xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' Don't Forget South Central: June 2009

Monday, June 29, 2009

And So It Ends

Students created a farewell shirt for Natalie Umber

Tomorrow is the last day of school at Los Angeles Academy Middle School. It will be the final day of work as teachers for some 20 + outstanding, dedicated young professionals who have been crushed by the Los Angeles Unified School District, impotent Sacramento legislators, and let down by their union.

The students in South Central will bear the burdens of the mistakes made by those we have elected and entrusted with their care.

The last several weeks have been among the most stressful in the 20 years I have worked in this district. To see the hope, desperation, resignation, and disappointment in the eyes of these teachers has been almost too much to bear. To have to break the news to the children has led many adults on campus to reach their breaking point. Today, at our recognition ceremony, it was all Principal Borges could do to keep her composure as she said goodbye to the teachers she has come to admire so much.

Teachers are giving away their supplies and possessions to colleagues. Students are throwing farewell bashes for their teachers. 8th grade students held a reverse awards assembly and gave certificates to their teachers to thank them for their work. Some students created a special graffiti farewell shirt for Ms. Umber, and wrote personalized messages to her.

RIF'ed teachers are applying for jobs at the only places that are hiring: charter schools. Some are deciding if its worth it to stay on as subs, knowing that any day the "real teacher", the displaced employee, can come to claim their job. Where are these displaced employees? We don't know. Calls have been made, emails sent, but many are not returning calls. Of the 27 open positions we have, only 5 employees have reported for duty. Some who have been contacted stated they did not want to be assigned to tracks B and C because "they have a vacation to Europe already planned," they "want to work Z time at their current school," and they "have kids son vacation and want to be with them." Somehow, this just doesn't resonate with the students, teachers, and administrators at my South Central school.

In less than 48 hours, when the new school year starts, 22 positions will be manned by substitutes. This, while 20+ RIF'ed teachers, who WANT to be there, are discarded in the name of "right-sizing". Close to 800 students will start the school year with one or more substitute teachers. If this is what LAUSD calls "reform" then I shudder to see what "innovation" brings next.

Will the RIF'ed teachers be willing to sub in their own classrooms? Possibly. However, they can be bumped out of their position at any time if the displaced teachers report for duty. They will be earning sub pay, which means to earn year-round income they must work year-round with no vacation, and with no guarantee of continuous employment. This will be a tough call for them to make.

As for the rest of us, we are stunned, grieving, and feel betrayed by the leaders mentioned above. No one has called these teachers to give them updates, advice, or guidance. No one had the guts to tell them, "hey, it looks like its not going to happen for you. You should go look for a new job." Instead, the possibility of a recission was dangled in front of them to keep them hanging on, to strengthen the bargaining power of UTLA. The savvy ones refused to play this game and were quickly hired in other places. The ones that trusted and kept believing are now having to accept that only permanent teachers were protected in this year of bargaining.

And so it ends, another blow to public education in California, perhaps the final one, that the forgotten students of South Central will have to endure.

Martha Infante

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Shock Doctrine at Work in California?

Schwarzenegger’s Shock Therapy—The Poor Pay For The Sins Of The Rich

By Avi Lewis
June 17, 2009
Published on the Huffington Post

Now that Washington has ruled out an immediate bailout for California, we know who will pay the ultimate price for the crisis born on Wall Street: the state’s most vulnerable citizens. And with many states facing similar crises, this could be a preview of where the country as a whole is headed.

California is facing a $24.3 billion dollar budget gap, and the governor wants to attack it with cuts to social programs alone. If Schwarzenegger has his way, the price will be paid by 1.9 million people who lose their health care coverage, 1.3 million who lose basic welfare, thousands of state workers who get fired, schools that lose $5 billion in funding, having already survived brutal cuts earlier this year.

I just spent a week in LA and Sacramento filming a documentary on the crisis for Fault Lines, the show I co-host on Al Jazeera English Television. We interviewed teachers who are on hunger strike against the cuts, students organizing protest marches, health care workers and their patients, politicians from both parties, undocumented immigrants and the talk show hosts who demonize them (Californians will know the John and Ken Show…)

What we discovered (beyond some priceless video of Arnold Schwarzenegger introducingMilton Friedman’s TV series on PBS in 1990, is that thanks to the quirks of California’s system, the state is a Petri dish for some of the most virulent strains of American political culture.

