Archive for May 4th, 2007

The Death of a Public School

On Wednesday night the state-appointed administrator of the Vallejo City Unified School District announced that the John Davidson Elementary School will be shut down after this school year.

The teachers at Davidson are an exceptionally dedicated and close-knit group, many having worked together for nearly two decades. With their hard work, Davidson last year had the highest test-score point gain in Solano County. (I know that the whole test-scores thing is a dicey issue -- but if you're going to use these scores as a cudgel to attack teachers and students for their performance, then you should also give them credit when they do well.)

Several years ago the Vallejo City USD -- plagued by underfunding and declining enrollment -- had its school board replaced by a state-appointed administrator. Since then the teachers at Davidson have had to deal with unrealistic edicts from bureaucrats, such as the demand that they continually be holding their teaching "manuals" during instruction. The overall message to the teachers was this: you guys don't know what you're doing. And yet, despite all this -- despite having their job drained of nearly all joy and creativity -- these teachers have continued to pour themselves into the task of educating the children of their community.

Last month the Vallejo City USD held hearings in which -- among other things -- they announced that they were considering closing Davidson and Lincoln (another outstanding elementary school). You see, the state had loaned millions of dollars to the Vallejo City USD when it took over, and the administrator is dedicated to repaying that loan on a strict schedule. But what do you do when there's no "fat" to cut? (There are already ridiculously low numbers of vital positions, like nurses and guidance counselors.)

Hey, I know: how about closing a school or two!

For the last month or so, the school district strung the Davidson teachers along. The state-appointed administrator had suggested the possibility that Davidson be converted to a science-and-technology magnet school -- so long as the teachers, on their own, could get 75 students to enroll who were new to Vallejo public schools. So during their recent spring break, Davidson's teachers woke up early in the morning and went out to places like the ferry terminal, Little League games, the farmers' market, and grocery stores, where they distributed self-designed materials about the proposed magnet school and invited people to sign up.

The Davidson teachers -- along with their very supportive principal and staff -- returned to work feeling guardedly hopeful. They had responded to the district's sort-of-ultimatum with typical creativity, enthusiasm, and action -- and they had gotten people in the community excited as well.

And then, on Wednesday night, the hammer came down.

So next year the Davidson teachers, who have worked together so effectively for so long, will be dispersed among other schools. But in the meantime they are back at work, still doing their very best to educate tomorrow's citizens.

6 comments May 4th, 2007


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