Sunday, December 27, 2009
As we approach New Year's Day 2010, Los Angeles Academy Middle School has much to be thankful for. Below are some factors that have helped keep our school together, in spite of forces trying to tear us down:
1. Maria A. Borges, Principal
This dynamic principal is tough as nails and has managed to put together an outstanding group of teachers and support staff that has allowed our school to thrive in difficult circumstances. The secret to her success? She doesn't care about winning popularity contests. She will ONLY do what she believes to be in the students' best interest, and doesn't hesitate to overrule something she thinks is misguided. Arne Duncan is running all over the country trying to figure out what works in education but all he needs to do is pick up the phone and call our Principal.
2. The Teachers
Our LAAMS teachers have gone above and beyond the call of duty to plug in the holes caused by the Reduction in Force at LAUSD this year. We lost over 20 teachers, causing a tremendous disruption in the fabric of our school community. Our remaining teachers have filled in as substitutes during their vacations, welcomed and acculturated new staff members, conducted extra supervision and monitoring in hallways and stairwells (to combat correlating increase in student misbehavior), made do with less money for field trips, supplies, and professional development, and in some cases, made do with little to no pay due to the Business Tools for Schools debacle that continues to live on in the lives of many a school district employee. Our spirit is being tested, but it will take more than a few cuts to bring us down.
3. Union Leadership
Melissa Naponelli and Joe Zeccola have done the best they can with having to be the bearers of bad news all year, and it just doesn't get any better. In spite of the somber financial landscape, they have instituted a Google news group to keep staff informed about upcoming votes, issues, and mobilizations, organized several large protests that have garnered particular attention to our school's experience with the budget cuts, and formed a functional Staff Association that celebrates staff birthdays, and other special events.
We are still in a precarious position; there are several unfilled positions manned by our homegrown RIF'ed teachers, but at this point, we will leave well enough alone. It seems all the District has left to send us are the teachers no one else wants. We would much rather keep our excellent new teachers for as long as they are willing to serve as substitutes.
Our new staff members who were reassigned to our location are 50/50 about whether they will stay and continue their career journey with us. Although signs are promising, it is difficult to foretell. Continuity in staffing is a HUGE issue for the South Central community. The students need to know that the teachers who know them will be around next year to share their knowledge of them with their new instructors; that they will know who is in extra need of TLC due to a death in the family, a father in jail, or a past history of abuse; that they will hold them accountable to perform at their highest possible level and will not allow them to slack off.
The students, are valiantly struggling to keep their heads above water in a year where they have been assailed by a broken economy and neglect by those assigned to protect them. In this blog, we asked for the School Board to mitigate the effects cuts would have on South Central schools, and there was no such effort made for us. We bore the brunt of the cuts, and we consoled the children who lost important figures in their lives, a disappearance that these kids may not recover from. Our thoughts our with our students who have been made homeless by this economy, and who show up to school every day, wanting to do better, because they know education is their way out of poverty.
The "Public School Choice" movement is one of deep concern for many educators. Those of us who chose to work with children before it became trendy, and those of us who will continue after the charlatans are gone, are concerned as to the long term effects that a widespread increase in charters may have on public education. We are concerned with the students left behind by charters; the narrowing of the curriculum in all schools in the effort to brag about test scores; the movement in the media to discredit the teaching profession and to turn teachers into cheap labor, something that if it happens, will be to the detriment of the entire nation.
We are not looking for kudos, or even a modest raise (LAUSD has absconded with our Cost of Living Adjustment for the last several years). We want the public to keep their eyes open, ask critical questions, follow the money, and support local neighborhood schools.
This blog will continue, in 2010, to report from the epicenter of the LAUSD budget cuts, and we appreciate the support we have received from fellow bloggers and educational activists. Feliz y prospero año nuevo! Happy New Year everyone!
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Read article about Kate Conrath's run for the Long Beach School Board here.
The LAAMS community supports and wishes Kate Conrath the best of luck in her race, because we understand that our talented teachers, relegated to sub work, won't sit around and wait forever.
Saturday, December 12, 2009
Lamar Queen signing autographs for his fans
Lamar Queen with AvalonSensei, teacher/blogger
LAAMS teacher Ha Nguyen and Jimmy Pascascio
Former students come out to support Mr. Queen
LAAMS teachers support their talented colleague
Video Director Jimmy Pascascio with My Dear Aunt Sally, former student Whitney Parham
Its not as fun to read about real teachers that reflect the best that LAUSD has to offer: educators with a passion for for their craft, amazing talents, abundant creativity, a commitment to students and their families...
Close to 100 teachers, community members, and fans came out on Saturday, December 12, 2009 in spite of heavy rain, to support the release of Lamar Queen's Mind of a Mathman CD and DVD of educational math songs/raps. The South Central community celebrated the accomplishments of Lamar and Video Director Jimmy Pascascio in the culmination of their two year long project on creating resources for teachers that will engage and empower students to improve in math.
But that's not as exciting as reading about the 1% of teachers who do poorly in the classroom and have to sit in District rubber rooms for their transgressions.
Lamar Queen was laid off in June, due to his lack of seniority in LAUSD. He could have chosen to work at a charter or in the private sector due to his talents, but chose to stay at LA Academy because he was committed to his students and community. He took a pay cut, has to work in multiple classrooms all year long to keep his benefits, and is basically doing the same work for less pay. Way to go Milton Friedman!
