The SJUSD Approach


The origins of the school district and teacher union partnership goes back over 20 years, when then-executive director Tom Alves and his colleagues at SJTA were early adopters of the development and implementation of one of the first Peer Assistance and Review (PAR) programs in California. 

Established in 2000,the SJUSD PAR program is a cooperative effort of SJUSD and SJTA. This program is governed by a joint union-management board and founded on the following guiding principles:

  • Ensure high-quality teaching and learning for all students in the district.
  • Collaboration and partnership built upon trust and transparency between the district and union.
  • Support for veteran teachers by teacher leaders.

This program continues today. [Humphrey, D. C., Koppich, J. E., Bland, J. A., Bosetti, K. R. (2011). Peer Review: Getting Serious About Teacher Evaluation. Menlo Park, CA: SRI International. Executive summary.]

Systemic Processes

Today this partnership continues to be the cornerstone of innovation and collaboration with the current SJTA executive director, Shannan Brown, executive board, and committee members, meeting on a regular basis with Superintendent Kern and the district’s senior leadership. The district and association teams were formed prior to COVID-19 to support many of the district’s initiatives that are aligned with the shared beliefs and theory of action to support educators and students with high-quality learning environments and outcomes. Teams developing and implementing initiatives further refined systemic processes that allowed for the rapid response of these teams to implement new initiatives and programs during the pandemic.


In Their Words

In the short audio clips below, San Juan SUSD and San Juan Teachers Association representatives explain their collaborative efforts.

There Are No Surprises

Shannan Brown, executive director of the San Juan Teachers Association:

Goes back to one of our main rules “there are no surprises” and that we try to understand each other’s political realities even though they are not our own, the fact that Kent has the community and board pushing on him for different things. We hear from our members (SJTA), who, by the way, don’t just have a member perspective. We have many teachers who are parents, so we get multiple perspectives, and we try to talk through these different issues. I do think another piece is that we are just really honest about what are our hard lines, and so far, we been able to figure out innovative or creative ways to help each other meet whatever hard lines the other feels like they need to have met in a way that does not cause me, in my role, to give up my advocacy stance, so we do not ask each other to compromise our integrity or our values in our roles in order to meet each others’ interest, but this is where the relationship comes in, is that we do try innovative and creative options, because we do trust each other to have those unusual approaches.

We Start With a Blank Slate

Melissa Bassenelii, Deputy Superintendent, Schools and Student Support, San Juan Unified School District:

It’s really an approach that we are all in a relationship with each other, this is a partnership. When I think about protocols…we met monthly pre-COVID, now daily or even check-in multiple times a day. Across the teams, the focus is to build relationships between the district and association to continue to work in partnership with each other. Can’t imagine being in a system where you have that strife and trying to move this monumental new way of education and being in conflict with each other. The teams discuss how sometimes it’s stressful, example being on Zoom for hours, but our work is exponentially better because we work together in partnership than if we would have just developed something and presented it. Members across multiple teams from the district and association meet on a regular basis to continue to build these partnerships. Observing other districts, often groups bring interest to the table, and it’s already written out, and we’ve been starting with a blank Google doc or blank pages. Instead of giving feedback on ideas, we identify interests and pressure points and then co-create the work together that needs to happen.

Kent Kern, Superintendent, San Juan Unified School District:

It’s a struggle that – Shannan and I have had this conversation about site leaders, and I think the same would be true of district leaders is this belief system in power and authority because to come to the table with a blank document you’re giving up whatever assumed authority or power you have. To be honest, it’s so highly overrated in the first place, but to come together and work on something jointly as Melissa just described, it truly co-creates. Like I even have people I’m close to who kind of nod their head at it and then walk away they say I would never do that. For whatever reason, that’s okay but I think that’s something that’s hard for people to give up.

This is a We

Shannan Brown, executive director of the San Juan Teachers Association:

Kent, Melissa, and board value the voice of practitioners as partners, so it’s a game-changer. They are not approaching it with ‘What can we force, and what can we get away with?’ Credit to Kent’s leadership and not bringing ego into this. This is a we. This is how we do it together. There’s not a need to show who has more power because as we know, this is why we have unions, because management has more power and where labor has power is in their labor. So, we understand each other’s roles, and we don’t play those games.