If Dallas is wondering about that loud noise recently heard from San Francisco and Sacramento, it was a collective sigh of relief. Like a used car salesman pawning off a lemon on an unsuspecting buyer, California has shipped former San Francisco School Superintendent Bill Rojas to Texas.
Sorry, Dallas. All sales are final. No returns.
After a seven-year tenure that can be generously described as disastrous,
Dr. Rojas now can do for Dallas what he did for San Francisco. On Monday, he began a three-year contract worth $ 260,000 annually plus benefits a 41 percent increase over his previous pay and a salary greater than the chancellor of the vast New York City school system, the governor of Texas or even the president of the United States.
But as with schools themselves, there is no reason to believe more money will improve Dr. Rojas’ performance. Actually, fiscal mismanagement was his trademark in San Francisco. He leaves that school district saddled with a deficit of at least $ 10 million, not long after he persuaded school board members to spend $ 7.7 million on an empty building then dipped into the general fund for the money.
Upon his hiring by Dallas, Dr. Rojas was praised for what surely is his signature claim: improved student test scores in San Francisco schools. But that boast is far worse than statistical book cooking. It is a lie. For years, Dr. Rojas withheld thousands of low-performing students from the test-taking pool, then took credit for the increased average. In fact,
during some school years, the number of enrolled students in San Francisco increased, while the number of test takers decreased.
That was far from a secret, and it is to their discredit that state and local leaders did little or nothing about it.
When the state finally implemented California’s Standardized Testing and Reporting program, Dr. Rojas sued to stop it. Among other things, the program mandates that every student in grades two through 11 be tested in English, except for limited English proficient students enrolled in school less than 12 months.
Dr. Rojas insisted that all students not proficient in English should be exempted. “The bottom line is, many San Francisco students are going to flunk the STAR test,” said a high-ranking official in the state Education Department at the time.
By most accounts, Dallas schools are in trouble. Nearly half of the district’s ninth-graders never graduate, and the previous superintendent pleaded guilty to using $ 10,000 in school funds to furnish her home.
But three occurrences in the San Francisco district during Dr. Rojas’ last full year in office should give the people and parents of Dallas particular cause for pause.
Grade Inflation: The San Francisco Chronicle uncovered a memorandum from the principal of Balboa High School a campus that Dr. Rojas focused on personally instructing teachers to start assigning more A’s, B’s and C’s to underperforming students. It was justified by principal Elaine Koury as “how they (teachers) can change their strategies to help more students succeed.”
Or, more accurately, to pretend they succeeded.
Curriculum Corruption: The San Francisco Board of Education issued guidelines to place a racial and “transgender” quota on the authors of assigned literature to make the educational experience more “relevant” for minority students. Maybe you can’t tell a book by its cover, but San Francisco educators can judge a book by its author’s color or lifestyle.
Flouting the Law: Proposition 227, enacted in June by an overwhelming 61 percent of the state’s voters, dismantled California’s failed system of bilingual education and replaced it with intensive English immersion. Before the vote, Dr. Rojas himself announced that even if Proposition 227 became law, “I couldn’t implement this, and I wouldn’t.” No matter your position on the issue, consider the implications of a superintendent publicly refusing to obey a law enacted by a decisive statewide mandate.
Schools are especially fragile things. They touch young lives every day, and they help to shape the behavior of the leaders of tomorrow. Students, of course, have the most at stake and, even if they don’t immediately know it,
rely upon parents and policy-makers to protect and serve them.
To millions of Americans, San Francisco is a beautiful Bay Area setting replete with culture and coastline. All in all, a nice place to visit. But would you really want your kids to go to school there?
If not all the eyes of Texas can be upon Dr. Rojas, here is hoping that Dallas keeps a vigilant watch on its new superintendent.
Jonathan Wilcox is a former director of writing and research for the California State Child Development and Education Agency.