Winds of Change have come to Chula Vista Elementary School District!

By Susan Luzzaro

The way that the Chula Vista Elementary school board does business began to change when three new trustees, Leslie Bunker, Francisco Tamayo and Dr. Eduardo Reyes, were elected in November.

Discussion on the dais at the April 15 Chula Vista Elementary meeting signaled one of the new directions. The district agendized a service agreement with the controversial organization Teach For America from July 2015 until June 30 2018.
Teach For America corps members are recruited for two-year teaching stints. The corps members have Bachelor’s Degrees and a 5-week training course before being placed in classrooms. They are recruited to teach in low-income areas.

Teach For America has commendable goals. Their 2012 non-profit tax form (990) states the organization’s “mission is to build the movement to end educational inequity by enlisting our most prominent future leaders in the effort.”

Several corps members have published articles critical about their training and experience. For example, in a 2013 the Atlantic article, former TFAer Olivia Blanchard, expresses frustration about the preparation she was given before entering the classroom:

“At the time, I appreciated TFA’s apparent confidence in me as a leader. I assumed that I would learn the concrete steps I needed to achieve this transformation during the training program. Instead I was immersed in a sea of jargon, buzzwords, and touchy-feely exercises.”

In an April 17 telephone interview, Chula Vista Elementary trustee Reyes had a lot of concerns about the Teach For America contract.

Reyes wondered, “Why was this even on the agenda—do we have a teacher shortage? Why are we bringing in non-credentialed teachers with only five weeks of training to get their practice on our kids?”

At the April 15 board meeting Superintendent Francisco Escobedo said he recently attended a meeting where people projected a teacher shortage in 2 to 3 years.

During the board meeting the assistant superintendent of Human Resources, Dr. Jeffrey Thiel, said the district was anticipating the need for hard-to-fill special education and bilingual positions.

In the interview Reyes said he was incensed at the idea that the district wanted to bring in people with little training and no experience “and place them in classrooms with our most at risk students, including special education students.”

In addition, Reyes said it’s his understanding that the turnover for Teach For America is about 60%, which he doesn’t believe equates to the level of commitment the district needs.

Reyes added that some trustees suggested that Teach For America would only be brought into charter schools but he pointed out that the resolution “clearly stated that the contract would have been for all district schools.”

Another thing that bothered Reyes about the contract was that the district was going to pay $5,000 to the Teach For America organization for each candidate teacher. “Why do we have to pay a headhunter fee?” Reyes believes the $5,000 would be better spent attracting fully credentialed teachers into the district.

At the April 15 board meeting, Dr. Jeffrey Thiel said the district’s first priority was to have fully credentialed teachers and that the district is actively working with colleges and universities toward that goal.

Teach For America, he said, “was just a fall-back position.”

Thiel explained that the district works as a contracting agent and that two Chula Vista Elementary charter schools have already employed Teach for America corps members. He said two charter middle and high schools had difficulty filling math and science positions.

Trustee Leslie Bunker questioned the idea of putting inexperienced teachers into the most difficult teaching positions. She noted that in addition to teaching responsibilities, they would be required to take university classes to become fully credentialed. She also said that she did not feel this resolution was “respectful of the teachers who had gone through the regular training.”

The Teach For America resolution died for lack of a motion. Reyes concluded the April interview by saying, “Personally, I don’t want to see this resolution again.”

Another noticeable change for the district was public comment. This is the portion of the agenda where the public can speak to the board on any subject other than those on the agenda. Since the election of the new trustees, public comment was moved from the end of the agenda to the beginning—which makes it easier for working people and people with young children to address the board.

Audio recordings of the district’s board meetings are now available on the CVESD website.

For years CVESD’s agendas have stated:

“THIS MEETING IS BEING VIDEO RECORDED. In accordance with the Brown Act, all public Board meeting recordings are available for review for 30 days following the meeting, after which they are recycled. Please contact the Super-intendent’s Office, (619) 425-9600, Extension 1311, if you wish to schedule an appointment to review a recording.”

By comparison, Chula Vista city council meetings have long been live streamed and continue to be available to the public. Audios for Sweetwater Union High School district meetings are also posted the day after a board meeting and then continue to be available on the district’s website.

