Wednesday, June 20 , 2018, 5:25 am | A Few Clouds 53º


Message Behind ‘Waiting for Superman’ Resonates with Local School Official

After Santa Barbara screening, Superintendent Brian Sarvis says there are lessons to be learned about the quality of public education

More than 300 people — including education advocates, teachers and politicians — packed Metro Paseo Nuevo Cinemas in Santa Barbara on Thursday night for an advance screening of Waiting for Superman, which opens in theaters nationwide on Friday.

The documentary, directed by Davis Guggenheim, who also directed An Inconvenient Truth, follows five American students as they navigate the public education system in their current school districts, and then the charter schools they’ve pinned their hopes on attending.

The Holden Foundation’s Todd Capps and Tina Fanucchi-Frontado introduced the film, and said that although the group was not endorsing the message, they were trying to foster a dialogue and encouraged viewers to leave their assumptions out the door.

The screening served as a kickoff event for the Holden Foundation’s plans to host a series of community dialogues. Education, housing, violence and gangs, social inequality and environmental stewardship will all be part of the upcoming nine-month discussion series.

The film touches on controversial topics, to say the least. The effectiveness of school boards, the achievement gap between rich and poor students, powerful teachers unions and tenure are some of the highlighted issues. Culminating in a heartbreaking lottery scene in which the few who are chosen are joyfully allowed to attend charter schools, while the tearful countenance of the unchosen pulls at the heartstrings of the viewer.

After the film, Brian Sarvis, superintendent of the Santa Barbara School District, talked with Noozhawk and shared some of his thoughts on the film.

He said that many of the topics in the film resonated with issues facing the Santa Barbara district. The film points out that one in five charter schools fails, and Sarvis said the re-evaluation of Cesar Chavez Charter School — now Adelante — was a similar situation. The dual-immersion school was evaluated by the school board earlier this year, but allowed to reopen with conditions.

Dealing with teachers unions also can be a struggle, Sarvis said, as is removing poorly performing teachers. He said that even after 3½ years of negotiations and nearly $800,000, one local teacher was allowed to remain in his position after being accused by district officials of issuing physical threats and making sexually inappropriate comments.

And the lottery scene in the film? “That was painful,” Sarvis said. “Children should not have to go through that.”

“This movie is all about what we signed up for,” he said. “It shouldn’t matter where a child lives in terms of the education they receive.”

Sarvis said that an increased amount of testing has led to improvements within the district recently, and that teachers working with other teachers can help one another improve.

“We cannot allow students to fail,” he said.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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