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 Article of Interest - California

Chief San Diego school reformer to leave
Superintendent calls departure 'mutual'
by Chris Moran, Union-Tribune, February 5, 2003
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Anthony Alvarado, the chief architect of a controversial curriculum overhaul in San Diego city schools, will leave the district at the end of September under an agreement approved by the board of education yesterday.

Alvarado will immediately relinquish his title of chancellor of instruction, the No. 2 educator in the 141,000-student San Diego Unified district. He will continue to advise the district 20 hours a week through September from his new office at the University of San Diego, where he'll be a guest lecturer.

Superintendent Alan Bersin called Alvarado's departure "a mutual decision based on a joint and shared assessment of where we are" in reforming San Diego city schools. Alvarado's contract had been through December 2004.

Alvarado was unavailable for comment yesterday.

Although the district will pay Alvarado $130,000 for this year's work and $129,000 in what amounts to severance pay, the finance division expects that Alvarado's early exit will save city schools $460,000 over the next two years.

Alvarado could have earned as much as $270,000 this year in salary and incentives had he remained as chancellor.

Bersin said saving money played a minor role in scaling back Alvarado's duties. Last week, the board cut $47 million from this year's budget.

The superintendent said he has no plans to appoint another chancellor, and Alvarado's work will be divided among three administrators.

Bersin said that Alvarado's "genius" is in designing education reform. It's been three years since the school board approved the Blueprint for Student Success but four years since its first elements began.

There are political and financial benefits to taking Alvarado out of his role as the second-ranking educator in the nation's eighth-largest school district, Bersin said, but they were secondary considerations.

"It comes as no surprise that the kind of lightning rod Tony represents made the change process even more difficult," Bersin said, though Alvarado "acquitted himself brilliantly" in overseeing changes to teaching under heavy criticism from teachers.

Teachers have roundly criticized Bersin and Alvarado. Instructors say the reforms have been imposed without their consultation.

"I think it's good news," teachers union President Terry Pesta said after the board acted. "I believe a lot of the problems in the way people have been treated the last four years were from Tony's style."

The Blueprint dramatically increased teacher training, set up a training academy for principals, doubled and sometimes tripled the amount of student time spent on reading and writing instruction, beefed up classroom libraries, expanded summer school and dispatched teaching coaches to most of the 187 campuses.

Before the Blueprint, the district's annual professional development cost was $1 million. This year, the district plans to spend $55 million. The board has split 3-2 on some Blueprint aspects, particularly authorizing the expenses for consultants to provide teacher training.

The last two school board races were widely considered a referendum on the Blueprint, and Bersin has held on to a 3-2 board majority after backers of school board candidates spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on the campaigns.

When asked recently about his plans, Alvarado said only that he intends to continue working in education reform.

In mid-January, New York city schools announced that Alvarado joined the advisory board of its new leadership academy to train principals.

When Alvarado came to San Diego in June 1998, he was already recognized nationally for his work in raising test scores in New York City school districts in the 1980s and 1990s. He also resigned as chancellor of the nation's largest school district nearly 20 years ago after disclosures that he had lied on mortgage applications and used a limousine service at taxpayer expense.

For the first 18 months of his employment here, he commuted weekly from New York. The commuting costs were covered by taxpayers and reimbursed by the San Diego Community Foundation. His $5,300 down payment and $2,400 monthly rent for a Coronado condominium was partially paid for by a private superintendent's account funded by community donors.

As controversial as he's been here, San Diego's reforms directed by Alvarado have received praise from researchers and foundations nationally. Philanthropists have contributed tens of millions of dollars to the district contingent upon Alvarado's continued employment.

Bersin said yesterday that the donor agreements will be amended to allow continued funding for the reforms even in Alvarado's absence.

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