The Art of Ascending from the Trenches

The Art of Ascending from the Trenches

A recent press release from the  Alameda Unified School District (AUSD) retraced the mercurial trajectory of the newly designated chief student support officer — an upwardly mobile professional who scurried in near record time from the teacher credentialing program at Cal State Hayward, in and out of the trenches of actual teaching, through some administrative positions and finally into the labyrinth of a dozen or so conference rooms and the empyreal sinecures of AUSD headquarters.

Safe at last from the madding crowd of students and unruly, recalcitrant teachers, the pandemonium of campus life and far from the risky vagaries of accountability at a public high school.

If only more of the district’s quality teachers could clamber out of classrooms and ascend into conference rooms, swivel chairs and muted, carpeted cubicles at AUSD headquarters, perhaps AUSD could become a model district and staunch the hemorrhaging of students to private and charter schools that Mark Irons recently lamented (“Correction to Myths of Charter Schools,” March 24). 

Crimping charters and denying vouchers are signs of trouble: it’s barbwire of a sort. At the last coronation ceremony for designating the principal of Encinal High School in 2013, the talk-show host doing the anointing announced to a trusting West End community, “You now have a principal who is permanent, and will be here for a long time.”

Soon after the proclamation of “permanent” was issued, that superintendent fled for greener pastures and higher rungs on the CalPERS remuneration ladder — one has to be mindful of one’s future. As Uncle Cusper used to say, “There is nothing as permanent as a temporary tax, and nothing as temporary as a permanent appointment.”

These departures are a golden opportunity — not to re-feather the bed — to cut administrative costs. As a simple experiment, gap the empty billets, put their swivel chairs, rusty file cabinets, supply lockers and mahogany desks in temporary storage … you can use my garage to save on cost.

Leave all the vacated positions unfilled for a modest test period of, say, 10 years or so. If after 10 years, the lights are still on, the heat works and the toilets still flush, go for a second 10 years.

Although I was a Navy public affairs officer for nearly 20 years, I never quite mastered the art of obfuscation except when dodging responsibility for some embarrassing imbroglio or a major SNAFU.

Take for example AUSD’s phraseology, “several senior leaders in education services announcing their planned departure.” To be one of the “leaders in education,” what does that mean? Whom do these “leaders” lead? 

At first, I thought maybe these “leaders in education” were leading students — secretly without me noticing. So I asked my students, “Can anyone name someone who works at the district headquarters?” Not one student could identify one of these “leaders.” 

Admittedly, in the world of statistics, 100 students is a small sample size, but still, shouldn’t one of them have known at least one puhba at headquarters? Maybe these leaders in education were leading teachers, so I bumped up the ante. I asked several teachers to name three Edu-Crats from AUSD headquarters. It’s a good thing my pop quiz was not a competency exam for continued teaching … no one interviewed could name three.

I am beginning to think that these titans or leaders in education are leading other Edu-Crats — like a mutual adoration society. As the press release states, the reorganization — or what some would call the reshuffling of the office furniture — presents an opportunity to provide more focused attention on a number of key programmatic areas.

Wouldn’t the district be better served by focusing attention to a number of key problematic areas? Like, what ever happened to wood shop, metal shop, auto shop and assorted vocational-ed programs that might provide practical value to the high school experience for those who are not college bound? Or focus attention on teacher absentee rates, student absentee rates and test scores? 

Assuming Encinal gets a new principal, can we get a full-time principal? Not a principal who gets siphoned off the campus once or twice a week to lend credibility to the host of high-level meetings held at AUSD headquarters? Is it any wonder that we can’t fend off the charter schools fast enough?

They have lotteries for admission? Do we? As one Encinal veteran keeps asking, “What happened to the halcyon days of Mike Cooper?” Can we force Coop out of retirement?


Jeffrey R Smith is a math teacher in the trenches.