All we hear in the papers are how teachers are responsible for the state of education today and how Fremont HS down the street needed reconstitution in order to make progress
Jimmy Pascascio saw Lamar Queen perform his Slope Intercept Rap at our annual holiday luncheon in 2007 (its a tradition to have new teachers perform for the veterans as a way of building camaraderie at the school) and offered to help make a video of his song. The video has garnered close to 50,000 hits on you tube since it was posted 1 1/2 years ago. Both teachers won multiple awards for their work, and have performed in various schools to promote math education in a way that today's youth find engaging and enjoyable.
But newspapers want to harp on the greedy teachers' union and how teachers are against reform
Funds from the sales of the CD's and DVD's will be reinvested in their newly formed educational company, Music Notes, where they will help teachers write songs and create videos in other content areas to continue to improve education. A portion of the sales will go to fund scholarships for students to pursue the arts outside of South Central LA.
Perhaps when teachers protest about cuts and layoffs its because we don't want to lose teachers like Lamar Queen and Jimmy Pascascio; because we know how desperately students in hard to staff schools need teachers like this; because we know that finding teachers who care AND want to work in tough parts of town AND want to stay for a significant length of time is worth fighting for and preserving, but...that wouldn't be compelling enough to write about
To see clips of Jimmy and Lamar's videos visit: http://www.youtube.com/user/musicnotesonline
To purchase Mind of a Mathman visit musicnotesonline.com
Sunday, November 29, 2009
We have to wonder why the District refuses to offer a clear look into their books so the units can make suggestions for cuts away from the classroom, instead of continuing the strategy of laying off teachers (and raising class sizes) to balance their budget. We wonder why this news was announced with such little time for meaningful negotiation. Perhaps it is part of the new trend to usher controversial proposals through with little time to allow for dissent.
Should teachers receive a wage reduction? If there is nowhere else to cut, then it must be considered. But the consequences of these cuts bode poorly for a district already reeling from years of cuts and mismanagement. Dual teacher households may reach the point where it makes more financial sense to keep a teacher at home for child rearing. Teachers with other viable work options will bolt, as did teachers last year who left en masse to charter schools, neighboring districts, and other jobs. Future teaching candidates will understandably not consider entering the teaching profession due to its lower wages that cannot possibly pay off their student loans in their lifetimes. In other words, the best and the brightest candidates will not become teachers. The quality of the teaching ranks will drop.
And schools? We will see more of what we see now, at this school. Lots of new faces, as teachers get shuffled around the district, students feeling abandoned and not cared for, a rise in discipline infractions as new teachers are still learning the culture of their new school and students take advantage of it, a HUGE gap in learning as people refuse to work in "the ghetto" and classes stay unfilled with rotating subs almost every month, schools not meeting their API and getting branded as failures, charters swooping in like vultures promising to be the solution to education's ills, and finally, a permanent fragmentation of a school district with good schools for certain students, and public ed schools for the most disenfranchised.
Gloomy outlook? We wish. We hope to be wrong about this. But as a school, and as educators, we predicted every step that would happen so far in this year of cuts and layoffs. The links in the sidebar also document the very real results of cuts in classrooms all over Los Angeles.
The Superintendent will say there is no other choice. He will refuse to discuss details of his programs or answer questions about how the school giveaway movement may have added to the deficit for next year. But the Super will have his way, because the School Board will fear he will quit, as he threatened to do last year, if his budget doesn't get passed. Where are the philanthropists when we need them? Oh that's right; they are helping the charters, with millions of dollars in assistance during this difficult time. But who will help us?
image from lh5.ggpht.com
Thursday, November 26, 2009
"I am thankful for having great teachers that care for me. Also, all of my teachers push me cause they know that I am smart but they know I don't show it. They also give me tips and comments to help me do better. I am also thankful because this year is going real fast and I just have to wait 5 months so my Dad could come home from prison and be with me for a long time like a father should do."
Valerie*, 7th grade, Honors
"My plans for Thanksgiving are to volunteer at a program and we are going to give the homeless people food. Another thing that I will be doing is hanging out with my family. I am always going to remember that day."
Susana*, 7th grade, ESL
"I am thankful for having my family with me and my plans for Thanksgiving are making food for my family and just celebrate with my family. I think that some people from my family are going to get drunk but they are not going to drive because that is illeagle to U.S.A."
James*, 7th Grade, Honors, living in a homeless shelter
"I am thankful for many things. I am thankful most for God waking me up to see another day and almost another year. I am also full of thanks for God has blessed me with a roof over my head, clothes on my body, shoes on my feet. Most of all food to eat. I am also thankful for being free. For living in a world full of freedom. I am thankful for my teachers. Without them, I wouldn't be able to do nothing in my life. Most of all, I am thankful for my family."
*not students' real names
image from zwani.com
Monday, November 23, 2009
Lamar was one of the few teachers who chose to stay at our school and work as a substitute, in spite of having other options as a gifted math teacher. We are lucky to still have him on staff.
This talented teacher has just completed his first album of math raps, and will be having a release party at Horace Mann Middle School on December 12th, at noon, in the MPR. If you enjoyed his funky Slope Intercept Form rap, or the catchy PEMDAS rap, then you will enjoy the rest of his masterful creations, such as the Quadratic Love Song and Distance Rate Time. The public is invited!!! Copies of the CD and DVD will be available for purchase and autograph.
For those of you who cannot make it, you can visit his new website, musicnotesonline.com and purchase materials there. You can view clips of his new material at the musicnotesonline channel on youtube here. A portion of the sales will go to the continued development of new instructional materials for teachers and to support students in arts instruction via scholarships and other types of support.
