Scott Himelstein, the spokesman of the newly named “San Diegans 4 Great Schools”, has been visiting various civic groups around the city spreading the word that his group is disappointed with test scores in San Diego Unified schools and that “governance” is the problem.
Last week this group held a press conference to announce the results of a consultant’s report that they had commissioned. Although the information in the report was a year behind in reporting test scores, and it failed to acknowledge that the previous Superintendent of Schools had been replaced, its sponsors stood up before the press to announce that San Diego’s public schools were failing in a big way.
Many of the same people involved in the “Great Schools” group were, interestingly enough, signers of a newspaper ad decrying the departure of former Superintendent Terry Grier, which included a sixteen point list stressing the advances the District made in 2007-8. (You can read the list here.) Now this same group is behind the negative report, which covers the period from 2002 to 2008. Although statistics for 2009 were released months ago, they were omitted from the “Great Schools” report.
Now, spokesman Himelstein is taking their show on the road. A community meeting last week in Tierrasanta turned into a public relations nightmare, with the Voice of San Diego reporting that residents were concerned about the lack of specific proposals and seemingly shadowy background of the group.
School Board Chief District Relations Officer Bernie Rhinerson wrote Himelstein offering to send school official to these public meetings to answer questions, but received a letter in response from a public relations firm declining the offer. Rhinerson and Deputy Superintendent Nellie Meyer will be attending the OBTC meeting, despite the lack of invitation. They will be bringing along documentation about the latest batch of test scores for SDUSD, showing the areas where progress has been made.
Earlier reports about the “Great Schools” had portrayed the group as advocating for the appointment of four members to the San Diego Board of Education, to be selected via a special citizen’s committee instead of being elected by voters. The group was reportedly shopping this idea to members of the San Diego City Council, lobbying for an amendment to the City Charter to be introduced through a Council vote. They were turned down.
Businessman Rod Dammeyer, who funded the report, tried to paint the picture of a floundering school district at the press conference, telling reporters, “There has not been, nor is there currently, a consistent long term plan to improve student achievement.”
Reading between the lines of the pronouncements made by the “Great Schools” group, it becomes obvious that their real issue has more to do with the direction and long term planning that the current School Board has been charting. “Great Schools” wants a top down, military/corporate system of “governance” for local schools. The current school board has elected to address reform issues by committing to a “community-based” model that sees parent engagement and active involvement in schools will be as a critical element to increase overall student achievement.
“Great Schools” is nothing more than the embodiment of an attempt by San Diego’s establishment to rein in the democratic nature of the school board. And some of us see their effort as merely being a step along the road to the privatization of public education.
We’ll be there tonight watching Mr. Himelstien. And we have some tough questions to ask. It should be fun.