Sun. Apr 14th, 2024

The SAUSD is in denial about the persistently low performing public schools in Santa Ana

If you glance at the Santa Ana Unified School District’s website, you might come away thinking everything in the district is great.  Headlines include: “Academic Achievement Abounds;” “Measure G Facility Improvements;” and “SAUSD Congratulates its Top Educators of the Year.”

There is no mention of the fact that four of the seven Santa Ana High Schools have been placed on the State of California’s “Persistently Low Performing” list, necessitating massive changes which might include transferring teachers, replacing administrators and even the possibility of becoming charter schools.

But check out what overmatched SAUSD Superintendent Jane Russo has to say on her website, under the headline, “Success is the Standard:”

We are dedicated to high academic achievement, in a scholarly and supportive environment, ensuring that all students are prepared to accomplish their goals in life.  Failure is Unacceptable! Success is the Standard…It’s Up to Us All!

Is it just me or is Russo in complete denial?

SAUSD Superintendent Jane Russo appears to be without a clue…

Russo is one of the highest paid public school superintendents in the nation.  Yet she has no doctorate in education, unlike many of her peers, and she has zero experience in turning around failing school districts.  The SAUSD School Board allegedly conducted a national search and then hired her.  Russo was previously an assistant to the former Superintendent, Al Mijares, who read the tea leaves and ran for the hills a few years ago.

The high schools that are failing include Santa Ana High School, Valley High School, Century High School and Saddleback High School.  The only SAUSD high schools that are not failing are the fundamental schools – Godinez and Segerstrom, as well as the experimental High School, Inc.  An SAUSD charter school, the Orange County High School for the Arts, is one of the top schools in the country.  Very few Santa Ana residents attend that school and the school is not required to accept anyone from Santa Ana.

So what to do?  The SAUSD administration is in denial.  The SAUSD School Board includes members who have been on the board for years and have accomplished nothing, with the notable exception of Roman Reyna, who is new to the board.

When a company’s leadership fails, stockholders replace them.  So too do we need to look at getting rid of Russo and most of her senior staff.  And we need to fire the School Board too.  All of them.

But that is just a start.  There are deeper problems involved and we should not blame the teachers.  They are doing the best they can.  Transferring them to other schools will fix nothing.  It will just add to the teacher’s woes.

A closer look at the SAUSD student population reveals problems including:

  • Limited English fluency
  • Many single parent families
  • Many very young mothers
  • Parents who each work two jobs and don’t have time to help their kids with homework
  • Parents who did not finish grade school
  • Very few parents who have high school degrees, much less college diplomas
  • Poverty stricken families that are struggling to survive in the dreadful new economy
  • Gangs abound in the area and their members often hook youngsters into the drug trade as a way to make quick, easy money

Our City government is doing what it can, but the City of Santa Ana is flat broke.  We have one small satellite public library on the west side, near our border with Garden Grove.  We have a main library over in the Civic Center.  And the city maintains a homework center where the McFadden library used to be, with the help of the Santa Ana Police Department.  We do have a lot of other programs, which you can read about here:

  • The City has invested heavily in our community centers.  Click here to see a list of them.  Our community centers are currently hosting dozens of summer programs that you can read about by clicking here.  The Jerome Center was recently renovated.  You can read about the renovation by clicking here.  Our Parks and Rec Agency Director, Gerardo Mouet, took over control of our soccer fields and now youth have even more access to them.  Click here to read about that.  The Santa Ana Parks and Recreation Department is also offering a pretty amazing array of  “leisure classes.”  Click here to learn more about those.  And Mouet followed my advice and changed the Santa Ana Zoo’s free day to the third Sunday of the month.  Hundreds of Santa Ana’s kids got to see the Zoo for free today!  Click here to read about that.
  • How about our Public Libraries?  Mouet has acted swiftly to expand our library services since he took over management of our libraries.  Click here to see their new website.  Note that American History ebooks are now available for FREE to our residents.  Mouet also added an extensive online selection of books about animals.  And he added a virtual reference library!  Services also now include online book clubs!  And Mouet is offering a slew of summer programs that you can read about by clicking here.  Our libraries are also offering free computer workshops for kids, starting in August.  Click here to read about that.
  • And while the City has cut back on some City Commissions, the Youth Commission is still active.  Click here to read about that.
  • Did you know that the Santa Ana Police Department offers dozens of FREE programs, many of them youth-oriented?  Click here to read about them.  The Santa Ana Police Athletic League also has a vast summer activity program that you can read about by clicking here.
  • Our City also promotes events all over town on their Community Calendar, that you can access byclicking here.
  • And here is the clincher – our City even offers a “Youth Page” on their website – with dozens of links to all sorts of programs going on in our city.  Click here to access the Youth Page.
  • Our City also offers help to those looking for work.  Click here to see the City’s Work Center Page.

