By Judi Curry
As a public school teacher beginning my career in the early sixties, I have seen the pendulum swing many ways in the past fifty years. (Fifty Years! My God!) Perhaps one of the biggest swings was from the professional organizations of the California Teachers Association (CTA) and the National Education Association (NEA) to the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and other labor organizations.
As a member of “management” later in my career, I have been disillusioned with professionals (educators) belonging to labor organizations, because I have always felt that the “product” – read children – we deal with cannot be “recalled” to put in a missing part. We get one time to do it correctly, and God help us all if we are not successful.
However, as the years have passed, it is hard not to see where the unions have accomplished much in their quest for quality education for the students we deal with. I spent a delightful morning with Kevin Beiser, the San Diego Unified School Board President and he had many positive things to say about what has happened in the district since he has been on the board. And, of course, he is supported by those very union organizations.
Let’s start with reduced class size. Although the class sizes are higher now than they were when I was a principal, the K-3 class size for 2013-14 in the SDUSD is at a 27:1 ratio. The projection for 2014-15 for K-3 is at 25.5:1. These are smaller classes than a few years ago, but still larger than ten years ago. Lack of funding is one of the biggest reasons for the changes.
The School Board has managed to balance the budget with no major layoffs. This is a feat in itself.
All of the school libraries have been reopened. Sure, maybe it is only for one day a week, but at least they are now open and our children can take advantage of checking out books in a nearby facility.
The music and art programs have been funded and are now in operation. Again, on a scaled down version, but at least students are being exposed to the cultural aspects of our society that were denied them just a few years ago.
San Diego Unified has the lowest drop-out rate in California among large urban districts. It’s still too high, and new state graduation rules may raise the drop-out rate, but it is still lower than other school districts of equal size.
San Diego Unified is ranked #1 in California in English and #2 in math. (Did you know that Kevin has been honored to be the “Math Teacher of the Year?” Not another school district can say that about their Board President.)
Kevin and the School Board have gone from one extreme to another: A “transitional Kindergarten” has been implemented district-wide, and there are now “graduation coaches” district-wide in many of the area high schools needing more help with graduation requirements.
It is wonderful to see that “Career technical education programs” are being taught in conjunction with the trade industries in San Diego.
Kevin is working with the district in identifying potential gang members and retraining them to become parts of productive groups thus establishing the feeling of “belonging” to groups and clubs and instilling pride in their accomplishments.
During “Professional Growth Days” for teachers, substitute teachers have been hired to come into the various schools and teach intense lessons in art, language, music and other topics of interest to the students, thus enriching the student’s knowledge and background. Often these “Professional Growth Days” generate a spark that has been long dormant – or never even tickled – thus widening the background and interest of a student that might have been bored before or not challenged.
Kevin, himself, is to be admired and respected. He has a long list of accomplishments after his name—from the math teacher award to the Distinguished Service Award for commitment and support to the Gifted and Talented Education (GATE); students at Granger Jr. High voted him the “Most Inspirational, Most Caring and Most Effective Teacher”; he’s won the Harvey Milk Leadership Award; Classroom of the Future Foundation “Impact Award”, etc.
One has to admit that without the enthusiasm and the support of the teacher unions, many of the above accomplishments could not have been fulfilled. One also has to admit that without the leadership of Kevin Beiser, and his knowledge and understanding of how children learn, the success of the San Diego Unified School District would be lacking. Look for more records to be established under Kevin’s leadership. Having a child in this district at this time has to be a positive force in his/her life. There are many opportunities awaiting him/her today that were not available only a few scant years ago.