Tweets Twisting in the Night: Did a Desperate “Reform” Group “O’Keefe” the School Board President?

by on March 26, 2011 · 5 comments

in Education, Media, The Chronicles of Edumacation

For the past eighteen months or so, a shadowy group that claims to be pushing for education reform has waged a relentless campaign aimed at the current members of the San Diego Unified School Board. Their goal, so they claim, is to reform the current method of ‘governance’ in the local school system to allow unspecified changes in education policy to occur.  San Diegans for Great Schools main idea boils down to getting voters to approve an initiative that will add four unelected members to the school board.

Their problem is that, despite months of paying sidewalk solicitors to gather signatures, SD4GS has been unable to get enough voters to sign their petitions to get it placed on the ballot.  It seems as though a lot of voters question their motives.  One of their signature gatherers was outed in the news media for making false claims about the proposed ballot measure.  Their research has been besmirched for failing, among other things, to take inflation into account when making claims about education funding.  And the deadline for gathering signatures on their ballot measure is just a few weeks away.

Former school board member Frances O’Neill Zimmerman recently wrote in to Voice of San Diego about her encounter with a petition gatherer outside a La Jolla Vons.

The first thing he told me, unprompted and reverentially, was that the measure is being “supported by Dr. Irwin Jacobs,” the Qualcomm billionaire. (Someone over at SD4GS obviously has done some polling on positive name-recognition. I hear that Jacobs soon may appear at public gatherings to defend the initiative he has paid at least $150,000 to launch.)

Our man with the clipboard then said the measure is intended “to increase the number of seats on the School Board by four appointed people who will be unpaid, hopefully drawn from the ranks of parents with children in the public schools.” (This is the first time I’ve heard that claim.)

Members of this group have once again gone on the campaign trail, anxious to get enough attention to put their measure on the ballot.  Last week SD4GS spokesperson Scott Himelstein addressed the San Diego Democratic Club, a group of LGBT electoral activists.  The ‘reform’ group’s approach to these public appearances has been to spin statistics in a manner designed to encourage listeners to believe that San Diego’s challenges are somehow exceptionally dire and that little or nothing has been done in recent years to address these issues.  Using a clever paradigm of omissions and out-of-context statistics, Himelstein tries his best to come across as a reasonable man engaged in a heroic battle with a system that doesn’t care. Opponents to his plan are tarred with the brush of being advocates for the status quo.

School Board President Richard Barrera

School Board President Richard Barrera also spoke to the Democratic Club that evening, trying to communicate that, despite SD4GS’s assertions, there are a great many people working very hard on changing the ways things are done within the schools. Barrera’s position is that educational reforms must be part of a cooperative and inclusive effort.  Himelstein, on the other hand,  was an assistant to former San Diego School Superintendent Alan Bersin, whose heavy-handed, top-down methods caused anguish among administrators, educators and parents.  (And the results were not so great, either.)

Twisted Tweeting?

SD4GS had a person at the Democratic Club who was “tweeting” (sending short text messages via a program called Twitter) about what was going on that evening.  This is where things started to get interesting.  Those of us who happened to be following the event were surprised to see a series of messages suggesting that School Board President Barrera had some new and confusing talking points.

I’ll repost this conversation below. Some comments not relevant to the topic at hand were omitted.  (For the record, none of Scott Hinelstein’s talking points were mentioned.) Scott Lewis, over at Voice of San Diego, was also following this stream, and I’ve included some of his comments to show that I wasn’t the only one befuddled by what was being transmitted.  According to SD4GS, the board president went on to say that the current board is dysfunctional and San Diego State University does a crappy job of educating teachers:

sd4greatschools SD 4 Great Schools
Waiting to address the San Diego Democratic Club.

sd4greatschools SD 4 Great Schools
Scott Himelstein making opening remarks. Rebuttal coming up from SDUSD Pres Barrera.

sd4greatschools SD 4 Great Schools
Barrera: SDUSD is plagued by board dysfunction, budget deficit, below proficient student performance

sd4greatschools SD 4 Great Schools
Barrera: I have a problem with the teachers we’ve hired who were educated @SDSU.

sd4greatschools SD 4 Great Schools
@vosdscott Yes. Re @SDSU: he argued against it’s value as a voice of quality education

vosdscott Scott Lewis
@sd4greatschools oh wow. That’s interesting. To argue against SDSU helping oversee schools, he pans their graduates? Ouch!

sd4greatschools SD 4 Great Schools
Barrera: Governance makes no difference in academic achievement of students.

vosdscott Scott Lewis
@sd4greatschools There must be hundreds (thousands?) of sdsu grads who teach in sdusd, no? Is he saying that manyteachers are disappointing?

sd4greatschools SD 4 Great Schools
@vosdscott Not sure. He didn’t elaborate further.

vosdscott Scott Lewis
@sd4greatschools If he has a problem with sdsu grads, & thousands of teachers are sdsu grads, he has a problem with thousands of teachers.

sd4greatschools SD 4 Great Schools
@vosdscott That was his argument against @SDSU being involved in governance.

vosdscott Scott Lewis
@sd4greatschools Right. It seems like an argument a reformer would make: that San Diego has a problem with thousands of teachers.