Almost 80% of the students at Century lack what it takes to get into a state university.  But there has been some improvement.  The school has experimented with a program to encourage students to become teachers.  The school also has a business academy and art classes that include chatting with Dreamworks animators, according to the O.C. Register.

So what to do?

A friend once told me that by the time a kid gets to the fifth grade, he is either going to get it or he is destined to fail.  While our high schools are a mess, we cannot overlook the importance of our middle and elementary schools.  That is the best point at which to intervene.

I do think we need to look at the charter school option as well, at least with regard to our high schools.  But that is not a cure all.

Russo in particular needs to go.  It is way past time to hire s superintendent who has turned around failing school districts in districts with a lot of poor families and immigrants.  She simply has no clue and she is unlikely to suddenly develop one.

While our City Council is broke, we should not stop trying to partner with City Hall.  I met recently with Gerardo Mouet, the director of the Santa Ana Parks and Recreation Agency, which oversees our Public Library and Zoo as well.  I suggested that we look at micro-libraries, that could be set up in vacant storefronts.  We might be able to get landlords to let us use the storefronts for free, on the premise that they will bring foot traffic to dying retail centers.  And we can provide the SAPD officers with desks at each micro library so they can work on their reports.

These libraries would include a lot of computers with Internet access.  We could get interns from local colleges to help kids with homework.  There would be no books.  Kids could order books from the Main Library and they would be sent by a daily courier to each Micro-Library.

We should also look to the Artists Village.  Why don’t we ask the folks there to conduct free after school art classes?  In particular, I would love to see taggers go through such training.  They may have untapped potential!

As a community we all need to do our part.  Readers – any more ideas?



By Editor

The New Santa Ana blog has been covering news, events and politics in Santa Ana since 2009.

16 thoughts on “How can we save our Santa Ana public schools?”
  1. let them fail…or call on “the representatives” or the big fat heads in sacramento and DC to pass better laws. those are our only options

  2. I agree! Jane Russo & Juan Lopez need to go! Why do they get raises while the teachers and classified staff are always punished, moved or fired? Wake up, people!

  3. The web site also says that Jane wants to recruit and retain good teachers, but she sends out massive lay off letters every year. She doesn’t know what she is doing. Her words are empty. Firing her, her senior staff, and the school board would be a great first step. All of them have milked the schools for their own benefit and let the students down. Those microlibraries also sound like a great idea.

  4. Administering a citizenship test, in English only, would be a great way to start the process. There are a few success stories, but most are destined for second-class status without 100% parental involvement.

    When you have a system that puts total responsibility for test scores on teachers and administrators and hardly any on parents and students then it cannot succeed. No social promotion, parents HAVE to come to the schools if there is a problem.

    There are no consequences for students (or parents) to do well. The students who want to succeed will no matter where they go to school. The rest of them need an incentive like doing the grade over if a score of basic or proficient was not met.

    High income area = high test scores
    Low income area = low test scores
    Why is that so difficult for folks to figure out?

    It is NOT the teachers. You can move Einstein to the low income school and the kids will not score well with him teaching them either. You cannot place a non-english speaking student in 5th grade and expect that child to pass the comprehension test. It can’t be done unless the child is a “good guesser.”

