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San Francisco Superintendent's Plan for a Dream School Revealed as a Nightmare

Publication Date: 2004-02-16

Below are two newspaper articles about San Francisco Superintendent Arlene Ackerman's plan--dubbed Dream Schools--to overhaul low-performing schools. In reality, overhaul means getting the lowest performing children out of the schools.

NOTE: San Francisco Schools Superintendent Arlene Ackerman's goals are to improve 'test scores' in the district. She believes this is the parameter that validates her skill as an administrator.

Ackerman's Dream Schools plan is modeled after the successful Loraine Monroe Model from Harlem. Here's the Monroe model:

- Take a failing school and close it entirely. Put in a new education program.

- All teachers must re-apply for their positions in what is now a 6 day program with longer hours.

- All children in the school must re-apply and are only accepted if they have a parent or guardian agree to sign a contract of participation and support.

Now, the Teachers who sign up are obviously more motivated than those that do not sign on.

The kids who get accepted are the ones with motivated parents and a family support structure.

The Result:
A poorly performing school is now testing at a higher level, and the Superintendent can claim greater competence. The proof is, of course, in these higher scores.

The Reality:
What really happens is that the 10-20% of the kids in the existing school who do not come back to the Dream School are the kids who do NOT have a parent or guardian willing to sign a contract and who don't have the support system the Dream Schools requires. They are the bottom 10-20% performers in the pre-Dream School failing school and their removal ensures the Dream School success. These kids are placed in another poorly performing school, not a dream school, where they will continue to fail.

Thus, the Dream Schools purge the lower performers out of a school, the very kids who need the most support end up getting the least.

In San Francisco, if this is done, Ackerman will declare a success as the 'test scores' in 3 Bayview/Hunters Point schools will improve. (She will probably get a raise) when in fact, the worst performing children in this neighborhood will be shifted off to another poor performing school. Since it already has poor scores, who cares?.

It is hard to believe that this is what is best for the children of San Francisco.

'Dream Schools' Plan Angers Union Superintendent wants teachers, aides to reapply for their jobs

Heather Knight, Chronicle Staff Writer
February 6, 2004

San Francisco teachers union leaders are clashing with Superintendent Arlene Ackerman over her plan to overhaul several low-performing city schools, calling it "a slap in the face" to teachers working at them.

In her "State of the Schools" address on Jan. 21, Ackerman discussed her initiative to bring components of private schools -- including school uniforms, college prep courses and long school days -- to public schools.

But it wasn't until earlier this week that union leaders learned Ackerman wants all principals, teachers and classroom aides currently working at the schools to reapply for their jobs. Those who aren't selected would be employed elsewhere in the district.

"The teachers are not the problem, and that's the implication of this -- just get rid of the lousy teachers," said Linda Plack, vice president of United Educators of San Francisco. "It's such a slap in the face to all the dedicated people who go to those schools day in and day out and do a wonderful job."

Ackerman said her initiative -- dubbed "Dream Schools" -- will begin this fall with the reprogramming of three schools in the Bayview: Charles Drew Elementary, Twenty-First Century Academy and Gloria R. Davis Middle School. She plans to expand it in the 2005-2006 academic year to three schools each in the Mission, Western Addition, Tenderloin and Potrero Hill.

Ackerman, who intends to open the jobs to anyone in the district, said she wants only the most enthusiastic, committed teachers to wind up at the remade schools.

A committee--including parents, community leaders and a union representative--will interview candidates and should have a new staff for the Bayview schools by May, Ackerman said.

"A teacher is not threatened by this if they focus on the fact that this is about young people, about improving achievement," Ackerman said. "It's about putting children first and not the adults."

While union leaders said they support helping low-performing schools, they said making teachers reapply for their own jobs sounds like the infamous "reconstitution" of nine schools under the previous superintendent, Bill Rojas.

During his tenure, Rojas placed low-performing schools on probation and gave them extra money. If they didn't improve, he replaced every staff member. But the schools typically remained low-performing, and staff members who were sent to other schools were sometimes stigmatized as being poor employees, union leaders said.