In a time where all news seems to be bad news, Lamar Queen's dedication to education and innovation are a bright spot in dark times.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
It has come to my attention that this week, a flyer was circulated by an unknown person, or persons, in an attempt to misinform parents about charter schools and to falsely imply that their immigration status could be in danger if they choose to enroll their child in such a school.
Without a doubt, this flyer was beyond unethical; it was perverse. Preying on the fear and fragile vulnerabilities of families in this district is the antithesis of what educators stand for and have a long history of fighting against.
Today, you chose to hold a press conference in front of the UTLA building to denounce this flyer, implying, just like the flyer, that UTLA members such as myself, were responsible for its creation and distribution. I am disappointed that you would imply that the thousands of educators who fight every single day to provide students and their families with a quality education could be responsible for this singular act of cowardice. Not only have we persevered in the face of budget cuts, massive layoffs (20 teachers at my school), and payroll errors, but now we must face being painted in broad strokes as deceitful, underhanded people who would abuse the very people we have chosen to serve.
Ms. Garcia, if you want to promote the privatization of public education, that is your choice. But today you offended the sensibilities of educators throughout the city of Los Angeles. Your press conference cast aspersions on not one individual, or two, or three, but on the entire teaching force that is UTLA. In social studies, we teach that people are innocent until proven guilty. In English classrooms, we teach students to cite evidence from the text to support their assertions. By holding this press conference in front of the UTLA building without clear evidence to prove they are responsible for the flyer, you have done no better than the perpetrators, who have used the public's lack of awareness of school issues to plant seeds of fear, lies, and distrust. If you have evidence that UTLA was somehow responsible for this act, I for one would like to see it. Otherwise, all you have accomplished today is the further alienation of the teaching force, and the continued fragmentation of a district that is in desperate need of cohesion, and courageous leadership.
Leticia (Martha) Infante
2009 CCSS Teacher of the Year
Los Angeles Academy Middle School
Sunday, November 8, 2009
The people who are champions for public education are being drowned out by the overwhelming negative publicity provided by media and self-proclaimed champions of the people such as Ben Austin of the so-called "Parent Revolution."
In our moment of need (by our we mean the students, parents, and teachers of impacted communities such as South Central who see past the false rhetoric of these corporations disguised as grassroots parents seeking change), our leaders are nowhere to be found. Some are musing alliances with the School Board, some are fighting forces within the union (subs vs. RIF'ed teachers), and some are silent, for reasons not understood.
This week, a sign of mobilization arrived.....via a student. Yes. A student. This brave child approached our union rep and asked her to sign a petition to prevent outside forces from conducting hostile takeovers of neighborhood schools. The rep, shocked to hear about this petition from a child, and not the union, was confounded and at a loss for words.
What is our school doing to stave off the intrusion of companies who seem to be preying on our schools in their time of financial crisis and need? Continuing to provide excellent service to our students and parents, via communication, meetings, and parent conferences. By strengthening our instructional program that involves not just the core curriculum, but enrichment of it via differentiated instruction, field trips, and extracurricular activities, such as the 9k run by the Students Run LA team over the weekend. The number of teachers who offer individual, unpaid tutoring for students on a regular basis is hugely commendable, but not known to the greater public. The way our teachers have closed ranks to assist in the unfilled positions created by the budget balancing (yes we still have unfilled positions in the 5th month of school) is admirable, because many of those filling in are our homegrown RIF'ed teachers who have stuck by the school in spite of the dismal treatment received by the powers that be.
So this week, we thank the real grassroots parents who are organizing, to prevent schools like ours from being further stripped of the stability so greatly needed in South Central L.A.
image from wsta.org.uk
Sunday, November 1, 2009
At first glance, it sounds like democracy in practice. Parents should have a say in their child's education, and if something isn't working, then they should have a voice to change it. Then, questions start popping up as I think of some events that have recently occurred at LA Academy:
- Quorums not met at school governance councils because parents sign up and then drop out
- A parent yelling at the principal because she enforced the LAUSD no cell phones on campus policy with her child
- Second, third, and fourth reminder letters for parents with failing students who have not attended a single parent meeting with their child's teachers this year
This implies schools have a HUGE responsibility to do right by parents. Most do the best they can. Teachers hold "donut chats" and host potlucks, paying for food out of their own pocket to entice parents to the meetings. But unlike charters, we cannot mandate parental participation. With this new "trigger" policy, you are leaving decisions about education to parents who have previously not been involved (therefore may not fully understand) the way a school functions.
Just on Friday, a parent of a student transfer insisted upon placing her child in Honors classes. She came with no records, test scores, or report cards, and upon checking with his old school, his grades were dismally woeful and test scores indicated a need for remedial classes. Yet she wanted him in advanced classes. This parent had heard somewhere (erroneously) that only the Honors classes were of any worth at this school. So no matter what, her child was going to be in those classes. It will take a long conference on Monday to disabuse her of this notion.
Now, parents such as this one and the cell phone parent, and countless others, can be approached by professional organizers in their homes, and be asked to sign a petition in order to "change the way things are"*. This does not make sense. If a parent trigger was to be instituted, I would think it would only be given to those parents who have committed themselves to participate in their child's education, even if at minimum it is by attending the two parent conferences a year. Ideally, it would be afforded to those who have attended the Student Orientation, Back to School Night, Team potlucks, the Recognition Ceremonies, and the individual parent conferences requested by teachers. Instead, the LA School Board continues supporting an outside system, the charter school system, that in this educator's opinion is leading our parents out of the frying pan and into the fire.
