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

Sunday, December 27, 2009

End of Year Reflection

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

RIF'ed Teachers Won't Sit Around and Wait Forever

LAAMS teacher RIF'ed in March, laid off in June is subbing in her old position...but for how long?

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.

Our loss.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

You Won't Read About This in the L.A. Times

Here's something you won't hear about in the media: a talented Math teacher and a creative English/History teacher go above and beyond the call of duty to produce educational math songs and videos for students at a public middle school in South Central LA, in spite of one of them being laid off in June.

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