The Union-Tribune reported yesterday that San Diego Unified’s Superintendent Terry Grier has accepted the offer to run the schools in Houston. All that may be left are the goodbyes, but there are goodbyes, and there are goodbyes.

Significant improvement in last year’s test scores seemed to indicate that, post-Bersin, teachers were finally showing what they could do when they had a Superintendent whose remarkable presence emanated a sense of stability, held his people to a standard, and trusted them to get there. Grier’s leaving may not make much of a difference to the high-ranking district schools (depending the new Superintendent’s policies, but that remains to be seen). These schools have a long-term optimistic outlook; changes in leadership can be met with a philosophical “We’ll survive to thrive.”

The more immediate impact will be on the troubled schools, most of which are in subDistrict D, my community. When it comes to changes in the District, the schools here have always felt the effects more quickly and acutely, and disproportionately to the negative. Consider a world where students walk to school through gang-ruled streets, leaving a house that may be substandard and crowded, where the parents may be working dawn to dusk, and may not return home at all if they are picked up by La Migra. They may struggle to learn their lessons in a different language, from newly-qualified, inexperienced teachers who are marking time before they jump to a higher-ranked school. In this world, there are parents who try to come to school meetings, who do their best to support the school, who form relationships with teachers and principals and Superintendents on the fragile hope on their side, and the implicit promise on the other side, that in an uncertain world, they care and will be there for their children.

In the higher-ranked schools, a Superintendent departure means a bump in the road toward academic success. In our schools, Terry Grier’s leaving is another widening of the chasm our children must try to negotiate in order to keep going on a narrow path toward an uncertain future. It’s hard to keep hope alive when your leaders keep breaking faith; goodbye in that context can't help but have profound consequences.


Visduh Sept. 11, 2009 @ 2:13 p.m.

It may be true that things in the City Schools have been better since Bersin left, but the departure of Grier was foreordained. He is just one of a series of overpaid educrat carpet-baggers who travel around the US taking ever more lucrative positions.

School districts and their boards seldom know what they really want from a superintendent. The one things they always hope for are calm, quiet, and un-eventfulness combined with good news being reported. Many boards are desperate for some sort of turnaround in test scores, drop-out rates, graduation rates, etc. They are ripe picking for some educrat from far away who promises instant improvement.

Boards engage in expensive national searches done by firms that specialize in finding school administrators. Usually the firm fails to properly vet the candidate, and after the candidate is hired, the board learns that the person they hired is not quite the person they thought they were hiring.

Grier will be replaced by another overpriced carpet-bagger from (probably) far away who will arrive, announce big changes, make a few small changes. All the while, the teachers in the classroom will continue to do their best, and all the programs, plans and endless talk at the district headquarters will be for naught. The successor will likely be a person whose only success has been in managing his/her own career and moving continually up the ladder, regardless of real accomplishment.

Here in San Diego County in recent years we've had the infamous Ken Noonan, always the self-promoter, who made a ten-year tenure in the Oceanside district look successful, and then had himself appointed chair of the state board of education by "Ahnold." There was also Ed Brand who moved around the county taking ever better-paid positions. He came a cropper when he attempted to elect his friends to the San Marcos school board and lost his job. Ed had exactly one year of teaching experience before heading into administration.

So, don't lament the loss of any administrator. They "run" things in the school district, yet really control little. Grier can and will be replaced and life will go on.


CuddleFish Sept. 11, 2009 @ 3:06 p.m.

Thanks for your comments, Visduh.

What I believe is that our schools, the schools in my district, need some sense of stability, of continuity, and that someone at the top cares. I know many of the parents in this area who met Grier and worked with him had a good feeling about him, after so many years of frustration and disrespect (Bersin) and chaos (Cohn).

Other schools have fall back positions and support systems. Our schools keep looking for, maybe not a savior, but something or someone they can rely on. If what you're saying is true, they may never find what they are hoping for.


Visduh Sept. 11, 2009 @ 4:21 p.m.

I can understand your desire for stability after years of turmoil. The board will not get a candidate who brings stability if they insist upon the "national search." What, pray tell, would be wrong with appointing a local candidate, a product of that very school district? Probably nothing, and they might finally find the sort of person they're looking for. (Check that: they got Bertha Pendleton that way, and she was also a disaster.)

SDUSD now has the curse of the divided board, something the Vista USD has dealt with for almost two decades. It holds things back, and keeps issues needing attention out of sight while trivial pursuits take center stage. But a board that votes unanimously isn't always any better: Oceanside USD's board unanimously loved Noonan, and he delivered little except self-promotion.

School districts will not be organizations showing much stability (or trust, for that matter) in the coming years. As long as those test scores are the end-all, there will be fear and turnover.


CuddleFish Sept. 11, 2009 @ 4:38 p.m.

I think I touched a little on the underlying issues affecting student academics in my post; a Superintendent's relationship with those troubled school almost can't help but have more importance than in other schools. Grier spent a significant amount of time at the schools here. The parents invested a lot of hope in his seeming interest and involvement. It's hard not to feel he let them down.


Visduh Sept. 11, 2009 @ 7:54 p.m.

Your dismay is clearer--sorry that I missed the point. If he actually took a disproportionate interest in the troubled schools he was doing something that few in his position would do. Many would have wrapped themselves in the glory that accrues to Scripps Ranch High, La Jolla High, and Point Loma High and forgotten the other schools. Maybe he actually was an administrator who was trying/hoping for real improvement. If so, his departure is a a loss, and you have reason to be disappointed in him.


CuddleFish Sept. 11, 2009 @ 8:25 p.m.

Yes. It's a complicated story, and this is my perspective of events. But yes, his departure is a loss, a great loss, to this community.


bdp Sept. 14, 2009 @ 9:57 a.m.

Why would any ambitious, nationally recognized superintendent stick around if he is constantly prevented from doing his job by a micromanaging, dysfunctional Board? Power to him for moving on to a city that might appreciate his ideas and won't allow Labor to dictate.

San Diego wants to improve it's educational system, but the voters clearly don't show it when they vote (see Dr. Evans' uncontested election.)


CuddleFish Sept. 16, 2009 @ 9:04 p.m.

I hadn't seen your comment before, bdp, excuse the delay in responding.

I mean, what it seems like to me, is that the District is all about District politics. Needless to say, it's the kids in my community who suffer disproportionately from all the changes.


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