    We need to encourage parents to learn English & get a good education themselves before they can assist their children. Instead of MORE teacher training, start having mandatory parenting classes (if their kids are failing).

    Attendance laws + tardies need to be changed. The current system is NOT working. Take a look at the long line of kids showing up late daily. The secretary told us that she isn’t even going to be bother writing the late slips anymore there’s so many. Something needs to be done. How can teachers do their jobs when parents are showing up with their kids late every morning. “What homework? We slept in, sorry!” <—there's no consequences for this behavior

    PLEASE! Enough of the blame game! It is not the teacher alone! It is a combination that makes the winning solution. Let's work together on a solution.

    Teacher does 1/3
    Parent does 1/3
    Student does 1/3
    = 1 whole success

    Right now, the current system is making only party (the teacher) produce!

  5. The founders of universities in the U.S. knew well that tyrants and scoundrels can only operate in shadows to hide their misdeeds, greed and incompetence from public scrutiny, and so many universities have the term “light” in their mottos: Yale, Amherst, Columbia, Univ. of California – “Light and Truth”, “Let there be light”. Yet, despite given a river of public money , nowhere else in public service but the schools will you find a more dedicated attempt to obscure how they work.

    Keep a light on this, Art. Don’t let it disappear as yesterday’s news, as happens in other media. The education of our children effects everyone as well as the future of this city, yet misconceptions abound, at every level, with everyone, and about everything in the schools. The superintendent and board members keep themselves in the dark with a system that discourages inconvenient news. School principles keep themselves uninformed by discouraging open discussion and offering interference rather than support for problems in classrooms. Few teachers trust administration to support them, and prefer to solve problems themselves, keeping their supervisors in the dark. Teachers themselves know little about other teachers’ problems, or at other school sites, because we have no forum to communicate outside the few we see at lunch. How can such a system reform itself?

    The Orange Juice is the only forum where the stories and problems involving Santa Ana schools can be brought out to the light of public scrutiny. Of course there will be nonsense mixed with truth, but that is the way of public discourse, and in the end truth comes out. Only with that comes the start of effective solutions to important problems.

    1. SAHS teacher,

      Thank you my friend. We have indeed shed a lot of light on the folks at Chestnut. That is all we can do – but now we have two blogs and the pressure is going to increase on our end.

      It is at last time for change…

  6. An astonishing number of our top graduates remain undocumented, “illegals” in the eyes of many citizens of the redder persuasion in politics and neck hue, even though these young people committed no crime in being brought here as children, and having pledged their allegience to the U.S. many, many times… once each morning for years in Santa Ana’s schools. I’m so proud of our grads at Harvard for there courage in helping promote student actions to support passage of the Dream Act, pending for a decade in Congress. One of them just posted this on facebook in request for support by friends of Santa Ana students:
    http://action.dreamactivist.org/leslie/

    1. SAHS teacher,

      Amen! So many immigrant Latinos have served our country in our military. And one is even a NASA astronaut, who goes by Astro-Jose.

      Given the opportunity these kids can do as well as anyone else…

  7. Educational Success requires:

    1) Bilingual Education:
    I am a strong believer in the importance of bilingual education TO TRANSITION all students from all immigrant backgrounds (especially important for districts with high immigrant populations). I came to the US when I was nine. In the fourth grade I attended a bilingual class to ensure my transition into English. After that I was always in advanced English classes. I paid my way through college and was the first in my family to graduate from college.

    2) Parental Involvement:
    We must ensure the involvement parents in our children’s education.

    3) Comprehensive Community Participation:
    We must also ensure that there is leadership to encourage participation by business, science, etc professionals, and educators. That is why programs like High School Inc (at Valley High).; Global Business Academy (at Valley High); Junior Achievement; and Youth Motivational Task Force are so important.

    Our youth must see the value of an education and the opportunities from it, and so they must continuously be presented with positive roles from the community at their schools.

    4) We must invest in your youth’s education…this will make us competitive as a nation! But it takes more than just money to succeed…this requires an involved community!

