For the children…


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.

Dozens of Hiram Johnson students stage walkout

New principal takes tough stances at Sacramento’s Hiram Johnson High

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

3 Comments to

“For the children…”

  1. June 5th, 2011 at 5:02 am      Reply Nancy Flanagan Says:

    Somewhere around middle school, kids stop being props (unless a parent is running for office…) and start being thinking persons. And high school students often have very strong opinions about their schooling, their teachers, the way a building is run. A reasonably intelligent high school student understands the complexity of issues just as well as most parents, and often better, because they’re living the reality. Which is to say: through a specific lens.

    I’ve been at Board meetings where numerous students speak to a hot issue. In my experience, it’s usually something that impacts them–the loss of a program or a favorite teacher. In times of layoff, I’ve seen students mount some pretty impressive campaigns against LIFO, for example, using the same level of logic that Michelle Rhee uses: We need to keep Mr. X! Even though he’s a second year teacher, I learned more about math from him than Mrs. Z–she should retire!

    I’ve had bad–truly atrocious–administrators before, and in my experience, they’re allowed to stay because they’re doing somebody’s bidding.

  2. June 5th, 2011 at 10:56 am      Reply Lori Jablonski Says:

    Thank you, Nancy for that comment about the critical thinking skills and high school students. The only ugly thing about this whole state of affairs is the behavior of the adults, who, as you note, have failed the students from the day the current administration was selected to “turn-around” that school. Students were not trotted to the board meeting; they organized themselves (When I left the meeting at about 9:30 or so, I walked out of the building to an armada of vehicles driven by parents arrived to pick up their teens…no one was behind this demonstration of student power other than the kids themselves!)

    The students took the theory of democratic participation so prominent in their textbooks and lessons from the time they begin learning about American history and they turned it into action. Not only was the board chamber full, but the over-flow room and lobby. Student speakers were articulate, courageous and incredibly creative. We all should be applauding them– first and foremost the school board which has spent a tidy sum of money over the years on consultants and staffers working to ensure “student voice” in district affairs. That voice was loud and clear last Thursday and it will be the measure of the adults how they proceed from here. They have come up woefully short thus far and if this bullying, incompetent administration is allowed to stay they will send the message that student voice is only relevant if it is used to rubber stamp adult decisions.

  3. June 7th, 2011 at 10:56 pm      Reply Larry Tagg Says:

    Thanks for this, Alice. It’s an excellent commentary on a remarkable meeting. Thanks to the Hiram Johnson students, none of us will ever forget it.


  1. School Board to Kids — Sorry that’s not our job! Go back to class and quit bugging us! | Reflections on Teaching

Email will not be published

Website example

Your Comment:


Links of Interest


Creative Commons License
All of Ms. Mercer's work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Skip to toolbar