Thursday, January 5, 2012
When we ran the interview with Tucson Unified School District Superintendent John Pedicone last week, we hoped to get the full interview up on the Range. Apologies for the delay, as well as the length of the interview below that goes over decisions on ethnic studies, transportation, desegregation litigation, special education issues and rumors about a multicultural curriculum Pedicone asked the UA College of Education to help create:
TW: Mark Stegeman mentioned a regret in the Rincon and Palo Verde high schools' turnaround process that led to the firing of more than 100 teachers, because many teachers were reassigned rather than actually being fired. Do you agree?
JP: I think what he was reacting to was the law. There's nothing we can do about the law regarding the (reductions in force). It's the policy in the district as well as Arizona state law. We can't simply say to a person who's lost their job that "you're gone from the district, and we're firing you, and you can't come back in." So what happened was that every teacher who didn't make the cut at either school then went into the regular hiring cycle. They were not given any preference at all. Nothing happened all the way to their oral last interview for the positions. Many of them got picked up, in fact most of them did. … 46 percent, I think, were hired back at one of the schools, and another 44 to 46 percent at the other school. Then the other 50-some percent of that, the majority of (the rest) were picked up by other (schools), because many of them were not necessarily poor teachers; they were just poor for that environment. And over time, whatever happened at that school was not productive which is what caused the turn around that happened. Evidence of the wisdom of that, I think, in my way of thinking, are what you (see) happening now at those two schools.
If you walk on to those two campuses now and talk to kids and parents, they will tell you it's a much different environment and much more positive. And in fact, the achievement we talked about a couple of board meetings ago at both schools with regard to AIMS, it’s significantly higher. Now what he’s reacting to then is there were a number of teachers, I can’t tell you how many, but there was a small percentage of teachers, that were riffed, that ended up losing their job and not having a job. Well, the law requires that they get two years in which they’re given an opportunity to come back into the district. That was never anything that we could change. So, um, what did happen was they were not automatically re-hired back into any school until they got into the riff pool. And that’s what he’s reacting to. He would have preferred that those people be routed out of the district and not be allowed to be, to come back in.
TW: Well, I think the idea is that if they were so bad to begin and things were so horrible at those schools, shouldn’t they have been completely dismissed?
JP: Well, I’ll argue it two ways. One of them is if you’ve got people that are that bad, we should be doing our job as administration all along and doing it the right way. This shouldn’t be a mechanism; it was never intended to be a mechanism to simply fire people. It was intended to be a mechanism to improve the school.
Now, if we do our job correctly and those people are ineffective teachers, then what I’m saying is that if they go into an organization, they’re not going to go into Rincon or Palo Verde. That was the commitment. Even if they’re riffed, they’re not going back to those two schools, we can do that, but they will go into another school and we’re going to ask the principal to carefully monitor those teachers to be sure they’re doing the work and if they’re not, then let’s follow the process and we’ll work with the union and they need to be removed.
But the other reality is, and I hope this is what Mark realizes, is that sometimes a teacher needs a change. And that in the case of these people that didn’t get picked up, it’s because of attitude, it’s because of a poor mentality about teaching. Many of them, by the way, the folks that didn’t get picked up resigned, quite frankly, and they left the district, they retired. …
TW: It works if they are at an age where they are able to do that.
JP: And they really probably in those cases maybe they should. I can’t really talk about why they make those decisions. … For me it’s like anything else. The end does not justify the means. It never will in any of these decisions … I’ve seen this happen in this district historically is they can’t do something the right way so they figure a way to work around that and they manipulate the situation to get ultimately the outcome they want. And so what happens is they get the outcome they want but they get another outcome as well. And that’s this lack of trust and faith that people have in the way decisions are being made.
So I would look at what happened as the right way to have what happened quite frankly and then what we look at is, again those people are ineffective teachers or they are ineffective people and they do not belong in the system, then administration do your job and get them out of there. One of the issues we had was the consensus agreement made it hard for us to do that. And as much as it was difficult last spring, we did some things with language … to follow the law.
TW: You’re working on a project with the Teachers Education Association on improving Howenstine High Magnet School. On the surface it seems your relationship with TEA has improved?`
JP: And yes we are, we do have a better relationship with the union because as we said with them from the very beginning, it’s not about going after the union, it’s about figuring out ways that we can do this deliberately so we get stronger at the end of it. What happened with the way we were negotiating, is they went back to this traditional win/lose bargaining thing and it was set up, it always is set up to lose.
We made decisions and argued about whether they were right or not. Now it’s important for us to get together again and figure out how to get strong. And that’s what we’ve been doing and I think that’s why you’ve been hearing that with a positive, with a much more positive relationship because we’re approaching it that way.
By the way, do you know we’re almost done negotiating for the next year?
TW: How does that work?
JP: Yeah, let me tell you about that. Okay because, here’s what we said: Without going through all the dialogue, I said look, I came into this district in January with somebody else’s agenda. If you ask anybody about the way this administration, when we work together, it didn’t look like this at all. Why would this guy be making these decisions in the manner that we’ve made them, in everything from turn-around schools to these things that happened with the union?
