San Diegans 4 Great Schools: Secret Group‘s Hypocrisy Exposed

by on July 22, 2010 · 8 comments

in Civil Rights, Economy, Education, Labor, San Diego, The Chronicles of Edumacation

school board distric map

San Diego Unified district map.

A group calling itself  ‘San Diegans 4 Great Schools’ has finally surfaced after months of shadowy meetings to issue a critical report on the San Diego Unified School District. At a press conference held at the University of San Diego on Tuesday, group leaders emerged publicly for the first time, calling the local public schools a “failing school district”.

The report ignored the most recent test scores (which revealed modest gains in student achievement) and failed to mention an earlier effort by many of its participants that hailed the progress made at SDUSD under Superintendent Terry Grier. (2006-2008)

The local news media jumped on statements made by participants at the media event as if were big news, despite the fact that the actual details in the report are matter of fact in nature and outdated. Consider these ledes published on Tuesday:

A group of civic leaders is calling the San Diego Unified School District a “failing school district.” The leaders blame a series of leadership changes within the top ranks, and they want to change how the district is run. KPBS

A coalition of philanthropists, parents, academics and business leaders aired an updated study of San Diego Unified schools at a press conference today, touting it as a call to action to change the way a “failing school system” is governed. Voice Of San Diego

Backed by a critical study of city schools’ performance, a coalition of civic leaders is calling for a change in how the San Diego Unified School District is governed. SD Union-Tribune

Members of this group were associated with a group calling it self Open Letter San Diego that sponsored advertising and a website following the decision of former SDUSD Superintendent Terry Grier to accept a position in Houston, Texas. Grier reportedly left San Diego after disagreements over policy and direction with the current Board of Education, which took office in 2008.

Among the claims made by this group in defending SDUSD at that time were:

{…we have noticed a difference and we encourage you to consider some of the dramatic accomplishments in the mere 18 months of his leadership: }

*Largest test score increases in three years, particularly in science.

*Real data to support teachers in a responsive learning environment.

*System-wide and effective efforts to decrease the dropout rate.

*Innovative early college programs that keep students engaged.

*Breakfast in the classroom for disadvantaged students.

*Credit recovery classes that allow students to rebound.

*Dramatic increases in advanced placement courses for all students.

*Academic rigor for ethnically and linguistically diverse students

*University of California a-g requirements for all students in all schools.

*Equitable evaluation systems to bring the best employees forward.

*Commitment to service and parent involvement.

*Streamlined and more effective business operations.

*Passage of Prop. S with 68% support and $2.1 billion to upgrade schools.

*Upgraded computer systems on multiple levels to support education.

*Transparency and better communication about our schools.

*Broader community outreach.

The current school board has not changed any of these policies. Somehow all these advances under the former Superintendent have now disappeared, according to the report.

Rod Dammeyer

Businessman Rod Dammeyer (see below for more info)

Businessman Rod Dammeyer, who funded the report, tried to paint the picture of a floundering school district, telling reporters, “There has not been, nor is there currently, a consistent long term plan to improve student achievement.”

Perhaps, if the report’s authors and backers had bothered to consult with the School District, Dammeyer might have put it differently. Despite claims that input was sought from both the district and the teachers union, both groups can not recall being asked to contribute. Certainly they could have sought input from School Board member Nakamura, who Dammeyer and others supported in her recent failed re-election effort.

Or perhaps the backers of San Diegans 4 Great Schools failed to visit the District’s website, (Or perhaps they missed the articles here and here in the Voice of San Diego.) which offers up this verbatim copy of President Richard Barerra’s “State of the Schools Speech” last March, which summarizes a long term direction for local schools based on community involvement:

In taking on the reform challenge, we find ourselves in the middle of a debate that has been raging for at least a decade across our state, our nation, and in many nations around the world….

The debate is grounded in the reality that despite the inspiring work of individual school communities within our district and nation, no large urban district – not ours, not anyone’s – can claim anything close to the success in preparing every student for a bright future. If we were to randomly identify 10 high school freshmen at school today in San Diego or across the country, the data tells us that in 10 years, only one of them will be in a successful career with a promising future. Anywhere from 1 to 4 of these students – our kids – will drop out of high school without graduating. Nearly all of the kids who do graduate will struggle in college or get stuck in a dead end job with no hope of supporting a family.

We did not create a public education system to produce these types of results. Our public education system is supposed to be the great equalizer, the institution in our society which ensures that every child, no matter their circumstances when they begin public school, will leave public school with a real opportunity to raise a family and contribute to our community. And I seriously doubt that anyone here tonight – students, teachers, parents, principals, support staff, administrators, board members, community leaders – if asked to design a school system from scratch, would recreate what we have today. So those of us who care passionately about public schools debate with great urgency how to do better.

