Sacramento city's contentious school superintendent to resign, jumps ship before the storm

If Jonathan Raymond is all done with them, could we please have our schools back now?

If Jonathan Raymond is all done with them, could we please have our schools back now?

In the middle of the school year, a few months after renewing his contract, Raymond has decided his work as superintendent of the Sacramento City Unified School District is done. He wants his kids to grow up near family in his home state of Massachusetts. “Can’t blame him. I wouldn’t want my kids in a school district he was in charge of either,” a teacher friend joked.

Raymond is not an educator. He spent three years as “Chief Accountability Officer,” tracking test scores and other data for Charlotte, N.C., public schools. Before that, he was a graduate of The Broad Superintendents Academy, a 10-month program for turning businessmen into school chiefs. Before that, he was a CEO of a multimillion-dollar nonprofit for workforce training. Before that, a political dilettante: In Massachusetts in 1996, he ran as a Republican trying to oust Barney Frank from Congress, and lost 72 to 28 percent.

In 2009, Raymond parachuted into Sacramento with this eclectic résumé—unblemished by classroom experience—and soon began dictating what kind of schools we would have, and how many. He played favorites, giving the campuses in his Priority Schools program resources and protection while sacrificing others. A lot of others. He short-circuited public processes to get his way. And having had his way, he’s now ready to be on his way.

To be fair, Raymond was mildly successful at raising test scores. A slightly higher percentage of students now score “proficient” or “advanced” on standardized tests in most subjects, in most grades, than did four years ago.

Funny though, test scores took a dive during 2012-2013, Raymond’s last full year. None did worse than Leataata Floyd (formerly Jedediah Smith) Elementary School, one of Raymond’s Priority Schools, which plunged 91 points on the Academic Performance Index last year, the biggest drop for any school in the district.

None did better than Maple Elementary School, which Raymond decided to close, but which earned the highest API growth in the district.

These contradictions, and the overall nosedive in scores over the last year, should be troubling to anyone who thinks test scores mean anything. Bites does not. Raymond does: Testing and accountability are his thing. But rather than stay and try to turn those scores around, he is hitting the road.

Raymond is also ducking out on the aftermath of his school closures. The public, and even some members of the elected board of education, have been asking for months for data on how closures have affected enrollment and where all those students wound up. The district has provided nothing. By the time those numbers come out, Raymond’s bags will be packed.

Raymond also recently struck a deal with the U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, committing Sac city schools to tie teacher evaluations to student test scores. In exchange, the feds would loosen up some of the more punitive provisions of No Child Left Behind Act.

Problem is, Raymond did this without approval of the elected school board, and without asking the teachers union—who have said they’d never agree to such a wrongheaded scheme. So, it will become a collective-bargaining fight. Whether Raymond’s plan fizzles out in failure—or explodes—he’ll be safely away by then.

As for Raymond’s Priority Schools, the district has hired a consultant called Baker Evaluation Research Consulting to assess the program. Some have pointed out that BERC also does work for the Broad Foundation, which runs the Broad Academy. How likely is it that a paid consultant will come back with anything less than a positive endorsement of Priority Schools? Not sure, but it would have been nice to have some sort of evaluation of the program before Raymond bailed.

Jeff Cuneo, president of SCUSD Board of Education, says Raymond’s controversial policies will continue for now. After that, the next superintendent will decide. “He or she will have a lot of influence and power over whether these programs continue and, if they do, to what extent,” Cuneo said.

And that’s the problem, right there. Too often, the board has acted as a rubber stamp for Raymond’s plans or has been unaware of them. If board members don’t want to set policy, like they were elected to do, they probably shouldn’t be on the board.

The Sacramento City Teachers Association is hoping that the board will hire a new superintendent with an education background and a willingness to collaborate. Board member Jay Hansen says he also values collaboration, though he backed Raymond on school closures. He says, “The selection of a new superintendent is going to be a great opportunity to hear from all concerned about the direction of the district going forward.”

SCTA president Nikki Milevsky has heard it before. “Board members said how important community input was last time, too.” But we got Raymond instead.