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Vergara witness says San Diego district, teachers worked together

Mark Harris | March 10, 2014

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3-10-2014_VergaraTrialDay22_Richard Barrera

Richard Barrera

A member of the San Diego Unified School District board testified today in the Vergara v California trial that the district increased student achievement scores while managing deep budgetary cutbacks.

Richard Barrera, who has served on the board since 2008, told the court that he attributed the academic gains to creating “a culture of collaboration and teamwork between teachers and school administrators.”

The testimony by Barrera, who is also a member of the local teachers union, plays a central role for the defense case, showing that well-run school districts can close achievement gaps and overcome the state laws that plaintiffs contend deny California public school children a quality education by protecting ineffective teachers.

The case has been brought by nine students against the state, with the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers joining the defense.

Barrera, who also serves as Secretary-Treasurer on the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council, testified that a number of policies were put in place to assist schools with lower income and minority students.

He said principals were encouraged to create a teamwork approach with teachers by providing coaching and mentoring when needed. He also said additional money was devoted to English language learning classes school technology and K-3 class sizes were reduced in 30 schools.

The overall benefit of the policies, he testified, helped reduce the achievement gap between ethnic groups, resulting in greater school stability and fewer teachers electing to leave low-income schools.

Under direct examination by defense attorney Glenn Rothner, Barrera described how the district managed to avoid teacher layoffs during the state financial crisis of a few years ago.

“We had an expansion of a culture that promotes collaboration and teamwork,” Barrera said, citing a four-point strategy: Offering teachers early retirement packages; reaching agreement with the teachers’ unions on an annual five-day furlough; extending the furloughs so the district could recall teachers who were laid off; and anticipating developments in the state budget.

As a result, Barrera said between 2009-2012, most teachers who had been laid off were either recalled or had the opportunity to come back.

On cross examination, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, Josh Lipshutz, asked, “The use of the collaborative model doesn’t eliminate the need for effective teachers?” Barrera agreed.

Lipshutz then asked whether the achievement gap between Latinos and white students in the San Diego school district was still one of the highest in California. He said, “Yes.”

Previous Posts: Teacher in Vergara v California denies that she was ineffective Vergara witness says state laws governing teachers work In Vergara, a defense witness defends districts’ teacher management.

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