So we talked about that and I said, “You know, I’m living with somebody else’s history. But now it’s our district as far as I’m concerned and we’re doing this together. Now let’s sit down and figure out a different way to treat each other.” And so, all it took was a little bit of trust and they were willing. I can give the union the credit. Um, we said to them, “Here’s what we’ll do, we’ll do a second year contract. So we’ll have two years of contract. The second year, we keep the first year where it is because I’m not opening that up again, the board will not agree to that. But let’s do a second year where I will say to you is this, we’re not going to come forward with any articles on the table. So I’m not going to come forward saying we want anything. And I’m going to guarantee you, if it’s at all possible; we’re going to try to get another raise this year. Because we gave a three percent raise last year, alright? The only district in Arizona that did … and you can come with articles to begin with and then all we’ll have left in the spring is money. We can’t negotiate that because we won’t know what we’re going to get yet. But we’ll do everything we can to try ...” So, so we did. So basically we didn’t come forward with anything at all, we said let’s try to get it settled by November if we can, end of November. We basically did. Now they’re just waiting for some tentative agreements and that kind of thing. And so we said we’d do this two-year ... and getting it settled before the end of the semester so we don’t go into the spring with all the battles that we fight … it’ll be something.
That’s exactly how it happened and to the union’s credit, they were willing to do it. And as a result of the conversations we have gotten stronger, because there’s nothing we didn’t disagree on a lot of the other things. It was a matter of how to sit down in a kind of compromising consensus environment and we can come up with what we need if we’re not trying to win. If we’re trying to figure out what we need and not trying to win.
TW: Was part of the issue was that problems with the negotiations became public?
JP: What the unions were upset about last spring, wasn’t, it was hard to be upset about money, because they, we figured out how to give, we came in with that. We came in knowing we were going to do something, we came up with it. Really it wasn’t a matter of negotiating that much. It was the other stuff that was difficult and it had to do with language. It had to do to a great extent the language that dealt with how to discipline employees. If the discipline language is so difficult that when, going back to our previous discussion, … the administration’s responsibility is to work with teachers or employees to improve them, is to provide them the tools and the training they need to be effective... If they can’t, you try to find a place where they can. Or if they’re unwilling and doing some things that is inappropriate they need to not be a part of this organization. The union will argue that they would agree with that except if the language in the (contract) is so difficult that it makes it so difficult to do that because no matter what little tiny flaw means that the whole, if you don’t cross a “t” or dot an “i”, then all of a sudden it’s a game they’re playing almost and you can’t do the job that they expect you to do.
So we said basically is give the tools to the leadership to do what you want them to do and we’ll do it right. But don’t make it so difficult that we can’t do it. So that’s what the whole discussion was about and the real argument, the real issue was in imposing. It was before we’d come, we came to a complete settlement, because we said, if we don’t get whatever settled by this date, we’re going to the board with it and when the board approved what we went to them with, that’s what caused the union to be really upset. It was both unions; both teachers and AFSCME has never gotten past it. We’ve been trying. I’ve said to them, as a matter of fact, yesterday, “Let’s sit down, that’s what we’ve got to do in order to get this thing healed.” Well, it’s not going to be an easy discussion because they’re not, quite frankly, they’re not willing. But the teacher’s union has been, has been really professional, I think, and we’ve been able to work through some things that we couldn’t have if they hadn’t been. We’re serious about it. That’s the way we’re going to behave. So that’s really what happened. It wasn’t about money, it was about the other.
TW: Looking back when you got the bonus that you gave back to the district, and the grade you received from the board, close to 85 I believe, were you happy with that grade?
JP: See an 85 to me if I was to look at it in terms of what 85 means - it means that we reached 85 percent of the goals that were set. Um, I’m not really satisfied, personally, without meeting 100 percent of the goals. But this year, for example, we set goals that were really difficult to attain. I’m knowing full well that I’m going to have a hard time meeting them. I, meaning our team. Alright because the entire district, the district goals, if we’re successful and we meet them then that’d be great. But there’s going to be some of those things that are going to be tough to meet. But that’s okay. So you’ve got to put goals at a point that that’s attainable but difficult ... see in previous administrations they’ve set goals, or even the federal government, sets goals that are unrealistic, everybody knows it, you’re not going to get there and so you just accept the fact, that alright I can’t do it. These goals, I believe, are attainable but difficult and so if we reach them, the best thing that could happen next year in the spring and in the fall, is that above the fold in the Arizona Daily Star or in the Tucson Weekly, they are saying, “What are they doing in that district,” because you’re going to see significant achievement improvement.
