says Ms. Cozi, whose list of complaints extends from the way in which teachers no longer have the freedom to run their own classrooms, to the numerous staff development days that have teachers out of their classrooms on a regular basis. “It’s a shame that people on the board really aren’t concerned about children and teaching.”
Thousands of petitions to support the recall of board president Ron Ottinger and Vice-President Ed Lopez were lined up in rows and handed out to each of the teachers as they marched by. Those leading the effort have one month to gather roughly 100,000 signatures in order to ensure that the recall is on the November ballot.
It appears that SDUSD’s 9,000 teachers are not alone in their struggle. Wayne Johnson, the President of the more than 300,000 member-strong California Teachers Association was there to speak on behalf of teachers throughout the state.
“The problem here is that nobody asks the teachers. The board hires a bunch of consultants who don’t have a clue, and they hire a superintendent who hasn’t taught a day in his life,” says Mr. Johnson, who later addressed the crowd. “I am here to tell you that you need to keep fighting and that there are 330,000 teachers up and down the state who support what you are doing.”