Diego School Superintendent Alan
Bersin chose the words of 19th century American poet Emily Dickenson
to express his feelings after negotiating a mutually agreeable buy-out of his
contract with an antagonistic new majority on the 5-member San Diego Unified
School District board.
Some of the changes Bersin had pioneered for the 138,000-student district under
a program called "Blueprint for Student Success" —emphasizing
literacy and math for students and teacher and principal training for their
mentors—are likely to be changed by the new majority
However, Bersin wrote friends and colleagues that "the infrastructure we
erected was a means not an end. Emily Dickenson's poem, which I have read
with our principals, comes to mind.
"THE PROPS assist the house
Until the house is built,
And then the props withdraw-
And adequate, erect,
The house supports itself;
Ceasing to recollect
The auger and the carpenter,
Just such a retrospect
Hath the perfected life,
A past of plank and nail
And slowness,--then the scaffolds
Affirming it a soul"
Under terms of the buy-out, Bersin will complete his tenure as school
superintendent this June—a year ahead of his contract.
In his letter to colleagues and friends, he compared
the standings of San Diego city schools today with what they were when he took
the position in 1999.
"The revised data issued this week in Sacramento shows that 107 of our
schools (60 percent) now score at or above 700 (of a possible 1000) on the
statewide API (Academic Performance Index) compared to 75 schools in
1999. In 1999, 32 schools (fully 22 percent of our schools) placed
under 600 on the API; today only 12 schools (less than 7 percent of our schools)
operate at that unsatisfactory level.
"We have narrowed the academic achievement gap dividing our students based
on factors of race, ethnicity and class. We are one of only two districts
in California (the other is Long Beach) to meet all 46 Adequate Yearly Progress
performance indicators for two years running under No Child Left Behind.
San Diego City Schools tests more than 98 percent of its students and ranks
second among urban districts in the state (slightly behind San Francisco) in the
number of students performing at proficient or advanced levels on the California
Standards Test in English Language Arts and third in mathematics (tied with
Bersin said as a result of three new trustees comprising a new board majority,
"there will be changes, to be sure... Many components of the professional
development infrastructure that the district built to ignite and nurture adult
learning in the service of student achievement will be reduced and in some
cases, entirely eliminated.
"Nobody can change, however, the commitment we have made, individually and
collectively, of improving the quality of instruction that is so evident now in
the4 midst of our classrooms. Nor will we lose the professional habits of mind
that lead us to problem solve with our colleagues and focus our attention on the
learning issues facing our students and ourselves."
Before being appointed as School Superintendent, Bersin had served as the United
States Attorney in San Diego. He and then-President Bill Clinton had
been Rhodes Scholars together in England. Bersin went on to practice law
in Los Angeles, eventually marrying Lisa Foster, whose parents Stan and Pauline
Foster were longtime leaders of the United
Jewish Federation of San Diego. Foster today serves as a Superior
While teachers rarely contested Bersin's brilliance, he often was faulted for
having a top-down, sometimes brusque management style. Board meetings were
acrimonious, particularly prior to last November's election when Bersin still
could count on a three-member majority to support his reform policies, and
trustees who formed the minority sometimes would lash out.
In one memorable example, School Board Member Frances O'Neill Zimmerman
likened those who followed Bersin's school reform policies to Jews who
helped nazis round up fellow Jews. The comment stung both Bersin and
Ottinger, who also is Jewish. There were immediate calls for the resignation
of Zimmerman, who, like Ottinger, had only a little time left to serve as she
had not run in 2004 for reelection. Zimmerman rode out the storm and completed
her term. Now Zimmerman and Ottinger have both left the arena—and Bersin soon