Remember Fremont

Never forget. Stand and Be Counted.

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Today is Saturday, June 26, 2010 and Day 1 P.F. (Post Fremont to be politically correct, but the PF can stand for something else—heh). It’s taken me a while to get to this. Yesterday, I think we all had enough to do, and today I feel like I’m recovering from an emotional hangover. I had people hug me that rarely spoke with me. Someone called me Chuck and I cannot ever recall them doing so before. The compassion I’ve seen pouring out on Facebook for each other tugged at heartstrings and yet made me swell with pride. We are the Mont.

I was trying to put an analogy up there against what I was seeing and feeling. Predictably, it would be something like “Star Trek: Deep Space 9” or “Babylon 5,” but this afternoon, the series finale of “M*A*S*H” showed up in my head: “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen.” The cease-fire has been announced July 27, 1953, the camp is in tatters, and everyone is trying to get out as quickly as they can. They didn’t want to leave each other, but their other lives were calling to them.

That was how I felt, loading the coffee-maker, then the laptop, watching the cleaning crew come in as the rooms were being purged of our taint. Some wanted to fire their parting shots, I’m sure. I watched Mr. Hernandez do so, told that teachers were making this “too political” because I didn’t reapply, that reapplication was “just a piece of paper,” then watched him dress down a colleague who is remaining, dress her down in front of me while I waited for him to sign something. To be told a number of times that I’d be trusted to teach his kids was not something that was going to bring me back. I told him that, after all that happened in the past six months, I would think I had not given the impression I was returning. That last-minute denigration of teachers and saying that at the end of the day, he leaves the problems here and goes home doesn’t do it for me. Most of us did not work 7:35-3:04. Most of us took the problems of this place home. That’s the difference between them and us. To quote Captain Mal from “Firefly,” “It ain’t a hand of cards. It’s called a life. I’ve got a better life than you.” (Blame my friend Kim Heinrichs for reminding me, in a way, that I hadn’t used quotes from “Firefly” yet).

I didn’t even have to hear the comments that Mr. Balderas made to know they were true. Based on what I’d seen come out of him for the past six months, including calling D7 or Beaudry whenever tagging occurred which mentioned Superintendent Cortines’ name, why should anyone expect anything different? What was the use of calling people from downtown to come watch someone clean the sidewalks? Were they there to hold someone’s hand? Why not just clean and move on? It is what we are expected to do—or were. To see Mr. Spielberg just sitting in his office, since was not allowed to handle the return of keys, as was his normal duty, was another sad scene. The New Fremont, it appears, will not be built on trust or faith or compassion.

It was a bug-out yesterday (Boy howdy, “M*A*S*H” has suddenly been on my mind a lot). The parking lot emptied a little more each time the gate was left open.

Some left their rooms in shambles. Some cleaned their rooms, wanting them to be spotless. Some left messages for the new occupants, messages in bottles, after a fashion (that was a piratical reference for Beth, Jackie, Sara, Samantha, Jennifer, brought to you by the Letter R). I actually cleaned out everything, cleared the boards, and left my quotes for last week, quotes about freedom, the government and some other bits of wisdom I’d gleaned along the way, including the Zen maxim, “Empty your cup,” and my traditional farewell at the end of each track, but which has more poignancy now: “No matter where you go, there you are.”

Yesterday the L.A. Times ran an article with the following title: “Villaraigosa backs charter school bids, rips Cortines.”

Mayor Villaraigosa has chosen his ground in the struggle to reform our schools. Siding publicly with local charter schools, he has become critical of Superintendent Ramon Cortines, his one-time ally. Gathering such groups around him as ICEF Public Schools, and offshoots of Green Dot Public Schools, which he feels did not get a fair shake during the bidding in February, which received only four of the schools.

But another round begins. A deadline looms and bidding will begin to take over nine new schools and eight low-performing ones. The mayor is unhappy with teacher groups, which were awarded some of the schools in February. Now comes the mud-slinging (more like chimpanzees flinging… something else). There’s plenty of bile to be flung at Superintendent Ramon Cortines, who has been accused of dismissing suggestions and having a different vision. He’s unhappy with LAUSD because teacher groups were awarded control of the campuses he tried to take over citing that groups from the low-performing campuses ought not to be competing for the schools in question, with the old song about the “track record” of an organization. It seems that he feels that any plan from such a group is “just a piece of paper."

Instead, Mayor Villaraigosa favors reconstitution, a word we are all too familiar with at the Mont. He seems to view this as “transformative.” Maybe he’ll also bring up a sense of urgency, too.

Superintendent Cortines, however, stated that reconstitution was a “last resort.” That certainly was not his tone on December 9th, when he stood before the faculty and staff of the Mont and sounded like a radio spot for selling cars: “Gardena, can you hear me? Lincoln, can you hear me? Huntington Park, can you hear me?” He also claimed that the example of what happened at the Mont caused other schools to reform on their own, to raise the bar.

But the threat of reconstitution and turnaround plans still looms, despite UTLA opposing reconstitution as unsupported by the data which supposedly drove the Mont into the ground. There’s supposed to be a media event on July 6th to mark the “victory” at the Mont. But there are still many questions: who will staff the Mont? How experienced are they? Why are so many of these new teachers appearing with credentials which are not registered with either the state or LAUSD?

Just so you know, we’re back. And we’re watching.

If you see any news stories or articles on reconstitution and educational reform, or know of schools undergoing this sad sham of a process, please let me know. Remembering Fremont is about getting the information out.

--Chuck

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Follow You Follow Me

Posted by Chuck Olynyk on November 23, 2016 at 5:50 PM Comments comments (0)

Today is Wednesday, November 23, 2016 and Day 323 of Year Seven. I’ve been on break, courtesy of LAUSD, to enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday. That means it should be about family. My kids are asking what I’ll be doing and I explained I wanted to do this solo, that I’d be cleaning at home, working on the workroom I call Resurrection Point (essentially my Batcave or Fortress of Solitude), to which one of my drill team angels replied, “That’ll be okay, Mr. O. You’ll be with us all day Friday.”

Looks like I have a branch of the family I needed to be reminded of. (“Mom, Dad, there’s a whole bunch of granddaughters you didn’t know about…”) and that got me thinking of family. And of the election results and what it could mean, especially in the community I teach in.

On November 9th, Boyle Heights, as was much opf the country, was reeling from the results of the Presidential election, indeed, over the House and Senate and Governors, as well. There was a lot of remembered rhetoric about Muslim registration, of women being objectified, of the now-politically correct relabeled Alt-Right, of the Wall (not Pink Floyd’s) and of a deportation force.

The threat of mass deportations is a threat taken seriously in this community. Every day, as I leave my classroom to go to practice, I pass by a huge banner whose subject is the Dream Act. Will that vanish, as an executive order is countermanded by a new one?

As I’ve said, the election results have caused concern. By Wednesday, former students had come to me, mentioning a walkout. I cringed, not really certain what a walkout might do, other than inflame matters. But the students reminded me what I’d taught them about civil disobedience, that there is always a price to be paid and they had to decide for themselves that the action was worth the cost.

On Thursday, November 10th, an abortive walkout was attempted, but students had passed the word they wanted to be better organized and rescheduled for that Monday. Some walked out after lunch, anyway, but the word seemed to have been passed pretty effectively. At least I got caught up on grading during those periods.

On Monday, November 14th, they made it so at the break. http://ktla.com/2016/11/14/l-a-students-planning-anti-trump-walkouts-monday/   As KTLA reported it, “Hundreds of students on Monday morning walked out of several LAUSD schools as part of a planned demonstration to protest the results of the recent election…” NPR reported it as students from Garfield High School met up with their arch-rivals from Roosevelt and marched on to a demonstration at Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights. Along the way, the protesters also picked up students from Torres and Mendez High Schools.

The demonstrations, both at Mariachi Plaza and by City Hall were well-organized, peaceful examples of that First Amendment right of freedom of assembly. When I posted about this, I was met with a barrage of negative comments, implying that students were only walking out to get out of class, that teachers who allowed it should have been fired.

They were unable to accept that as we teach kids to become independent thinkers, that these children might actually apply what they had learned to their own situations. As one of my kids pointed out to me, there is a poster in my room which reads, “Stand up for the truth, even if you have to stand alone.”

Since that peaceful walkout, I’ve lost several friends, who feel that teachers were abusing their positions of trust. Two days later, the LAUSD School Board announced schools would stay “safe zones” for students http://ktla.com/2016/11/16/l-a-education-board-sends-message-to-trump-schools-will-stay-safe-zones-for-students-in-u-s-illegally/  They voted to reaffirm a resolution not to allow Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents on campuses unless approved by the Superintendent and attorneys for LAUSD. It’s symbolic, true, this stand for “affirming the American ideals that are celebrated in Los Angeles,” and ICE considers schools in the same category as churches—don’t go in there. Don’t conduct raids. Shades of Quasimodo rescuing the Gypsy, crying “Sanctuary!” This essentially restates what was stated back in February http://www.latimes.com/local/education/lausd/la-me-edu-ice-agents-school-campuses-20160209-story.html  

An outraged friend commented, “We’ll see.”

