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

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Cortines' New Cuts

Superintendent Cortines recently announced his plans to balance the LAUSD budget for the 10-11 school year through massive layoffs (again) or a 12% pay cut by LAUSD teachers. It also includes 4 furlough days for this school year. Apparently, the bargaining units have to accept/reject/negotiate this offer by early December, since that is when the school board must submit a balanced budget to Sacramento.

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

Dispatches From Students in South Central LA

Humberto*, 7th grade, Honors

"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

A Bright Spot in Dark Times

Readers might remember the story of Lamar Queen, a talented third year teacher who was RIF'ed last year, and whose musical abilities gained him lots of fans and followers in cyberspace. His story came to represent the tragedy of losing so many young teachers to charters and other professions when the District sent out layoff notices in the spring.

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

Teachers Blamed for Reprehensible Flyer

To LAUSD Board President Monica Garcia and Fellow Board Members:

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

Mobilization

We are in the 5th month of a school year that is indelibly marked by the loss of thousands of talented, new teachers, disruptions in school faculties district wide, and opportunistic forces who chose this very moment in time to launch a movement to privatize public education.

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

On Charters and Triggers

This week the L.A. School Board passed a resolution giving parents the ability to "trigger" a change in management if 51% of them sign a petition. Hmmm. What an appropriate term.

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
Of course, many parents are conscientious and participate in school activities. But by and large, our parents largely deliver their children on our doorstep and leave their education in our hands. They either don't have the time or desire to participate in anything more than that. Things may be different in other public schools, but that's the way things are in South L.A., something we are working hard to change.

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.