October 12, 2001

SDUSD Board Crumbling: Community Says "Resign"

Latino Coalition Gives Blueprint "Vote of No Confidence"

By Yvette tenBerge

The San Diego County Latino Coalition on Education had a tough act to follow at the Tuesday, October 9 San Diego Unified School District Board Meeting. Their 25 minute presentation in which they issued a "Vote of No Confidence" for the implementation of the Blueprint for Student Success was preceded by an hour and a half-long spectacle in which, as usual, the board majority and the Superintendent did a great deal of verbal tap dancing and little else.

Trustee Frances O'Neill Zimmerman calls for Sue Braun's resignation.

Board Member Apologizes:

In front of an audience packed with outraged parents, teachers and community members, Sue Braun issued a formal apology to fellow board members John de Beck and Frances O'Neill Zimmerman. She labeled her sending of an e-mail in which she threatened to "shoot" de Beck and Zimmerman with "one bullet" a "terrible error in judgment" and admitted that there was "no excuse for my having said, or written, such a thing." She followed this act of contrition with justification for her decision to remain on the board, saying, "Of course, it was not meant seriously, as the City Schools Police and San Diego Police have found through their investigations."

Ms. Braun sent the e-mail in question on September 26. It was sent to four district employees and two board members, none of whom were either Mr. de Beck or Ms. Zimmerman. In the e-mail, Ms. Braun mentioned that Mr. de Beck and Ms. Zimmerman "get so outrageous" that they make "the rest of the board members, including me, crazy." She asked for ideas as to how to "keep more control" of the meetings, and finished by offering a solution: to "shoot the both of them" with "one bullet."

Dave Cohen, Spokesperson for the San Diego Police Department, confirms the depart-ment's decision not to treat this matter as a crime. "In making a `terrorist threat,' the threat must be communicated directly to the intended victim or victims," said Mr. Cohen, who indicated that investigators considered a number of factors in the inquiry. The police department then passed the case onto the District Attorney's office, which "found no reason to disagree" with the police department's decision.

The finding that Ms. Braun did not commit a crime did little to change the attitude of the crowd attending the meeting, the majority of whom still want to see Ms. Braun "do the right thing" and resign from the board. The only way in which Ms. Braun, an elected official, can be removed from her seat is by voluntary resignation or by citizen recall.

Despite the demands of Mr. de Beck and Ms. Zimmerman, and with the support of Mr. Ottinger and Mr. Lopez, Ms. Braun refused to resign. She did, though, agree to step down as president of the board. In a move that infuriated many, she handed her gavel to then Vice President Ottinger, one of the six people to receive and not report her e-mail threat.

Among the dozen community members who spoke to this issue was Marc Knapp, President of the San Diego Education Association (SDEA). Although Mr. Ottinger attempted to cut his time short, Mr. Knapp reminded him that he was speaking on behalf of 10,000 of the district's teachers.

"The members of the San Diego Education Association call for the immediate resignation of Ms. Braun and for immediate disciplinary action taken against everyone who had knowledge of the threat and refused to report it to the authorities or to warn Ms. Zimmerman and Mr. de Beck," said Mr. Knapp, who handed out copies of "Roberts Rules of Order" to each board member and whose speech garnered a standing ovation from the crowd.

Among the others who directly received Ms. Braun's threatening message were Mr. Lopez, Joanne Sawyerknoll, General Council for the District, Deberie Gomez, Deputy Administrative Officer for Human Resources, and Kerry Flanagan, Staff Action Officer for the Chief of Staff.

Although the district has a notoriously tough "zero tolerance" policy on violence in schools, not one of these people chose to confront Ms. Braun about her actions or to come forward to report the threat. Instead, Mr. de Beck learned of the threat on October 1, from employees working on the second floor offices of the board of education, located at 4100 Normal Street.

Ms. Braun sat pale-faced and tight-lipped as parents, teachers, community representatives, a United Methodist Minister and an Episcopal priest addressed the board as to her conduct. Although a few people spoke out in favor of her remaining on the board, all denounced her actions and pleaded for the board to work together and strive for "civility."

Susen Fay, a member of the San Diego County Board of Education who came to express her personal opinion, summed up the attitude of many of the people present. "Setting aside the police report, school board members have a responsibility to set an example for students, parents and the community at large. In light of our zero tolerance policy to which we hold our children, I would call on Sue Braun to remove herself from the board," said Ms. Fay.

If the crowd expected any sort of explanation from the Superintendent or a statement to go along with his "No exceptions, no excuses" mantra, they were sorely disappointed. As Mr. Bersin stammered through a "call to civility... particularly at a time when our nation has been under attack," the members of the audience broke out in laughter, groaned or pointed their fingers straight back at him and shouted "civility needs to start with you, Mr. Bersin."

Whether Ms. Braun's e-mail is considered a serious threat or not, one thing became inarguably clear at this meeting: the people whom the school board represents no longer want Sue Braun to speak for them. For the time being, however, she will continue to do just that. This most recent action is only one in a series of actions that have shaken the public's confidence in her, and in the board majority of which she is a part.