Around the world, government is seen as the last hope to stimulate a comatose economy. In California, anti-tax, anti-spending, and anti-government sentiments are converging: California is facing a de-stimulus package of epic proportions.

Watch both parts of my half-hour documentary below, and check out AJE live, 24 hours day, at livestation.com.

Fault Lines, California: Failed State, Part 1:

Fault Lines, California: Failed State, Part 2:

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Lamar Queen, the Rapping Math Sensation, is Honored and Fired by LAUSD

Kudos to Mr. Queen who along with fellow L.A. Academy teacher Jimmy Pascascio earned a Video in the Classroom award for their work on PEMDAS-Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally-Secondary Math Video. Mr. Queen's last day at L.A. Academy will be June 30th.

You can view Mr. Queen's videos by clicking on the links below. The awards will be broadcast Sunday, June 28th, at 3:00 p.m.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

L.A. Academy's Talented TFA Teachers Being Sent to Charters

From the Los Angeles Times

Cuts cost L.A. Unified its Teach for America instructors for next year

Teacher cuts in L.A. Unified
Libby Pier, Dedicated Rookie Teacher at L.A. Academy

The district, facing a steep budget shortfall, says it won't be able to afford new teachers from the program, which places college graduates in low-income schools.

By Seema Mehta

June 19, 2009

The financially strapped Los Angeles Unified School District says it cannot afford to hire any new teachers next year from Teach for America, a prestigious program that places high-achieving college graduates in low-income, underperforming schools.

The district has worked with the nonprofit since the early 1990s; more than 600 Teach for America members have taught in L.A. Unified classrooms since 2004. Now, in addition to taking no new teachers from the program next year, the district is considering laying off a third of its current 67 first-year Teach for America members.

"Over the years, Teach for America corps members have made a tremendous impact on the students and schools they serve," said Deborah Ignagni, L.A. Unified's administrator of certificated employment operations. "This impact toward improving student achievement and the social condition of their school communities is immeasurable."

But for now, the district's decision means that in Teach for America's Los Angeles region, which is among the organization's largest nationwide, most members will teach at charter schools, not traditional public schools. Charters are publicly funded schools that operate independently and are free from many state and district regulations.

"So long as we are serving students from low-income settings in public schools, we are agnostic about the governance model of those schools," said Brian Johnson, executive director of the nonprofit's Los Angeles operation. "We want to have a significant presence in traditional public schools. However, if there are no vacancies in traditional LAUSD schools this year, we want to ensure that we are still bringing top talent into classrooms in Los Angeles."

Teach for America is a highly selective program that places recent college graduates in low-income classrooms across the nation.

Some educators are critical of the program, saying its young teachers lack the training of traditional teachers and sometimes use the time to add an altruistic flourish to their resumes before they move on to more lucrative careers.

Supporters point out that teacher turnover in troubled schools is high regardless, and that after Teach for America members finish their two-year commitment, two-thirds continue to work in education. Research also has shown that the Teach for America members are as effective as teachers with conventional credentials.

For the coming school year, the program accepted 4,100 out of 35,000 applicants for placements across the nation. About 140 of these teachers will be based in the Los Angeles area, and more than 100 of them will be placed in charter schools.

The program's 14 placements in the Compton Unified School District for next year appear unchanged for now. But 13 placements in the Pasadena Unified School District are uncertain as the district struggles with state budget cuts, officials said.

"All things told, we have . . . felt very fortunate to have the caliber of teachers we were able to bring on the Muir staff from TFA," said Tim Sippel, assistant principal at Pasadena's John Muir High School, where five were placed this year. "We desperately hope we can retain them in the midst of the budget crisis we are facing as a district."

In Los Angeles, the Teach for America members who recently received pink slips are among some 2,500 employees in the district facing layoffs as the district struggles to find $132 million in additional cuts this school year, and $143 million more for the coming year. Teachers in the program are paid $39,788 annually, the same as other new teachers with alternative certifications. The district also pays the organization a $3,000 training fee for each member it hires.

