How far does a school district’s responsibility extend when it comes to turning around a struggling school – and what’s a parent to do when the district doesn’t fix the problems?
That’s the question Scott Lewis and Laura Kohn take on this week, in the latest episode of our education podcast, Good Schools for All. They look at the question through the lens of Lincoln High School in southeastern San Diego.
Lincoln High itself has been the subject of several turnaround efforts in the last 10 years. It’s had a revolving door of principals – all of whom struggled to balance the expectations of the district with the school’s vocal teachers. Each new effort to revive it has ended in disappointment.
Lincoln High has become a symbol for everything that troubles large urban high schools: lagging test scores, explosions of violence and a revolving door of administrators.
In 2013, her first year at the helm of San Diego Unified, Superintendent Cindy Marten said, “What’s happening at Lincoln is at the heart of the struggle in America. When we get Lincoln right, we get America right.”
The quote hasn’t aged particularly well. For one, not much has changed at Lincoln in the past three years. Today, the school is facing the same struggles it faced then – and in some ways the situation is even more dire.
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These questions and comments are related to the podcast.
Are students entering Lincoln really reading at 2nd grade level, or is that a questionable claim? If true, the problem is obviously larger than Lincoln - the entire cluster is failing.
Regarding Carl Cohn's comments on getting good teachers south of I-5: It's my understanding that teacher seniority determines teacher placement at schools, and that the collective bargaining agreement does not allow extra pay for work at more needy schools. In other words teachers pick schools, schools (principals) do not pick teachers. Please correct me if I'm wrong. I found the teacher responses, as reported by Cohn, to be a bit disingenuous - we don't want a tyrannical principal stopping us from providing rich enrichment activities. Well if students are really reading at 2nd grade level in high school, doesn't bringing them up to grade level override everything else?
Ashley Jockum(?) talks about 3 methods to address failing schools. Interesting she says charters are the least popular and most contentious way to improve schools. Everything I read in the news speaks to parents wanting more charters and more choice. Did she mean less popular with the district?
There was discussion how Lincoln has replaced the principal a number of times but not the teachers - can the district remove teachers from a school? If so, how? This is not a trivial question. If districts are not free to move human resources around to provide the best total environment, then they will never be able to improve all schools. It's well known that public schools have a very difficult time firing teachers; I wonder what the teacher turnover is at charter schools? If charters can more quickly put effective teachers in place, by weeding out the ineffective, perhaps that explains some of their success. Perhaps VOSD could investigate?
Successful schools in challenging demographics are possible, it's not magic. Longer school days, more days, rigorous application by teachers and good discipline are needed as a start. Carl Cohn talks about districts moving mountains to improve schools, but I don't think they know what to do, and they may not have the power to do it. It seems like most of the power belongs to the teachers, not the district. I don't know the answers but I'm intensely interested in the subject.
Keep up the good work!
There is a great need for principals who work as a team WITH teachers. A principal must create a safe, calm environment where discipline is supported, and students feel safe enough to learn. Teachers must feel safe enough to teach. Teachers must feel supported by their principal. The principal should not be a politician on the side. The principal should not also be president of the school board. This sticky political situation is
not fair at all. This is what is happening in Sweetwater district.
I would be interested in reading more about specific issues that Lincoln faces that are unique to that school. The first apparent problem is the lack of an administrator. A rudderless ship is hard to steer. Problems facing the school are entwined with problems facing the local community and tackling them will take buy-in from the district, city and local community leaders. But hiring and supporting a principal falls squarely on district leadership.
@liz harley The criteria for hiring should be as follows: Be willing to stay at Lincoln for a while. Do not be beholden to outside interests, be they political or edpreneurial - always put students first.