Latino Coalition: Vote of No Confidence

After the cameramen and most of the reporters present headed back to their offices to meet deadlines, the board returned to business as usual. In the second formal vote of "No Confidence" issued in three months (the SDEA released their survey results on June 25 which indicate that 93 percent of the 5,500 educators who responded have "no confidence" in Mr. Bersin), the Latino Coalition stated their position: they have no confidence in the implementation of Mr. Bersin and Mr. Alvarado's Blueprint for Student Success.

The Coalition consists of Hispanic organizations from East County, South Bay, North County and Metro City. Each group does work in their own areas and joins together once a year at a countywide conference to share and discuss data concerning Latino education.

Dr. Alberto Ochoa announces that the San Diego County Latino Coalition on Education has "no confidence" in Bersin's Blueprint For Student Success.

Dr. Alberto Ochoa, Co-Chair of the Coalition and a San Diego State University Professor of Education, stated that the Coalition has "conditionally supported the Blueprint for 18 months in the hopes of seeing tangible, positive results in the improvement of the achievement of Latino students." In light of recently released data which includes STAR test data independently analyzed by local statisticians and district math instructors, the Coalition has concluded that the results do anything but validate the

The Coalition raised eight, major criticisms of the district. Claiming to have a "major disagreement with the district in the definition and implementation of the Blueprint," they found there to be a "continuation of the achievement gap between Latino and non-Latino students, despite significant reallocation of funds and personnel," a "management and school leadership profile of appointments that are at odds with the diversity of the students in the school district," a "biliteracy plan that has been co-opted into a structured English immersion approach," a "diminishing lack of due process and respect for parents," a "one-size-fits-all approach for Latino students," a  "lack of accountability in documenting the progress of Latino students," and the presence of "tracking of Latino students in Genre Studies for math and literacy."

Many remember a March 2000 letter in which the Coalition jumped on the Blueprint bandwagon. Rather than giving their wholehearted endorsement, however, the Coalition painted a picture in which they were hesitant to come on board, but hoped for the best. According to an October 8 press release, the Coalition offered to work with the district to institute what seemed to be "relevant" reforms ­ accountability, rigor and the promotion of literacy and mathematics skills. "This support was given conditionally, based on the promise that authentic reforms would take place."

On June 4, 2001, the Coalition met with Superintendent Bersin and Chancellor Alvarado to raise specific questions about the Blueprint, and to discuss the future of the 54,613 Latino children who account for 38 percent of the district's students. Among the concerns raised were: the lack of community involvement, the district's failure to address the needs of second language learners and concerns about access to equal staffing.

Although the Coalition requested that the district respond within 60 days, they received what they consider to be a "superficial and unacceptable" response from the district on August 24. During this time, the Coalition scrutinized district data regarding student achievement and concluded that the district's claim of "steady progress" is either "misleading and/or inaccurate."

Throughout Tuesday's presentation in which representatives from the Chicano Federation, the Mexican American Business and Professional Association, the California Hispanic American Medical Association and the Greater San Diego California Association spoke out, not one of the speakers questioned, or even directly addressed, Mr. Lopez, the only Hispanic on the board and one of the board majority members responsible for pushing forward the very policies that the Coalition is denouncing.

Despite the large, red and green charts that the Coalition held up for all to see, the pages of information that they handed to the board and their statement that "enough was enough," Mr. Bersin dismissed their grievances about the school board's programs and its non-communicativeness as merely a "part of an ongoing dialogue."

Edward Olivos is the President of the Greater San Diego California Association for Bilingual Education, as well as a teacher at Audubon Elementary School. He was not surprised to hear Mr. Bersin's reaction to their presentation.

"What got me about Mr. Bersin's comment is that his idea of dialogue is that he goes to a school, tells people what he is going to do, people yell back at him to say that they oppose it, and he goes back and reports that there was `dialogue.' He takes any disagreement as a personal attack against him. He goes after the messenger without ever listening to the message," says Mr. Olivos. "We expected this much from him because there has never been collaboration or dialogue."

In keeping with the spirit of things, Mr. Lopez also brushed off the Latino Coalition's concerns about the Blueprint, itself. In his ramblings, he mentioned the need to be "data focused" when looking into the Coalition's complaints and then mentioned that "thought should be given as to who will look at this information and when."

Despite continued mentions of the need for an independent, third party analysis of the STAR data, Mr. Lopez has not returned La Prensa's e-mail requesting details about this proposed analysis.

Ms. Zimmerman, Mr. de Beck and the majority of the audience shook their heads as they listened to Mr. Lopez' scripted response. It was Mr. de Beck who cut to the heart of the issue. He pointed out that, despite years of community concern about the Blueprint for Student Success, Chancellor Alvarado, the man responsible for concocting and implementing this costly and much-criticized program, has remained shielded from the community.

"The absence of the engineer in all of this is a problem. Tony Alvarado has to be present at school board meetings. Last I knew, he worked for us, and he was on our payroll. He's been insulated from the public by the board and the Superintendent. The community deserves to have the people who are part of designing these programs here," said Mr. de Beck, who lamented the fact that it took a crisis to engage the board in an honest debate of the issues. "You can talk about how you want to bring people together after the fact, but it's time that we stop saying `I'm going to do it' and really do it."

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