Charters: Seceding from the System

Charters: Seceding from the System

Sam Hodgson

Najib Mesdaq had to reapply for his job and weigh, "Why did I want to be here?" when his school went charter.

Frustration with the teacher placement system has fed the stunning growth of charter schools, which tout their hiring freedom as an asset. Local charter leaders say it is one of the biggest factors that push charters to split away from San Diego Unified. It now has the seventh highest share of charter students statewide.

Getting to choose its own teachers was one major reason Gompers Preparatory Academy seceded from the school district four years ago. One of the teachers it picked is Najib Mesdaq, a soothing man who surrounds his classroom with burbling fountains and readily gives preteens a high five and a grin.

He was already working at Gompers, a struggling school in Chollas View, but when it went charter, Mesdaq had to pen an essay and win over a panel of professors and parents. He never actually applied for his original job before Gompers went charter — the district just sent him.

“It was like night and day,” Mesdaq said. “I had to really think about, ‘Why did I want to be here?’”

Francine Maxwell believes that question is crucial. Her son used to attend a charter school where hundreds of teachers go through the wringer before hiring. “It’s all in the recruiting,” she said. When he came back to San Diego Unified, she was dismayed by his teachers’ attitudes.

“They act like they’re making a donation by driving from Escondido,” she said angrily. “It’s not the same at all.”

And another educator, Patricia Ladd, came back to the district after running a charter and found herself scrambling to hire teachers at Correia Middle, a Point Loma school seated on a neat hillside close to the beach. Hiring was radically different than at her charter, where Ladd could choose anyone she wanted.

For instance, Ladd had no choice about whether to hire Lisa Young, who showed up to fill a job at Correia just before school started. Young, in turn, scrambled to prepare for her students.

“I had no clue where anything was,” she recalled.

It turned out that Young was a phenomenal educator, the kind of teacher that Ladd would have hired anyway. But as budget cuts loomed, Ladd fretted that she might lose Young because she was the least senior teacher at Correia. To improve her chance of keeping her, Ladd nudged other teachers to leave on their own. 

It frustrated Ladd after working at a charter school. There, she usually interviewed more than a dozen teachers for each job. San Diego Unified gave Ladd only two or three names for several Correia jobs this year, and she had no choice when a displaced teacher wanted one.

“Could we have made more progress if I had the freedom to do what I needed to do?” she asked hypothetically. “Yes.”

 

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More: Loopholes and Gaming the System | Principals play the system. The district violates its own rules.

– EMILY ALPERT

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Dagny Salas

Dagny Salas

Dagny Salas was the former web editor at Voice of San Diego from 2010 to 2013. She was an investigative fellow at VOSD from 2009 to 2010.

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