    Francisco J. Barragan CPA, CIA
    Commander, UMAVA
    Commander@umava.org
    http://umava.org

    Professional Profile:
    http://www.linkedin.com/in/franciscobarragancpacia

    “Veterans Coalition of OC”
    http://umava.org/veteranscoalitionofoc.html

  8. To Teacher Shaking Head –

    You’ve shaken your head too many times!

    Why is a non- English speaking student advanced to the 5th, 6th & 7th grades? Unless things have dramatically changed since I was in school, it’s the teacher that promotes or detains.

    SAUSD admins have been very clever in fractionalizing SAUSD parents. If there was ONE, strong, cohesive parent organization there might not be a problem with tardiness. Teachers and community could be helpful in making strides towards one parent organization group. MALDEF has an excellent program designed to teach parents how to organize.

    And I don’t believe for one minute teachers should be exempt from ongoing training. It’s startling to learn that you believe you can’t learn something new.

    News tip . . . learning is an ongoing process. If you echo how most SAUSD teachers feel about ongoing training, it’s no wonder SAUSD posted six failing schools last week.

    Your post reads loud and clear that you have little respect for the students and parents.

  9. Our school are failing because we’re allowing them to fail. We’ve become dependent on bureaucracy to save us. In order to resolve the education and gang issue in Santa Ana, we need a systemic approach. This means that the school board, the city council, the unions, the non-profits, the parents and the community have to work together. The problem with this is that there is a lack of leadership in the school (district) and city level. Leadership is indicative of the ability to unite various groups for a common goal. Leadership is also indicative of the ability to set realistic standards for our communities. We lack that leadership.

    I’m on the board of a couple of non profits here in Santa Ana. There has been no concerted effort by the school or city to unify the non profits for the common goal of helping the community. I think Art has a good idea with the micro-libraries and I can help with that. I’m also a union steward and I have seen no effort by the school or city to unify the unions to assist with the common goal of helping the community. As I have approached elected officials at all levels regarding my research based thoughts on how we can deal with the education and gang issue, I have come to the realization that every elected official is so busy pissing on each other that they have lost sight of what matters to us, as residents, constituents, and stakeholders.

    This reminds me of the “Broken Window” concept. This concept uses the analogy of how empty buildings exist in every city. One day, someone decides to throw a rock in a window and one window is broken. As people walk by the building, they see the broken window and wonder if anyone cares about the building, so someone else throws another rock and breaks another window. Before long, every window is broken, the walls are tagged and the place is ridden with filth. In military jargon we call this a cluster duck.

    The solution is more complex than just raising standards or firing people. It involves a community effort. I believe that less government is better for our community and the community should be empowered to make local decisions, without interference from bureaucrats or elected officials. We should be able to set our standards for local education. If we set our local standards, then we have no one to blame but ourselves if we fail to meet our standards. Don’t allow this city to remain a cluster duck.

    Alfonso Alvarez, Ed.D
    Commander, Rudy Escalante Chapter
    American GI Forum of the United States
    (714) 309-4072 recagif@yahoo.com

  10. Dr. Alvarez –

    Amen. Santa Ana is a cluster duck and the chief duck, Miguel Pulido, needs to get out of dodge.

  11. I only wished we could get through all the standards by the end of the year, but I noticed we can never make it. This is because our pace as become too slow to maintain the speed of students who do not know English. We have let this slide too long. We need a block schedule so students can have 2 hours of math and english. Teachers can not get through a 56 minute lesson, because they waste 20 minutes settling the students. I also see a huge lack of decipline, and respect. Students do not participate, nor care. SAUSD will always have those success stories, those students have earned them. However, the important part is the Average. I was looking at a City of Santa Ana report, and the litercy rate was -25% based on Ca aversge. I never knew it could be in the negatives. Honestly I didn’t know a bad school exist in SAUSD until High School, growing up in North Santa Ana, I was exposed to different demographics such as the “White Community” many SAHS residents never knew. Suddenly past 17th, Spanish is a must. I think if a parent from Mexico is going to bring their whole family and create so many other childeren, they need to be able to read and write Enlish. There are times when I wished I was “undocumented” to recieve the same attention they get. They never grow acedically because they have been given everything. They have been baby fed through their whole education, it has lost complete value. Reading the comments about Century on OC Register made me so sad. Upper class people made comments about the overwelming number of “undc. people” and to be honest, I am starting to think enough is enough. Education come from home values, and most of the classmates that tend to fail in our system usually come from “broken homes”, where does the pity end? My mother never stopped to whine about life, instead she gave me a speech about embracing education. She told me her mistake of leaving college to be housewife, and suddenly when they got a divorce, she was left uneducated. Most students may not understand the true meaning of a dollar or education because they never had that experience in life. I believe parents and early childhood development produces good students. My concern is..Is it too late?

