Last week after an especially turbulent board meeting, I made a plea for your thoughts on why San Diego Unified is frequently so contentious. Here are some early replies. Parent Debbie O’Toole wrote that the problem is systemic:

The district needs to run like a business. The children are the clients and they come first. All funding should begin at the classroom level. Once the classroom is taken care of then you fund the site, moving up from there to the district. You should be able to easily fire someone who is not meeting expectations. Special interest groups should not have too much power. Power should be shared between parents, teachers and administrators. Transparency is a must. An example is when the board posts an item on the agenda without a description. I believe this is a way for them to push items through without any outcry from the opposition.

Teachers union president Camille Zombro penned a lengthy response with some interesting context. She started off with the origins of the question I posed, “Why can’t we all just get along?”

The question came from Rodney King, who stood in front of TV cameras crying in 1992 while LA burned. He was genuinely baffled about why people couldn’t just get along and why the riots happened. King’s question was taken at the time as the ultimate irony, because it ignored the complexity and the long history behind what happened on April 29, 1992. Decades of chronic poverty and institutionalized racism in LA wove a complex web of dysfunction which blew up after the decision in King’s case. The situation was just so much more complicated than “getting along.”

 So posing this question about SDUSD can either elicit a good conversation or some of the usual reactionary sound bites (“Because the unions are too powerful,” “Because the Superintendent’s a jerk,” “It’s the School Board’s fault.”). Yes, many of us are angry at what we see happening in SDUSD. But the word “anger” comes from a Celtic word which means “loss.” When people are angry, it’s usually because something they value has been lost.

 Those of us who chose our dedication to children as a career value our work and the time we spend with children. We know what it takes to help children succeed in school and in life, but we know we’ll never get it. Decades of institutionalized dysfunction, bureaucracy, and chronic underfunding secure the fate of our schools each year and yet we’re criticized when we try to do something about it. What we’ve lost is the confidence that this system is capable of listening to educators and school employees, much less to the parents who send us their most prized possessions 180 days each year.

 Feel free to send me more thoughts at I’ll keep posting the most compelling responses on the blog.


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