Wednesday, May 18, 2005 | Whenever Alan Bersin’s name gets mentioned publicly, there is the usual outcry of how he was either the best thing to have happened to San Diego public schools, or the worst. His personality and management style were as fair game for comment as his Blueprint.
And now that he’s been named the state secretary for education, we’ll be seeing his name for a lot longer than we thought, after he got booted out as superintendent of schools here.
But as a parent of two teenagers, I don’t much care whether people like him – I just want to know whether my kids are getting a decent education. My son will graduate next month, and my daughter is in ninth grade. All of their schooling has been in San Diego public schools. And I couldn’t be happier with what they have experienced.
When my son started showing an interest and ability in filmmaking, his teachers at DePortola Middle School gave him opportunities to do film projects to augment his course work. When he approached his 10th grade English teacher at Serra High School with an idea to do a modern film version of the book The Yellow Wallpaper, which they were reading for class, she not only encouraged him – she offered her mother’s house as the location for the shooting, for a month! All my son and his friends had to do was to take the wallpaper off of the room when they were done.
The teachers arranged for the movie premiere at Serra, opening a classroom for the evening showing. About 50 people came, including many teachers. Two years later, when he had a premiere in Point Loma for a longer film he had worked on all summer, several teachers were among the 600 in the audience.
He was encouraged throughout school to keep pursuing his passion for filmmaking, and was recently accepted into the film school at New York University. He may go there, or to one of the other excellent schools where he was accepted.
He got more than just encouragement at school, though. He and his friends were taken seriously as human beings. When one of his teachers was removed from the classroom and placed in an administrative post, my son and his friends complained, via e-mail, to the principal. She called the students into her office and heard their concerns face to face. The teacher was returned to the classroom.
When my daughter was the lead in a community theater production of “Bridge to Terabithia,” her teachers were in the audience. Her teachers talk to her outside of the classroom. Her coaches call her at home. She’s having the same experience with her gifts and interests as my son’s.
I get as annoyed as the next person when I see an incompetent teacher or administrator, or when there aren’t enough funds to cover a track meet at the school, or even fill a pit for the pole vaulters. I get as discouraged as anyone when the lawn isn’t cared for, or when a dance has to be cancelled, or when the administration doesn’t let the students’ favorite teacher speak at graduation.
But my experience, after a combined 23 years of public school involvement with my kids, is that, from kindergarten to 12th grade, they have been surrounded by caring, knowledgeable, encouraging advocates who are doing everything they can to see that the young people in their classrooms succeed.
I suppose it matters who the school superintendent is, because he or she can affect morale and some practices. All I know is that, as we make plans for a graduation party, no superintendent is on the invitation list. But there are a lot of teachers.
Dean Nelson directs the journalism program at Point Loma Nazarene University. He writes occasionally for The New York Times and other national publications, and is a frequent guest on KPBS radio and television.