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New Lincoln High School Recruits Top-Notch Teachers

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Aired 4/19/09

The San Diego Unified School District is getting a jumpstart on recruiting top-notch teachers for a new kind of high school. The revived Lincoln High School in southeast San Diego will actually house four smaller with a total of 2,600 students. The district says the success of the new school will depend on the quality of the teaching staff. KPBS Education Reporter Ana Tintocalis has more.

Hundreds of teachers are sipping wine, snacking and schmoozing at the Double Tree Hotel in Fashion Valley. But this isn't a holiday party. Its a teacher recruitment event for the new and improved Lincoln High School.

Camacho: And I've heard its going to have four small schools, so that is an environment that I think I'd like to teach in. To have more personalization.

Daniel Camacho has been a teacher for eight years. He's now at Hoover High School. Like many here tonight, Camacho has come with a smile and copies of his resume. He plans to leave the resumes with Mel Collins, the new and eager head principal of Lincoln High.

Collins: Then what we’re going to do is to take that information, lay it out, try to categorize it, to see what we get so we have the best and the brightest people.

Tonight Collins is surrounded by teachers. A week ago, he was surrounded by a cameraman, a construction crew and three of his top administrators. He was filming a promotional video at Lincoln High for prospective teachers.  

Collins: They drive by and a lot of people have heard, few have actually seen on the inside. And it's not everyday that a teacher or administrator or anyone has an opportunity to work in a school that has been in existence for 55 years and it shuts down for four. So you have the culture and tradition and then it rises from the ashes, and you have everything on campus that's new. 

And that includes the best teaching staff Collins can recruit. He'll hire about 125 teachers. Collins says recruiting teachers from different parts of the district and the county will ensure poor and minority students in southeast San Diego will get the best possible education. Lincoln High co-principal Ana Alvarez says they want teachers who can master a rigorous curriculum, who are passionate and persistent and who are eager to be in constant communication with parents and the community.

Alvarez: We're not going to look at people who are not involved in that because so much is at stake.

Indeed there is a lot on the line. Community members criticize the district for not placing quality teachers in southeast San Diego schools. Before Lincoln closed four years ago, it was one of the lowest performing schools in the district. Student test scores were poor and the campus was falling apart. San Diego school board member Shiela Jackson wants Lincoln to be a shining example of urban education in the city and the state.

Jackson: The reopening of Lincoln is almost a rebirth of the community. Because they will have the best high school that we have the district and maybe in the state. And others across the nation are looking at Lincoln as well.

District officials have been working with the San Diego teachers union to make sure Lincoln gets talented and effective teachers. They're doing that by giving Lincoln principals more leeway in choosing the teachers they want. Before, only the applicants with the most seniority were guaranteed teaching positions. This approach means teachers who once taught at Lincoln may not get their old jobs back. Union president Camillle Zombro agrees with principal Collins that Lincoln's success depends on the type of teachers it can attract.  

Collins: Teacher recruitment is really the key to any school in developing a really positive school culture. There's nothing in our contract that we can tweak that will attract people to a school. So the focus has to be on how well they can market the school, how well can they get out and talk about how this school is going to different.

But not everyone in the community is excited about the reopening of Lincoln High School. Craig Ledom is a union representative who speaks with teachers and administrators in southeast San Diego. He says some community members feel the district is paying too much attention to Lincoln and neglecting other schools.  

Ledom: People are taking notice that Lincoln is something different. But I think people are also saying, why not here? Why can't the things at Lincoln happen here?

The district says Lincoln High is just part of the overall strategy to improve student performance and close the achievement gap in San Diego public schools. They say the southeast community is desperately in need of a brand new high school. And they believe other schools in the area will strive to be like Lincoln.

Back in Fashion Valley, the teacher recruitment event is winding down. Teacher Bridget Persons is talking with some of her colleagues about Lincoln's future. She's planning to put her resume in for a teaching spot. She says Lincoln offers a unique opportunity that she can't pass up.

Persons: Each school has a unique opportunity to build something from the ground up and really try to make a difference in the community and with students and that's really scary and exciting all at once.

The new Lincoln high school will be a state-of-the art facility that's equipped with the latest technology for teachers. The complex features a library, a large auditorium, an impressive football field, the district's only school parking structure. More than five-thousand students live within Lincoln's attendance boundaries. About 2,600 will be able to attend. Ana Tintocalis, KPBS News.

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