Saturday, January 14, 2006

Save Our Schools

On Wednesday the 11th, in front of San Francisco City Hall, there was yet another protest...

...that was really a photo-op...

...which included a number of official speakers... an amplified lectern.

Before the speeches started...

...the kids in the protest group were chanting "Save Our Schools!" with the repetitive fervor of children singing "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall."

They were absolutely great.

A few of the younger ones got tired...

...especially during the speeches...

...but there were plenty of mom's laps to sleep on.

The protest was in response to the San Francisco Unified School District Board announcing just before Christmas that enrollment was down, particularly in the elementary schools, and that 19 out of 27 schools were up for closure and consolidation with other schools.

It didn't help that the departing Arleen Ackerman, a pompous and authoritarian ass who has been the San Francisco School Superintendent for the last half a dozen years, had just been given a golden parachute in the neighborhood of $300,000 for getting out of town.

Big city school superintendents are like Major League Baseball managers in that there only seem to be about a dozen names considered in this country whenever there is a vacancy, and their terrible performance in one city doesn't seem to preclude them from getting a job in another.

I asked my friend Willie why they were so often such terrible people, and his sensible reply was as follows: "They probably started off as teachers who hated teaching, so they brown-nosed their way into Administration as soon as they could."

"Then the successful ones brown-nose their way for years further up the administrative food chain, and finally what you're left with is a political, sycophantic psychopath in charge of everything."

District 5 Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi has been rightly outraged that the burden of the school closures falls disproportionately on poor black and Latino kids, and he's been meeting with parents and teachers from all over the city.

Particularly outrageous is that many of the schools slated for closure have been improving by leaps and bounds. Superintendent Ackerman had many faults, but at least she wasn't the outright incompetent criminal that her predecessor in the job was, and San Francisco public schools have actually gotten better during her tenure.

Mirkarimi isn't a very good public speaker, shouting too much into the microphone, which is too bad since he's got one of the most beautiful baritone voices around. Possibly the most charming moment in his speech castigating the powers-that-be for destroying so many communities was when he confessed that this kind of speechifying in public still made him nervous.

District 9 Supervisor Tom Ammiano, who used to be a school teacher and once sat on the School Board, made a good, short impassioned speech about why keeping these schools was so important.

He explained that schools are an integral part of a neighborhood and its history and its inhabitants, their "heart," and used the example of Douglass School in the Castro District being kept open through lobbying by Harvey Milk.

Looking relaxed and much less troubled than when he was mayor of San Francisco, Art Agnos gave a short speech as a Potrero Hill resident fearing the consolidation of two schools. For more info about this group, check Mike Lin's blog trying to "Save Daniel Webster Elementary School" (click here).

Agnos gave an interesting talk about schools being the soul of a city, and insisted that the school district needed to get more people to stop sending their kids to class-segregated private schools throughout town, and the way to do it was by making the schools better, not worse.

A Potrero Hill mom talked about how happy she was that her kids were in a public school but how ridiculous these closures were.

On Thursday evening, the 12th, there was a raucous School Board meeting that solved nothing, but the depth of anger over the autocratic process seems to be have finally registered upon the elected members, so that they resolved to put off all decisions for a week while there is emergency behind-the-scenes consulting. There's an interesting account of the meeting by Jacob Schneider at "BeyondChron" (click here).

These kids are the future of this city, so somehow spending $15 million dollars on Harding Park Golf Course while not coughing up $5 million to keep successful schools from closing strikes me as misplaced priorities, at the very least.


Anonymous said...

in some ways this is THE issue, in government and societally. to be grandiose on a rainy bloggy saturday.

there is lots to be said about what's troubling at each local level, but the way schools are funded in california is a huge piece of the trouble. i once went to an all-day seminar on how the funding happens. jesus -- it is exponentially more byzantine and political than the irs tax code deal-y. like 10 on the richter scale. and there are like maybe two people who understand it enough to work with it in a way that doesn't make it worse, i think. a district with dropping enrollment is more screweder than an over-stretched, growing one, like where i live.

when people told me they were voting for schwarzeneger because "he would be good for the schools" i would start hyperventilating. and how about all that "upper level" management remove the salary cap for uc administrators to attract quality people. as if! (see your friend's description.)

okay. work.


Anonymous said...

I think that it is pretty pathetic to role out all these kids for a photo-op. They aren't really old enough to fully understand what is going on. Even though they may have good intentions, there parents are just users and opportunists. Apparently, they couldn't get enough real supporters so they just swelled the ranks with young eye candy for the reporters and cameras.

Anonymous said...

"Sycophantic psychopath in charge of everything"---- I LOVE IT!!!! These are the words I was in need of in fighting a pathetic Executive Director.. Mucho Gracias.-- Let's not also forget that why these schools and kids are in trouble are THE POOR PARENTING many of these kids get. The good parents having to take up the slack of rotten parents.

janinsanfran said...

Nice story Mike. Love the photo of the kid with the sign with picture of Ackerman reading "Doesn't play well with others." Sadly, that says it all.

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