Thursday, September 12, 2013

All Schools Need Assistance - Viewpoint

Every Sacramento school should be a ‘priority’ school

Special to The Bee   PUBLISHED THURSDAY, SEP. 12, 2013

As a teacher in Sacramento City Schools for the past 18 years and a parent of two children in the district, I join Marcus Breton in celebrating Father Keith B. Kenny’s rise in test scores (“A school that cares triumphs,” Sept. 4). The teachers and students worked very hard and deserve to be lauded for their efforts. However, in trying to establish a cause for the rise in scores, Breton left out many important details and did not paint a complete picture.
To assert that the gains were made because of “a break in teacher seniority” as he states in his column, is an oversimplification at best and is not supported by the facts. The school that made the biggest API gains in the district was not, in fact, one of Superintendent Jonathan Raymond’s “priority” schools. It was Maple Elementary, whose students were also all eligible for free and reduced lunch. Maple was one of the seven non-priority schools closed by the district last June.

On the other hand, another one of the superintendent’s “priority schools,” Leataata Floyd Elementary, had one of the biggest drops in student achievement. This school had the same “break in teacher seniority” as Father Keith B. Kenny Elementary, yet Leataata Floyd Elementary experienced a dramatic drop in its scores for the second straight year. Scores for this school, like the majority of schools in the district, go up and down from year to year.
When you look at the many factors, it becomes obvious that ignoring seniority rights is not the reason for increased test scores. In fact, the forced exemption of seniority rules for teachers at the superintendent’s priority schools has actually worked to destabilize the staffs of surrounding schools. It has caused many experienced teachers to lose their jobs and contributed to a “revolving door of teachers” throughout the rest of the district. The real problem has nothing to do with seniority. The real problem is that the district has decided to lay off 700 teachers over the last three years.
It’s also important to note that most teachers, including myself, have received the same trainings as the teachers at “priority” schools. Breton mentioned that these schools do home visits. I am one of the founding teachers of the Parent/Teacher Home Visit Project, a project created as a partnership between the Sacramento City Teachers Association and Sacramento Area Congregations Together. I can tell you that teachers in our district have been doing home visits for more than 10 years. There are now over 40 district schools participating in the home visit program.
Another important detail ignored by Breton is that in order to fund the superintendent’s “priority schools,” the district had to take federal funding away from other high-needs schools and redirect it to a select few schools of the superintendent’s choosing. Every year since the “priority schools” began, my school had to go through the painful process of deciding which bilingual aide, tutoring program, school nurse, or other important resource our students would have to go without. My school, C.B. Wire (which, like Maple, has been closed), was also 100 percent free and reduced lunch, 90 percent minority and 50 percent English language learners. Every extra dollar of federal funds that a “priority school” receives is a dollar that a similar school with high needs has to do without.
I believe all schools should be a “priority,” staffed with well-supported, experienced teachers. I believe that all students deserve lower class sizes and increased parental involvement. I believe the district should work collaboratively with all its stakeholders to help make all of our schools a priority.

David Fisher is 2nd vice president of the Sacramento City Teachers Association.
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