Now, if it doesn’t get to the point where all 25 percent of our D schools move into the next level, that’s one of goals; is that the elementary and middle school, twenty-five percent of those schools that were identified as D schools, need to move to another level. And 50 percent of the high schools. Now that’s pretty aggressive. If I don’t get to that, if the schools don’t achieve it, okay will I be troubled by that? Sure, but I’ll be looking at why we didn’t and we’ll be looking at which schools did and how did they get there then we’ll be working at it the next year. That’s the way I look at it. So, yeah, while my pay is associated with all of that, I said from the beginning, it’s less about that than it is about getting this done.
And if along with that we reach those goals then great, that’s what we ought to be doing. That’s what it means to me. If you look, we, as a cabinet, came forward with things that we believe were our critical issues in this district. The board accepted that … now, it should be that all of us are on the same page about what these goals mean. … Every one of those cabinet members has responsibilities for those goals. You’re going to hear a mid-year report coming up in February; we’re going to tell the board what we’re doing to meet them, and then you’re going to end of year. I mean, this is stuff that we’ve got to do in this district so everybody knows we’re working.
TW: Some activists have said that you've yet to address what really took place regarding the police presence at the May 3, 2011 meeting.
JP: I've said it (before), and I thought that we were pretty clear. ... I’m going to go through exactly what happened. As I said to the Mexican-American studies community advisory board, I'm not throwing (Tucson Police Chief Roberto) Villaseñor under the bus. I’m not doing it. I'm not doing it because I'm going to tell you the truth: The truth of the matter was that we had received word that people were making threats against our kids, and they were pretty serious threats. The police department; I don't know if we contacted the police or if they contacted us first. ... It might have been us that started it, because we said, "We got these threats," and they said, "We got the same threats."
One way or the other the school safety was in touch with the Tucson police. Because, and it might have been us that started it that said, “We got these threats,” and they say, “We got the same threats,” in fact, they list a number of other concerns that they had from their intelligence that said we believe that there are outside factions that are going to come in and they believe this is a serious issue. So we sat down at the table … and there were a number of other police officers. … what we did was we said what, and Villaseñor was not there ... by the way there were several issues we had to discuss; one was where and the other was when …
TW: The decision was made to change it to a larger venue, and then the decision was made to keep it at 1010.
JP: The venue changed and the date changed. The date was going to be the 5th of May, Cinco de Mayo, which was not a good day to have this meeting and the other was where we have it. Both school safety and the police agreed at that meeting that having it in a large venue, they could not protect the students and public. So the concern was they had legitimate threats, if somebody tried to do something, they couldn’t control exits. There was no exit plan, all that stuff, so we had this discussion and said alright what we really have to do is have enough capacity for people that want to come, and we were liable to have a fairly big crowd, to hear what’s going on and be a part of it, so we agreed let’s bring it back to the board room. Let’s do two things, number one, change the date we had to get to the one board member who said he couldn’t do it on that night because it was his birthday to change that ... and have it on the second, on the Tuesday which is when it should have been anyway. And he went along with that and then brings it back into the board room.
Because if we were worried about being able to control this thing and there was danger, let’s make sure that we can protect the kids and protect the people that were in that room, but let’s put speakers outside and do some things to allow people to participate so we, maybe naively but honestly with no malice, agreed that was what we were going to do. So then the discussion was what are we going to do? What are the threats that you’ve heard police and what have we heard? We discussed those threats and they were serious enough for us to say, we agree, because the police were saying to us, “We need to be there. Now it’s become a police matter,” and we agreed.
We have school safety to carry guns but we don’t know what’s going to happen here and if it gets out of control the Tucson Police Department was feeling like they need to be present and we need to make sure that we’re protecting ourselves. So there was agreement on that, there was no disagreement on the fact the police needed to be there and we needed to be vigilant. Where there is a difference of opinion or there’s a difference of interpretation, I guess, if you ask the (police) what we said, we said “Let’s not have a strong police presence, because that sends people up into a different situation as well;” and that’s not what we want to do, we don’t want to frighten people. So the agreement was that they would be available and, in fact, we even talked about where they would be staged; but that's all we would see, I swear, would be a group of police officers, a reasonable number and that you wouldn’t have to worry about the rest of them. We said “Good because that’ll be another issue.” We also said, and we had this conversation, that because we’re worried about somebody maybe getting in there to do something and it could be all day long, that we were going to implement a security on that day and that you had to show your ID card to get in and that our school safety was going to handle that and we had to make sure that nothing was brought into the building beforehand because that building has no security at all, and they agreed with that.
And that was the extent of the discussion. Alright now, and this is what you’re getting at, who’s in charge that night? So here’s what the (police) suggested: “Here’s what we do normally. Somebody has to be in charge of saying that they think there's a problem, and that person has to give a signal, and the police look when the signal's given, meaning that it's either dangerous or it's leading to a lack of control; then the police come in, and they will remove whoever it is.”
So here’s how that worked. There’s a police officer directly across from me. Mark (Stegeman) is the president. Mark is going to look at the person who is speaking. What happened that night is that once the public comments were over, if you remember, Lupe got up there, and she did the speech; that was orchestrated, and people knew that. We should have had conversations with (the community) and said, "What are you going to do, and then how do we arrange this so we are working together on this if there need to be statements made?" Because that’s what happens in situations like that.
