By Thomas Ultican / Ultican
Schools in wealthy white communities are no longer immune to the destroy public education (DPE) movement. A review of San Dieguito Union High School District (SDUHSD) in San Diego County makes the point.
SDUHSD serves an area within the 1845 Mexican land grant to Juan Osuna known as Rancho San Dieguito. Osuna’s 1822 adobe home still stands on a knoll in the Rancho Santa Fe section. The school district includes the beach communities of Del Mar, Solana Beach, Encinitas, and Carlsbad. Away from the beach, it covers the communities of Rancho Santa Fe and Camel Valley.
A 2017 study sponsored by SDUHSD indicates how financially comfortable the families in this school district are.
Table 1: Economic Data
Sixty-five percent of the students come from families making more than $75,000 and almost a quarter of those families are making greater than $200,000 a year. Whites and Asians constitute 87 percent of the district population.
Table 2: Subgroup Percentage
During the no child left behind (NCLB) era, the school I worked at had 75 percent English learners and 80 percent socioeconomically disadvantaged. The big metric that literally determined whether a school survived was the academic performance index (API). Its 1,000 point scale score was based on California’s standardized testing. Early on my school focused on scoring higher than a 600 API and latter we challenged a 700 API. Failure to meet those goals, meant by NCLB rules, the school would be closed, a minimum of 50 percent of the staff would be let go and new management would assume the school (possibly a charter group). If a school scored more than an 800 API, it was golden. SDUHSD averaged over 900 API as a district. Schools for poor kids and minorities were set up for possible failure, but schools for wealthy people’s children were safe.
“The Times They Are A-Changin”
Alfie Kohn published a 2004 article, “Test Today, Privatize Tomorrow; Using Accountability to ‘Reform’ Public Schools to Death.” He noted schools were purposely set up for failure and wrote,
“We now have corroboration that these fears were entirely justified. Susan Neuman, an assistant secretary of education during the roll-out of NCLB, admitted that others in Bush’s Department of Education ‘saw NCLB as a Trojan horse for the choice agenda – a way to expose the failure of public education and ‘“blow it up a bit’’’ (Claudia Wallis, ‘No Child Left Behind: Doomed to Fail?’, Time, June 8, 2008).”
No schools in middle or upper-middle class neighborhoods ever failed API and faced NCLB’s existential penalty. However, these neighborhoods are no longer exempt from attack by DPE forces.
Naturally, the five elementary school districts that feed into SDUHSD have similar subgroup and demographic data as SDUHSD. In 2006, the ten elementary schools in Encinitas Union School District (EUSD) scored 75 percent proficient or advanced in mathematics and 74 percent proficient or advanced in English language arts on California’s testing. By comparison, San Diego County schools scored 57 percent proficient or advanced in mathematics and 49 percent proficient or advanced in English language arts. That is when a proposal came forward to create a charter school for gifted students in Encinitas.
Maureen “Mo” Muir, a member of the SDUHSD board, previously served on the EUSD board. In her online resume, she claims to be “Founder and member of a charter with emphasis on the gifted and differentiated curriculum (under the guidance of USC Education Professor Sandra Kaplan).” Her school was called the Theory into Practice Charter School (TIP). It is surprising that she still brings attention to her part in the TIP fiasco.
State records show that TIP opened September 5, 2006, and closed August 5, 2008. A scathing article in the Voice of San Diego painted a picture of malfeasance and fraudulent practices. The lengthy article details a trail of charter schools failures, odd failed corporations and many fraud claims following the founding leaders of TIP. Reporter Emily Alpert wrote,
“Principal Deborah Hazelton, an Oceanside elementary teacher, created Theory Into Practice Academy, a charter school that taught all children with the same rigor and complexity as gifted children.”
“Shortly after the [new] bylaws [which gave Hazelton’s company control] materialized, [Mike] Hazelton was hired as chief operating officer for $95,000 for the rest of the academic year. Two months later the school reported a $28,000 first-year deficit, instead of the $6,000 to $12,000 surplus Mike Hazelton had predicted. Its outstanding loans still worried the Encinitas superintendent. Yet the school also bolstered Deborah Hazelton’s pay from $87,000 to $110,000.”