Disclosure: The author’s daughter teaches in the CVESD district and is a member of the bargaining team.

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14 thoughts on “Winds of Change have come to Chula Vista Elementary School District!

  1. Not only is it refreshing to see the changes in the school board at CVESD, it is also nice to see the press notice. Keep up the good work, Susan. The Reader lost a great writer but thank you to La Prensa for making her part of your team.

  2. I keep wondering about the larger patterns that are starting to emerge when it comes to “public education”, or what used to be thought of as public education.

    Charter schools–supposedly a solution when local schools suffer a decline for years–presto change-o, they are now charters, with fewer rules to follow. Depending upon who is in charge, the charters can become closer to private schools than public schools, and many of them do pick and choose who will attend, thereby ensuring that scores will dramatically improve.

    So where does Teach For America fit in? When the goal of public education changes from educating the entire populace to educating those who are better at jumping through hoops, in combination with educating that subgroup cheaply, you need a renewable pool of teacher candidates.

    And this is what Teach For America is: it provides jobs for some idealistic new college grads who aren’t quite ready to go the Peace Corp route. These neophyte teachers are learning on the job–as all teachers do at some point, but most Teach For America hires do not stay long on the job. From what I have heard, the good ones last for one to two years and then go to law school, grad school, other professional school, having added a solid recommendation on their resumes. Others realize teaching is not as easy as they thought, and are gone before the first year is up.

    So who gains from this? The Teach For America organization, who get funding to exist, the headhunters who get the $5000/TFA trainee, the new grads who land a job that gives them some breathing room to figure out what they really want to do.

    Do the students gain? Maybe some students are happy to be in a class taught by someone young and idealistic, still shiny. Maybe there is enthusiasm that is catchy, and some students will be encouraged to take advantage of opportunities.

    But is this really building up the local schools, when everyone knows these TFA teachers are not here for the long term?

    I think there is some danger in inherently building in more instability by having essentially temporary workers. It might just be one more way to destabilize and undercut the public school system. And the higher the percentage of TFA teachers, the greater the ease in manipulating the teacher workforce.

    I am not a teacher. I am not in a union. But I think that everyone needs to be aware at how completely vulnerable the public school system is at this time. There is the whole testing issue, there is the concept of transferring curriculae to all computer access, which opens the door to all sorts of “opportunities” for those who seek to make money off of public education.

    All public minded and public spirited people need to closely watch what is taking place amid us. We do not want to wake up and find out that we have been sold down the river, and the children in our neighborhoods are going to be relegated to second tier schooling.

  3. Insightful subjects – factual information – ah yes, the READER lost a GREAT one in Luzzaro. Fortunately LaPrensa scooped up this rare gem.

    We are a community that have reached a point where ‘business as usual’ is simply NOT going to cut it anymore. I applaud. Mr. Reyes for speaking out in favor of excellence and in defense of the needs of our Special Ed students.

    What is missing in the movement towards change is an in depth conversation that clearly defines the goal of education in the So Bay – while some ‘who were wrong’ with our communities Districts have been legally removed WE HAVE MORE WORK TO DO – there are ineffectual, poor choice, ring kissers still within power positions that simply NEED TO GO! The question is – now that we have witnessed what can be done, with hard work, to bring about change – will each of us commit to joining the effort and doing our part?

    The recent elections of new Board members is indeed a breath of fresh air – now, to stay engaged and demand accountability and the weeding out of poor performers, that is our challenge.

  4. Eastlaker – thinking out loud here – all of this testing – might it be a plot to gather information which would support those that propose our union educators need to be replaced? Now is the time, a line in the sand must be drawn –

    Having said that, I also believe that the unions need to look inward to identify ways they can improve – in my opinion, that is verbiage I have not heard, yet need to hear.

  5. Eastlaker, you made me think about several things. Your point about creating inherent instability is a good one. Also the point that like so many things these days, these are
    part and parcel of education “reform.”. I am wary these days when I see that word attached to any conference, any software, any proposal.