“Not Even Close”

I copied and pasted this dialogue into an email.  Two persons who were at the meeting responded by saying that they heard nothing resembling the points that were mentioned above. Barrera responded to my email inquiry with three words: “Not even close”.

James O’Keefe and Hanna Giles

That’s when I realized that it was possible that the School Board president had been “O’Keefed”.  For those of you unfamiliar with the term, I just made it up.  It refers to the videos that onehas made and publicized about ACORN, Planned Parenthood, NPR, and the NAACP over the past few years.  Each of these videos has eventually been proven to have been edited in a manner that made their targets appear in as negative a light as possible.  In fact, the allegations stemming from the release of these videos have been repeatedly proven to be untrue.

So the question here is: “Were these tweets deliberate distortions?” I’d  like to ask for your help with this. Somebody, somewhere, must have video of Barrera speaking to the Democratic Club. I invite you to submit a copy of your video to  We’ll post it up on YouTube and give you credit (or not). Inquiring minds want to know.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar David Warmoth March 28, 2011 at 12:16 am

If it helps, both Scott Himelstein and Richard Barrera gave about a ten minute opening statement and each of them was given equal time to respond to questions from the Club and guests. 1st question was five minutes each, followed by two minutes and finally, because of the number of questions, one minute each.
I haven’t read the tweets (the woman in the back of the room doing the tweeting did ask if we had a twitter account – we don’t) but to give you a sense of the room, following more than an hour of questioning, trying to get Mr. Himelstein to explain who the “special interests” his initiative was a response to were, and how SDSU, UCSD, USD and the Chamber of Commerce (four of the nine organizations who would be selecting the new appointed school board members) were not special interests, the Club voted unanimously to urge voters NOT to sign the initiative. It wasn’t made clear to us even if the “restructuring” of the Board occured, how it would positively impact the education the students receive. It was clear however that SD4GS had done some polling to determine what they could throw into the initiative in the way of popular window dressing to hide a plan to get control of the Board by convincing the voters who rejected them to give up their right to vote all together.


avatar lifeslittlefolly March 29, 2011 at 12:30 am

” the woman in the back of the room doing the tweeting” is……
Pascale Senejoux, CMP’s Summary
Natural and genuine leader with proven success in identifying and capitalizing on key strategic issues and opportunities to showcase at events and meetings. Smart-working and focused problem-solver with keen ability to envision the big picture and devise solutions that map to critical business objectives.

SpecialtiesRevenue & Profit Increases, Relationship Building/Partnering, Corporate Event Development, Strategic & Analytic Planning, Creative Campaign Plans, and Public Speaking & Image

Pascale Senejoux, CMP’s Experience
Executive Assistant and Projects San Diegans 4 Great Schools
Nonprofit Organization Management industry

October 2010 – Present (6 months)

Executive Assistant and Projects University of San Diego, School of Leadership and Education Sciences
Educational Institution; Higher Education industry

October 2010 – Present (6 months)


avatar doug porter March 29, 2011 at 8:04 am

thanks for the resume. we’ll let you know if we have any openings.


avatar doug porter March 28, 2011 at 7:53 am

A reader has forwarded me a news story written for Zenger’s Newsmagazine that describes the Democratic Club meeting in detail. Here’s the link:
It puts Barerra’s comments into context showing that SD4GS did in fact twist what he said. It also says that the Democratic Club voted NOT to endorse the SD4GS initiative:
“…the final vote on urging people not to sign it was so lopsided in favor club president Doug Case didn’t bother to count it.” HT to reader “koseille”


avatar Erica Holloway March 29, 2011 at 9:58 am

David, Doug and LifesLittleFolly:

My name is Erica Holloway and I am the campaign media strategist for the Accountability and Student Performance Initiative. I am managing the Twitter, Facebook and other media for the campaign. Follow us @sd4greatschools.

Sincerely, Erica Holloway


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