“And in January the Hazeltons asked the board to start paying their corporation 1.5 percent of its annual revenues and a onetime $35,000 fee for curriculum and administrative support.”
“The corporation was overseen by a group that included the Hazeltons and teacher Lisa Bishop, who were already earning salaries from the school, and University of Southern California educator Sandra Kaplan, who sat on both boards.” (Emphasis added)
The TIP charter was revoked August 5, 2008. It was the last charter school within the SDUHSD boundaries until 2016.
I Believe in School Choice
America’s public education system with locally elected school boards is widely viewed as the bedrock upon which the world’s oldest democracy resides. A key advantage for American children was they were not barred from middle-school or high-school by a standardized test, a common practice in most countries. There were no high stakes tests in the United States.
One measuring stick demonstrating how successful the American system was might be Nobel Prize winners since 1949: America has 313 laureates; India 7; and China 8. The US has never won at standardized testing but leads the world in creative thinkers.
In 2016 a new school was proposed in the Solana Beach. The School of Universal Learning (SOUL) petitioned SDUHSD for a charter. Marisa Bruyneel-Fogelman and Dr. Wendy Kaveney are cited as founders. The mission statement from the petition says they will “provide exceptional education that awakens individuals to know who they are, discover their passions and purpose, and thrive holistically, to achieve both mental and life mastery.”
In the presentation to the SDUHSD board, the following images among many similar ones were shown.
New Age Philosophy Being Taught in Taxpayer-Funded School.
This looks wonderful but should taxpayers be expected to fund it?
SDUHSD’s board rejected the petition by a vote of 5-0. They gave the SOUL team an eight-page list of issues that needed addressing before the board could confer a charter. As an example, one of the items required,
“Clarification or revision to the SOUL Charter School’s recommended course sequencing for its students. Specifically, the Petition describes a four-year course sequence which appears to indicate that students should take up to eight courses per year to accomplish the recommended sequence. However, the bell schedule and narrative included in the Petition indicate that students will take only six classes, in addition to Integra.”
SOUL appealed the decision to the San Diego County Board of Education. That board voted 3-2 against giving a full 3-year charter but voted 5-0 to bestow a 2-year charter.
I believe in a parent’s right to choose their children’s school. If they want to send them to the New Universal Teaching School (NUTS) or Encinitas Country Day or Santa Fe Christian School, that is their prerogative. But don’t expect taxpayers to pay for that choice. They already pay for free public education.
This Year’s Elections & SDUSD School Board’s Future Path
Both libertarian-Republicans and neoliberal-Democrats are attacking public schools. The article A Layman’s Guide to the Destroy Public Education Movement lists five separate groups that are working to end democratically controlled public schools. When voting this November, it will be important to identify if a candidate is associated with one or more of these groups.
- People who oppose public education on religious grounds often seeking taxpayers supported religious schools.
- People who want segregated schools where their children will not have to attend school with “those people.”
- People supporting both privatized schools and entrepreneurs profiting from school management and/or school real estate deals.
- Members of the technology industry which is using wealth and lobbying power to place many inappropriate products and practices in public schools. They often also promote technology-driven charter schools.
- Ideologues who fervently believe that market-based solutions are always superior.
For the first time, SDUHSD is electing school board members by area. During this election cycle, seven candidates are running for seats in 3 of the five areas: 1, 3 and 5. The even numbered seats will be on the ballot in 2020.
Area 1, which is in west Encinitas, has two candidates, Maureen “Mo” Muir who is an incumbent and Amy Flicker a well know politically active resident serving on various committees and boards.
Mo Muir fits with both groups 3 and 5 of the DPE movement. She is very unpopular with teachers for her votes on bond spending and contract negotiations. She claims to be instrumental in founding the failed TIP charter school. Muir was endorsed by the San Diego County Republican Party for the board seat she now holds.
Amy Flicker is the President of the Paul Ecke Central Elementary PTA. She has been a commissioner on the Encinitas Environmental Commission. That is the group that started the plastic bag crusade that ended grocery store plastic bags in California. She is also a member of two bond oversight committees: one in the Encinitas School District and the other in SDUHSD. Flicker is endorsed by the San Diego Democratic Party.