Transferring management of schools to charter school operators, who by and large are private companies (even if they have non-profit status) is basically giving up on public education. If Arne Duncan, President Obama, and all the gazillionaires out their put there focus and effort into improving the public education system that accepts ALL students, you would see a marked improvement immediately. Give each public school the $10 million in outside funding that Green Dot sought for Locke, and you would see scores actually go up. But instead, you fail fragile schools by firing their teachers, not coming through with qualified replacements, and when things don't go well you label them as "failures." We don't buy it.
image from cybershooters. org
*Let's not even get into the allegations made at the school board meeting that Garfield HS parents were actually paid to sign that school's petition.
Sunday, October 18, 2009
"As an educator, neither competition, threats, coercion, or merit pay will improve my teaching ability. Money doesn't keep me up at night wondering how I can sneak food to my homeless student so that his friends don't see. A bonus doesn't compel me to spend endless hours preparing lesson plans to make class informative
and meaningful for my students. There is no sum that can buy the feeling I experience when a student finally 'gets it' and it changes his/her life. For many educators, no one can hold us to a higher standard than that to which we hold ourselves. This motivation, this calling, is something to which most teachers gravitate, certainly not for the salary and the demeaning treatment we receive in society today. And for the record, I would never have dared to compare myself as a new teacher, to the many wise veterans who guided me and molded me in my early years of teaching. Experience matters in teaching, as it does in medicine, science, and countless other professions."
image from credit-blog.creditfyi.com
Saturday, October 10, 2009
So let's get this straight: LAUSD fires thousands of teachers, South Central is hit disproportionately with 40% of these, LAUSD sends us permanent teachers in an untimely manner, then takes them back without regard to the children in the classrooms? Truly, if South Central isn't bearing the brunt of these cuts, who is? How many more new staff will be pulled back to their former positions, causing disruption to all involved?
You cannot replicate the quality of the instruction of a permanent teacher even with the most capable substitute. The students know they are not permanent, and they subconsciously don't give it their all, because why should they? The sub is not going to be around long enough for parent conferences, or to impose consequences.
We have noticed an increase in discipline problems perhaps due to the large number of new faces on campus. I suppose the kids go through a hazing process with new staff, and we have seen troubling trends emerging from more crew activity, graffiti, and downright defiance. It is disheartening to see regression when the last 5 years have been nothing but forward movement.
Our B track RIF'ed teachers have decided to take a couple of weeks off before they return to work on the 24th of this month. Subs will teach those positions for at least two weeks, and then C Track RIF'ed teachers will take over those spots. However we do not know what impact this week's UTLA decision will have on whether we can select our own Rifters for these spots or whether we will have to work from some list. It is probably nothing to worry about, because in spite of job shortages, people still don't want to come down to South Central.
It is difficult to maintain positive growth on the API in any given year. These unfilled positions don't bode well for this year's academic performance. Yet if we do not meet our target, we will be branded a failing school, and none of the real reasons for this will be presented. I hope this blog will be testimony to the unjust policies we have had to endure in order to keep serving the students in our community.
Sunday, October 4, 2009
Our school continues to work with new staff who are still adjusting to working at the middle school level, since the majority of them came from elementary and high school. One has left the school this week, leaving us with another unfilled on B Track. Teachers serving in the capacity of substitutes (due to being laid off in the Reduction In Force) are being hired back slowly, but seemingly without rhyme or reason. B Track teachers on vacation have had to work as subs on A or C tracks to maintain their health benefits, but when they return to their "own classrooms" at the end of the month they will not have had had any rest or vacation, unless they take time off, which results in a day to day sub covering their current assignment. One such teacher was clearly upset at having to relinquish a class of students who were in dire need of a permanent teacher. It took all her skill to be able to maintain order of the class and to actually teach, and she know a day to day sub will struggle tremendously when they take over.
Speaking of benefits, we received notice that teachers' health benefits will be changing next year, and we will see an increase in co-pays if we select to maintain services with the UCLA Medical Group or Cedars Sinai Medical Group. To read about the changes, click here.
On another note, our air conditioning gave out the latter part of the week, and we wondered how a 10 year old school can have so many air-conditioning problems. Some buildings have never had air-conditioning due to unfinished labor in the original construction, but by the time the request for service had been turned in, we were told it would take at least a couple of years for it to be completed. The monster that is the bureaucracy in LAUSD does not win any fans when you are trying to teach a class full of middle schoolers in 95 degree heat.
Finally, we are curious to see how the battle for the Construction Division turns out. Do we really want to go back to the good old Belmont days? As someone who works in 95 degrees June-October, I say pay Guy Mehula his money!
image from hubpages.com
Saturday, September 26, 2009
We grimly noted that both Carver MS and Jefferson HS however, are on the dreaded takeover list. We hope their staff and faculty pull together to out forth a strong plan for the benefit of all of their students. We also wonder which organization will have what it takes to turn around troubled schools such as these, since Green Dot has yet to prove it can do so at Locke HS.
This week we were NOT surprised to learn that many classrooms across the district are overcrowded, some with no seats for the students. We knew this would happen (its chronicled in this very blog), but there is no joy in having been able to forecast this development. Students at this very moment are being robbed of individual attention in many non-Title 1, non-QEIA schools, and no student anywhere should have to sacrifice their education and future because a district can't manage its money.
For the countless numbers of people who accused teachers of being greedy for wanting to save jobs, maybe now you will realize that our fight was first and foremost about the children. Many of the laid-off teachers quickly found jobs elsewhere and are doing just fine. But the same cannot be said of the broken system left behind in the wake of massive layoffs.
