Open Letter to Superintendent Marten

Dear Superintendent Marten,

As the president of the PTA at Birney Elementary, I am writing to ask you and the Board of Education to cancel plans to eliminate any teaching positions from Birney’s staff. Birney already exemplifies and actively works towards the Vision 2020 goals; removing a teacher to save resources in the short term will cause long-term harm to your closest neighbor in meeting the goals of Vision 2020.

As a parent who experienced the uncertainty and setbacks of having her child begin a school year with a substitute teacher until the permanent teacher could be hired, I know how disappointing and frustrating it is to have your student feel like his class is a month behind his grade-level peers. The classes at Birney have been building their communities for the past two months. To shred these bonds for an entirely new multi-grade classroom paradigm will do irreparable harm to their education. I can only imagine the drop in morale our students and teachers will suffer.

Birney already offers access to a broad and challenging curriculum per the Vision 2020 goals as an International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme (IB PYP) school, an investment begun by the District and maintained by our community, by the hundreds of thousands of dollars raised to keep our IB programs and certifications when the magnet funding from the District dissipated. The IB PYP is the cornerstone of life at Birney; its principles appear on our walls and can be recited by our students and staff. By removing a teacher and imposing multi-grade classes on the IB PYP, a program specifically designed for the educational abilities and needs of each grade level, in the middle of the year with no preparation time for staff, you are setting our teachers and students up to fail.

Birney’s enrollment is at an all-time high of 565 students. I have been told that dropping neighborhood enrollment is the reason why we are losing a teacher. Our enrollment remains unchanged between last year and this year, a fact that mystified me since I talked to many disappointed parents who could not get their children into Birney under school choice. My understanding is that more than 60 students applied for places at Birney for the 2013-14 school year. It seems incongruous to lose a teacher due to declining enrollment the same year that enrollment did not change and that there was a waiting list for places at Birney.

Considering the distribution across class sizes, the largest class sizes are in the lower grades, K through 3rd. If the trend continues—and there is no reason to believe it will not unless the number of magnet choice students welcomed to Birney is curtailed by the District—next year’s incoming kindergarten class will be a comparable size to this year’s, requiring the district to restaff another teacher next year.

Word is getting out that Birney is an amazing school. In fact, since Birney is now known for being hard to get into, some families new to the SD USD are moving to Birney’s neighborhood to ensure their children can attend. From the 2012-2013 Residency Report, it looks as if enrollment is shifting from magnet students to resident students. I trust this is in keeping with the goals of Vision 2020.

As for diversity, I have studied the District’s numbers and it correlates with what I see on the Birney blacktop every day: Birney is one of the most diverse schools in the district, drawing students of all ethnicities and backgrounds while remaining one of the few IB schools to serve a high-poverty, mid-city population. Parents send their children to Birney instead of the following Program Improvement schools: Alcott, Cadman, Carson, Field, Foster, Hawthorne, Jefferson, Lafayette, Linda Vista, Lindbergh/Schweitzer, Rodriguez, Ross, Rowan, Spreckels, Walker, Wegeforth, and Whitman.

The Birney community is working towards Vision 2020 goals by creating more opportunities for community involvement, such as our annual Passport to Adventure International Fair in the spring to the inaugural University Heights Urban Harvest Festival we’re hosting on November 2nd. We hope that reaching out to our local community outside of traditional channels will spread the word to neighborhood families about the amazing school Birney is and increase local enrollment. We are your closest neighbor; we encourage you to send any visitor who would like to see Vision 2020 personified to us.

I have faith in Birney: our teachers, our students, our staff, our families, our principal. Birney has thrived during hard times and will continue do so. Later, when people ask me about Birney’s successes, I would like to say we did it with the support of the Board of Education, instead of despite the obstacles the Board of Education set before us. Please be our partners in education and do not remove a single teacher from Birney.

Sincerely,

Kim Schultz
President, Birney PTA

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