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Tuesday, February 15, 2005 | Mitz Lee and Shelia Jackson, newly elected to the school board of San Diego Unified, spoke a few weeks ago at the Business Roundtable for Education. Asked about the role they expected the new school board to play, Ms. Lee responded “Our job is to set policy.”

A recent action by the Board causes one to wonder what definition of “setting policy” they are operating under. On Tuesday, Feb. 8, the Board decided to reassign the popular principal of Gompers Middle School, apparently in reaction to his involvement in an effort to take the school charter. In most districts, personnel decisions are viewed as the responsibility of the superintendent.

According to the Professional Governing Standards of the California School Boards Association, the primary responsibilities of a school board are to “set a direction for the district, provide a structure by establishing policies, ensure accountability and provide community leadership on behalf of the district and public education.” The CSBA further defines board functions as follows:

Adopting a long-term vision that sets the direction for the district.

By dictating a personnel action about a staff member several levels below the superintendent, the San Diego board is clearly performing a managerial function outside its purview.

San Diego Unified has operated like a dysfunctional family for far too many years. The relationships between the adults in the system must improve in order for the district to meet the serious challenges of improving student achievement. The Board is about to embark on a search for a new superintendent. Any hope of attracting high quality candidates could be killed unless the Board refrains from micromanaging the district and focuses instead on governance.

Susan Wolking is executive director of the Girard Foundation, which has provided millions of dollars for K-12 programs in San Diego County over the last 18 years.

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