From my perspective, the debate tends to come from two competing visions of how we can do better. One vision fundamentally sees change as needing to come from the top – what I would characterize – maybe unfairly – as a corporate model. The corporate model, which we’ve seen nationally in the form of the Bush Administration’s No Child Left Behind program, and locally in the form of Alan Bersin’s Blueprint for Success, seeks to develop across the board, easy to measure standards to which local schools and classroom teachers are held accountable.

Putting faith in good management as the key to improving student outcomes, the corporate model seeks to reward schools and teachers whose students score well on standardized tests, and to punish schools and teachers whose students do not. The corporate model gravitates towards large, sweeping reforms that are designed to produce quick improvements for large numbers of students – what education historian and No Child Left Behind architect Diane Ravitch calls the “big idea.”

The competing vision for reform comes from what I would characterize as the community model. This vision sees change as fundamentally coming from those closest to kids – teachers, parents, principals, support staff at the school such as paraeducators, counselors, librarians and office staff, community volunteers and even students themselves. The community model puts its faith in strong relationships built between people within a school community, striving for what University of Chicago professors Anthony Bryk and Barbara Schneider term “Trust in Schools.”

I’m pretty sure that the members of San Diegans 4 Great Schools have read that speech. And I’m pretty sure they disagree with the premise. That’s why they’ve started up a scare campaign, using carefully manicured reports along with public comments from wealthy citizens (Who would dare challenge Qualcomm co-founder Irwin Jacobs or Mayor Jerry Sanders statements at press conference, even if they were based on manipulated data?).

In short, the “Report” is seriously lacking in its effort to represent a true picture of the state of education in San Diego. It was designed to be that way. The real premise behind this group is an effort by a rather small group of wealthy citizens and supporters of former school superintendents to overhaul the governance process for local schools, since they have failed to elect their candidates. Their idea (which they downplayed yesterday in the hope that outrage over their report would make it seem less drastic) is to add four members to the school board through an appointment process that would be run by a special elite committee.

It’s a time-honored, well-tested formula: fool the citizenry into giving up their rights by scaring them with carefully manufactured facts.

The fact is that the public does need to look at how our local schools are run. Here’s another quote from Barerra’s March speech:

“…despite the inspiring work of individual school communities within our district and nation, no large urban district – not ours, not anyone’s – can claim anything close to the success in preparing every student for a bright future. If we were to randomly identify 10 high school freshmen at school today in San Diego or across the country, the data tells us that in 10 years, only one of them will be in a successful career with a promising future. Anywhere from 1 to 4 of these students – our kids – will drop out of high school without graduating. Nearly all of the kids who do graduate will struggle in college or get stuck in a dead end job with no hope of supporting a family.

We did not create a public education system to produce these types of results. Our public education system is supposed to be the great equalizer, the institution in our society which ensures that every child, no matter their circumstances when they begin public school, will leave public school with a real opportunity to raise a family and contribute to our community. And I seriously doubt that anyone here tonight – students, teachers, parents, principals, support staff, administrators, board members, community leaders – if asked to design a school system from scratch, would recreate what we have today. So those of us who care passionately about public schools debate with great urgency how to do better.”

Having school board members elected by the people of the Districts they serve, rather than on a City-wide basis, is an idea that should be supported. But that’s not what the elite group wants. They want control—of the budget, the policies and the content of public education in San Diego. Don’t be fooled. Top down approaches to education have largely failed. It’s time to try a better way.

Editor:  Rod Dammeyer is a trustee for The Scripps Research Institute which claims the following about him:

Dammeyer is president of CAC, LLC, a private company offering capital investment and management advisory services.

His previous positions include: managing partner of Equity Group Corporate Investments (1995-2000), CEO of Itel Corporation (1985-1995), senior vice president and chief financial officer of Household International, Inc. (1983-85), executive vice president and chief financial officer of Northwest Industries (1979-83), and member, then partner, of Arthur Andersen & Co. (1962-79).

A graduate of Kent State University, Dammeyer is a member of the boards of directors of GATX Corporation, Stericycle, Inc., TeleTech Holdings, Inc., and TheraSense, Inc., in addition to several private companies. He is also a trustee of Van Kampen Funds (investment funds of Morgan Stanley), and the University of Chicago Hospitals & Health System.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar RB July 22, 2010 at 12:58 pm

Aaahhh yes, another adult food fight about who has the worst model for public education. Should we support the adults in administration, those on the school board, those at the unions, or the adult business leaders? The answer is none of these adult groups deserve the support of parents, citizens or taxpayers. This year Our School Board took $20 million of Prop S money and gave to the downtown library project that legal can’t have a public school at this location. This year the District’s administration and Board created nine new area superintendents positions at $3 million, while they cut programs to train new teachers. This year the teachers union secured a promise of 7% pay raise in return for cutting the school year for the students by five days. How much improvement do you expect out of schools that spend 25% of their budget on employee benefits? 90% of the school budget is about the adults getting their money while the students get the scraps in the last 10%. Until the schools are run for student education instead of run as an adult jobs program, there will be no big improvements in the schools.