TW: What happened is that you looked like you were interested in arresting old ladies exercising free speech.
JP: Well, yeah. So what happens then is the cop across the way from me, I'm going to give him the signal after Mark looks and says, "I want you to stop. Public comments are over." He says it again, "I need you to stop." When I hear him say that, I say, "I want you to leave now." That's the signal for the police officer ... to come over and remove the person. Well, interestingly, because of that building—and I thought that they had tested it—their radios didn't work very well, remember this? The first signal was given, the signal was given by Mark and then by me because that’s the way we had decided, and there was no question that that’s the way it was going to work. So the police go to radio to have their three people come in then finally about twenty seconds or whatever it is, we’re still making the same statements then finally they come in to remove her. The way she was removed was not rough; it was with respect. ... Nobody was manhandled in that board room. No. Now my understanding is that outside there were people that sat down in a chain, there were people in the alley but to my knowledge, and I’ve heard that there was some violence on people, I heard, from the Mexican American studies group. The police told me today that they had heard the same thing and they have said bring the video forward because we want to see it and nobody has done that; so I suspect that may or may not be accurate. But anyway that’s what happened, so with each one of those people, it was the same system, the same scenario, until we got some order in the room. I’ll tell you what, if that were to happen again, and I think we learn from situations, I would just suggest that we call a recess and not do those things, because you’re right: It became a public issue, and it makes it look like we're doing something we had no intention of doing. Our intention was to keep the place under control and safe.
TW: But there ended up being a thin line that night between keeping control and allowing people their rights to free speech.
JP: You’re right.
TW: The community isn’t going to be satisfied with your answer.
JP: That’s the answer, that’s the truth. And would we do it differently now, like I said, of course. You know, there’s other ways to do that but at that time, with the level of concern we had about people, again, threatening to harm kids and the people in there. We had hand-held wands as well that night to make sure people didn’t bring weapons in there. The feeling that we had to run a meeting and we were concerned that if we had another board meeting disrupted where we couldn’t run it, that creates a major problem for us because you may remember that’s the third, we had moved the second board meeting forward a week because it was a holiday, alright, and we had to have a second board meeting the next week so the business had to be done that week and it couldn’t go longer than that Tuesday.
So all that probably led to the reactions that people had. But the (police) didn’t do anything wrong other than what the (police) should have to do and that’s have the level of vigilance they believe they need in order to keep order. And I don’t think we did anything wrong in terms of trying to protect our community. And I think we would want to do it differently as well. That’s the truth.
TW: OK, let’s move on. (Disclosure: I have a special needs child in TUSD). I hear from other parents in the special needs community: When are you going to get a new director for special ed? What’s going on with special ed?
JP: We’re working, yeah, we’re working, it’s like, and these are hard-to-fill positions so we’re working to try to find someone to assume the position. I’ve got to look and see where we are with finding a replacement now and last time I heard there were a couple of candidates they were pursuing.
TW: Did Lorraine St. Germain really retire as director of special ed?
JP: She resigned. There was nothing else going on, she really did resign. In fact, we didn’t know it was going to happen until she made the decision, so she really did.
TW: Parents seemed shocked she left so suddenly. What happened?
JP: I think we have problems in that department and I think we have for a long time … but we need a full-time director that’s got the expertise to analyze the entire special education department and do what we got to do. So people are right to be concerned and we’re working hard to find the right person for that job.
TW: The issues troubling the department right now very from school to school. OT services were not available to kids who need it this past semester and academics provided are inconsistent throughout the district. JP: People aren’t sure who to go to at this point, or if it would even help.
Lupita Garcia is the person who’s overseeing that and that’s who people need to go to first and then we try to work it out as best we can. It’s not any different than transportation, if you think about it.
TW: So where are you now with the transportation issues?
JP: Okay. We searched, they did before I came, and since I came, for a transportation director. There’s a bunch of reasons people don’t go for these jobs and I won’t go through all of them but I will tell you that it is a very complex area, like special education, and people are going to come where they believe they can be successful, number one, and where it’s feeling good. So what do we do? Well that’s another one where I’m not willing, am not willing to accept anything less than an effective transportation experience. … We went after a person that we thought we were going to get that ended up taking a position with the Chicago public school system.
TW: I thought it was New York.
JP: Is it Chicago or New York? You’re right, New York. We almost got her into the district because her, their daughter is in San Diego and she’s thinking about coming to the University of Arizona. It would be the only way we would be able to attract her because we pay half of what they pay in New York City. That’s why we lost her to New York. Besides the pay, so the alternative was I’m not going to settle for somebody that can’t do the job, that’s crazy and this is too important; so the consultancy is exactly what we need to do because what we’ve found out now is that they not only have the expertise to understand the software, they have 70 years between them of looking at transportation issues around this country and they have analyzed and I believe they have done an effective job of analyzing the problem. They’re also coming forward with strong recommendations on what we need to do and also the need to train people on the software that we’ve implemented and when they analyzed what happened this past fall; why what happened, happened. And then they come forward with some things that they’re really positive about that we were able to do over the past six months.
