The Death of a Public School

May 4th, 2007

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.

Entry Filed under: citizenship,let's digress

6 Comments

  • 1. Dave Cook  |  May 4th, 2007 at 2:17 pm

    Thanks for your insight into the death of our school, Josh. Could I get a copy of the one with the added 75% vitupertion? The thing that bugs me most about how it was done is the district didn’t notify “next of kin” before it was publically announced.

    Writing from Limbo,CA

    Dave Cook

  • 2. Sara  |  May 5th, 2007 at 2:09 pm

    No child deserves to have his/her beloved neighborhood school obliterated. The Davidson community is experiencing the closure much like a death.

    The district did give the green light to a new charter school for which there will be built a bright, shiny campus in an affluent part of town.

  • 3. Mary Jo McKown  |  May 6th, 2007 at 7:03 pm

    Thanks Josh. Here is what I wrote to Damelio..for all the fat good it does.
    Dr. Damelio,

    We worked hard for your idea because we love our school. We are sincere people not used car salesmen. We thought you recognized our commitment and ability.  We thought you understood that we would make this magnet school happen.

    It was working, it was catching on, it was going to be good. 

    We are the kind of school that Vallejo needs. Davidson makes a difference in kids lives. How could you so undervalue us? Balancing the budget is more important than schools that work?

    You have thrown in the trash our spirit, our enthusiasm, our community. I am so thoroughly disappointed and upset. 

  • 4. heide miller  |  May 15th, 2007 at 10:02 am

    It breaks my heart to witness more evidence of the lack of respect teachers, parents and children have to endure at the hands of state and federal government policy makers.
    Our hope for a greater and stronger society lies squarely in our response to the needs of our youth and educators; as tax paying citizens, we find ourselves supporting a broken system that will ultimately fail us.
    If we want to give our youth a better chance at being positive contributors to our society, we need to back up our teachers: with the pay, benefits, and professional trainings and resources necessary to attract and keep our dedicated public educators.
    The teachers at Davidson are a spirited, dedicated, and creative group of professionals who deserved better than this.

  • 5. Sara  |  May 16th, 2007 at 6:40 pm

    It’s been two weeks since the state-appointed administrator announced the closure of our vibrant school. Still no letter has been sent out informing the parents about it. Parents still don’t know where their children will be next year. Would this of kind of disregard for families fly in Walnut Creek? Atherton? San Mateo?

  • 6. Sara  |  June 8th, 2007 at 4:39 am

    Parents are just now receiving letters informing them of the closure of Davidson and where their children will be next year. I don’t know what infuriates me more– the insensitivity or the incompetence.


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