Of Cortines' revised criteria, we can't help but feel it has the markings of an arbitrary selection process. It seems like in the end, it was known that in reality, LAUSD and the CMO's only had the capacity to take on 12 struggling schools, so they manipulated the data until this number was reached. It makes more sense to look at the last 5 years of a school's progress and use that data in combination with actual school visits and interviews of parents, teachers, and students. You can tell very quickly how functional a school is simply by walking into the main office.
Our plan for now is to continue working with the new staff members, about 10 so far, and acclimate them to our school instructional plan, our unique bell schedule and team system, so as to be able to continue our forward progress academically. We will keep readers posted with our progress.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Saturday, September 19, 2009
Less than 21% proficiency in either Math or ELA no
Less than a 10pt growth in API no
Program Improvement Status of 3+ yes
Greater than 10% dropout rates does not apply
We meet only 1 of the criteria, PI 3+ status, so we should be exempt from takeover this year. However, as we understand it, the L.A. School Board called a meeting this past week to support SB51 which will require that 5% of all struggling schools be eligible for a takeover. While we may be out of the fire this year, it is no guarantee we will remain a public school in perpetuity.
Why is the School Board in such a rush to abdicate their authority?
Los Angeles voters are correct when they demand accountability from schools. Their taxes are paying for schools. But in this democracy, public schooling is a right guaranteed to everyone. We elect our leaders to oversee public schools, for the benefit of all members of society. Voters did NOT elect Steve Barr or Antonio Villaraigosa to run schools. Why are our school board members giving away schools or as Superintendent Cortines put it, letting them be stolen?
Whatever the reasons, this school community is buoyed by our latest accountability reporting marks, and hope to maintain our sustained, incremental growth in academics so that we can keep providing students a quality education in South Central.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Saturday, September 12, 2009
image from laamschampions.org
Teachers at this South Central Middle School are conflicted about writing a proposal to manage
our school. Thanks to NCLB, we are deemed to be a "struggling school", even though our test scores have gone up every single year in the last 5 years. Now, thanks to the Flores-Aguilar plan, our school is up on the auction block, for anyone to bid on.
Should we write a plan? Just who is we? The union? The teachers? The instructional leadership group? The arts department?
Teachers are educators, not business plan writers. Nor, do we want to be. We want to teach. We are in the midst of a new school year, are getting to know our students, and are excited about new projects and initiatives we are trying out this year. We start at 7:30 am and literally do not stop with all our teaching, team meetings, parent conferences, in-services, faculty meetings, department meetings, until 4:00 pm. Then, we try to have decent time with our families. We don't want to write a plan. We want to lesson plan.
We wonder why we even have to write a plan, when this is what people in Beaudry have been paid three times our salaries to do over the last 10 years. Where are those plans? Why didn't they work? Was anyone held accountable for that?
Three years ago, we wrote a comprehensive plan that combined our single plan with the high priority school plan. It took a massive effort from a team of teachers, coordinators, coaches, and administrators who missed significant time from the classroom (reluctantly) to complete this required task. For a bureaucratic document, it turned out pretty darn good. Our plan guides everything we do as a school, and our results show it. Why reinvent the wheel?
The cynics in our school doubt we will even be considered for a takeover due to our progress, and due to not being a shiny new school in PI5+ status. They figure there are not enough organizations out there to handle the capacity of managing 250+ schools, and certainly not many who have the "perseverance" to work in a challenging neighborhood such as the one in which LAAMS is located.
According to the Superintendents most recent email, we have just weeks to submit a proposal. Unfortunately, we do not have a Megan Reilly on staff to handle the numbers for us. So for now, the teachers are sticking to what they do best: being there for the students, and changing lives, one student at a time.
Monday, September 7, 2009
Teachers in South Central choked on their coffee this morning while reading today's editorial in the L.A. Times. We are pleased that this important conveyor of information realizes that the elimination of unions, especially in professional fields such as teaching, is to the detriment of all Americans.
You cannot turn teachers into cheap labor. None of today's leaders (or editors at major newspapers) were educated by "dispensable commodities." Why should we condemn today's children to be educated by people who see teaching as a paycheck, on the road to bigger or better jobs? Will people with school aged children or grandchildren really feel comfort and security knowing their children are in good hands when the instructor is a 23 year old whose only knowledge of the teaching profession is a 40 hour boot camp that focuses on crunching the numbers of the periodic assessments? Or, on the first day of school, do they want to entrust the care of their precious child to a person for whom teaching is their chosen profession, their craft, their passion, and whose commitment to children and education is an unwritten social contract that doesn't compare to that of privatized educational company employees? I think we all know the answer to that.
One bone to pick with this editorial is the contention that unions have been against reform. Could it be that any said opposition (no one ever mentions what actual reform was opposed) was motivated by a better understanding of students than say..a newspaper reporter or politician? Or that teachers in the classroom can tell you off the bat whether a reform will really work, or not?
LAT isn't off the hook yet, though. The role it played in the passage of the Yolie-Flores Aguilar motion is evident to anyone who keeps up with education politics in L.A. First, you demean an entire profession by focusing your reporting on the less than 1% of teachers who have been accused of wrongdoing, then you sing the praises of one public school that turned charter (minimizing their equally low scores and unsustainable funding), and finally you endorse the proposal to hand over control of a significant number of public schools to private operators. I wonder if when Villaraigosa boasted of having six votes in his pocket, he already felt he had public opinion behind him thanks to LAT? Teachers will wait and see if LAT truly means the words written today.
