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Impact of Losing Grier

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GLORIA PENNER(Host): News that San Diego Unified School District Superintendent Terry Grier may be leaving his post for a job in Texas less than two years after he arrived sends shockwaves through the community. Schools are already dealing with the loss of millions of dollars in state funding and now it appears that San Diego Unified will lose its second leader in less than four years. KPBS education reporter Ana Tintotolis is here to explain what's going on. Welcome back Ana. ANA TINTOCALIS (Reporter): Thank-you Gloria. PENNER: Okay, so what are the reasons that Superintendent Grier gave for leaving. TINTOCALIS: Well, with Superintendent Grier you really had to read between the lines. But, what he has said is that in Houston, it's a more reform-minded district. So, he's talked about this idea of philosophical differences in terms of leadership with the school board. He's very much a reformer. The school board wants to take on responsibility of guiding reforms. I think there's also issues with the teacher's union, they've never been on good terms, and you do have a state, California, that has cut into education severely which is also blocking a lot of his reforms. I think those are kinda the three big issues that I see taking shape as to why he would leave. PENNER: Did you mention the school board? TINTOCALIS: Yes I did. PENNER: You did. Okay. When he was on KPBS Radio These Days program earlier this month, did he reveal anything else that were particularly significant or were those the things he went through? TINTOCALIS: Well, what I heard in that particularly interview was that, which I think is very telling, is that Grier has said time and time again that San Diego Unified more than any other school district puts the needs of adults first before students. And I think, as that relates to the school board, you know, the school board he's working with now, is not the one that brought him in initially. And so, the school board that brought him in initially was really on board with his performance, wanted him to really take charge and he's very much of a take charge person. The school board now has shifted, the power has shifted, and so you have these three school board members, who don't necessarily like all his ideas. They want to decentralize the power and kinda put the power more in the school sites, school-based panels. The school board itself wants to take on more responsibility, and they're even contemplating this idea of the superintendent not being kinda the sole person behind the leadership of the district. So that's pretty telling. PENNER: So it sounds like there's some politics at play here. TINTOCALIS: There's definitely politics at play. I mean, in any district there's politics at play. But when you have someone who's such a change agent conflicting with a school board that says, 'Wait a minute, let's take our time, we want to be involved, we want everyone to be involved. A school board that does lean more towards teacher union issues. Then you're going to have some conflict. PENNER: Well, you know, earlier this week, there was that full-page ad in the San Diego Union-Tribune asking Terry Grier to stay. A full page ad. What does that say about those who support what he's doing here? TINTOCALIS: Well, I think it served, and you'll hear this, as a wake-up call for the community. Here we have another superintendent leaving and his reforms, although some of them were controversial, and I don't know if you can really label some higher test scores on just his reforms in the past year, but you were seeing some type of improvement, some type of movement towards better test scores. So I think the community leaders want to invest more of their time with Grier here in San Diego Unified but now that's possibly not going to happen. PENNER: You know, the question that keeps coming up is: Why can't San Diego Unified hang on to their superintendents? I mean you said two and four years, and that's quite a bit, why can't they? TINTOCALIS: It's actually three and four years, but when you take a look at it. This is not, I mean definitely, San Diego Unified has its problems, but this is a problem in public education. Superintendents come and go. I think the average span for a superintendent now is maybe two to three years. And so that kinda cycle in leadership, I think really contributes to a lot of the problems. So, certainly there's problems here in San Diego Unified. I think we have to figure out what our best interests are, what reforms we really want to go for, what type of leadership we really want for the long-haul. But I think that's just the reality in public education. PENNER: Well, thank-you very much, Ana Tintocalis.