Monday, July 12, 2010

Deborah Sims, Broad Superintendents Academy Class of 2005

NOTE: No mention is made of Deborah Sims on the current alumni pages of the Broad Superintendents Academy Web site.*

Deborah Sims completed her training at the Broad Superintendents Academy in November 2005 and was appointed superintendent of the Antioch Unified School District (AUSD) in California in August 2006. Amidst controversy, she announced her resignation in May 2009.

Before arriving in Antioch, Sims had been a deputy superintendent and chief of K-12 school operations for the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD).



…Gill's [Donald, Sims’ replacement] style is in stark contrast from that of his predecessor, many in the district say. The tenure of Deborah Sims was beset by controversy. It included a vote of no confidence by district teachers in fall 2008, the district's handling of a teacher suspected of accessing child pornography at school last spring, and her sudden resignation announcement in May…

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[The previous year, the AUSD school board had started in the Reform Governance in Action program via the Center for Reform of School Systems (CRSS), an organization is heavily funded by the Broad Foundation. After Sims' exit, the CRSS terminated its ties with the district. In the excerpts below, the bolded emphasis is mine]


The Antioch school district's three-year affiliation with an education reform foundation aimed at improving schools through better governance has been severed.

In a letter dated June 1, the Center for Reform of School Systems, which is supported financially by the philanthropic Broad Foundation, announced that it was ending the Antioch school district's participation in its Reform Governance in Action program.

The reason given: The May resignation of Superintendent Deborah Sims, an alumnus of a Broad training program.

In the sharply worded letter that praised Sims' leadership and criticized the school board, CRSS founder Donald McAdams said the foundation was not interested in continuing the relationship in the wake of the superintendent's departure…

Antioch school board members, who along with a handful of district officials had attended three retreat-style CRSS training sessions, said they would have fulfilled their commitment to complete the training. But President Walter Ruehlig called the decision "a blessing in disguise."…

In its three years undergoing CRSS training, the school district spent $30,000 toward instruction, materials, training retreats and visits to other school districts. Ruehlig said the Broad Foundation underwrote "far more" than that figure…

That same message, and the methods used to implement it, alienated many teachers who thought personnel at the school-site level were forced to cede their professional judgment in favor of Broad-backed philosophies.

While acknowledging that there is room for improvement in the district, Deer Valley High School teacher J Myers said he thought the reform training's top-down approach of trying to fit every district and every school into one model for achievement actually hurt some Antioch schools where unique programs were getting results.

"We were doing a tear-down when we needed a remodel, which I think is what got people upset," Myers said…

[The Broad Foundation calls their efforts “transformation.”]

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Antioch schools' embattled superintendent has announced she will resign effective Aug. 31.

Deborah Sims made the announcement via e-mail to district employees on May 21, saying she wanted to give the school board adequate time to find a replacement. In the announcement, she said she is leaving to take another position but did not elaborate.

Sims declined to comment further.

On May 20, the Antioch school board had been scheduled to complete a performance review of Sims with the help of an independent facilitator, but they abandoned it when she tendered her resignation, said school board President Walter Ruehlig.

"That's how the meeting started, so there was no need to move further," Ruehlig said. "Our core business is educating kids."

Sims' current contract was set to expire in 2011, and as part of the review the board would have decided whether to extend it an additional year. The district spent $6,000 to hire the facilitator.

Ruehlig said the board agreed not to comment on Sims' resignation beyond the "talking points" of the following statement:

"The board accepts the resignation of Dr. Deborah Sims as superintendent and thanks her for her service to the Antioch Unified School District. We wish her well in her future endeavors."

The Antioch school district enrolls 19,422 students and slightly fewer than 1,000 teachers. Sims was hired as superintendent in August 2006 for a base salary of $172,500. Her current base salary is $182,712.

During Sims' tenure in Antioch, the district began a long-range reform effort to raise test scores, lower the dropout rate, and increase student engagement.

Sims oversaw the opening of two academy high schools and the development of a third, a law academy, set to open this fall at Deer Valley High School. She also led efforts to improve the district's financial standings, beefing up the rainy-day reserves and helping it obtain an AAA bond rating from Standard & Poor's.

But her tenure also had been beset by controversy.

Last fall, 86 percent of teachers cast a vote of no-confidence in her, and the district recently had been criticized for failing to promptly contact police about suspicions that an elementary school music teacher had been trying to access child pornography from a classroom computer. The district attorney's office said the delay hindered the investigation and contributed to its decision not to charge the Carmen Dragon School teacher.

Some teachers had also complained about a lack of discipline on district campuses, saying administrators were reluctant to suspend or expel disruptive students -- a charge Sims denied.

The school board will begin its search for a new superintendent in early June.

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In an unprecedented move, Antioch teachers delivered a resounding vote of no-confidence in the district's superintendent this week, arguing that she is withholding money for raises, shutting them out of decisions affecting them and violating the terms of their contract.

Gary Hack, president of the Antioch Education Association, presented the results of the symbolic gesture to the school board before a capacity crowd as two teachers raised four large plastic bags bulging with ballots cast by those critical of Deborah Sims' management style. He held up one baggie containing the votes of those who support Sims.

Of the 863 teachers who voted -- about 75 percent of those in the district -- 837 approved the resolution of no confidence.

Hundreds of chanting teachers gathered in front of district headquarters before the meeting in a noisy display of solidarity, and once the proceedings began they paraded single-file through the rear of the board room holding hand-lettered signs aloft.

"Obviously, there is a clear concern about the ability of the superintendent to lead this district," Hack said. "The teachers have never been so upset."

Sims did not respond to attempts to reach her.

The union vote is the first of its kind in the history of the district, Hack noted, adding that the Antioch Education Association also has named Sims in a charge of unfair labor practices that it has submitted to the state.

The litany of complaints outlined in the two-page resolution of no confidence center on contract negotiations and how Sims conducts business…

Teachers also are rankled by the way Sims runs the district.

"Superintendent Sims controls the whole game," Hack said before the meeting. "All administrators are dependent on direction from her office."

Unlike her predecessor who solved problems collaboratively, he said, she embraces a top-down style…

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*The cached page of Sims’ bio on the Broad Superintendents Academy Web site is here:

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