New Ballot Measure Promises School Reform

Erica HollowayErica Holloway 15 Comments

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As published in The Presidio Sentinel on April 1, 2011.

By Paul M Bowers

A new ballot measure aims to make San Diego schools better for kids by increasing accountability and focusing the school board’s attention away from politics and onto student performance. The initiative was created by San Diegans 4 Great Schools, a broad-based coalition of parents, taxpayers and community leaders who support a forward-thinking solution to the current governance structure that frustrates many at San Diego Unified School District.

“We reached out to parents, teachers, administrators and local business leaders – the future employers of our children – to see what’s needed to improve student performance,” says Scott Himelstein, President of San Diegans 4 Great Schools. “We worked together to create a solution that will move San Diego’s public schools forward.”

Their solution: Greater community oversight, transparency and involvement. A broader and deeper representation of parents and the community would be implemented at the school board level. Adding support to the existing elected board, the measure would provide four additional board members selected by a panel of education experts and parents. They would be selected based on their expertise and experience, not on their ties to special interests who financed their election campaigns.

The initiative would empower parents and educators by requiring the district to develop school-site specific plans to improve student achievement, which would be subject to annual public review to determine progress.

“Voters told us they felt the school board candidates often represented political, rather than educational interests,” Himelstein said. “We’re suggesting a solution that brings more options to the table. Parents see this reform as a way to be heard in an otherwise politicized venue.”

The reasons for change are clear: According to research by the University of San Diego Center for Education Policy and Law, more than half of San Diego Unified School District elementary and middle school students test below grade level for mathematics and reading as the district struggles to close a $114 million budget gap.

Parents are frustrated at what appears to be a district run with its employees, not its students, as a priority. More information on San Diegans 4 Great Schools can be found at www.sd4greatschools.com.

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Paul M Bowers is a Mission Hills parent, former trustee of the Mission Hills Town Council and author of the blog www.sandiegounifiedparent.com and other articles on education issues in San Diego.

– Follow me @erica_holloway.

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Comments 15

  1. So now Democracy is a bad thing?

    “the measure would provide four additional board members selected by a panel of education experts and parents.”

    Which parents and which “educational experts” are going to do the selecting?

  2. Most of the initiative is well thought out and positive. The only area of concern for many of parents are the four “parents” on the nominating committee. These people are chairs of the four advisory committees at the district. We thought, “great, four out of the nine of the nominating members are parents!”

    It was then brought to our attention that these positions can be held by ANYONE, including teacher union leaders (if they work in a different district), community members, don’t even have to have kids. The only restriction is that the person holding the position is not employed by the district. This position will become politicized and the board can control it!

    Because of this, many of us will not be supporting it. Oh, that and the fact that we want to vote for our children’s representatives.

  3. I will likely support the measure under the simple premise that the school board CAN’T be any worse. The current board is owned and operated by by the labor unions, and I don’t see that changing.

    Some recommendation that is!

    The only REAL solution would be parental choice on who educates their kids. Education vouchers or, better yet, tax credits would do more for our kids than any reorganization of the school board deck chairs on the sinking Titanic.

    But then, that would mean the schools — public or private — would have to be run for the benefit of the STUDENTS rather than for the EMPLOYEES. The labor unions will fight that shift in priorities with everything they’ve got.

  4. SD4GRS has had nearly 180 days to gather signatures to get this on the ballot. Not enough people were willing to sign the petition for it to qualify, at least as of today.

  5. Welcome back, GOP Mom of three. Your good judgement
    and common sense insights have been missed by many
    at Rostra.

  6. Can someone give me the test scores of children who are not from immigrant households and not from single parent families? That would be a true measure how or if teachers are doing their jobs. Obviously children from immigrant household (illegal and legal) are going to weigh down the scores. Secondly, children from single parent families are going to have children who become dysfunctional and rebellious. These children are going to weigh down the scores as well.

    When people TALK, yes TALK about low performing schools they expect teachers to make miracles. In the last 50 years the moral decay of America has created dysfunctional single parent families. What positive support is the child going to get from their missing parent? Most single mothers end up telling the child that they won’t achieve because they feel abandoned and pass that negative attitude toward the child. Instead of focusing on passing down optimism to the child they pass down bitterness and negativity. Throw that in anyone’s test scores.

    Now throw in children of immigrants. They are coming in with no foundation of English. And we expect Juan and Maria to performing at the same level as John and Mary from Scripps Ranch? Shove that in the test scores. And if the children are from illegal aliens then the parents live in fear. How’s that going to help the situation to have more children performing at grade level?

    So for a ‘fair and balanced’ approach to see who is performing at grade level lets isolate children scores from two parent families whose kids should be getting some form of commitment from their parents.

    The conservative GOP has been banging their drums about the decay of the family institution for years and never factor that decay when they see low test scores. Rather they are just are against unions and public schools.
    I support this initiative because we need more voices on the board. Teachers from the parents advisory committee, one member of the business community and also the heads of the local universities and colleges will do the appointing. They all have vested interests in seeing better student achievement. It is a counterbalance to the union control of the board. Teacher’s union have morphed into knee jerk reactionaries when it comes to school reform and implementation. Our nation has become a nation of reactionaries from unions to tea baggers, Both sides have valid points but won’t concede or compromise. The truth is in the middle.

