New Principal Takes Over Harding

Venesha Davis Faces Definite Challenges

Thursday, June 20, 2013
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Vanesha Davis had been in Santa Barbara for two weeks when she was suddenly asked to take over as principal of Harding University Partnership School this November. She did a good enough job that before the school year ended, she was named the Westside elementary school’s permanent leader.

With 80 percent of its students English-language learners and 100 percent qualifying for free or reduced lunches, the school is as challenging a workplace as it is innovative. The epicenter of Westside THRIVE, a nonprofit-fueled initiative to close the resource gap ​— ​and, therefore, the achievement gap ​— ​between poor and middle-class kids, Harding is also in its first year officially teaching the inquiry-based International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum.

The campus had taken some strides toward shedding its image as a chronically underperforming white-flight school when its new principal was removed last fall after an incident that resulted in him being reported to authorities for child abuse. (No charges were ever filed.) That’s when Davis had her number called. If she has been overwhelmed by stepping into this cauldron of challenging circumstances, one could never tell. A Lakers fan, Davis is also a big fan of former coach Phil Jackson’s leadership style. Nicknamed the Zen Master, Jackson rarely lost his placid demeanor, even among the rages of a hotly contested game.

A native of Watts, a Spanish speaker, and an aspiring interpreter/translator before getting bit by the teaching bug, Davis worked her way from teacher’s assistant to administrator in the Los Angeles Unified School District. It’s nice, she said, coming to the smaller and more personable Santa Barbara district where she isn’t just “an employee number” and she can get to know all of her colleagues. Despite the fact that this is the first full week of summer vacation, she was well into her workday when The Santa Barbara Independent caught up with her at 7:30 a.m. on Tuesday morning. Next year will be her first full one as principal and the first in which California schools must teach to the new Common Core State standards. Because there is much overlap between the Common Core and IB goals, she said, “I think we are on the right track.”


Independent Discussion Guidelines

Shocking findings from the National Council on Teacher Quality regarding teacher training in California:

foofighter (anonymous profile)
June 20, 2013 at 10:08 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Good website, foofighter! It appears there will be more of our Children for the Meat Grinder (War Machine) in the future according to the stats shown.

dou4now (anonymous profile)
June 21, 2013 at 5:43 a.m. (Suggest removal)

"With 80 percent of its students English-language learners..." and "...shedding its image as a chronically underperforming white-flight school..."

Essentially, 80% or more are illegal aliens or kids of illegal aliens and everyone with any sense or means has gotten the hell out of there, including nearly all rich and poor white folks. As much as I loathe the public teachers union even I cannot blame them for this particular educational debacle.

italiansurg (anonymous profile)
June 21, 2013 at 6:26 a.m. (Suggest removal)

grow up and do some background, foo! The NCTQ findings are hardly shocking and it's been known for a long time -- oh yeah, you just jump in foo-in-mouth for any discussion -- that most teacher training in Calif. sucks. Have you ever taken an "education" course to get a teaching credential in Calif.?? If you ever had, or spoken to a few who have taken such courses, then the NCTQ findings wouldn't be "shocking" to you.
Further, assessment of teachers is very poor, as well as assessment of principals... Part of the reason is too much of what NCTQ asserts (too much focus on cultural issues), and not enough real work on the art of teaching, but another part is the woefull state of education financing in Calif., despite the assistance of Prop. 30.
foo, try writing about stuff you understand, eh? Moronic ramblings don't help.

DrDan (anonymous profile)
June 21, 2013 at 8:19 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Actually I do remember years ago when California teacher preparation quality was being discussed as a possible cause of our failing public schools, that the finding most had been trained in CSU institutions led to the abrupt end of that discussion.

Nice to see that original speculation objectively confirmed. The entire NCTQ website is rich with information, across the nation. It is an excellent read. I hope you pass it on.

Between tenure and the CTA unions, we are stuck with what we have in K-12: the vast majority (But not all, by any means) of poorly trained teachers locked in secure employment, until they retire while getting paid some of the highest compensation in the nation.

Interesting history why this came about in California also included in its pages.

Good justification to show why pouring more money into K-12 is going to do nothing for educational outcomes, because money will not change the insufficiency of adequate talent hired in the first place, and locked in place by tenure now for the next few decades.

And before you go off on a holy tear DD and KV, I strongly support top pay for top quality - I just hope we hire all our SBUSD teachers from Univ of Redlands now. ...... if/when openings in our tenure locked-up institution ever eventually come up.

What is most disturbing is our state institutions who carry the largest load for teacher preparation, the CSU system, are so poorly ranked to have earned a "consumer warning" to not even attend these institutions for elementary teaching credentials.

Time to start picking on CSU too and not just K-12, if we truly want educational reform for tax dollars expended.

