About 50 parents and teachers from Open Alternative School (OAS) grilled Santa Barbara School Superintendent David Cash about leadership changes he’s initiated on their campus, urging him to be respectful of the educational traditions holding sway at the district’s oldest school of choice. Cash recently announced that the school principal, Alex Tashma, was being reassigned as a teacher and that a part-time administrator would be appointed to help run the school. Many parents questioned why Tashma’s job description was changing — Cash declined to answer, citing personnel policies — and they expressed skepticism, sometimes pointedly, that anyone not steeped in the educational philosophy of the school (where conflict-resolution skills, for example, are incorporated throughout much of the curriculum) could do the job.
OAS was formed 33 years ago, long before charter schools were on the pedagogical horizon, and has served as a school of choice for both parents and teachers. In recent years, however, some teachers have been assigned to OAS more out of seniority considerations than philosophical compatibility. Last year, one teacher was fired after OAS parents mobilized against her, though the issues involved in that episode were more complicated than a philosophical disagreement over teaching philosophy. Cash said he attended the meeting to hear what skills and characteristics the parents and teachers thought were most important for the new administrator to possess. Likewise, he sought to reassure them that two parents and two teachers would be on the screening panel that interviewed the applicants. His, however, would be the final word.
Cash took offense at the suggestion that he didn’t care about alternative education, stating, “I believe passionately in alternative education. I have said repeatedly and publicly that alternative education is the education of the future.” OAS has also struggled in recent years with declining enrollments, brought about in part by the district’s decision to strictly limit students from transferring between school districts. With its enrollment of 160 students (grades K to 8) it’s easily the smallest school in the district and is shoehorned onto the back of the La Colina Junior High School campus.
Before the night was through, Cash would be both applauded and challenged — one speaker suggested at one point he spoke “with two tongues” — and he would learn that parents wanted things to remain as they were. But since Cash had already taken out an advertisement for the new administrator, the parents said they wanted someone who worked collaboratively rather than top-down and had experience in the field of alternative education.