As San Diego Unified moves forward with significant changes to its administrative staff, community stakeholders are frustrated with how the district has communicated those changes, and the process by which new administrators will be hired.
Last month, the district unanimously approved a contract with the San Diego County Office of Education to recruit new hires for the district’s area superintendent positions. Pink slips for five of the district’s six area superintendents went out a month before that meeting.
Some leaders of school groups said the sweeping staffing changes came as a surprise.
“We were blindsided and dismayed by the news,” said Jenny Cornelissen, the chair of the Scripps Ranch School Committee.
Cornelissen found out about the shakeup when a parent thanked Area Superintendent Monika Hazel for her service during a cluster meeting. Hazel oversees the Scripps Ranch, Crawford and Henry clusters as well as the district’s atypical language schools.
“I have a really strong and supportive working relationship with our area superintendent,” Cornelissen said. “She’s been responsive, she’s attentive, she’s well liked and she’s trusted by our administrators, our teachers or families. I could not understand how she would be terminated.”
Among Cornelissen and the committee’s concerns are the rationale for the changes, the cost and what they see as a lack of stakeholder input. And at a time when students and the district are still reeling from the pandemic, Cornelissen is worried big changes like this could complicate recovery efforts.
“Our students would be better served if we spent more time on recovery right now rather than reinvention,” Cornelissen said.
The district has explained the need to hire new area superintendents in two ways – that the positions have changed, and that Superintendent Lamont Jackson needs to be able to build a team he’s confident he can rely on to help him execute his vision for the district.
“The role that they were hired to do for the last few years is different from what we’re imagining it to be,” Deputy Superintendent Fabiola Bagula said when speaking to the members of Cornelissen’s Scripps Ranch School Committee last month.
Unlike the other five area superintendents, Erin Richison who oversaw high schools, alternative schools and atypical schools “will continue to oversee high school instruction in her new role as Senior Executive Director, Office of Graduation,” district spokesperson Maureen Magee wrote in an email. The changes also include the reassigning of oversight of middle schools to a newly created area superintendent position that the county office will also recruit applicants for.
But aside from the removal of middle schools from area superintendents’ purview, their primary responsibilities in the latest versions of the job description remain the management of various clusters.
Sarah Weber from the Mission Bay cluster said the full scope of the changes still isn’t entirely clear to her.
“I sadly don’t know much about what’s going on,” Weber said. She also found out about it at a recent cluster meeting and felt the district’s explanation for the changes was vague.
But for Roosevelt Blackmon, the chair of the Lincoln Community Council, none of this comes as a surprise. “It’s just another one biting the dust,” Blackmon said.
He said that many members of the community, including himself, have lost faith in the district’s ability to create change at Lincoln High School. This is partly what motivated them to create a new cluster organization not affiliated with the district.
Still, he said the lack of transparency surrounding the area superintendent changes was “alarming.”
“The way things are done sometimes just adds on to the distrust that the community has,” Blackmon said. “They serve the community and not getting the information out in a proper manner that will ease all concerns is why you see the backlash that you see.”
But unlike Cornelissen and the Scripps Ranch committee, Blackmon said the Lincoln community members he’s spoken to are not in support of area superintendent Bruce Bivins being rehired.
Blackmon and others in the Lincoln community’s distrust of Bivins – who oversees the Lincoln, Canyon Hills and Point Loma clusters – goes back years.
Magee did not directly address frustrations about the way the district communicated its decision to vacate its area superintendent positions, but board member Shana Hazan said she thinks the district could have done a better job.
“I think we do need to do more to engage the community in really understanding the shifts that are taking place in this reorientation of our work with students and families at the center and what that means, because I don’t know that we’ve done that particularly well,” Hazan said.
Board member Richard Barrera said he just doesn’t “buy” that the process has had transparency issues. “I don’t know how the district could be more transparent,” Barrera said.
Barrera said the district had to make the call to send out pink slips – notices that a public school employee may be laid off, reassigned or demoted – to area superintendents in mid-March because of the state education code. He thinks doing so earlier would have created instability and anxiety among area superintendents.
But both Barrera and Hazan said they understand Jackson needs to bring in a team he feels he can rely on and that they trust him to effectively fill the positions.
“I think we’re going to land exactly where we need to be,” Hazan said.
Community members, however, do have concerns about the hiring process.
Cornelissen and the Scripps Ranch Schools Committee she chairs drafted letters to the district advocating that community voices should be present in the hiring process, and that the district should consider rehiring Hazel.
The contract approved by the board doesn’t explicitly list community input as being part of the process, but Magee wrote in an email that “hiring panels for the positions will include staff, parents and community members.” Jackson will make the final recommendation for hires, which will then go before the board for a vote.
Of the five area superintendents, Hazel was the only one who did not respond when asked if she was considering reapplying for the position. All four others said they planned to reapply.
Are “community groups” aware that many teachers get “pink slip” every year? Kids and teachers deserve better. I support Dr. Jackson!
Shocked? Caught off guard? How soon we forget the Blueprint for Success. Remember all the administrators fired? Because it is clear that superintendents want cheerleaders; not experienced educators with knowledge of their profession and community.
What’s the point of paying the SDCDE to do the hiring process if Jackson gets the final say. He should just do the hiring process. He is the superintendent not the president, since when does a superintendent get to pick his staff?
Hard to get a bead on this sweeping change. What I really would like to know, is what does SDEA think of the change?
If SDEA is mad about it, we will know the district is moving the right direction for San Diego students and families.
Sadly I think that is unlikely. The school board approved and is beholden to the union (afterall SDEA spent $440k on just Barerra’s re-election) so I find it unlikely this will be a positive change for anyone other than the due paying members of SDEA.
Sometimes you just need to clean house. Don’t forget Special Education. Some cleaning of the house definitely needs to be done there. Too many incompetent people there. Surprised the district hasn’t been sued to the point their budget has not disappeared. So glad I retired when I did.
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