Cleaning Slates

Superintendent Bill Rojas is pushing a simple solution for troubled schools: Get rid of everybody.

Flores has a vision and a road map. He and the teachers are actually working together toward the same goal. And collectively, they direct the business of education in a manageable structure.

The curriculum is relevant. The students are engaged. Everyone is held accountable for learning. And it's not an isolated group of buildings where kids and adults do time; it's a part of their world.

"I had the opportunity to work in a school that's been reconstituted," says Flores. "Does it have to take place that way? No it doesn't. But is it happening [without reconstitution] in the United States? No. Where is the success taking place with inner-city kids?"

The district's own schools show that simply mixing up the staff will not bring about meaningful change. John Muir Elementary and James Lick Middle schools, both originally targeted by the court, were reconstituted years ago and neither was successful.

The schools later wound up in the CSIP program and were released without being reconstituted again.

"Lick and Muir were reconstituted in a bastardized fashion, which, is my belief what stems the real hatred of reconstitution," says Rojas. "They did it, and they got it wrong. So the teachers' union says we've already proven that it doesn't work. Which is true -- just saying, 'OK, everybody out' doesn't."

The schools that were most successful during the original court case were completely redesigned during a yearlong process directed by the court's panel of experts. The adults were new, and so were a lot of the children, since this was done as part of a greater desegregation effort. Most of the schools were converted into magnet schools that followed a specific theme. Many took a page or two in design from the alternative schools, serving a particular population of students whose parents had to sign agreements stating that they would help their children succeed in order to get them into the school.

That's a bit different than the current scenario, where reconstitution takes place about three or four months before school starts. The district has less freedom to move children around because of the ethnic caps, which prevents things like creating a Chinese or Spanish bilingual school.

Visitacion Valley Principal Flores is working with newly reconstituted schools in an attempt to clone the operation of his school. But, again, this begs the question of whether a school has to hit bottom before turning around.

Clearly reconstitution is not a panacea for public education. There isn't one. On the other hand, it wouldn't even be an issue if the schools had succeeded in the first place; so blindly dismissing the benefits is equally absurd.

Perhaps it's just too scary. Because reconstitution really means admitting that the public school system has sunk so far that the only way to adequately educate the city's children is to start over again.

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