And finally, this editorial explains that long-held rancor of the LAT towards unions. We're sorry your building got burned down in the early 20th century, almost 100 years ago, courtesy of anarchists/union rogues. But you are right to assert that job protection and security is pivotal to the health and well-being of the teaching profession. In the classroom, it is a beautiful thing to see when a child reaches his moment of understanding. Today was a beautiful morning.
Sunday, August 30, 2009
For those who believe the Yolie Flores Aguilar Resolution that turns over management of public schools to non-public entities is not about business interests who fiercely believe in a completely unregulated free market, read the blog entry below written by a proponent at the Cato@liberty blog.
America’s large urban school districts are often the lowest performing, least efficient, and most resistant to change. The poster children for this reality are perhaps Detroit and Washington, DC, but the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) has long been in the running as well.
Yesterday, there was a sign that LAUSD would like to get out of that race for the bottom: the district’s school board voted 6 to 1 in favor of a plan that would hand up to a third of its public schools over to private management. Ignoring for a moment the question of how well this policy will work, it is categorically, undeniably, a sign of change. In the past, such private contracting arrangements in large districts have usually been the result of state or mayoral takeovers. This is the first case that comes to mind in which the plan was the product of an elected school board that has just had enough with its own administrators’ unsatisfactory performance.
Keep in mind that school board elections suffer low-turnout, and that support for candidates is dominated by public school employee unions looking out for their own members’ salaries and job security. If THAT process can produce such a clarion call for parental choice, competition, and diversity in educational provision, times ARE changing.
Now let’s stop ignoring the question of whether or not it will work. There’s not a whole lot of research on the subject. The most recent and detailed review of a similar contracting-out arrangement in Philadelphia, by Harvard’s Paul Peterson and Matthew Chingos, finds that non-profit management organizations in the city underperformed the district somewhat in reading and math, though the reading difference was statistically insignificant. The same study found that for-profit management organizations outperformed the district in both subjects, though the reading difference was again statistically insignificant.
Honestly, though, I don’t think anyone believes that the LAUSD plan was the result of a painstaking comparison of all the policy options and the choice of the one most supported by the empirical research. It is a cry of frustration with the status quo, and an implicit recognition of what most people already know: monopolies are bad at giving consumers what they want at a reasonable cost; choice and competition drive up quality and drive down costs in every other field, so why not bring them to bear in education? And finally, the LA school board’s action represents a desire to get something done NOW, that is actually within the board’s power to accomplish.
My sympathies are with the board members who are trying to make a positive difference within the system we have, but the question for voters and legislators is: why stick with the status quo at all? Why not open up the field of education to all the freedoms and incentives of the free enterprise system, rather than trying to cobble together a pale, ad hoc immitation of it? Because what the massive body of international scientific evidence shows is that the freest, most market-like education systems are the ones that outshine public school systems by the greatest margins.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
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They say you should wait to write a response when you are frustrated or disappointed. This school community is outraged at the passage of the Flores-Aguilar privatization act. So after waiting two days, we will attempt to share how teachers in South Central are reacting to the news that schools such as ours, LA Academy, might be outsourced to a private organization.
1. School board decisions have a way of trickling down to us in a different incarnation. When the layoffs were announced in March, we knew that if our young staff was laid off, few veterans would want to take their place down here in South Central. We were right. We continue to have unfilled positions, some taught by the very same laid-off teachers who are working in their own classes at substitute pay sans benefits. This is free market theory at its clearest. We think its wrong. We are concerned that the policy passed yesterday will also be implemented in a convoluted way in South Central.
2. The passage of this act now means our school is one of the most likely to be submitted for takeover. We are a high priority school (HPS), one of 34. This means all the work we have done in the last three years is in danger of being eliminated because board members who have never visited our school site feel business leaders will do a better job with our students than the educators at the school site. Just a few of our successful initiatives have been:
- changing the school schedule to a Copernicus 4 x 4,
- scheduling intervention classes for struggling students within the school day
- scheduling enrichment classes for proficient/advanced students during the day
- dividing the students into small learning communities with teachers who have common conference periods,
- implementing a full-fledged arts program with credentialed art, dance, chorus, and drama teachers,
- reducing teacher turnover to zero with a comprehensive new teacher support program
4. If we our model is not selected, and a charter one is, will teachers be released and forced to reapply for their positions, as this is a common practice at conversion schools? How naive! There is no line of teachers waiting to come teach in South Central. Many veteran, highly qualified teachers will have to make a tough choice of possibly giving up their job protections and benefits to continue working with the kids who need us the most. How unfair for both parties. If veterans are forced to transfer to another school, bumping will occur, further disrupting school communities all over the district.
5. Long term, charters nationwide have either knowingly or coincidentally ended up with the more proficient kids at their schools, leaving the troubled, learning disabled students behind in public schools. Will this new policy create a district of the haves and have nots? Is this a whole new era of separate and unequal? Who will protect the interests of these children, many who have no advocates at all?
Right now, we are trying to get more information about the effect that this new policy will have on our school. We will blog from ground zero to see if indeed, the school board made the right decision.
Sunday, August 23, 2009
Every time you stop a school, you will have to build a jail. What you gain at one end you lose at the other. It's like feeding a dog on his own tail. It won't fatten the dog.It is not a new fact that strongly investing is public schools helps eliminate the need for an increase in prisons. Educators stay abreast of important educational studies, and the Schools to Prison pipeline theory has only been one in a string of such studies that shows the strong ties between a solid education and a decrease in crime-filled futures. But just building new schools is not enough to eliminate the risks for disenfranchised youths and communities. It means also investing in your human capital, and valuing an educated populace that may one day grow up and think differently than you.
