Thursday night’s school board meeting probably wasn’t what was anyone planned a month, week, or even a day before it happened. Even though the district seemed to know it would be a capacity crowd (a demonstration by the district-wide band, and renewal of charters–which always brings in supporters fearful of their school losing their location) I think it all turned into a bit more than any of us planned. It was the controversies surrounding the district’s lone priority high school that brought folks to their feet, literally, throughout the night.
Priority schools, like the one that I teach at, were brought about by the state of California implementing reforms required to apply for Race to the Top or RttT. The state has never won any of the prior two rounds of those grants, but it is still committed to the Obama administration school reform plan. This means identifying the lowest decile performance schools, and either shutting them down, giving them to a charter operator, firing all the staff, or firing/moving half the staff, and replacing the rest. My district has been doing transformation, or letting go of half the staff.
Things have been brewing a Hiram Johnson since the summer. The nexus of conflict was the new administrator at the site, Felisberto Cedros. It wasn’t just the staff, but students who were unhappy.
Things came to a head towards the end of May, when the Superintendent called in the school’s staff and told them that Mr. Cedros was going to continue as principal, and that folks needed to get on board, or they would be leaving. Within a week, teachers were being called down to the district office, and told there were being involuntarily transferred the next school year. The union, SCTA, began to plan to take action by meeting with the school staff, and then planned to bring their grievances to the school board meeting on June 2nd.
I’m leaving out many details, but this is the adult part of the story. It is the students themselves that are at the heart of this story, and that’s what was so wonderful, and horrible, and heart-breaking all at once. As this was going on, the students heard what was happening. They began organizing on Facebook, to also have a contingent of students at that same school board meeting. When I checked on the Thursday morning of the school board meeting, over 200 people had committed to coming to the board meeting, and about 180 said maybe. That’s a good turnout. But, also at this time, some disturbing signs began to appear…Sacramento Press is a local news website that has a very open publication policy, you submit it, and they will run it. This story appeared and started to circulate Thursday morning, suggesting that students were not their own agents in this protest, but instead were being manipulated by the union. I was concerned because it was pretty clear how Mr. Cedros’ supporters were going to proceed at the board meeting, and it is an object lesson on a side of the argument about what is best for kids that you NEVER want to be on.
One of the first speakers to appear was a 1/2 time PE teacher at Hiram, and in a room FULL of students from her school she essentially said, these students are being manipulated by adults, and I know that students are not behind this because they are children and don’t have the adult verbiage to have written the fliers that were distributed. I saw some of the students literally blanch and gasp at that point.
I can understand saying the kids don’t understand all that is involved, this is for their best interest, etc. but you have to acknowledge their intelligence, their anger, and their point of view. They did NONE of that, and instead proved the student’s case that they were being silenced, their views were being ignored, and that they did not matter. I’m going to write another post about the grown ups, but I wanted to share what the kids said and did that evening because they deserve that much dignity and respect. Here are some of my tweets with quotes from them. I’ve corrected typos made in the haste of the meeting, but kept most of the abbreviations:
ASB (student body) member from HJ speaks about the chaos. Interventions and programs are gone and teachers are leaving…
Last speaker resigned as ASB prez 🙁 #scusd
Current ASB prez speaks about how chgs in admin have affected students. I dread working in ASB now. #scusd
ASB vp says when bd mbrs asked how things were she said we’ll see, but she now feels this year has not been for the better #scusd
No I’m not being manipulated, I’m scared, but I’m speaking up. We will keep speaking until the admin is gone #scusd
Why did admin refer to himself as warden and school as prison. I am not his prisoner.
How many of us will have to petition you to get him out? Crowd yells, answer her!
Most of the teachers you are letting go are the core of our programs. Support HJ students remove admin team #scusd
I am a student, I am a leader is the repeated refrain followed by request to remove admin team. #scusd
ASB prez from McClatchy speaks in support of his fellow HJ students #scusd
Some of the speakers are near tears; some political theater from students as they stand and share why they are HJ Warriors #scusd
Crowd is wild, and it finishes w/parent saying he is a warrior, and votes #scusd
I think that Board Member Diana Rodriguez helped to bring some sense back the adults, and dignity back to the students by thanking the students for speaking up and saying she found them to be authentic.
The cap on the evening was the sober commentary delivered by the school board’s youth member who spoke against adultism and asked the board to continue their stand against it.
Here was a message waiting for me from an out of state teacher friend, Kevin Jarrett (NJ) who had followed my twitter coverage:
Holy mother of GOD what is happening in your district???
There was one parent who, although she spoke against Cedros, and delivered the most damning piece against him in many ways (more about that later), was clearly dismayed at having the students involved in this. I wish it had not come to that, and I would have been happy to just have the adults there protesting. But, they are not children anymore, many are eighteen and therefore adults. I’m not going to tell them they can’t have their say, because clearly, that’s what’s been going on at Hiram and that is the crux of the problem. They’re having to appear is because we as adults have let them down. We’ve put them under the charge of an administration that is clearly bullying them and haven’t heard their pleas for assistance. Now it’s public, and ugly, but it did not have to be that way. The only way to fix this situation is for the adults in charge to heed their call, step up to the plate, and do the right thing for the Hiram Johnson community by getting rid of the current administrative team.
But there is a lesson here for me as well. Many times in education blogs that are anti-reforminess, they complain about kids being trotted out for community meetings when there is a charter school controversy. Some of the kids at last night’s meeting were there to support their charter school. I think this experience has taught me that should I find myself blogging on that topic, that I don’t discount the concerns of the students, or trivialize what they have to say to make my point, because they deserve better than that.
Here is the video archive of the meeting