November 24, 2004

Commentary

Toward a New Partnership for our Children

by Ernie McCray

Oh, man, the other night I went to a meeting about educating children that lifted my spirits so high I almost pulled a muscle in my thigh, highstepping to my car. I needed that.

CPIE, the Center for Parent Involvement in Education, organized the evening so that people from the community could congratulate and forge a positive alliance with San Diego City Schools’ newest board of education members: Luis Acle, Shelia Jackson and Mitz Lee. Mrs. Lee wasn’t in attendance but I felt her energy, her love. I know and appreciate where she stands. It was so soothing and energizing to hear so many people dedicating themselves to creating a dynamic respectful school system deserving of our children. It had been a long time coming but I’ll take it when I can get it. I think the last time I attended such a meeting CPIE probably had something to do with it. CPIE has brought so many people together, over the years, always pushing for rich learning experiences for kids.

But the moment Superintendent Alan Bersin got out of his car, on his very first day on the job, CPIE and other viable community organizations were brushed aside like gnats in the man’s eye.

Oh, what a sad state this man has put our school system in. Principals and vice-principals, without reason, have been fired. Great educators, in hordes, have retired. No one has ever been told why, in a ”reform movement,” so many lawyers have been hired.

Teachers are emotionally tired. Too many children still remain uninspired. And, for those of us who have wanted a say, every path has been blocked, every dream stifled, every wellmeaning intention ridiculed and/or ignored. Every time.

Community meetings, after Bersin arrived, suddenly became forums where people were spoken down to through a kind of “Talk to the hand” attitude, forums where the basic question in the audience’s mind was pretty much: Where is the exorcist when you need him?

But the tone that permeated the meeting room at Jacob’s Center the other night was embodied in the theme of the evening: “Toward A New Partnership for our Children.” I love it. The tone was both serious and mellow, sometimes humorous and always purposeful. It just plain felt good in the room.

To me there is nothing like the energy of people who are fed up and declaring “Enough is enough,” but yet are willing to think clearly and creatively and right the wrong that plagues them.

And the highlight of the meeting for so many of us was listening to board members who feel just as we do, that no one person holds the key to learning, that a school superintendent’s role is to collaborate with them and their diverse constituencies to best seek ways to facilitate young people’s learning experiences.

And I was so heartened to hear our new board members recognize that Alan Bersin set the tone for the district’s ills, the excessive grumbling, the fights on the board, the destruction of the district’s very infrastructure, the destruction of morale that is stifling in far too many schools. They understand that we have a superintendent who is: more of an intimidator than an openminded facilitator; more demanding than understanding; and more feared than revered.

Most gratifying was the sense that I had that each new board member is eager and willing to sit the superintendent down and set standards for the changes he’ll have to make in the way he operates if he wants to journey with us, his stakeholders, “Toward a New Partnership for our Children.”

Having not seen Alan Bersin ever, for a moment, form a partnership with anyone in this community other than than the power brokers, for our children, I see him being set out to pasture. His leaving would create a golden opportunity for the creation of a learning environment for our children that’s loving and challenging and relevant to their lives. Once again CPIE has inspired a community to rally for its children. And I’ve got a bounce in my step I can’t describe.

Ernie McCray is a retired principal, San Diego City Schools.

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