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avatar doug porter July 22, 2010 at 4:12 pm

again RB, you seem to have no interest other than trashing the public schools, based on this and other posts that you’ve made. but in the interests of somebody who might be reading this who doesn’t know better, let me respond:
1) the schoolbrary deal sucks. that’s the price the school board paid (to Sanders, et.al.) for getting their support for prop S. it’s doubtful that any other school board would have done differently.
2) the new district supes positions involved no new funding. they simply replaced one set of managers with another set.
3) the deal with the teachers…again it was political. i suppose you’d rather have them go out on strike and be replaced by scabs.
4) if the stock market was at 30,000–as many ‘free market’ types openly predicted back in the late-clinton/early bush era, there would be no issue with either pensions (they’d be funded) or benefits. In fact, the teachers did accept a reduction in health care this year.
5) the way Sacramento funds education, most of the monies are supposed to go for humans. building $$$ monies and special programs come out of other budgets. San Diego’s budget ratios are pretty much within the normal range for all school districts state wide.

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avatar bodysurferbob July 22, 2010 at 6:52 pm

doug, i for one thank you. i have been following this story and i know the earlier commenter has said the same thing in an earlier article at this blog.

this group needs to be exposed for what they are: an elite band of wealthy members of the establishment, anti-union, anti-environment, pro-profit for themselves and their families and friends, attempting to push back decades of progress. democracy is messy, no one ever said it’s easy or efficient.

every obcean with a kid in local schools needs to go to this town council meeting and listen and ask this guy questions.

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avatar Molly July 22, 2010 at 7:03 pm

Bob, for once I agree with you: everybody to the Town Council get together next week to listen to this jerk. He will pushing the ruling elite’s plan for public education, which is to take the “public” out of it.

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avatar RB July 23, 2010 at 9:54 am

Well, the stock market is not going to 30,000 as many union members on the pension boards projected. So it is time to reduce these benefit going forward and use the money for student education. The other readers, who don’t know any better , also need to know that they paying for teacher salaries that among the highest in the nation while the student results in this state are among the worst in the nation. The fact of the matter is the teachers through their union want no accountability for school performance and reject reform from the President, Dept. of Education, parents, taxpayers and the business community. Rejecting reform from the business community may be legitimate position, but rejecting all reform is not acceptable.

As for not having any interest in the public schools, you are wrong once again.
I have two high performing students going to this Districts low performing schools and I am a frequent volunteer for student programs cut by this school board.

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avatar doug porter July 23, 2010 at 10:26 am

the comment about the stock market going to new heights reflects the mantra that was being spread by the “free market” types. yes, pension boards bought into that all over the country, as did millions of Americans who’ve seen their 401k’s wiped out. where did this projection come from? it certainly didn’t start with any union board, leader or member. it came from these same “smart” business types who’d have us believe that they’re now more qualified to run our schools.
the best solution to our problems with education can only come from ALL the parties sitting down at the table and working together. all this finger pointing will do nothing. blame the unions, blame management, blame the state and all you get is hostility. no kid comes out ahead in that process.
citizens in San Francisco, a notoriously pro-union town, forced unheard of concessions from the teachers union that management never dreamed of achieving. why? because the parents took the lead and brought everybody to the table. that will never happen in an environment (like San Diego currently) where the “solution” is the elimination or neutering of any one of the players that are part of the process.
the cost of living in San Diego and California is very high and that would tend to lead to higher pay in order to hire people. so, yes, teachers’ salaries are high. teacher salaries at San Diego Unified are the lowest of all school districts in the county, by the way.
i’m glad to hear that you’re not some cheeto munching basement troll, and i apologize for suggesting that you have no real interest in the matter. hopefully i’ll see you at one of the school board meetings in the future. getting to deal with your kids’ school system in an upfront and personal manner is key towards improving the system.
teachers, principals and administrators are real people, many of whom are passionate about education. categorizing them otherwise serves no purpose other than perpetuating the status quo.

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avatar mr fresh July 22, 2010 at 4:20 pm

WOW.
OB Town Council guest speaker from controversial ‘San Diegans 4 Great Schools’ – July 28th

The OB Town Council will hold their regular monthly general meeting on Wednesday, July 28th, and it’s open to the public. The meeting begins at 7pm and is held at the Masonic Temple.

During this meeting, the Town Council has a guest speaker by the name of Scott Himelstein, who is a representative of a controversial group, “San Diegans 4 Great Schools” – which we just reported on here. The group is controversial because it has been meeting in secret for a year and has just emerged with a business-backed plan to change the make-up of the democratically elected San Diego School Board. And undoubtedly, Himelstein will be discussing his group’s proposals to circumvent the public’s role in selecting the school board.

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avatar Adrienne August 9, 2010 at 12:30 pm

A guy just knocked on my door to “talk about education” before I kicked him out (I don’t do “door to door”). After he left I was thinking that maybe this oddball group has started door to door marketing? Anyone else experience this?

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