Five years have passed since Alan Bersin ended his rocky tenure as superintendent of the San Diego Unified School District. He is now known nationally as the border czar, not a schools chief.
Yet long after his departure, Bersin is still a player in the school district he once led — if an invisible one. While Bersin is long gone, the backlash against his reforms has continued to shape school reform in San Diego Unified, sometimes in very different ways than his backers might have intended. The school board members elected years after Bersin invoke his name as an example of how not to reform schools.
“Alan Bersin has become like an icon,” said Bud Mehan, who directs a center on educational equity at the University of California, San Diego. “And that era is really shaping the way people think now.”
The district’s new school reform plan is everything that Bersin and his reforms were not. Bersin centralized school reform to ensure all schools followed the same path; now San Diego Unified is decentralizing it.
Bersin moved fast; it is slow. Bersin fought the teachers union; the new plan is the brainchild of a school board that is allied with labor. Bersin was backed by business; now the business world is just beginning to speak up again after years of shying from school issues.
The pendulum has swung dramatically.