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SD’s New School Chief Moves Forward With Plans


San Diego School Superintendent Terry Grier has been on the job for about two months now. He steps in at one of the most financially difficult times for the district. He sat down with most of the city's media outlets this week to talk about his big plans. KPBS Education Reporter Ana Tintocalis has this report. 

San Diego Unified is facing a potential $80 million cut in state education funding as a result of the Governor's proposed budget. The magnitude of the problem is something Grier never experienced as the leader of the North Carolina's second largest school district. He says he didn't realize the seriousness of San Diego Unified's money problems when he took this job. But he says he never shies away from a challenge. 

Grier: Children only have one time in school, and I know that. And I also know, because I grew up in North Carolina, we didn't have a lot, and I know first-hand the door through prosperity runs straight through the schoolhouse. And so we have to find ways to education all kids to high levels.

Grier was a superintendent in North Carolina for eight years. His initiatives and approach angered some parents and teachers. He pushed for his programs and reforms and that rubbed people in the wrong way. But no one could argue with his track record. His district outperformed others in the state and its graduation rate soared. Now Grier wants the same kind of results in San Diego.

Grier: Our most gifted kids, we're not pushing them hard enough. We're not pushing them hard enough. Our most needy kids who really struggle to speak English, we really need to step up our efforts. We have to make sure our kids can read proficiently before they leave third grade. Because we're dropping the ball in a lot of situations.

Grier acknowledges getting results will be an uphill battle since the district recently issued layoff notices to more than 900 teachers. The local teachers union blasted the new superintendent and the school board for not protecting local teachers. They point to the School officials there did not any send layoff notices to any of their permanent teachers.

Grier counters that by saying the majority of L.A.'s teaching force is temporary, with one or two years of experience.

Grier: You don't have to issue pink slips to probationary teachers, you simply don't renew them. In just the past six weeks since I've been here, we've eliminated 198 central office positions. We've downsized our central office. We like to say we're trying to right-size it.

And Grier says it’s important to consider San Diego on its own merits.

Grier: Districts across the state are all very different. And trying to compare what we did to what LA did to what Long Beach did is like comparing not even oranges to tangerines, its really like the old apple and orange comparison.

Despite all the bad budget news, Grier plans to move forward with new reforms and programs. Some of his initiatives include consolidating small schools to create a new magnet schools; introducing pre-kindergarten programs at schools; allowing for more Advanced Placement classes at high schools; and hiring "graduation coaches" to help teenagers make it through high school. He believes that will help boost enrollment and attract new parents to the district.

Grier: You have people who will be critical because you're trying to start a new program in a new school when you're trying to cut $80 million from the budget. Well, yes, we're trying to attract parents back from private school. And that's how you can generate more revenue.

California pays school districts for each student enrolled in the district. The more students in a district the more money it gets.

Grier also plans to sit down with the school board soon to develop what he calls Smart Goals -- which will help create a common vision for the district. That's a first for San Diego. The school board hired Grier because of his willingness to initiate new programs. The North Carolina native hopes his dedication and passion will win over parents and teachers. 

Grier: I'm a pretty nice guy. Hard driving at times, very bottom line in terms of measurable goals. If I make mistakes, I'm certainly willing to admit to them. But I care deeply about our students. I care a great deal about our employees, I know how hard they work.

Grier's next big test comes next week. Even though he doesn't have all the financial numbers from the State of California he and the board will decide how many teachers they plan to have on staff next school year.

Ana Tintocalis, KPBS News.

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