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.

"Your governance team has changed — Dr. Sims is no longer your superintendent — and the board in recent months has not had a sharp focus on student achievement," he wrote.

McAdams did not return a call for comment, and school officials rebutted that charge.

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 a way, this was probably a welcome gesture because it's good to have a fresh start," he said.


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After Sims' resignation, the school board appointed Donald Gill, director of curriculum and instruction, as acting superintendent while it conducts a search for a permanent leader.

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.

The end of the district's reform training comes at the midpoint of what is modeled as a five- to seven-year process.

The primary goal of the Reform Governance in Action program is to help elected school officials, staff and teachers reach consensus on the district's goals and methods.

That's a message school board Vice President Claire Smith said she got loud and clear in the first training session — and heard repeated throughout the three years of training.

"I'm not sure there was much more they could offer me," Smith said.

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.

Moving forward, board members said they plan to take some of the reform concepts they learned and blend them with leadership ideas from within the district.

"It was an interesting experience," Ruehlig said. "I think we're all the stronger for it. But we're done. We're definitely done."

Reach Hilary Costa at 925-779-7166 or hcosta@bayareanewsgroup.com.