So I think in some strange sort of way not having an individual director and getting this group is a positive thing. It’s not going to cost us any more money than it would have cost us for the director because we haven’t had one for so long and some other things we’re getting from this group. So that’s the bottom line, whether it’s exceptional education which is a hard area or transportation, we have to have as much of a no excuses attitude about this as we can and that’s what we’re doing with transportation. Look, if we can’t get kids delivered through the school to the house door, how does anybody believe anything else that we say, they can feel confident in? We’ve got to do this.
TW: Is there going to be any final report or fix that we’ll see by this spring or fall?
JP: Yes, well you’re going to have one of the reports of the governing board, the public, in the early fall, it’s set up already. And what they’re doing right now is what they’ve been doing is analyzing and also beginning the training process of people to be able to get them ready for not only what they’re going to recommend that we’re going to implement. It’s also looking at schedules, looking at when parents have to enroll their kids; it’s looking at deadlines that have to be put in place and what we’re going to have to say to people is what we should have been saying that is that we can’t do everything for, if we try to do too much and we do it poorly; but what it is, what we’re going to do is identify what we need to do, what parents need to be aware of and what the deadlines are and if we do it in those times, we’re going to deliver. But if you do it after that time then we’re going to tell you we can’t guarantee that we can to deliver your child the way we want to because you haven’t lived up to your obligation in this process. …
So that’s part of what they’re helping us understand. So you’ll hear … the other thing we can’t do is be wondering whether this is going to work two weeks before the beginning of school. So we’ll have these things modeled, um examples being done and decisions being made early in the spring and then we’ll know by the end of the school year, all those questions will be answered. And that’s, that’s the expectation that I have for this. In meeting with them a week ago, um, I’m feeling more confident that they’re going to be able to do this.
TW: Some folks aren’t happy with part of the district’s direction in it’s 301 Plan creating a uniform model of instruction, training everyone to use this same model and perhaps taking out some freedom to be able to look at things like curriculum and instruction differently.
JP: Well, let me explain that. Let’s talk about the difference, the difference between form and freedom. How much freedom do you give to individual entities in order to be able to provide the uniqueness and uh, I think, support the uniqueness of every organization and not sacrifice the quality … for us to be able to do the job the way we can do it. It’s kind of like the way we did budgets before. Um, we’ve got to have some standards for what we expect every school to have. If I don’t do that, then do you know what happens in the spring?
People run out of maintenance and supply money and they ask parents to bring in toilet paper, right? So if I say, sure take the budget and do whatever you want with it, yeah, you’ll run out of paper and supplies, we decided we can live with it and we can accept it. I’m sorry but that’s not acceptable customer service in my perspective so we have to make sure of a couple of things. Number one, that we give enough money to schools to be able to operate for a whole year and then we look at what’s really discretionary, like what do you have that’s discretionary to make decisions about, that fall within, that, you know, the zone of those kinds of decisions. … that’s not a good model. That’s a model that invites schools to really do some things that are not bad intentioned but are bad for kids. So that’s the first thing, that’s the philosophy that we’ve got, what are the standards that we not only accept but that we believe are important to the district. So let’s take a look at, going back to your issue about curriculum; the first thing we said is that I am not an advocate of the next flavor of the month in terms of programs because programs don’t make a difference if you don’t have the fundamentals of what makes instruction, good education, in place so what we found was … there is no instructional model, in fact, previous administration eliminated those programs, you know that, Mari.
JP: Okay, so they eliminated the curriculum instructions that they had developed and so the first thing was to reintroduce those departments and now you have an opportunity to rebuild them, so let’s rebuild them with a concept that makes sense. And here’s the concept that we created, with the support of the union, by the way, a district instructional model based on what everybody knows is research based instruction, it’s Madeline Hunter, a little bit of Marzano. It’s mostly a fundamental instructional model that everybody gets trained on. So we began in June and we’ve trained four thousand people to this point.
JP: I’m telling you, if you want to know what we’ve done well, this is remarkable and people are supportive of it. Not 4,000, about 3,600. … People are getting compensated for it, and we’re training first principals, and then individuals that are supporting people in the classroom so … this school year, everybody that’s an instructional staff member and others will have an instructional model so now we have a common language and so we’re controlling instruction to that extent.
Now, will it look different from site to site … well sure, if the basic principles of instruction are the same you get kids engaged, you create participation actively, you do the thing from the objectives. The fundamentals of the model are not rocket science, they’re just doing instruction. And it’s being taught by the top staff … and that’s super nice so it’s just training our trainers and training our principals so that’s the instruction piece of it. If you anchor the district in strong instruction, then somebody wants to build a program on top of that, then we can make some decisions about how that makes sense and I would support it but I’m not going for the program that’s going to be the salvation. You cannot see it because they never are without the good fundamentals of instruction.
