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Over the past few weeks there has been an open letter debate between San Diego Councilmember Monica Montgomery Steppe and San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) Board of Education Trustee/Vice President Sharon Whitehurst Payne.

The beginning of the discourse was a letter we posted on May 19, 2021 from Councilmember Montgomery Steppe titled “Regarding An Open Letter on Lincoln High School”.

The letter from the Councilmember “requesting answers” to 12 questions led to multiple protestations via the media by Trustee Payne and her Board of Education Trustee “leader” Richard “Tricky Dick” Barrera.

The most recent response by Payne was an open letter that did not specifically answer the 12 direct questions from the Councilmember.  It appears instead that Trustee Payne had the SDUSD propaganda department ghostwrite a the letter insulting Councilmember Montgomery Steppe and extolling the performance of Lincoln High School via 2 cherry picked SDUSD propaganda studies and a list of 7 spurious claims.

In this Sunday Reads  we will dissect the Payne/SDUSD propaganda using the same reference materials she provided in her disingenuous response to the Councilmember.


Here is the first study referred by Payne in her letter:

A recent study by the Learning Policy Institute found students of color in San Diego Unified schools academically outperform their peers statewide

This “study” was totally debunked by “Inside Unified”, a deeply embedded source within the SDUSD organization.  In Part 3 of the 3 part series Inside Unified addresses the Marten crony propaganda study:

Linda Darling-Hammond’s Positive Outliers Report  Linda Darling-Hammond’s Positive Outliers Report examined the following SDUSD data:

  • CAASPP 2014-15, 2015-16 and 2016-17
  • Four Year Graduation Rates 2017
  • Suspension rates from 2016-17.

Her team conducted a case study in San Diego Unified School District to determine “what factors may account for the success of all students in the district and for that of students of color in particular?”

To find out which factors accounted for the data success in SDUSD, her team conducted 20 interviews with staff (12 of the 20 staff were Cindy Marten’s central office managers, and the other 8 were hand selected district office teachers and site managers/teachers)

I’m not sure this was a very objective or comprehensive span of stakeholders who could speak to the student success (or lack of success) in the district. These 20 people shared and validated a subjective and limited district narrative about student success strategies that painted Cindy Marten as an exceptional leader.

• Can you imagine how this discussion may have shifted had the interviewees not be handpicked, or if they had included the parent or community leaders from the DELAC (District English Learner Advisory Council), Special Education CAC (Community Advisory Committee), or the Latino Advisory Committee?
• Can you imagine what teachers and/or principals who were not hand-picked might have included about whether or not the initiatives included in this report were actually being implemented on the ground?
• Wouldn’t it be important to know if the efforts being highlighted in this report produced compliance or commitment?

Here is the participant breakdown for the crony Learning Policy Institute report:

We conducted a total of 20 interviews with individuals in the following positions:

  • Superintendent
  • Chief of staff
  • Area superintendents
  • Executive director of secondary schools
  • Director of College, Career, and Technical Education
  • Director of research and development
  • Director of language acquisition
  • Instructional support officers for elementary and secondary schools
  • Restorative practices program manager
  • Secondary schools teaching program manager
  • Counseling and guidance program manager
  • Director of teaching, learning, and support in secondary schools
  • Common Core support teachers
  • Family and community engagement resource teacher
  • Principals
  • Assistant principals
  • Teachers

This bogus study quoted by Payne claims it “conducted a total of 20 interviews” lists 11 specific individuals (highlighted in red) and 6 groups as interview subjects.  That leaves 9 out of the 20 interviews to cover approximately 6,500 teachers, 5 Area Superintendents and over 250 Principals and Vice-Principals.  Parents, Students and Community Members were completely excluded.

Payne also promoted a UCLA report as proof:

A companion study by UCLA’s Center for the Transformation of Schools found this success is not accidental, rather it is the result of intentional efforts to provide added counselors and other supports to high needs school communities.

Our “Inside Unified” source also debunked that study in the same Part 3 post:

In response to communities of San Diegans responding poorly to Cindy Marten’s nomination for US Deputy Secretary of Education, KPBS published an article that included comments by Dr. Pedro Noguera, the Dean of the Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California.

It said that he “led a study of the district that found it had increased both graduation and college-readiness rates for black students.” It is true that Dr. Pedro Noguera’s team did lead a study in San Diego Unified that focused on graduation and UC a-g readiness. That study is attached here: SDUSD Graduation Strategies Report

But the part of the story that he and others continue to leave out is that after the 2016 graduation rates were reported, there were many skeptics who questioned the results. In response, Trustee Richard Barrera and Trustee Sharon Whitehurst-Payne established that Board Select Committee on Graduation Standards and Strategies.

This committee included an assortment of high profile members of the local community including Mel Katz and Dr. Pedro Noguera who have recently given the media interviews in support of Cindy Marten’s nomination. The $20,0000 report of the findings from the Board Select Committee on Graduation Standards and Strategies was published with recommendations from the committee.

As members of this committee, I have the following questions for Mel Katz and Dr. Pedro Noguera:

On page 13 of the report it is revealed that 50% of the black students in the 2016 cohort left SDUSD. That is why the committee prioritized “the need for regular District reporting to the public on how entire cohorts of students are faring, who is leaving the District and why, and information on the degree to which leavers were off track to meet the new graduation standard.”

• Did you ever see a board report or presentation on student group retention rates?
• Did you ever ask to see one?
• Did you ever check up on any of the recommendations you made based on the data you saw?
• Did you ask for “Leaver data”?
• Did you follow up on the leaver data that was recommended in the report to track the “leaver” rates of special education student
• Did you ever call KPBS, the San Diego Union Tribune or the Voice of San Diego to report these inequities?