Kay Hones was the librarian at Mission High when it was reconstituted and said she wouldn't want anyone else to experience the embarrassment.

"Oh, it was horrible. People still aren't over it, and this is seven years later," said Hones, who now works as the librarian at O'Connell High. "It was devastating because it was like, 'You're not good' and it wasn't true at all."

Ackerman said that unlike Rojas' reconstitution, the Dream Schools have a concrete academic plan, the backing of parents and community members and resources from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

For now, union leaders said they will encourage Ackerman to rethink requiring teachers to reapply for their jobs. If she doesn't, more drastic action could be in the offing, they said.

"We would hope there can be a change in the way it's being handled so it doesn't incur any kind of militant response," said Dennis Kelly, the union's president.

But not all teachers are concerned about Ackerman's plan. Eric Walker, a seventh and eighth grade social studies teacher at Twenty-First Century, said he will gladly reapply for his job. He said he hopes the rigorous academics envisioned by Ackerman convince his students -- who are largely African American -- to dedicate themselves to school.

"It's beaten into them that the only way the can make it in life is to be able to carry a football or rap some verse. Academics haven't been emphasized, " Walker said. "My job isn't secure, but that isn't important to me now ... . The children come first."

At 3 Schools in San Francisco, Teachers Will Reapply for Jobs; Union Won't Resist "Dream" Plan

The San Francisco's teachers union said Wednesday it would go along with a plan to make staff members at three Bayview neighborhood schools reapply for their jobs as part of the district's attempt to overhaul the low- performing schools.

The union had objected to Superintendent Arlene Ackerman's "Dream Schools" initiative, saying that forcing staffers to reapply would stigmatize those who weren't rehired and were made to transfer.

Ackerman wants to inject components of private education into the three schools, including having students wear uniforms, take rigorous college prep classes and stay in class for longer hours. She says she wants to make sure the principals, teachers and classroom aides at the schools are committed and enthusiastic.

Union leaders had called the requirement that staffers reapply for their jobs "a slap in the face." On Wednesday, though, they said they would support the initiative as long as teachers who aren't selected get preference for open jobs elsewhere in the district.

Tom Ruiz, the district's director of labor relations, said that was the district's intention. "We'll make sure they're treated with respect, equity and dignity," he said. "There will be no taint on them wherever they go."

Dennis Kelly, president of United Educators of San Francisco, said the plan "sounds like the right thing to me."

The agreement will probably apply when the district selects another round of "Dream Schools" -- three each in the Mission, Western Addition, Tenderloin and Potrero Hill -- for the 2005-06 school year.

The two sides reached the deal after a school board meeting Tuesday night at which African American community leaders and teachers ripped into union officials for fighting a plan intended to improve Bayview neighborhood schools.

"Where were you when they kept getting low test scores? Where was the union then?" asked the Rev. Carolyn Habersham of the Allen Chapel AME Church in the Bayview. "You're talking about teachers being stigmatized. We're talking about our children being stigmatized."

People sitting in the audience waved signs reading, "Children First -- Let Them Dream." A string of teachers working at the affected schools -- Charles Drew Elementary, Gloria R. Davis Middle School and Twenty-First Century Academy -- told school board members they had no problem with reapplying for their jobs.

Sheryl Perkins, a kindergarten teacher at Twenty-First Century Academy, said that when she asks her students what they want to be when they grow up, they rarely have an answer. One boy told her he wants to be a gangster "because they have a lot of money," she said.

"They don't know about people who make it," Perkins said. "They have no hope."

Ackerman took the show of support as vindication for her plan.

"It's important that the union understand and get the information from the teachers who are most affected," she said. "They're ready to go. They were never threatened by this."

Kelly countered by saying the union "must operate on general principles."

Specifically, he said, the union initially objected to the plan because it resembled the unpopular "reconstitution" of nine schools under former Superintendent Bill Rojas. Under that plan, entire staffs at low-performing schools were let go and given no preference for open jobs.

The union's agreement with the district is "much more humane, and it removes the stigma of reconstitution," Kelly said. "It's a very wise move."

E-mail Heather Knight at hknight@sfchronicle.com. http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2004/02/12/BAG7P4V6991.DTL

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