    Also, with immigration reform coming, I strongly believe Santa Ana has lost great respect. I feel bad for the families who may have upcoming presure. I am for education for all, but when we are impacted this much and frowned upon, where must they go?

    We can’t kick students out, and other cities do not understand because they do not have immigration problems as high as us.

    Something needs to be done now. We need more voctional programs to get certain low performing students out of core classes, so students can actually learn at a normal pace.

    This does hurt me alot, but I hope my opinion has helped a little, if not what can I do?

    Half me says “keep trying”, and the other is “Thank God I am leaving”.

    Thanks

    SAHS SENIOR

  12. You are misinterpreting what I am saying (Anonymous). I do think that teachers need on-going training (definitely), but what I am saying is that lawmakers and superintendents are not placing enough emphasis on getting the parents the help that they need. Instead, they are adding even more trainings for teachers. Yes, it is always good to get more training, but sometimes we are feeling that the money could be better spent assisting parents as well. I do respect parents & teachers very much. If I didn’t care, I most certainly would not be here trying to come up with ideas to improve the educational system in Santa Ana. In fact, I care too much (if there is a such a thing). Thanks for commenting (Anonymous) 🙂

    Regarding Promotion, most kids have been retained once already before reaching the middle schools and the district frowns upon retaining students more than once. I am hearing what you are saying…why are teachers allowing students to go on when they are not meeting the standards? Answer: I teach the younger grades and the district told us that they do not want students to be retained twice. Many studies show that retention is not helpful while few studies show that it is beneficial. It is the most beneficial to retain in the early grades.

  13. As a former SAUSD Student, I had a good public education (86-93) because of my talents, but sadly, I noticed neglect to many who were not in the same AP or Honors programs etc. I didn’t realize how much of a decline there was of integrity in SAUSD schools until I had enrolled my daughter in a Elem. School in SA, and not only was she pigeon-holed into a spanish-speaking class based solely on her hispanic last name (she even didn’t speak Spanish), I was actually racially profiled myself on SO many levels and “there was nothing they could do for me because of budget constraints”. This happened without my permission and they couldn’t even transfer her back into an all-English speaking class. This directly affected her basic learning foundation & was forced to learn at a slower pace.

    My pleas fell onto deaf ears at both administrative and board level and I was told to keep my rhetoric to myself… I felt very angry and insulted that I was being treated like this and felt bad for all the other parents who also may have experienced the same and couldn’t do anything about it – especially spanish-speakers who probably had no voice or opinion in the matter.

    As much as the District has restructured classrooms, programs & the way they treat parents, they need a BIG restructure themselves… and it starts from the TOP all the way down to the student level AND in elementary school. Many children are being left behind, are not given solid foundations and it’s really sad to see how run-down a school can look like nowadays and administrator’s wallet be on the other end of the spectrum.

    Shame on SAUSD!! The logo needs to be changed… there needs to be a change soon!!!

  14. I have lived in Santa Ana for all of my life, I am 21 years old. All throughout middle school and high school I was an honors and AP student. I felt like I received the academic attention needed because of that background. My senior yr at Century, I took a CP English class and was shocked of how the teachers undefestimated the students. Students would also play the role by complaining about all the work that had to be done. I did not feel our needs being met through that class. It makes sense for a lot of CP students to fall through the cracks when the teacher simply allows them to fail.

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