Amy Flicker is the choice most likely to protect public education.
Area 3, is made up of Cardiff, Solana Beach, and Rancho Santa Fe. It has two candidates, Melisse Mossy and Rhea Stewart.
Rhea Stewart served on the Cardiff Elementary School District Board from 2006-2010. Stewart has the endorsement of the San Diego Democratic Party. She belongs to group 4 of the DPE movement. She is strongly related to the technology industry and its pedagogical snake oil. Her LinkedIn page lists more than ten ed-tech professional associations including Apex Learning: Mathematics and Science Instructional Designer 2014 – 2017; West Ed: Mathematics Content Specialists Ed 2013 – 2014; Aventa Learning: Mathematics and Science Program Supervisor 2011 – 2013; and K12, Inc.: Mathematics Content Specialist 2007 – 2010.
Melisse Mossy is married to Jason Mossy, head of the Mossy Auto group. She has taught school and is very involved in philanthropic activities.
Mossy belongs to group 1 of the DPE movement. She does not seem committed to public education and one wonders what her real agenda is. In a promotional video for the Santa Fe Christian School, Mossy says that if she could design a school it would be like this school where for the teachers it is more like a ministry. She states, “I used to be a teacher in the public school environment and I have seen the worst case scenario. This is the farthest thing from it.”
Even though Rhea Stewart’s professional life is wrapped around an industry that is undermining good pedagogy, I would still vote for her over a wealthy individual with a religious agenda.
Area 5, consists of Del Mar and Carmel Valley. There are three candidates for this seat, Lea Wolf, Kristin Gibson, and Cheryl James-Ward.
Lea Wolf has lived in the Carmel Valley area for 20 years and has a daughter attending a district school. On her LinkedIn page, she bills herself as a fiscal conservative. In a LinkedIn recommendation for David Andresen, she wrote, “David has been a tremendous resource for me as a entrepreneur since we met at San Diego Chamber of Commerce.” She has founded several technology companies including Deeds for Kids and IQNet Interactive. Lea seems to fit in both group 4 and 5 of the DPE movement although not stridently so.
Kristin Gibson is currently President of the Del Mar Union School District. Kristin taught elementary school in the La Mesa-Spring Valley School District. Currently, she works as an educational consultant, which includes lecturing for San Diego State University’s School of Teacher Education, providing professional development for in-service teachers, and contributing to projects at the Center for Research in Mathematics and Science Education. She is a member of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and the National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics. Kristin does not appear to belong in any of the DPE groups.
Cheryl James-Ward is a professor of education leadership at San Diego State University, an administrator at the e3 Civic High charter school and wife of the former superintendent of San Diego County Schools, Randy Ward. In June, she was a candidate for the San Diego County Board of Education. Even though the California Charter Schools Association spent more than $130,000 in independent expenditures for her campaign, she lost. Cheryl James-Ward is a devoted member of group 3 of the DPE movement.
In an interview with the San Diego Union-Tribune, James-Ward said, “This is unfortunate as charters are public schools just like district schools. … There is also the misnomer that charters are taking money from district schools.”
Charter schools are no more public schools than Hazard Construction is a public corporation because they do some government contracts. To be a public school requires two things: (1) paid for by taxpayers and (2) the public has a say in the governance. With charters, the public does not have a say. Several major studies in the last five years have shown that charters do drain significant money from public schools including the latest one by Professor Gordon Lafer, “Breaking Point: The Cost of Charter Schools for Public School Districts.”
For Area 5, Kristin Gibson is the best choice.
Public schools in all neighborhoods are now targeted by the DPE movement. In San Dieguito, five of the seven school board candidates have a relationship with one or more of the DPE groups. Only Kristin Gibson (Area 5) and Amy Flick (Area 1) seem likely to stand up for the SDUHSD’s public schools against all privatizing and profiteering efforts.
America’s public education system is a priceless legacy that is under attack. We must be vigilant about who we elect to lead it. Members of both of America’s tribes, Democrats and Republicans are responsible for this outrage. Be informed. Don’t just vote your club; vote to save public education in America.