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

Friday, July 31, 2009

Retaining Teachers in South Central

The problem in many South Central schools is teacher turnover. When teachers come and go from students' lives, it increases the instability they may already face growing up in a challenging environment. The instability always affects their academic performance and, we believe, their self-worth.

L.A. Academy, under the direction of Principal Maria Borges, instituted a comprehensive new teacher support program three years ago that reduced teacher turnover from 35% to .02% last year. Arne Duncan, the new Secretary of Education, has espoused the need to recruit and retain talented teachers, and our school is ground zero of this mandate. How did we do it? It really wasn't that hard. Here is what we did:

1. New teachers receive a welcome rolling start cart full of supplies on their very first day at LAAMS.

2. A flyer is distributed with the pictures and names of new staff members so they can be recognized and greeted by the rest of the staff.

3. We hold a Meet 'n Greet during lunch, where we serve free pizza to all teachers who are encouraged to come meet the new staff members. Below are pictures from the one we held the July 2, 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.

5. A monthly calendar with important meeting dates, as well as dates where off track teachers will be on campus to support them, is published the first of each month.

6. We hold the New Teachers Roundtable where no administrators are allowed and we serve the snacks listed above. At this meeting, new teachers can feel free to vent or to ask questions they may be embarrassed to ask in front of administrators. But first, each participant is required to share one challenge and one success they faced in the classroom that week.

7. The Principal hosts a New Teacher Welcome Brunch at her home with delicious food, and lots of Sunday brunch beverages.

8. 100 days of Z time were allotted for successful, veteran, off-track teachers to come in, monitor and support new teachers through classroom observations, debriefings, and demo lessons. Release time is provided for new teachers to observe other teachers in their area of need.

9. New teachers are inundated with support from their hallway neighbors, team leaders, department chairs, coaches, new teacher support staff, and administration.

10. New teachers are encouraged to participate in the New Teacher Holiday Performance that we hold during our holiday feast in December. Past performances included Ms. Sanlin playing her bass cello, Mr. Queen rapping, and Ms. Pier singing and dancing.

11. Several celebrations are held in colleagues' homes, at El Cholo and at bowling alleys to promote bonding, team-building, and friendship.

12. Evaluations are given at the end of each year to all new teachers where they must answer questions like:

-what was most challenging about your first year?
-if you could choose the topics of the new teacher meetings, what would be your top 5?
-list 10 do's and don'ts for next year's new teachers

13. Personalized certificates are given to commemorate the new teachers' completion of their first year of teaching with categories such as "Least Likely to Fall for Student Excuses" and "Most Likely to be Found at El Cholo's on a Friday". Yes, we like to have fun with this.

Other than the Z time (which in tough budget times like today can be changed to on track teacher support during conference periods), most of these initiatives cost very little or don't cost anything at all. What we have created is a system where new teachers have no choice but to be supported. It is a culture that makes teachers want to stay because they enjoy the students (this is made possible by increasing understanding of them during Roundtable discussions) and appreciate working with their colleagues.

We would have enjoyed the benefits of our labor this year had it not been for the massive layoffs, but hope to survive these tough times by sticking together and protecting our school community.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Two More Teachers Off the Roller Coaster

Congratulations to local charter schools for scoring two top teachers that have had enough of the "wait and see" propaganda from both LAUSD and UTLA:

Natalie Umber

If LAUSD teachers were NBA athletes, Ms. Umber would be Blake Griffin, the #1 draft pick. What can you say about endless dedication, inspired creativity and the ultimate classroom management? Watching Ms. Umber teach was like watching a prima ballerina in action; and her students were the eager recipients of all her instruction. Saying goodbye broke a good many hearts, but we wish her the best at her new school.

Laura Garcia

This second year dynamo whipped her math students into shape, even though 90% of them were taller than her. I had the privilege of being on the same team with her and enjoyed our conversations at the New Teacher Roundtable. Ms. Garcia was a natural, and will be a fantastic educator. Her school is lucky to have her.

How many more hits can our school take? And BTW, are there any outstanding 6th grade math/science teachers with GATE experience that might be interested in teaching an unfilled position until August 30th? Please email me at martha.infante@gmail.com

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Deal Reached With LAUSD?

Update 7/15/09 2:22 pm UTLA website states LA Times report incorrect. See


According to the Los Angeles Times, in an article written by Howard Blume*, UTLA has made a deal with LAUSD that will result in the recission of the 2,000+ layoffs by canceling class-size reduction at the elementary level. The union has agreed to a pay freeze and/or a 1% reduction in wages.

Its too late.

Its at least too late LA Academy, where school has been in session since July 1st, and we have already lost our top new teachers who didn't sit around waiting while these two powerful organizations "negotiated" the fate of 700,000 students and 40,000 teachers.

Let me tell you about who we have lost:

Tracie Sanlin
This creative 2nd year teacher never ceased maintaining high expectations for all of her students. She handled what many agree to be one of our most challenging 8th grade classes in year including many students who had been OT'd from multiple schools. She taught them science and history (a challenge to any multiple subject teacher) and she did it in a way that constantly involved hands-on projects, debates, cooperative groups, and critical thinking. She was head of student leadership, was a chaperone for our Catalina Island trip, assisted in fund-raising for r San Francisco field trip, was a part of the GATE Leadership team, and was a role model for all students. Ms. Sanlin left California with a broken heart, drove cross-country to New York City, and finally reached her destination yesterday, when UTLA and LAUSD finally concluded their negotiations. She will be teaching at a charter school in Brooklyn in the fall.