Libby Pier, 22, an eighth-grade English teacher at Los Angeles Academy Middle School, was angry and hurt when she received her layoff notice in the mail. The Boston native, who graduated from Northwestern University last year, said her year of teaching in South Los Angeles has been rewarding and challenging, and a learning experience.

"I've fallen in love with my school, with my kids, and the idea of being able to help even one student and make a difference in their lives and make them love learning," said Pier, who has interviewed at four inner-city charter schools and may pursue a doctorate in educational psychology if she can't find a classroom position. "I was definitely planning on remaining in teaching. . . . Now, I don't have a job."

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Farewell, Ms. Sanlin

Teacher of the Year is Inspired and Enlightened by Talented, Laid-Off New Teacher

Dear Ms. Sanlin,
My mind is having a hard time accepting the reality of what is to come in less than three weeks. You, a superbly talented new teacher, who has been a source of invigoration and inspiration to me and fellow colleagues for the last two years, have chosen not to linger in limbo and have accepted a teaching position in New York City next year.  When you received your Reduction in Force notice on March 15th, I know you hoped it would be rescinded, and that the District would realize that you cannot decimate a struggling school by laying off 23 of its 112 committed teachers.  This is, however, what happened and it means that 200 students in our hard to staff school in South Central Los Angeles, will be deprived of the magic of your teaching and your vibrant personality next school year. 

I remember your first year of teaching (last year), when we shared a class of difficult students.  One, in particular, posed a plethora of challenges.  I was at my wits end with interventions, when you calmly turned around to look at me at a meeting and told me of your surprise home visit to the student's house.  You had kept a minute by minute log of the student's egregious behavior in class and proceeded to recite it to her gathered family.  "At 2:21 pm, Sara* got out of her seat and hit Diego in the head.  2:23 p.m.  After I isolated Sara in the front row, she threw her notebook at Mario.  2:27 p.m.  Sara shouts profanity across the room...,"  Sara's mouth dropped as you recited these facts to her parents because she never believed a teacher, much less a new one, would ever dare visit her home.  In your class, Sara succumbed to your authority.  In mine, she hovered over the acceptable behavior line.

Your classroom management was instant.  You immediately picked up on the nuances that linked motivation and performance.  You knew how to engage the students while upholding high standards of student conduct and civility, even though you were not assigned the Honors classes.  This allowed you to attack the California Standards in US History in a planned, methodical way (although you had been told they would be impossible to cover in a year) and taught them in-depth, with complexity.  Your students, by the end of the year, were performing on-par with the Honors students.  You not only covered all of the material, you infused it with literature, music, and primary sources.  When I asked you where you came up with such great ideas, you answered "its in the standards."  

You brought our department into the 21st century by establishing a google group where we could post updates, pacing plans, and lesson ideas.  You showed us how we could have a common calendar and receive email updates when we were off track.  Thanks to you, the chronic problem of communication at a three track school was resolved.

You taught your science class with the same creativity and intensity, and managed to conduct several labs that involved students handling hazardous materials, combustibles, and possible projectiles.  Not once was there a behavior problem.  In fact, you knew how to motivate students to prove to you that they were responsible enough to handle these objects, and you established clear rules of behavior during these times.

As an African-American teacher, you were a role model to young girls who idolized your wardrobe and were intrigued by your "proper" language.  You had the teachers laughing in the lunchroom when you described how your students would sneak by your classroom, dragging their friends along so they could hear how you spoke.  I'm sure it wasn't just your language that attracted them.  It was also your quick wit, your tech-savviness, and your ability to not fall for the obligatory tricks they will play on new teachers.  

Our school has marched in front of Beaudry, leafleted every Friday for three months, called, emailed, and faxed our board members to no avail.  You and 22 other talented teachers will be unwillingly removed from our school site on July 1st.  I knew you would not, and should not, leave your fate in the hands of people who have admitted themselves to not know the solution to this overwhelming economic crisis.  The money the charter school in New York spent to fly you out for an interview was money well spent.  They have stolen the light of our future from under our noses, and we were powerless to stop it from happening.  Tracie Sanlin, my esteemed colleague, I thank you for your two years of service to L.A. Academy.  Your students will never forget you, and neither will I.
L Martha Infante
*not student's real name