Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Save I.S. (Letter to the Board of Education)

1 February 2011
Dear Mr. Barrera:

I appreciate the fact that you have taken a personal interest in the welfare of the School of International Studies.  It was a significant evening for our students who spoke before the Board of Education last month and I am grateful that you allowed the speeches to extend beyond the normal 30 minute period.  Please allow me to share my insight as an educator who was on the leadership team during the transition from the San Diego High School Complex at large to the configuration of small schools.

The I.S community spirit is currently at an all-time high, from both an academic and social perspective.  Evidence of the academic dedication was apparent last week when Ryan McCabe organized an IB Biology "Study Sesh" at my home on Sunday evening and thirty one students arrived promptly, eager to review for the final.  Sophia Martinez made pasta for the entire group and three rotations of small group tutorial sessions were conducted.  Inspired by the student enthusiasm and gratitude, I decided that I should offer the same opportunity for my Honors Chemistry students.  Tuesday night, 25 January,  forty five students spent two hours in my classroom (7-9 pm) working through review problems for the final.  45 students!  It is important to remember that many students came straight from work, athletics, and from taking care of family responsibilities.  It is easy to overlook the fact that I.S. students indeed have personal, physical, and financial struggles just like many other students in SDUSD.  Reading over their college essays is a painful reminder that many of our students have lived in group homes, been abused, been homeless, endured medical problems as serious as cancer, and yet have overcome such obstacles.  The environment of collective support, the peer mentoring programs, and the tolerance of people from all ethic and socio-economic backgrounds are the key to our success.  There is no other school that I know of that provides this level of support, and thus yields the outpour of enthusiasm in the manner that I.S does.  Make I.S. a model school for the district, the county, the country.  We are a success story.  Speak with our students.  Hear what they have to say about their teachers.  Ask them why they would choose to spend a Sunday evening at a teacher's home.  Why they have their teachers' cell phone numbers on hand, and feel comfortable contacting them immediately when they get their college acceptances.  Speak with our alumni.  There is a reason they keep coming back to visit, emailing us, and inviting us to visit them at their respective colleges.  For many, we are the family that they never had.  For many, we are the reason that they avoided substance abuse issues and/or incarceration.  Ultimately, we are saving the city money as we send multitudes of students off to college on scholarship, many of whom have parents in prison or rehabilitation facilities.  Finally, looking down the road, there are I.S. graduates I am currently working with, from the class of 2007, who are now applying to graduate school.  One such young man who was "at risk" during high school is in the process of applying to law school so he can advocate for other students like himself.  He cites I.S. in his personal statement as his reason for believing he could overcome societal stereotypes cast forth upon him and view himself as a competent person capable of attending college.  The effects of I.S. are everlasting.  May our school be everlasting.

Tonia Berman
IB Science teacher
Yale Educator of the Year Recipient, 2010


  1. Cutting the heart out of the IS program, at the very least, is short-sighted and myopic in perspective. Cutting WHAT'S WORKING?" While acknowledging that any further budget cuts to educational programs is painful and will directly affect students, to approach the district's dire financial situation with an either/or mentality and a slash and burn strategy, is business as usual. The entire infrastructure at San Diego High, and the IS program in particular, was designed and created by visionaries who were thinking out of the box. In the same way, that mentality needs to be governing and informing our thinking when decision-makers and stakeholders collaborate to make these decisions. There is a long history in education, well-known to those of us who have had the privilege of teaching and learning with young people, that when we cut or eliminate programs or services, they NEVER reappear again. Make no mistake. That is an either/or mentality coming from a perspective, a world view, of scarcity, of winners and losers. And we wonder why educational reform is treading water in a "one step forward, two steps back" mode? As an educational administrator who was called to the table, time and again, to participate in the dismantling of programs and services in which I had a critical part in creating. Draconian cutting never cuts it. "Shrinking The Beast" across the board, where everyone shares in managing the burden, has a stake in the success of ALL programs eliminates a "we-they" perspective where winners and losers flourish. That's not good enough for our kids. We owe them more than that. That's old business as usual. One of the greatest gifts we can give to our young people is to demonstrate wise and courageous behavior and decision-making. That hunger, that yearning, that thirst for learning that thrives in the IS program (and in my granddaughter who attends) is what we want for all kids. They look to us to see if we really mean what we say when we talk about the finest education for all kids. We can do better.
    Natalye Black,
    Former Director of Special Education
    Irvine Unified School District

  2. Thank you, Ms. Berman, for your wonderful, thoughtful letter and even more for your amazing work with our kids!!