So when it comes to curriculum, no problem with people having, you know, different curriculum approach from one school to another as long it meets certain standards of what we expect for them to improve and that’s the work we’re doing right now because, to be honest with you, when we look at what’s happened over the past several years, I can’t say that we’ve got a curriculum that meets the standards. We’ve got textbooks but the curriculum is not in place.
So we’re building curriculum as well, and yeah, it’s a common approach to that because there’s got to be. And then, we’ve been, look, once you’ve got your anchor and consistent standard then you can vary from it and see how you can meet the standard. A lot of ways to do that. That’s like telling a teacher, because that’s what this instructional model will allow people to do, the better the model you get the more versatility you will have in being able to use it but if you’re not very strong in the curriculum then you’re going to follow a certain approach to make sure all kids get what they need. That’s the model and you as a parent better expect it. Because otherwise you’re going to end up with a child, by luck of the draw, going to a school that does it right and a teacher that might and not being guaranteed of it and then to fight your way to make sure your kid gets what they deserve.
TW: Well on the surface I like what I hear, but I’d love to see that happen to special ed. I know you are doing more with inclusion in different schools and people are being honest that it’s been rocky. But wouldn’t it be great if there was a special ed model that existed so we all knew what to expect from school to school?
JP: But then you understand that when people react to an effort to create consistency, it’s always a double edged sword. People want to have autonomy and they should as long as fundamentally they say we have the things in place that empower that teacher to do it right. But if you simply give people the authority to do whatever they want and you haven’t provided, it’s kind of like school counselors, what’s wrong with the school counseling heading, unilateral authority for every decision is the same thing we have in Chicago where they come back year after year and go why did you let me do that without training me and helping me know what the limits should be. That’s just a promise unkept. So, that’s why people are reacting like, “Oh my God, we’re restricted from doing what we want to do.” We’re sure until we’ve established and we know that people have the basic fundamentals, standards and training to be able to do the job the way that we would expect them to. Otherwise, otherwise we have no quality control over them … in other words, an expectation.
TW: Has the court-ordered desegregation expert begun working with the district yet?
TW: No, not yet?
JP: No. What’s happened is that, what the community needs to understand is that, we, under a deseg order, again because immediately upon the decision to put us in unitary status, the plaintiff’s appealed and so it took a year and a half for the appeal to go through. This wasn’t anything that we were doing recently or since that, it was what happened at the time when the decision was made … So, so, we now are faced with having to go back under the order. The way it worked is that we’re now, and we had to get clarity on this, we’re still under the post-unitary plan until such time that the court assigns what they call a special master.
A special master then will come in, that will be the ambassador of the court in fact and will tell us, basically guide us through the process of getting the unitary status. Um, our position, as a district, is that we need to be working real, real hard to create an education plan that we’re going to present to the special master once they’re appointed. There are two people that I understand are the candidates … two of them are being considered for that position. Um, and you have to get, I don’t remember what their names are but when they’re appointed we want to give them the work that we’ve done to say here’s where we are going with this; what we believe will meet the intent of what the court order is and have them work off of that plan rather than not having anything in his hands at all.
The difficulty we’re having with the desegregation committee and we maintained the committee it was really the post-unitary committee now we call it the committee for the achievement of unitary status. Um, the difficulty we’re having is that both plaintiffs don’t agree with each other and there’s one mentality that says we don’t want to do anything because we want the special master to force the district to do something and the other plaintiff we’re trying to work with together with both of them to say, let’s see what you really want and we’ll try to embed this into the plan because the plan really is getting kids to achieve, getting kids to have access, all the things that we believe the desegregation order is all about. It’s, we’ve made an outline and we’re filling the outline in so that by the end of December, maybe the middle of January, we’ll have something to give to that special master and maybe by that time, we’ll think they’ll be appointed. We thought it would be by now.
TW: That’s what I thought the court decided, and the person would be in place before the end of the year.
JP: So that’s what we’re doing and it’s controversial because I’ve never been in a more contentious environment then I find in those meetings and what bothers me is I think that they were not wrong about why they’re frustrated. You know, we, it’s almost as though, I think there was a perceived advantage being under the deseg order by some people.
Not only to get revenue and money but it was almost like this mentality that’s in other areas you know that we’ve done under the law — I’ve done what I need to do. Instead of saying, what is it that the law is attempting to get at and let’s go, whatever that step is, to do whatever that is with integrity and then, yeah, okay it’s fine if we meet the law, that’s great, we don’t have to worry about getting sued. But this really should be about the moral imperative about doing what the law is intending to do and that is to teach all children, to have access for students number one and to be able to provide options for kids that are covered, so anyway, that’s the approach we will take and it’s not Pollyanna, it’s really where we’re going with it.
TW: I've heard you went to the (UA) College of Education to develop a multicultural curriculum. Is this a step in dismantling Mexican-American studies?
