Thursday, May 20, 2010
The Monterey Peninsula Unified School District faces unenviable choices. Eight of its 18 schools – Highland, Ord Terrace, Del Rey Woods, Los Arboles, Marina Vista, King Middle, Fitch Middle and Seaside High – are among the state’s lowest achievers, and California education officials are demanding big changes fast.
The federal government has stepped up, offering up to $48 million if the district selects one of four radical reform plans. The “turnaround model” – chosen for four of the district’s schools – requires a huge reshuffle of more than 100 MPUSD teachers, a move that sparked a mass walkout of classes last week at Monterey High.
Sophomore Mackenzie Dooner, whose dad teaches science at the school and is slated for transfer to Seaside High, reports that not only will protests continue, but parents are talking about recalling school board members over the plan.
MPUSD chose the turnaround reform for Highland Elementary, Fitch and King Middle Schools and Seaside High partly because it provides the most funding – up to $2 million per campus for three years, and because the other possibilities, including closing the low-performing schools or converting them to charters, were impractical. There’s no room for additional students at schools that would remain open and charter applications take too long to be approved, Assistant Superintendent Kari Yeater says.
Another advantage: Once the strategy is in place, a school is automatically removed from the state’s list of low-performing schools, which keeps the district one step ahead of sanctions like the takeovers the California Department of Education recently imposed in the Alisal and Greenfield districts.
The district plans less drastic measures at Ord Terrace, Del Rey Woods, Marina Vista and Los Arboles, where reforms are already bearing fruit, Yeater says.
But Monterey mom Pam Silkwood, whose two children attend Colton Middle School, says the district’s reform plans come at the expense of her kids’ education. “The teachers that they’ve suggested for reassignment are the best of the best,” she says. “They’re top-notch, the ones I wanted to make sure my children had.”
Silkwood, an attorney, says the district has not adequately explained how the teachers slated for transfer were chosen or how the turnaround model will help failing schools. “Is there going to be success, or is it just going to be money that is going to be misused?” she asks.
Yeater says the teacher switch is just one of a series of reforms, including extending the school day and creating new governance structures. It doesn’t mean that the most effective or experienced teachers are moving to the lowest-performing schools, she adds, arguing that the wave of transfers simply balances teacher experience and subject expertise at district schools.
Still, she concedes that at least one of the schools – King Middle – has been plagued by high teacher turnover, adding that the district has the legal right to move teachers within MPUSD.
At Seaside High, just before the final bell on a Monday afternoon, parents and students were taking the moves in stride.
“I don’t see what the big deal is,” said Joelene Gonzales, whose daughter is a freshman. “Someone is always going to be leaving.”
“They’re doing the right thing,” Enrique Sui noted. “It’s not about the teachers. It’s about the system. The schools need changes.”