Two San Diego city schools trustees send their children to private schools, saying that, while they work to make the public system better, it does not best meet the needs of their offspring.
Trustee Shirley Weber moved her son this fall from the gifted program at Encanto Elementary School to the fourth grade at Community Preparatory School in Southeast San Diego, a private elementary academy with a focus on the self-esteem of African-American children.
Her colleague, board president Kay Davis, has put her middle daughter at University High School, the secondary school of the San Diego Catholic Diocese in Linda Vista, for her senior year, instead of continuing her daughter's study at Point Loma High School.
For Davis, it again raises questions about her confidence in public schools, an issue that has dogged her periodically since she put an older daughter at La Jolla Country Day School in 1982 for her junior high years. At the time, she said her family had problems with the discipline and curriculum offerings at area junior highs.
Both board members defended their actions in interviews with The Times after a board meeting on Tuesday, saying that the moves were individual decisions based on the needs of their children, and would not affect their ability to fight for better public schools. Weber also has a seventh-grade daughter at Gompers Secondary School and Davis has a younger daughter in her sophomore year at Point Loma High.
"I am doing the best job I can to make the (public) system better, but as a parent I do what is best for my kids, and sometimes that fits with the public (system) and sometimes it doesn't fit," Davis said. "I'll take the heat for doing what I should for my daughter."
Hugh Boyle, president of the San Diego Teachers Assn., said Wednesday that the trustees "damage the credibility of the district" by refusing to show enough faith to enroll their own children. Boyle noted that he continually criticizes public school teachers who place their children at private schools.
"I was just at De Portola (Middle School) on Monday where I asked a teacher why she would want to teach in a system that she wouldn't even put her own kid in," Boyle said. "With so many options available to kids in the district, such as magnet schools and the like, I just don't understand.
"What goes for teachers having faith in the system I'd say goes even more for school board members."
Board member Susan Davis said Wednesday that, "on balance" she doesn't believe the actions of Weber and Kay Davis present a real problem.
"If someone on the board had a long history of rejecting values in public schooling, I certainly would wonder, but I don't believe" that is the case here, Susan Davis said.
"I might feel the way they do if I felt there was no way to get a good education in the public system, but I've never felt that way because we used alternatives in the system for our own sons; our kids went to magnets."
Weber, a trustee for two years, has been a strong, vocal advocate of improving district instruction, especially for the Latino and black students who make up almost 43% of the district's 122,000 students and whose academic achievement lags behind that of white and Asian students.
Weber said the decision to move her son was not based on an academic "crisis" or problem with Encanto Elementary but rather on the "fact that there is more to child development than reading, writing and math."
"I don't want what I've done interpreted as an attack on public schools. It is not," she said.
"My son needed a different school, a smaller school which can provide more attention to individual children. I was impressed by the staff and principal at Community Prep and its whole philosophy, that it is sensitive to the needs of all kids, especially African-American males."
Community Prep, established in 1980 by Khalada Salaam, has about 51 students in grades kindergarten through sixth, with an average class size of 13. Its curriculum includes emphasis on the positive contributions that African-Americans can make to the United States and encourages black youth to have strong visions for "nation-building" in their communities by becoming businessmen or professionals, Salaam said Wednesday.
"What we do could be done in the public school, but teachers there have to see (African-American) kids as potential adults and ask whether they want them to have strong abilities and skills, and not be persons who don't like themselves, who remember teachers as not liking them," Salaam said.
Weber, in defending her decision, said that no public school in San Diego now offers the type of education she wants for her son this year.
"San Diego city schools has a ways to go for that experience to be available for all students," Weber said. "I feel bad (about the publicity) only to the extent that all parents don't have the resources that I do to be able to choose an alternative.
"So my resolve as a public trustee has not weakened and I still need to work to create a district that can provide all the alternatives.
"And while I may be criticized as a board member for having a child not in public school, I will never base a personal decision about my children on a political consideration."
Davis, an eight-year veteran who will leave the board in December, said her daughter did well at Point Loma last year, earning a 4.0 grade point average, but preferred to return to University High, where she had attended during her freshman and sophomore years.
(All three of her daughters attended La Jolla Country Day School during their junior-high years. Her oldest daughter graduated from Point Loma.)
"Academically, I think Point Loma is as good, if not better, than Uni for the most advanced students, but I think a B student gets more attention at Uni because of smaller class size," Davis said.
"And I like the religion classes, where they have hands-on ethics, they tell you how to get your personal values together. . . . We should give ethics (instruction) in public schools but it would be too controversial, people would argue how you define it."
In addition, discipline tends to be stronger at the Catholic school and parent participation more extensive, she said.
Her only regret about the controversy, Davis said, is "that every family does not have the choice that I do (economically)." For that reason, Davis favors the so-called voucher plan, where the government would pay all or a part of a child's education, whether or not parents chose to have their children attend a public or private school.
"People who know me have never heard me bad-mouth the total public system," she said. "and I've never said things are black and white, or perfect, either way."