Izmael Arkin

This dedicated third year teacher was a consummate professional, who wore a tie and slacks to work, daily, and who used his bilingual skills to maintain an above-average communication level with students and parents. Mr. Arkin taught 6th grade math and science and constantly infused his class with experiments, creative activities, field trips, and high standards. He approached his position as GATE teacher with eager anticipation, and was extremely successful in meeting the needs of all of his students. Mr. Arkin was a part of the Safe and Civil Committee and was earning his admininstrative credential through LAUSD. He will be working at a local charter school in the fall.

Regina Greene

Ms. Greene was an Oakland transplant and Berkeley graduate who served as a role model to the students of South Central Los Angeles. She taught her class with youthful energy, and was very well-liked by all of her students. She participated, bought in, to all school programs and was a graduate of the New Teachers Roundtable. Due to her dedication, she maintained a well-run 6th grade math and science classroom, and was an after school tutor for the Woodcraft rangers. She has returned to Oakland, her employment status unknown.

Libby Pier
Ms. Pier was an energetic first year teacher who quickly found her grounding as an 8th grade English teacher in LA Academy. She immersed herself in our English Language Arts program, participating in our Young Adult Literature Book Club (for teachers), was a fixture in our library where she took her students on a regular basis, signed up all her classes for student email, used the mymail program to increase electronic dissmenination and collection of work (which the students loved and were excited about), and was also a graduate of the New Teacher Roundtable, which she attended faithfully. An article about her was written in the LA Times (see below in the blog), and due to her contract with Teach for America, she was not allowed to wait for negotiations to be completed and was sent to work at a charter school for her second year of teaching. Ms Pier was also extremely disappointed to have to leave our school. (image by Al Seib/LATimes)

Brent Tercero
Mr. Tercero was an 8th grade history teacher who worked avidly to increase his students performance in all areas of US History. He embraced the challenges of the periodic assessments and quickly began tackling the challenge of teaching the US history standards with relish. He was co-leader of Student Leadership, and was the director of the San Francisco field trip, which involved a yearlong fundraising effort. Mr. Tercero also taught science and participated in professional development in both areas. He was instrumental in obtaining private school admission for several of his students and obtained over $100,000 in scholarships for them.

All of these teachers, apart from the qualities mentioned, had something going for them that few other educators have. They WANTED to work in South Central. They CHOSE to work with these deserving children. They PROVED they could improve student achievement. They ELEVATED the status of the teaching profession.

And we let them get away.

It is interesting to note that Superintendent Cortines was the mastermind of the proposal to shift Title I funding to schools so that they could have "greater flexibility" to re-purchase positions to meet the needs of the school. This was called "reform". As you can read from this very blog, the reform has resulted in massive layoffs, 17 unfilled positions to this very day, and even if we had a million dollars, we still cannot buy back our own teachers, we must hire educators from the displaced teacher pool first. This reform has failed our school.

It is also interesting to note that at yesterday's board meeting, a proposal was floated to give control of upcoming new schools to both inside and outside agencies (code for charters), and that this very proposal was created by board member Flores Aguilar (pictured) who was elected to support and improve the LAUSD, a public school district. This is called "innovation." She states on her blog, "I introduced this resolution after two years of observing very little reform taking place. Despite my efforts and those of my colleagues on the Board and our Superintendent, Ray Cortines, too little progress has been made." Well, just who is responsible for making sure progress is taking place? She is. Cortines is. The people we elected to make sure this is happening are the most responsible. As teachers, we work in our classrooms all day long to make sure students are learning, and we are trusting the board and the superintendent to do their jobs supervising the progress of the district. We cannot do our jobs and theirs too. Accountability is a big buzz word in LAUSD. Where is the accountability in Flores Aguilar's admission that she has been unable to do the job she was elected to do?

There is always room for improvement in any profession. Teachers could do better in embracing reforms, considering giving up certain rights in the contract (such as choosing their work location), and encouraging struggling teachers to do better or leave the profession. But in spite of being vastly underfunded (47th in the nation), greatly mismanaged (Belmont fiasco, Deloitte Consulting debacle, Brewer failure), and publicly demeaned (Jason Song, LA Times) we have demonstrated a strength of spirit and mind under difficult circumstances. We don't seek accolades, we don't even seek a living wage (most teachers cannot afford to buy a house in the city). We want to keep working with the students we care for, and want the public to join us in supporting public education that can and does work.

*Howard Blume has promptly affixed blame to UTLA for the lateness of reaching an agreement with LAUSD. (Read his article at http://tr.im/surH) While UTLA has demonstrated itself to be a worthy opponent to LAUSD's legal department, they are not magicians who can miraculously make millions of dollars suddenly appear to reverse the class-size increase decision that LAUSD swore was unavoidable. Unless he knows something he is not making public, then his take on this seems to fall in line with the vastly slanted coverage shown by the Times depicting UTLA as a money hungry union of incompetent, child-molesting teachers who could learn a thing or two from charters, the saviors of public education.