Much has been said about the LAUSD proposal to privatize new public schools by handing them over to charter organizations for management. Every politician, community leader, union leader, business leader, philanthropist, grassroots/astroturf parent organization, newspaper and blogger has an opinion on what should be done, and why.
Has anyone asked the teachers?
Not the union. The teachers.
The teachers who have chosen teaching as a career, the lifers.
We are the ones who will implement what all of you choose for us. We are the ones who will experience the success or failure of whoever you assign to "manage" us. We will witness first hand the effects these decisions will have on our young, vulnerable students, who have no voice of their own. Shouldn't we be asked what we think will work?
Should the Flores-Aguilar Privatization Motion Be Approved?
No. There is already a process in place, and a state law to enforce it, for charter schools to open and operate within the LA Unified School District. In fact, LAUSD operates over 140 charter schools, with new applications being submitted on a regular basis. This motion simply gives charter organizations new state of the art physical plants to add to their list of clear advantages they hold over their public school brethren.
Will All Students Be Guaranteed Access to New Schools if Operated by Charters?
Maybe. The new language in the proposition states, "Resolved further, That the student composition at each identified newly built school must be reflective of the student composition at the schools it is intended to relieve (in terms of demographics, including but not limited to race/ethnicity, gender, socio- economic status, English Language Learners, Standard English Learners, Special Education, foster care placement) and that there are mechanisms in place to review enrollment of those students at yearly intervals to ensure their retention and that
the overall composition at the schools continues to reflect the overall school
But that's what charter law was supposed to require in the first place:
...the school will achieve a racial and ethnicand it is a well known fact that charter schools DO NOT teach the same percentage of special needs and English Learners as their public school counterparts. A million reasons are given for this, but the fact is that public schools like LA Academy constantly readmit students who were removed from charters due to strong parental pressure, or threat of non-promotion. Contrary to popular opinion, this is the first and foremost reason why career teachers are against this motion, and were against the massive teacher layoffs that are greatly affecting the academic and emotional states of our students at this very moment.
balance among its pupils that is reflective of the general
population residing within the territorial jurisdiction of the school
district to which the charter petition is submitted...
Should Charter Schools Be Allowed to Exist Given Their Unfair Advantages?
Yes. Because its not about the adults; its about the students. Many individual charter schools have done a tremendous job of educating students and are run by ethical people with the same goals and motivations as public school career teachers. The whole purpose of the charter school concept is to remove the layers of bureaucracy imposed by individual districts, and allow a certain innovative idea or program to be administered without interference of outside forces. Schools that have done this, guided by ethics, have achieved success, and parents should have the choice of sending their child to that school.
Unfortunately, many people in the public (guided by slanted articles and editorials such as those by Jason Song in the LA Times) believe that ALL charters are run this way and that they are the antithesis to the worst we have seen from LAUSD. There have been too many disturbing events at charters, namely financial mismanagement, gross labor practices, and a move toward bare-bones, test-prep curriculum to declare at such an early stage that charters are the answer to public ed problems.
Charters should have a seat at the table, not run the restaurant.
What Should Be Done About Public Schools, Given That They Are In Need of Assistance?
1. First and foremost, don't give up on public schools! We need support, both financial and moral, to keep the American ideal of public ed for all alive. Remember, most Americans were educated at a public school. And if you really think hard, you most likely had a teacher that made a difference in your life.
2. Make education funding a priority. Throwing money at the problem isn't a solution in and of itself, but it is fundamental. With adequate funding, you can keep class sizes low, provide more than the bare-bones curriculum, parenting classes, counseling, nutritious food, up to date technology, security forces where they are needed, and quality professional development for teachers.
3. Reduce the layers of bureaucracy that hinder schools, and allow the teacher experts (perhaps a committee of National Board Certified Teachers and outstanding educators) to develop the curriculum at their school sites. This is our field. This is what we do. This is how we know that the Twilight series is the hottest young adult literature in recent years, but that many kids prefer the Mortal Instruments series instead.
4. Require all school site administrators and coaches to teach one class per year. This will remind them of the ever-changing face of education today. The challenges we face today are not nearly the same as those of 5, 10, 20 years ago.
5. Require new teachers to be evenly assigned throughout the district, not relegated to the most challenging schools, which tend to be in the inner-city.
6. Have accountability measures for ALL members of the educational system. For example, when Yolie Flores-Aguilar declared she had failed to do the job she was elected to do and therefore wanted to hand over governance to the charters, there was no consequence to her admission of failure. Imagine if a teacher stated, "I have tried and tried to improve student performance but have been hindered by my administrator, the parents, and unmotivated students. Therefore, my solution to this problem is that my class should be taught by my neighbor at a charter school." This teacher would be out of a job, right? So should Yolie.
When Local District Superintendents allow child molesters to return to work and say they didn't get the memo, they should be fired. Not housed at the district offices until public furor passes, but fired.
When Principals prefer to be popular with teachers/parents/cronies instead of doing truly right by the kids, they should face discipline and/or be stripped of their principalship.
When teachers don't cut it, Principals should never allow them to become tenured to avoid an even lengthier dismissal process in the future.
Teachers can think of more solutions, but who's asking?
