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Rojas Seeks To 'Reconstitute' 3 Underachieving S.F. Schools

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Superintendent Waldemar Rojas of the San Francisco schools has called for the system's home-grown tactic of "reconstitution'' to be used on three poorly performing schools.

Under Mr. Rojas's plan, more than 200 administrators and faculty and staff members could be tossed out of the schools in June.

A U.S. District Court judge was expected to decide late last week whether to approve the superintendent's recommendations, which were intended to keep the district in compliance with a desegregation policy ordered by the court last summer. That policy, recommended by a court-appointed team of experts, called for the district to reconstitute at least three low-performing schools each year.

Under reconstitution, the district removes all of a school's personnel and asks that those who reapply for their jobs compete with new applicants and buy into the "new'' school's mission and philosophy.

The three targeted San Francisco schools were among nine that were told last spring that they faced reconstitution if, after receiving substantial district assistance, they did not show significant improvements in student achievement, suspension rates, and other areas under review. (See Education Week, June 23, 1993.)

In a statement issued this month, Mr. Rojas said that each of the nine schools showed some improvement, and that two had improved enough to be taken off the watch list.

Nevertheless, Mr. Rojas added, not enough progress had been made after five months at Bret Harte Elementary, Visitacion Valley Middle, and Woodrow Wilson High schools.

Leland Yee, the president of the San Francisco board of education, said in an interview last week that "a lot of kids have gone through, a lot of kids have dropped out, a lot of kids have not been educated'' at Wilson, which the district has been prodding to improve for several years. "From my perspective,'' Mr. Yee said, "enough is enough.''

The San Francisco school board is expected to have a public hearing on the superintendent's recommendations on March 1.

Union Vows Fight

The leadership of the United Educators of San Francisco last week threatened legal action and vowed to file grievances on behalf of teachers who are involuntarily transferred.

"Reconstitution is a euphemism for blaming teachers for low performance,'' Joan-Marie Shelley, the union's president, told the school board earlier this month.

"To run one set of staff out and bring another in will solve no problems,'' said Ms. Shelley, who contended the schools had not been given the time or resources to improve.

In a union newsletter published last week, Ms. Shelley commended the teachers at the schools for "a job extremely well done under the most trying circumstances,'' and said they were being blamed for student failures that are attributable to socioeconomic problems.

Ms. Shelley also said she will push for teachers at the schools to be offered early-retirement incentives so that, if they wish, they "can retire now with some modicum of dignity and self-respect still intact.''

Michael J. Holway, the executive director of the United Administrators of San Francisco, said his union has not taken a formal stand on the district's reconstitution policy but plans to offer counseling, guidance, and legal assistance to the principals and other administrators targeted for removal.

"Any time you start to play with the lives and jobs of individuals,'' Mr. Holway said in an interview, "there is a lot of cause for anxiety.''

Mr. Holway and Ms. Shelley also said they were concerned about the students in the three schools. Ms. Shelley said they were likely to be left struggling through the spring with "traumatized faculties and staffs'' and "seriously undermined authority and discipline.''

San Francisco pioneered the use of reconstitution at five schools a decade ago and found that it significantly bolstered the achievement of minority students. Similar strategies have been adopted by Cleveland and Houston and have been considered by other districts.

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