    I am sick of Unions and Tea Baggers.

  7. Post
    Author

    Dear GOPMomOfThree, et al:

    The initiative makes the school board more accountable for improving student performance and shifts the board’s focus from adult political agendas to the achievement needs of children.

    The initiative increases public accountability for student performance by establishing district elections and term limits for school board members, and by requiring annual progress reports for each school site to be presented to the Mayor, City Council and the public.

    The initiative reduces the impact of special interest groups that fund school board campaigns and increases the stability and student-focus of the board by adding four members appointed by experts – the heads of our four major universities, the chairs of the four official parent groups in the district, and one representative of major San Diego employers.

    Diversity of experts in the fields critical to education will be a specific goal of the Nominating Commission.

    Bringing the citizens of San Diego together and coming up with a viable plan will increase accountability, provide a better board structure and improve performance in our schools, so that teachers and principals can fulfill their missions.

    Best, Erica

  8. “The initiative makes the school board more accountable for improving student performance and shifts the board’s focus from adult political agendas to the achievement needs of children.”

    Instead of adult voters selecting school board members, we will simply have adults hand-picking other adults who will appoint school board members.

    “The initiative increases public accountability for student performance by establishing district elections and term limits for school board members, and by requiring annual progress reports for each school site to be presented to the Mayor, City Council and the public.”

    Do term limits actually improve accountability? Has requiring the filing of a report really ever had any effect on accountability?

    “The initiative reduces the impact of special interest groups that fund school board campaigns and increases the stability and student-focus of the board by adding four members appointed by experts – the heads of our four major universities, the chairs of the four official parent groups in the district, and one representative of major San Diego employers.”

    So instead of having special interests fund campaigns, we will just bypass the middleman (voters) and allow special interests to simply appoint the school board members. Or is the Chamber of Commerce not a special interest?

    “Diversity of experts in the fields critical to education will be a specific goal of the Nominating Commission. Bringing the citizens of San Diego together and coming up with a viable plan will increase accountability, provide a better board structure and improve performance in our schools, so that teachers and principals can fulfill their missions.”

    I feel all warm and fuzzy.

    The bottom line is that you and the proponents of this measure are unhappy with the current School Board members. I can understand that but the answer is not to eliminate democracy, it is to vote them out in the next election.

  9. “I will likely support the measure under the simple premise that the school board CAN’T be any worse.”- Richard Rider

    About as well put as it gets.

  10. This is a gamble. Will it make parents give a dam about their children’s education? I would not bet on it. Things improve when parents care and participate. Changing one set of politicians for another does not generally make a difference. Good luck.

  11. Yep, some of those dam parents are responsible for placing damns in the way of their kids’ edyukashun.

  12. Thanks for the welcome back!

    Here is my dilemma:

    Let’s say it passes. Then the school board says no more district advisory councils. That’s four positions that no longer have someone sitting on the nominating committee. Now maybe this position is mandated by ed code (don’t know), but we all know that this current board doesn’t have a lick of sense, nor a desire to follow rules. What will keep them from making certain the only people who hold the position are on their side? It’s not a strectch and my guess is that is what will happen.

    I am not willing to take this chance. My kids only have one shot at K-12.

    On another note….special interests. The nominating committee is all special interest. The four “parents” represent smart, poor and english learners, what about regular kids? There is no DAC for them. The university presidents graduate most of our teachers, another special interest. You get the picture.

    Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think the status quo is working, But I believe strongly in the law of uninteded consequences and am not willing to say “it’s not perfect, but it will stir things up.”

    The bottom line on reform IMHO…we can’t mandate parents to advocate for their children. We can encourage, heck, maybe even incentivize, but legally parents are off limits. We can change the way we hire/fire and evaluate our teachers and principals. Curriculum is rarely discussed, but should be. That is where we have to begin for real change happen. It won’t be easy, but it has to be done.

  13. Hi GOPMomOfThree:

    Thank you for the ongoing discussion.

    The make-up of the nominating commission is part of the ballot language, which would be part of the city charter. No changes to the governance structure could occur without a vote of the people.

    Nearly 80 percent of children of color and roughly half of our elementary and middle school students do not read or compute math at grade level. There is a need for those parent representatives to have a voice on the board.

    Our university presidents also have an interest in seeing more of our graduates college ready. Currently, about two thirds of graduates fail to meet UC and CSU requirements. High school graduates make about half the lifetime income of a bachelor’s degree graduate, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.

    Evaluating the damaging policies, such as “last in, first out,” will not be done without reform. Real changes such as those must occur at the school site level and with benchmarks to measure success, which is not done today.

    Our future leaders need the educational foundation to succeed. Bold changes are needed today.

    Best, Erica

  14. Speculation that this petition will submitted to the
    San Diego City Clerk’s office TODAY with over 120K
    signatures. How many valid names are needed to
    qualify for the ballot?

  15. Hi Jim:

    You are correct, sir! supporters including Mayor Sanders, Chair for Democrats for Education Reform Gloria Romero and others turned in 133,000 City of San Diego voter signatures for validation.

    Learn more here: http://pitch.pe/140124

    Best, Erica

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