JP: No, it's not. Let me say. Here’s what we did. I said from the very beginning of my experience with this program is that … when I look at the data and the statistics on how many kids leave; either fail or drop out prior to when these (Mexican-American studies) classes are offered. It’s no secret, we lose about seven hundred to eight hundred kids between freshman and sophomore year are Hispanic students and about the same number between sophomore and junior year. So the time the Hispanic studies came, we’ve lost fourteen hundred to two thousand students.
When I look at the data and the statistics, how many kids leave us; either fail or drop-out, leave us prior to when these courses are offered — understand that that’s been an issue. So now you’ve got a group of kids and it’s heyday for 640 kids of which 550 were Hispanic, who were taking these (Mexican American Studies) courses, and upon which were basing all of the affiliation for the program if you want to do it based on data. Instead of the reality that we’re losing kids all the way across the district from when they’re in elementary school, middle school and high school.
I told the Mexican-American studies (community advisory) group, "You're going to make an argument that we're trying to replace Mexican-American studies with a multi-cultural program and that’s not what’s happening."
I asked (the College of Education for) help, because what I would like to do is have something that when the students enter the district, they begin to get an understanding of the importance of differences, and maybe we can change these numbers around. We'll (offer these kinds of classes) at the elementary level until we get to middle school. It’s happening, and that’s why when you ask the question it’s interesting to me that you would say that. What’s happening is that I believe we ought to be doing as soon as the suit was filed.
TW: You should know this didn’t come from someone in the Mexican American Studies community advisory board.
JP: Oh yeah, I’m telling you it’s interesting because that’s the only people who are drawing that conclusion, I’m glad it isn’t them because we were very open about that that’s not what’s going on. When the UA College of Education said we’d like to see if we can help. So I went over to a meeting with them and professors of Mexican-American. I said I would like your help because what I would like to do is have something that when the students enter the district, they begin to get an understanding of the importance of differences. We’ll do it at the elementary level until we get to middle school where we can combine the effort that we’ve done and that all the things have gone on in elementary school; and that, by the way, is an expectation for every single one of our schools, that then we have special programs looking at the value in differences and where it applies to bullying, where it applies to understanding. You’re going to be going into a more comprehensive environment, where there will be a lot more kids that are different than you and here’s why we need to be sure that we understand who we are.
And to begin that process in sincerity, because it’s eighth grade, it’s sixth, seventh and eighth grade where we’re looking for; and then when they get into ninth grade have a required course that would be what I, I’m asking them to. I’m asking people to tell me if this is naïve or if this is social shortsighted — but a half credit course or more where kids learn about multiculturalism with perspectives about not just what they’ve learned in the district but also let’s look at ethnicity. Let’s look at background, let’s be able to understand familial experience as a citizen, as an individual and help kids to avoid some of the things we see happening at a high school level so that when they get to junior year, that this curriculum is still in place in whatever form; the current one or whatever, it makes some sense because the way we do it right now is we have literature that I think is less somewhat arduous that that’s not the issue, I think the issue is we’re talking about is government and history and when you get into those two topics, you do it at junior and senior year because that’s when we offer those courses. Now you’re getting into people’s sacred feelings about ethnicity and about patriotism and there’s a sense that the people who are in the program, by some people, aren’t providing kids with the foundation so that, depends on how it is treated and how it’s handled. Well if you get kids that are, if you get kids that are, that support and are supported in their view in the importance of differences, I think you increase subscription in those programs.
TW: You should see growth.
JP: You should see a lot of things grow, including maybe not the need for these programs to be the single source of kids getting a head start in respect, that should be taking place for these kids all along.
So never, ever has my perspective been that we should be hiding this. The exact opposite, I made it pretty public and I think the board goes along with that too. Those who object to the Mexican-American Chicano studies program do because of things that they’ve seen and read, the textbooks that are being used. People that are, that tend not to be reasonable in their perspective, they tend to be positioned, you know, I mean I’m telling you what they will believe, what they’ll say and so they’re saying I can’t trust the design of those classes.
TW: From what I understand some of those materials are from a previous director, when the program provided a jump start for a PhD. But I understand that’s not the case right now under Sean Arce.
JP: … The fear is that if you talk about making any adjustments, or looking at any parts, that it will erode especially until the legal pieces are settled. It’ll be another step toward dismantling. We backed off of having these conversations. But if we were to look at what it is that we value, that we can get our arms around and hearts around, it’s really important then that I will be out there passionately defending the, the reality that these teachers will not let these kids fail. They give them this deep sense of support, alright?
TW: I wish we could replicate it in everything, I really do, believe me.
JP: Alright, number two, they make material relevant to the kids, it’s stuff that the kids are interested in. And so, that’s the second part of any effective instructional experience right? And then the other thing that they do that’s also part of it is, they make it almost luring because it seems like it’s a secret. It’s like, it’s kind of like what happens when, uh, you, I don’t know if your kids have ever been involved in band, some activity where only the kids that are in it know what it is so there’s a wink of the eye by the instructor or the conductor and then he laughs and nobody knows why … You know it’s that, it’s that fraternity or sorority that a person and they’re really involved in. That’s what they do. So that’s the stuff that we ought to be looking at saying, we need to replicate that.