    The other thing I was thinking is that during the Vergara trial, the lawyers for the plaintiffs argued that students got a bad education because the least experienced teachers taught in the poorest schools. Supposing that were true, then what are the implications for purposely placing the least experienced teachers in the poorest schools, schools with “minority” populations–wouldn’t that be more fuel for that very criticism?

  6. eastlaker and Annie J: Your points are well taken. Fortunately, the public is becoming more aware of what’s behind these schemes which seem to trend towards the privatization of our school system. The winds of change in the Chula Vista Elementary School District are encouraging. It appears we finally have a school board that isn’t going to just go along with the whims of the superintendent, but instead will ask questions and act in behalf of the community they represent. It should be noted that Linkedin Profile indicates that the present superintendent worked for about 5-6 years for Edison, a for-profit education management organization supervising principals and was principal of Feaster-Edison, a for-profit school at that time.
    Here’s an article about Teach For America that I found very informative. I hope the link works.
    http://www.salon.com/2014/01/13/teach_for_americas_pro_corporate_union_busting_agenda_partner/

  7. The mantra that “everyone is replaceable” is repeated very often by those in Human Resources (now called Human Capital! in some companies) Departments. It is a phrase meant to instill that smidgeon of fear in every heart, so that perhaps people will not speak up about what is wrong, or what could be corrected or improved.

    Well, good teachers are not that replaceable. Good teachers give of themselves to a degree most of us can’t even imagine. Good teachers really believe that the words they speak can transform students’ lives–if the information is taken to heart and used in the best possible way.

    Good teachers have been undervalued in this part of San Diego County, by the administrators of the very school districts in which they work. Some of these administrators have valued real estate deals instead–or their own comfort and financial remuneration–or the placing of family and/or friends in positions to solidify their own little fiefdoms.

    As Annie J says, there is much that needs cleaning up from this bunch. We need to make sure that this whole charter school fad isn’t a cover-up for something else–i.e. the widespread hijacking of our public school system.

    We need to make sure that our funds are being properly spent–not wasted, not misappropriated, not diverted, not given out to “pals”.

    This demands a hands-on approach, by “ALL HANDS”. Some people say we get the government we deserve. By that same token, we get the civic institutions we deserve–but are we getting what we deserve? Not if those handling the projects and the funds are not doing what they should. We need to watch all of them 24/7, because there are many things going on that do not look good.

    Things may be somewhat better, but not all of the foxes are out of the henhouse yet.

  8. Susan Skala, thank you for the kind words. I know there are elections for other seats not too far off. I was wondering if CVESD would benefit from districting? The process probably wouldn’t get into place by then…but Chula Vista and Sweetwater have taken it up. As I recall,
    there was an effort about 10 years ago but the county put an end to it…if memory serves.

  9. Special Ed students traditionally have to sit in the back of the bus so to speak along with the lower income students,and ESL. Not being a fan of Teach for America after reading about the lack of real qualifications,I’m truly elated to see that the new CV Board is paying attention and willing to act on behalf of their students. Hopefully it’s contagious and will spread to Sweetwater. I still believe strongly that student observation and teaching should happen before credential completion. I feel that many teachers would not have stayed in education had they known what it really takes.

  10. Good point Susan about the lawsuit claiming that low income areas get the inexperienced teachers. Of course, TFA newbies are exactly that! And yet, this is the bunch allied with TFA and “Ed Reform”. A fly in the ointment, a flaw in the system!

  11. Mr. Thiel says charter schools have already employed Teach for America corps members. Why are these charters having trouble finding regularly credentialed teachers?   

  12. eastlaker and joepublic,

    Assistant superintendent Thiel responded to late to include in article: “Both Mueller Charter and CVLCC have employed TFA corp members, but you would have to contact them to find out the specific positions that they fill.”

    So apparently the district, who acts as the hiring agent, can’t share that information–only the charters.

  13. It is very interesting that when it is convenient to criticize school districts for hiring inexperienced teachers, this well-funded “reform” movement does so. But–they are aligned with TFA–who are clearly completely without any experience whatsoever. So–how can you sue one the one hand, and promote the hiring of inexperienced (not to mention uncredentialed) teachers at the same time?

    Susan, I think you need to call these people on this!!

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