Monday, August 17, 2009
At tonight's meeting, there were a scant 110 or so adults present. We would say 20% were parents, 50 % were teachers, 20% were charter school advocates, and 10% were District staff. The presentation revealed that aside from the 50 new schools that would be open to a new governance system, all PI 3+ would also be deemed "struggling" and subject to takeover by any of the following:
1. Charter school organizations
2. Pilot school programs
3. University affiliated programs (LMU Family of Schools, UCLA Community Schools)
4. Traditional schools
The LD3 Superintendent, Michelle King, said teachers would be welcome to submit proposals as well. This is interesting. While this may seem equitable, most outstanding teachers we know want to concentrate on their craft, not write business plans for a new charter. If by teachers she meant UTLA, then that is another story.
The gentleman who co-hosted the meeting made sure that questions from the audience were either asked at the microphone or written on an index card so that "[the people] can feel like they are being heard". The use of this language was quite revealing; let's not actually hear what the people are saying, let's just give them the impression we're listening. Yes, indeed.
There were no interruptions, boos, or shenanigans. The charter group proponents were from a group called Families That Can, yet most seemed not to be families, but teachers. They clapped loudly when one of their members spoke, and whenever anyone said anything in favor of the proposal. The speakers were evenly divided between anti-proposal people, pro-charter factions, and parents who are frustrated with LAUSD.
Key questions that stood out were: 1. Why was this townhall meeting held during summer vacation? 2. Why are we focusing on new schools when we haven't finished fixing the old ones? An older gentleman also pointed out that previous reforms had proponents laughing all the way to the bank. Who stands to profit from the privatization of public schools?
In the audience was Ramon Cortines, Marguerite LaMotte, and Steve Zimmer. The LA Academy contingent had a chance to speak to LaMotte and Zimmer and reiterated their concerns about privatizing public schools, including our own. We made it clear that above all, we are concerned that inner-city students with special needs are the ones being left behind by many charter schools. We know; our school is the one that takes them back when the charters reject them. The board members pointed out that the new language of the proposal guards against any exclusions based on such things as language, socioeconomic status and special education needs.
It was also pointed out that the Obama administration clearly wants to advance the charter school agenda. If Washington wants it to happen, and the little people believe they are wrong, are we powerless to stop them?
Naomi Klein's shock doctrine theory maintains that unpopular changes should be made when opponents are in a state of shock. As a district that has dealt with massive budget shortfalls, legions of layoffs, and three superintendents in three years, the proposal to privatize public education is inopportune, to say the least. Ideally, such a proposal would be planned, discussed, and successful models would be used as guides. But these meetings have the flavor of an already done deal, and the only discussion the district is having is with district people themselves. Parents are not aware or involved in this process as stated by a parent at the meeting tonight, who only happened upon it "due to the robo-call."
We will have to trust that the board members will do what is best for all students when it comes time to vote for or against the proposal. Until then, interested
Sunday, August 9, 2009
This blog has chronicled the pain and heartache of the budget cuts, the marginalization, and the massive teacher layoffs on the South Central community. In addition to these issues, we have had to deal with the skimming of the cream of the crop students by charters who have opened up shop in the neighborhood. While parent choice is important, it is also crucial for them to know what they are getting into. Do parents really know, or are they being blinded by propaganda? For sure, many parents have been let down by dysfunctional schools in the inner-city. But how much of that is the function of our society as a whole, which doesn't really seem to care what happens to black and brown kids? The state of California school funding reflects that value.
Do parents really want their children to attend no-frills, military-style schools such as American Indian Public Charter and KIPP? Do they want to expose their children to a governance system that does not allow for dissent? Will their child's teachers and support staff be around 3 years, 6 years down the line when they will need them for college guidance, or will they burn out? Are their children angelic, because if not, they may be expelled with much less due process than at public schools. Can parents volunteer 30-40 hours a year at the school?
Will the funding that is flowing so freely now be sustainable in the future? (Find the sentence buried in this glowing LA Times editorial: "Locke, which holds its graduation today, remains a troubled school, and Green Dot's strategy has relied on extra funds that may not be sustainable or readily replicable."
When the charters et al. have finished fleecing public schools, all that will be left are schools with the students no one else wanted. Our scores will go down, we will be certified as "failures" and we will be shut down. Then, all schools will be privatized, vouchers will be approved, and the last of the public school children will be forced to be absorbed by the new system. But by then, those that were the fierce advocates of charters, will have made a buck and moved on to bigger and better things. What will be left? New Orleans schools are a charter school experiment that we can monitor to see what can happen when you dismantle public education.
If you are interested in making your voice heard regarding the new proposal, you can attend community meetings scheduled in the next month. District 5, where LA Academy is located, will hold their public meeting at Griffith MS, Monday, August 10, 2009 at 6pm.
UPDATE 8/11/09: According to reports on Twitter, many parents and teachers were turned away at the door of tonight's "community meeting" in Maywood. Apparently, the meeting the night before at Griffith was packed with the majority of people voicing concern about the motion. It seems that tonight, the critics and opposition were excluded from the discussion. This blog post deconstructs Monday's meeting, perhaps explaining tonight's events.
Correction 8/12/09: The exclusion of attendees happened at Mayor Villaraigosa's "Townhall" held separate near downtown, not at the LAUSD meeting in Maywood.
Friday, July 31, 2009
4. We hold an administrative New Teacher Meeting where administration (or a guest speaker) covers important topics such as ISIS, discipline, recognizing child abuse, etc. We keep the meetings relevant and if we finish early, we go home early.
7. The Principal hosts a New Teacher Welcome Brunch at her home with delicious food, and lots of Sunday brunch beverages.
12. Evaluations are given at the end of each year to all new teachers where they must answer questions like: