This past week at L.A. Academy has been marked by the dread of imposed layoffs, uncertainty as to how many would actually go through, and the potential loss of our award-winning librarian.
Coincidentally (or not), students decided at this time to behave in a manner unseen in years, to the faculty who has been around since the opening of the school in 1998. There were “rolling fights” on campus, where students run in hordes from place to place, to witness fights or other disturbances. This situation has the potential for lots of physical injury because if you are in the way of an approaching horde, you will get knocked down, run over, and trampled. Two students were injured, and many others were pushed, shoved, and stepped on.
Is there a connection between these two situations? Teachers believe so. Our school is a distinctly different place since 23 of our established faculty were laid-off in the 2009 Reduction in Force. More than half of those teachers left the school, and the other half are working as substitutes, a tenuous status for anyone who has ever worked in education. Coupled with our class size reduction, we have over 15 new teachers on staff, most with no middle school teaching experience. And our students know this; they feel it. A small group of students has exploited this situation to its advantage all year long. C Track, especially, has seen this element increase and wreak havoc in the classrooms of some of our new teachers. Sinks have been set to overflow in science rooms, tagging and vandalism is on the rise both in and out of the classrooms, and disrespect against adults on campus is at an unfathomable level. Example: a student threw his trash on the ground and was told to pick it up by a teacher. The student instead, threw the trash towards the teacher, using profanity against her. A crowd of students around him laughed at the whole incident and refused to disburse until the dean was called.
Teachers, not about to hand over control of the school to this group of students, showed up en masse to conduct voluntary supervision during lunch and nutrition on Friday. Whistles were handed out, students felt their presence, and we were able to end the week without any further major disruptions.
It is painful, however, to be dealing with the issue of “control of the school.” This was an issue dealt with and resolved almost 5 years ago, when our current principal arrived to strengthen student discipline. It feels like we have traveled back in time.
Nonetheless, Saturday morning arrived with the news that we seem to have dodged a bullet, when UTLA and LAUSD reached an agreement to save most positions via “shared sacrifice”: teachers agreed to 12 furlough days to help balance the budget and preserve class sizes to their present numbers. Furlough days are a pay cut of about 5% for teachers.
While this is a good moment, it is not a long-term solution to the chronic under-funding of California schools, that has led us to be 47th in per-pupil funding out of the entire 50 states. I guess you get what you pay for.
image from http://rtmulcahy.files.wordpress.com/2007/06/oil_turmoil.jpg