Tuesday, February 06, 2007 | This is the first of a series of profiles on the San Diego City School Board members.

Mindful of his role as the newly-appointed president of San Diego Unified School District’s Board of Education, Luis Acle takes his job as a consensus-builder seriously and is intent on bringing harmony and civility back to a formerly contentious school board.

Acle, who was just elected to his first term on the school board along with colleagues Shelia Jackson and Mitz Lee, says he and his fellow trustees are respectful of one another, even when they disagree.

Three main challenges confront the new school board, according to Acle:

Increasing the rate of student improvement and acknowledging that children have different learning styles

Managing the district in a fiscally prudent way

Healing the divisions that currently exist within the district and school board and developing a common vision. Acle said, “We now need to heal, to consolidate and build a team, and work together to serve the children.” Five independent, well-meaning voices have no leverage as individuals, he said, but as a group, “we have great authority.”

Born in Mexico City, Acle moved with his family to Stockton, California, when he was 12. He attended college at the University of California, Berkeley, but moved to San Diego before finishing his degree. He resumed college in San Diego and received an undergraduate degree in chemistry from San Diego State University.

After working at Solar Turbines for five years as a research engineer, Acle received a master’s degree in organizational behavior and organizational psychology. Years later, he received his teaching credentials.

Acle, 61, said most of his decisions over the past 10 years have centered on what’s best for his three daughters, whom he is raising alone. He became a regular substitute teacher, rather than working full-time, so he could have more time to focus on their needs.

His older daughter has since graduated from M.I.T. with a degree in electrical engineering, while his other two daughters – in ninth and tenth grades – attend local schools. “My children are my first priority,” Acle said.

Acle represents Sub-District D, which includes the San Diego High School Educational Complex on Park Blvd., and is generally located south of I-8, east of I-5, and west of I-15.

Acle, who exhibits a patient, gracious manner and picks his words carefully and deliberately, considers setting policy, using the values of the community as guidance, to be his primary job as a school board member. To be effective, Acle said trustees need to establish a common philosophy, with a common set of values and objectives.

Looking at the last five years, Acle praised the district for improving teaching and instructional development, especially in the elementary grades. He also touted student improvements in reading and conceptualizing in the early grades.

The Blueprint for Student Success, Superintendent Alan Bersin’s controversial program to increase student achievement, is still a viable concept, Acle said, and should not be discarded even though Bersin will be leaving the district at the end of June. However, he said that modifications may be necessary.

Concerning the dissension within the district, Acle said the Blueprint itself was not necessarily the reason. The problem, he said, had more to do with style over substance, and the way it was administered. “People complained bitterly about the top-down management and centralization from the district office,” he said.

“Teachers have a peculiar mentality. We are not in it for the money. We think of ourselves as public servants. Our satisfaction from our achievements comes from our students. That’s the motivation.”

Acle said teachers want and expect to be treated as dedicated professionals. “They will resist micro-management, and being told what to do by others less experienced,” he said.

However, Acle distinguished between the teachers and their union, which he called “extremely hostile” to Bersin and the Blueprint, saying that many teachers, especially in the elementary grades, have adapted well to the Blueprint’s principles.

Acle pointed out that teachers are required to join the union, and that the union does not speak for all teachers all the time. “Union leadership has a role in collective bargaining certainly,” he said, “but not necessarily in [developing] teaching philosophies.” 

Although Acle abstained from the final vote in January to end Bersin’s contract one year early because he objected to a few contract details, he considers it a source of personal satisfaction that a settlement was finally achieved that pleased all parties and ensures continuity through June. 

“We are saying goodbye in an amicable way, cooperating, with no legal action,” he said.  “This is a tremendous triumph.”

Please contact Marsha Sutton directly at marsha.sutton@voiceofsandiego.org  with your thoughts, ideas, personal stories, or tips.

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