School & District Management

Early Bersin Exit Further Clouds San Diego Plans

By Jeff Archer — February 08, 2005 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

With Alan D. Bersin now set to make an early exit from the top job in the San Diego school district, the fate of his much-studied improvement agenda has been left in greater doubt.

Even before the announcement late last month that the superintendent would leave at the end of June—a year ahead of schedule—the school board had begun chipping away at parts of his 6-year-old master plan, the Blueprint for Student Success.

With a majority of its members new as of December, the board recently halted funding for outside consultants hired under Mr. Bersin to work with educators on their mathematics and literacy instruction. It also killed a mandate that all schools in the 140,000-student district have “peer coaches”—teachers who work with colleagues on honing their craft.

And looking ahead, board members predict big changes in, if not the elimination of, another Bersin hallmark: a leadership-development academy that trains aspiring principals through internships and mentoring by San Diego school leaders.

A former U.S. attorney who was hired as the district’s superintendent in 1998, Mr. Bersin has drawn national attention to San Diego for his single-minded focus on instructional improvement. (“Review Probes Successes, Challenges of San Diego Reforms,” Oct. 6, 2004.)

See Also

“It does not look promising in terms of the board’s willingness to stay the course on key pieces of the blueprint,” said Frederick M. Hess, an education expert at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington who led a major research project on Mr. Bersin’s initiatives.

With the help of Anthony J. Alvarado, a former New York City schools leader, Mr. Bersin overhauled the way the district provides ongoing training to teachers and principals. He also increased the amount of time spent on teaching basic skills.

His top-down management style often sparked heated criticism, but he was able to keep pushing his plans because he enjoyed the steady backing of three of the school board’s five members. That changed in November, though, when board elections resulted in a new majority made up of members who have criticized his leadership.

Initially, some new members said they wanted to work with the superintendent to address their concerns. But last month, the board brokered the deal in which Mr. Bersin will leave at the end of this school year—12 months earlier than anticipated in his contract. The agreement will pay him $240,000, plus benefits, after he departs.

More Flexibility Sought

Leading up to the deal, the board took a number of actions seen as undercutting some of Mr. Bersin’s priorities, particularly his approach toward staff training.

In targeting his use of external consultants—some of whom have come from as far away as New Zealand—board members said the district’s own teachers were well equipped to help their colleagues.

Members of the majority also argued that individual schools should be able to decide for themselves if they need a peer-coach

position. And while the board voted to continue the Educational Leadership Development Academy through this school year, some members said they doubted that the principal-training program would last beyond that—at least not in its current form.

“In many ways, we were taking money from everything else and devoting it to the professional-development programs,” said Luis Acle, the president of the board.

Adding to the tension, the board also tweaked a policy Mr. Bersin had backed to let low-performing schools identified for restructuring under the federal No Child Left Behind Act become charter schools. The board amended the plan to require approval of at least half the staff members at each school before charter status is granted.

In a statement issued with the announcement of the contract buyout, the superintendent expressed confidence that the district’s teachers and administrators would continue to focus on improving instruction. At the same time, he conceded that much of the “professional-development infrastructure” that he had built would be “reduced, and in some cases, entirely eliminated.”

Just how far the district swings in its strategies won’t be clear until a new superintendent is chosen. At a board retreat this week, members were slated to begin that discussion.

Larry Cuban, a professor emeritus of education at Stanford University and a close observer of the San Diego district, characterized the board’s actions so far as “nibbling around the edges.”

“The notion of dumping everything that one’s predecessor has done is a well-worn example among urban superintendents,” he said. “I don’t think that’s going to happen in San Diego, because there has been a lot of successes.”

Shelia Jackson, one of the new board members, agrees. The former teacher wants educators to have greater freedom than she thinks Mr. Bersin allowed in determining the best kind of instruction for their schools.

But she also said she doesn’t plan to erase all that the superintendent has put in place over the past six years.

“Our goal is not to just flip back and go 180 degrees,” she said. “Our goal is to take what has been working and build on it.”

A version of this article appeared in the February 09, 2005 edition of Education Week as Early Bersin Exit Further Clouds San Diego Plans


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Attendance Awareness Month: The Research Behind Effective Interventions
More than a year has passed since American schools were abruptly closed to halt the spread of COVID-19. Many children have been out of regular school for most, or even all, of that time. Some
Content provided by AllHere
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management A Vaccine for Kids Is Coming. 6 Tips for Administering the Shot in Your School
Start planning now, get help, and build enthusiasm. It's harder than it looks.
11 min read
Cole Rodriguez, a 15-year-old student at Topeka West, gets a COVID-19 vaccine Monday, Aug. 9, 2021 at Topeka High School's vaccine clinic.
Cole Rodriguez, a 15-year-old student, gets a COVID-19 vaccine at Topeka High School's vaccine clinic.
Evert Nelson/The Topeka Capital-Journal via AP
School & District Management Letter to the Editor School Mask Mandates: Pandemic, ‘Panicdemic,’ or Personal?
"A pandemic is based on facts. A 'panicdemic' is based on fears. Today, we have both," writes a professor.
1 min read
School & District Management How 'Vaccine Discrimination' Laws Make It Harder for Schools to Limit COVID Spread
In Montana and Ohio, the unvaccinated are a protected class, making it tough to track and contain outbreaks, school leaders say.
4 min read
Principal and District Superintendent Bonnie Lower takes the temperature of a student at Willow Creek School as the school reopened, Thursday, May 7, 2020, in Willow Creek, Mont.
Bonnie Lower, a principal and district superintendent in Willow Creek, Mont., checks the temperature of a student as Willow Creek School reopened for in-person instruction in the spring.
Ryan Berry/Bozeman Daily Chronicle via AP
School & District Management Opinion 'Futures Thinking' Can Help Schools Plan for the Next Pandemic
Rethinking the use of time and place for teachers and students, taking risks, and having a sound family-engagement plan also would help.
17 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
iStock/Getty