And part of it is making sure that kids are not being restricted from their knowledge of history; get the kids to think critically, that’s a really important skill, to be able to problem solve. None of us, nobody really argues with that. But it’s the way in which this has been done, and what’s happened to it every time, is that it’s politicized that it becomes derailed, destructive instead of being productive. And, so, anyways, that’s where this thing came from. It’s not a matter of trying to, and I told, I knew this was going to be the perception of some people. It’s not about trying to eradicate what exists, I don’t know what’s going to exist, first of all, but it is about what I believe we should be doing anyway and that’s get kids prepared to understand it.
The other thing that’s kind of interesting is that the Department of Education has been doing this because this, this’ll make it harder because they have sent out a notice to all the districts across the state, um, and you can find this out if you want to get to the notice saying that they would be interested in creating multi-cultural education programs. I know that it’s to say that they’re willing to do things in any district and look at this TUSD, you know, but, they’ve offered to, um, to have people from across the state be a part of it. That, to me, is less ingenuous, to be honest with you, I think that’s a manipulative thing but we’re going to send somebody to be a part so that we make sure we’re there and if we can gain something ... But once I say that, all of a sudden, bang, it’ll be, “Oh I see what they’re doing, some conspiracy between Pedicone and the Department of Ed.” You know, it’s not what, they did that without my knowing anything about it. I promise you. But we saw that come through about a month ago.
TW: But I also understand you have some supporters in the UA College of Education who want to help you to make this situation better, if they can.
JP: They do but they are also afraid.
TW: Of the politics?.
JP: Yeah, and so as long as there’s that, you know, you talk about bullying, there’s a whole lot of that that goes on and people are afraid to express themselves because they’re worried about retribution on the part of group. There’s something wrong with that, you know? It disables us in really being able to make strides. It sets us up to be perceived one way or the other and it makes what you say, what you talked about earlier, you screen through this big, old perception that is almost impossible to shake. So, yeah, they want to help but there’s a level of real life that’s to go in full force because if they align too closely, they’ll be vilified before everybody else is.
That’s wrong. I’m through with it. I’m going to work with people that are willing to do what I view is right. I’ll have to take the heat from people that are going to make stuff up and, but we’re going to go through and we’re going to do what we believe is right.
TW: What happens next the remainder of your contract with TUSD?
JP: You mean for the balance of the year and a half? Oh, first of all it’s a year and a half to finish this contract out and I’m not planning, at this point, on leaving, um, we’re going to see some results this, we should see some results after a year and the district, we’re already moving in that direction. We’re feeling the change of culture, we’re going to see systems improving, we already are; we’re going to see things being fixed and not, and less bad stuff. I think we’ve got great goals that will demonstrate that we’re serious about what we’re doing, um, we’re going to focus on the right things which is training and achievement and, ah, so I see that as being the next thing that will convince the community that we’re really serious. We’ve got a communications director now and that’s helping us, I think, uh, look at strategically what do we need, how do we need to do this, you know? Every one of the cabinet members have taken on the assignment of getting out to service clubs to talk to the community about what we’re doing, what our goals are. … You know, we’re not going to try and sell a district that’s acting badly or that’s not performing well. So we’ve got to make sure that yeah, like I said to you, I want above the fold in your newspaper and in every other one, what’s this district doing something right? Alright? People will feel it, internally as employees you’ll hear they’re feeling differently, you know, and that’s the first step in change. You know, it’s probably and in some cases it’s really kind of fun when you see some of the things that are happening and people are saying, because people will write you that, that are positive, they’ll write negative too but the ones that tell you good things are the ones that want to. There’s also other people out there that are suspicious and it’s going to take a long time to break through that but, by and large, I’m getting some pretty positive stuff from people that tell me they’ve been here for twenty and thirty years and for the first time they’re saying for the first time “I feel the change.” I’m hearing a lot of that. Like a few, somebody wrote me they’re, you know, I don’t want to talk about, it’s not about me, it’s about changing the beliefs of people, it’s the first step. People don’t believe they can’t get better, they won’t.
So that’s what you can expect in the next year and a half. I hope the board gets it, we’re going to have a board election, there’ll be a new board uh maybe the same board, but there’ll be a new board next year, it could be that people get re-elected or not, and then from that we’ll hopefully we’ll be building some board superintendent teamwork. The first one was not as effective as the second one. The second one, I think, we lost Judy then so that messed some of that up but uh, we’ll keep fighting that one and try to get the board, I’m not quitting that, they’ve got to get together or we can’t do our work.
Tags: John Pedicone , TUSD , Tucson Unified School District , ethnic studies , Lorraine St. Germain , special education , 301 Plan , multicultural curriculum , UA College of Education , Department of Education