Zero Hour for Cesar Ch¡vez
Principal Axed as Charter Debate Ends, but Saving Solutions Considered
By the time you read this, chances are the fate of Cesar Ch¡vez School will have been decided by the Santa Barbara School Board, but no matter the outcome, one thing is certain: Eva Neuer won’t be the school’s principal anymore. The board is set to vote this Tuesday on the controversial issue of Cesar Ch¡vez’s expired school charter and whether or not the popular K-6 dual immersion Spanish/English elementary school qualifies for renewal. (Due to holiday week deadlines, go to independent.com/cesarchavez for the latest on the decisive Tuesday night meeting.) However, with district administrators adamant that the school doesn’t make the grade for renewal, the school’s Governance Council unexpectedly announced late last week that Principal Eva Neuer, the only principal the school has known in its 10-year history, had been fired.
With all parties involved forced to remain mum on the subject due to confidentiality laws, little is known about the specific motivation behind Neuer’s immediately effective release. Hired on as the school’s first principal in 2004, Neuer was by all accounts popular with faculty, students, and families alike-many of them testifying before the School Board in recent weeks about her fundamental role in helping the school grow over the years as well as her tireless devotion to teachers and kids. However, with the school consistently underperforming on state standardized tests-a track record that is at the crux of the charter school’s renewal debate-it is important to note that at traditional public schools, the federal government’s No Child Left Behind Act requires that, after continued low level test results, the governing school district take significant action against the offending school and, among other things, consider replacing the principal. Furthermore, at the last School Board meeting, more than one board member-along with District Superintendent Brian Sarvis, made mention of the school’s perceived lack of preemptive mobilization to meet renewal requirements. “It is very tough for us,” said Cesar Ch¡vez Governance Council President Lee Fleming about Neuer’s termination-whom she had been working closely with in recent weeks to formulate a statistically sound case for the school’s renewal-before adding, “But I cannot go into it anymore than that.” Neuer, as of press time, had not returned calls from The Independent.
In a supposedly unrelated and potentially much more significant twist, Sarvis, who has been outspoken-albeit apologetically-in his belief that the school doesn’t meet the state standards required for charter renewal, floated a proposal last Thursday to Cesar Ch¡vez representatives that would save the school from a mid-year shutdown while leaving its long-term future open for debate until early next year. (The California Department of Education has told Sarvis that the school could potentially lose funding starting December 15 if an understanding with the district isn’t reached by the end of the month.) Specifically, Sarvis proposed a scenario in which the school’s charter, which expired in October, is extended through the end of the year with the district providing “significant oversight” of the school’s day-to-day activities in hopes of improving test results come spring. The idea, according to Sarvis, is that the resolution will buy some time for the school so that the Governance Council and the community at large, which has rallied impressively in support of the school, can work together to develop a new and improved program of study. The program will hypothetically provide the foundation for a school-within-a-school program at another district elementary school next fall or, ideally, inform an entirely new charter proposal that the district would fast track for approval so as to allow for a seamless transition next school year. “I think it is a huge, huge difference from just a week ago,” opined board president Kate Parker about the tentative resolution, “Certainly it lays out a challenging process but at least it is a way forward. No one on this board wants to see that school shut down.”
For the outcome of Tuesday night’s decisive School Board meeting go to independent.com/cesarchavez.