Here is the “Summary of Interviewees” from the UCLA Study touted by Payne:

Students 3
Teachers 3
Principals/Site Administrators 6
Local Area Superintendents 6
Community Organizations 1
Labor Partners 1
Central Office Staff 13
School Board 1

That’s right, out of the 34 interviewees, only 5 individuals were not SDUSD employees –

3 Students

1 undefined “Labor Partner” that represents SDUSD employees

1 undefined Community Organization that gains access to the SDUSD by cooperating with senior SDUSD leadership.

In other words, just like Payne, both propaganda studies are just SDUSD high level employees bragging about what a great job they are doing using cherry picked data and ignoring any and all valid support staff, teachers and non-employee input.

But the disrespectful demand by Payne to Councilmember Montgomery Steppe to “educate” herself with a ridiculous list of 7 Payne “facts” is even more laughable.

Let’s go down the list of 7…

1. The current leadership under Principal Brown is outstanding. Despite the pandemic, Lincoln High School had a record number of early graduates this year. Fact: This year, a record 130 students graduated early, up from 37 students in 2020, and 59 in 2019.

District Deeds Fact: Payne’s cherry picking neglects to mention how many of the 130 students are African American.  Payne also intentionally does not mention that the vast majority, if not all, of those 130 are NOT a-g UC college ready.  They likely have the most basic graduation diploma with no chance at UC acceptance.

2.  Lincoln High School has made steady progress under the leadership of Principal Brown. The percentage of African American students prepared for college and career increased by 19.9 percent last year to 43.2 percent according to the California Department of Education College Career Indicator. (Source: https://www6.cde.ca.gov/californiamodel/ccireport?&year=2020&cdcode=&scode=0114025&reporttype=sgroups)

District Deeds Fact: WRONG!!!

The 43.2% data being used by Payne is from the graduation cohort of 2019 for the 2018/2019 school year as shown below:

Our “educated” Trustee Payne who touted Principal Brown for that improvement apparently doesn’t know that Brown was not appointed Principal at Lincoln High school until the FOLLOWING 2019/2020 school year. 

In fact, for Brown’s first graduating class in the 2020 cohort, performance was WORSE by 1%!  Here is the report:

3.  Under Principal Brown, the over-disciplining of students at Lincoln has declined. Year over year suspension rates dropped from 8 percent of students to just 2.2 percent, and for African Americans, it dropped from 17 percent last year to just 2.8 percent, as a result of Principal Brown’s student-centered leadership.

District Deeds Fact:  Suspension data is easily manipulated.  One way that suspensions could be reduced is by moving most “off campus” suspensions to “on campus” suspensions.  Until Trustee Payne provides a complete independent audit of the suspensions, this is just another standard SDUSD propaganda talking point.

4. To build on this progress, Principal Brown has mobilized the community through a series of conversations on the future direction of the school. In February of this year, Lincoln held four parent forums on college and career pathways. 

The community is mobilized alright…mobilized to force the truth out of  Trustee Payne and Principal Brown.  Between the violations regarding SSC Title 1 funds to the completely dysfunctional Site and District senior leadership, the situation is way beyond propaganda filled “Parent Forums”.  Payne and Brown need to tell the whole truth NOW!

5.  The foundation of the plan for the future is a laser-like focus on getting new students up to grade level standards upon their arrival in 9th grade. The plan created by Principal Brown calls for a partner school leader to focus solely on those students, as well as additional counselors and support services for those students.

“Educated” Payne does it again and the “laser like” truth is burning a hole in her honestly and credibility.

The “partner school leader” disaster at Lincoln has proven to be operationally unmanageable.  The original plan called for Brown to take over the freshman class and follow that and subsequent cohorts with additional support services until a full 4 year support for those Students was established.  Instead that flawed strategy has blown up with the chosen “partner school leader” for Brown being jettisoned to the deep SDUSD Central Office morass after only a couple years into the so-called “plan”.

6. After students are prepared for their future, the upper grades at Lincoln will be transformed into a career academy with outstanding training and services provided for all students. This career pathway system will offer multiple opportunities. Link: LHS College and Career Pathways Presentation

Coulda, shoulda, woulda…blah, blah, blah!  Just another promise waiting to become unfulfilled.

The odds of this plan being fully carried out are slim and none and just another one of endless promises from Trustee Payne who said in a board meeting back in April 2017:

When it comes to budget and operational planning:

“We are flying by the seat of our pants.”

When it comes to collaboration, transparency and leadership:

“You’ve missed the whole point!”

Apparently Payne has progressed from a minimal critic to being Barrera’s co-pilot with the same disastrous results!

7. San Diego Unified maintains an equity based funding model that has always benefitted the students at Lincoln with additional resources. The district doubles, sometimes triples, the funding it receives from the state for each Lincoln student, meaning Lincoln is the only high school with three vice principals and five counselors.

“Educated”  Trustee Payne is implying that throwing more money and personnel at Lincoln High School is somehow going to fix the systemic educational issues at Lincoln that have been spiking since she was appointed Trustee by Barrera in 2016.  Obviously Payne is too inexperienced or willfully blind in operational management to understand that more money and personnel cannot solve the serious senior leadership deficit at Lincoln High School or in the SDUSD.

And how amazing that Trustee Payne can brag about how much money the district allocates to Lincoln while being a co-conspirator in denying a duly elected Lincoln School Site Council to spend $120,000 for a proven Cal Soap intervention plan that would have supported the neediest Lincoln Students she supposedly represents.

Trustee Payne, please educate yourself about operations and leadership before demanding more dedicated and experienced public servants to do so.

Here is your first word to look up:


Now for our quote of the week for operationally challenged Trustee Payne:

“Vision without execution is just hallucination.” – Henry Ford


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