Aren't we lucky we have our very own Das Williams as chair of the Assembly Higher Education committee who oversees CSU. I am sure he will get right on it. This report will change the arguments in more ways than one, including the futility of pouring more money on an insupportable status quo.

foofighter (anonymous profile)
June 21, 2013 at 10:26 a.m. (Suggest removal)

I agree that the NCTQ is a joke, while I disagree as usual with the tired rant that lack of money is the problem. And again, the teacher advocacy groups and union have been the largest impediment to any objective evaluation of teachers in their perpetual efforts to protect their own members to the detriment of the kids. And yea DD, on a lark 6 years ago I decided to get credentialed with the thought that I might teach part time to impart some actual knowledge in science and biology. This was a depressing process and I was surrounded by nitwits...

italiansurg (anonymous profile)
June 21, 2013 at 11:52 a.m. (Suggest removal)

OK, good, so italian knows foo knows little if foo refs NCTQ. Despite suddenly adopting a conciliatory tone in his last post, foo knows very little about education or teacher assessment: see this straight news article from LA Times on June 18 entitled "New teacher training study...decries California". But the webref foo gives shows a very partisan two pages, with boldly highlighted "teacher training schools to watch out for" and its most in California, while on 3 UC and U. Redlands get the coveted 4 stars. The LA Times article carefully notes that NCTQ is political and controversial. NCTQ, for example, heavily supports using standardized test scores (so-called value-added tests) as a big part of a public school teacher's evaluation.
But I have to agree with critics that too much emphasis on developing the teacher's philosophy can get in the way of learning HOW to teach and more subject matter.
I have usually been careful to say better assessment methods and more efficient school administration is crucial to improve the schools, but more money absolutely is also needed, italian. Yeah, let's shut down all the teached education programs in Calif. except the 4 "good ones" -- save money. However, we need to REDUCE CLASS SIZES and increase the pay for public school teachers, while continuing to cut at the top bureaucratically (especially at UC). Cap pensions, agreed.

DrDan (anonymous profile)
June 21, 2013 at 12:20 p.m. (Suggest removal)

sorry, here is the L A Times article on teacher training:

DrDan (anonymous profile)
June 21, 2013 at 12:22 p.m. (Suggest removal)


I read about the study on the front page, bottom left column bottom in the NewsPress a few days ago. Headline: "Teacher education courses get mediocre marks" by Lyndsey Layton from The Washington Post.

I then googled the actual report and found its full reading fascinating. Highly recommended. No, I would not consider this a joke organization; but rather an excellent tool to kick- start the process of education reform in this state.

CSU and K-12 are inextricably linked, and need this cold light of objective scrutiny shined on both of them.

The Independent is now running its own Brandon Fastman edited-article on the same report. Best to continue the discussion there.

foofighter (anonymous profile)
June 21, 2013 at 1:33 p.m. (Suggest removal)

More special programs for illegals. Great.

banjo (anonymous profile)
June 22, 2013 at 11:32 a.m. (Suggest removal)

And what's your proof to motivate such a bigoted comment? And good riddance to the other Nazi.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
June 22, 2013 at 1:34 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Am I the only one who suspects that some of these commenters are, erhhm, arguing with themselves if you catch my drift?

zappa (anonymous profile)
June 22, 2013 at 2:39 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Planting some plastic grass perhaps?

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
June 22, 2013 at 3:29 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I thought this was to be about the new principal at Harding; interesting that there were no charges filed against the prior one who came with such acclaim, but who left disgraced with no formal charges. Good luck to Ms. Davis in that challenging environment.

But as for the comments here: Just wait for the outcry when the next test reports are done for the first year of Common Core; Harding, Franklin, Cleveland, Adams as well as the junior high and SB High scores will plummet. See the NYTimes:

Poorly educated teachers result in poorly educated students and failing test scores. I hope that the Indy will do a feature article on how the local schools are preparing for Common Core.

at_large (anonymous profile)
June 22, 2013 at 4:30 p.m. (Suggest removal)

thanks for getting us back on track, at_large, foo just rants any directionanytimeanywhere. Common Core will indeed be an issue, and I'm reading up on it. SB schools give teachers just 2 days to work on this before implementing it in the fall! Yes, scores will indeed plummet, but not so much at MUS, Cold Spring, Mountain View, Hope...same old picture.

DrDan (anonymous profile)
June 22, 2013 at 8:36 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Doesn't matter how good the teacher programs are, when 80% of the student body is English-illiterate. Harding is a complete waste of [my] money.

banjo (anonymous profile)
June 22, 2013 at 9:10 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I am surprised at just two days, Dr.Dan. An elementary school teacher friend at one of the lower performing schools has said there's been a lot of talk about it and some training this past year.

So, banjo, what would you propose for Harding and the general lower income families on the Westside? Btw, English learners are not necessarily at all English-illiterate.

at_large (anonymous profile)
June 22, 2013 at 9:39 p.m. (Suggest removal)

All students K-PhD are learning English in American schools.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
June 22, 2013 at 11:31 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Start by telling the truth at_large:
English learners is the euphemism on the left coast for sub literate kids of illegal aliens;
Mention, in addition to their economic status, their almost 100% Latino status at Harding;
Admit that Latino's do not read to their kids, a class crossing indicator of elementary performance, in sufficient percentages to give their kids a chance to do well and transforms kids rich and poor;
This particular ethnic/economic/illiterate group has defied and fallen comically below conventional integration and education curves when compared to other immigrant groups. Yes, even truly oppressed ethnic immigrant groups like the Chinese.

It is not racist to tell the truth. We cannot begin to find solutions as long as folks are intellectually dishonest.

italiansurg (anonymous profile)
June 23, 2013 at 6:02 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Of course middle class white parents have pulled their kids out of Harding as THRIVE has those children in their crosshairs.I bristle whenever I hear the mention of "closing the achievement gap-how about saying "bring up the low performers" instead.But bringing the top down is easier by simply adding another play period or eliminating homework while those low performing kids are given a chance to "catch up" all in the name of fairness.But hey-free breakfast and lunch 52 weeks a year!

garfish (anonymous profile)
June 24, 2013 at 1:25 p.m. (Suggest removal)

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