On Monday, November 21st, Mayor Eric Garcetti, LAUSD officials and LAPD spokespeople met in front of Roosevelt High with students who were concerned about President-elect Trump’s plans. “Garcetti Doubles Down on L.A. Being Sanctuary City for Immigrants” http://abc7.com/politics/garcetti-doubles-down-on-la-being-sanctuary-city-for-immigrants/1619393/  

Students expressed fear. Why wouldn’t they? “‘A lot of them are scared for their families. If their parents are undocumented, etcetera, they're scared about what's going to happen…’”

Then there’s another voice: “’The idea that a city would decide to ignore federal law and then want the federal government to help them anyway, it's an inconsistent position for those local governments to continue to engage in,’ Trump's press secretary Reince Preibus has stated and that local governments were required to abide by federal law. The stick would be the potential threat of federal funds being pulled from Los Angeles, despite the money helping to fund the Port of Los Angeles and Los Angeles International Airport.

And now Mayor Garcetti, who must act as a local leader and think of those for whom he is responsible for. He chose to echo LAUSD and the LAPD: Los Angeles would not act as immigration police. “‘Immigration is the responsibility of our federal government. We've been very clear it's not the responsibility of LAPD… We participate all the time with our federal immigration authorities and we will continue to do so. We just require, as the courts have decided, that there be a warrant…”

For every act of civil disobedience, there is a price, and one must be willing to pay the price when presented the bill.

 

 

 

Stage Fright

Posted by Chuck Olynyk on November 21, 2016 at 9:45 PM Comments comments (0)

Today is Monday, November 21, 2016 and Day 321 of Year Seven. It is also my dad’s birthday. The soapbox is calling, and I feel the need to speak out on something relatively current and which might change how we teach. And when I am troubled, I usually talk to my dad. Think of it as a Benton Fraser thing (“Due South,” a series about a Mountie in Chicago, and Fraser often talks to his father).

Dad, it’s been a while. I was busy standing by my sister Sunnie, but I guess you know that already. You already know how the fight with the cancer went, and that I did the best I could, standing beside her to the bitter end.

I’ve tried to keep going on my own. Some days it feels like I can. But there is trouble on the horizon.

After the tempestuous election of 2016, there were a number of teachers in California who made the news. NBC reported one who said something about “Trump is going to deport you to Africa,” (remembered quote, and so therefore subject to correction) and another in South L.A. who did likewise, but I think he targeted Latinos, whether as a joke in poor taste, or an empty threat to get kids to behave.

We have plenty of people who make poor word choices in education and elsewhere. You and I have done that plenty of times. We’ve even had presidential candidates do likewise.

Then there are those of us who are trying to get a point across.

I try to teach my kids that history is the art of the analogy, that one needs to spot patterns, but they need to take not to be so selective of evidence that they dismiss what doesn’t fit. In the end, it is always a judgment call, and that sometimes we make mistakes.. (“Wisdom comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.”). But you also taught me not to blind myself to what is happening, just because it is unpleasant. We used to joke about the movie “Taras Bulba”: “Ypu swore you’d wear a patch over one eye until the steppes were free again. Cover both eyes, so you cannot see yourself!”

We can make analogies to Hitler’s Germany and compare those being locked up in camps to the Japanese internment camps. Students are quick to do this. We can compare the war crimes trials at Nuremburg and Tokyo to dropping the atomic bombs on Japan and what would have happened if it were the Japanese putting American leaders on trial. Students are less quick to do that one. We can compare Columbus to a war criminal, as I’ve seen done in some classes.

Not all would agree with these analogies.

But in the end, we teach our students to think for themselves, not repeat rote learning. Just like you taught me, Dad.

Shortly after the election, Mountain View/Los Altos High School District suspended 40-year-veteran history teacher Frank Navarro, for drawing analogies between the speeches of Adolf Hitler and now-President-elect Donald Trump a short lesson paralleling Hitler with Trump. http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/california-teacher-suspended-comparing-trump-hitler-article-1.2871481

Or we can say he was placed on paid leave following the incident, if we want to be polite, Dad. Or, as Mountain View High School’s principal Dave Grissom called Mr. Navarro's leave a “time-out” while Mountain View/Los Altos High School District Superintendent Jeff Harding “told the San Francisco Chronicle that Mountain View High School administrators would finish researching facts on Mr. Navarro soon…” As though he were an unruly child, which is how many see teachers, eh, Dad? http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/11/14/history-teacher-suspended-for-comparing-donald-trump-to-adolf-hi/

Superintendent Jeff Harding said he’d like to restore Navarro to his teaching post.

However, Mr. Navarro was suspended/etc. due to an email from a parent who complained about the lecture, accusing the teacher of saying, “Donald Trump grabs p---y.” A less sensational version, related by Mr. Navarro: “This parent said that I had said Donald Trump was Hitler…” Navarro has neither been allowed to share his lesson plan with administration, nor be allowed to see the email nor confront his accuser. Instead, the excuse has been used by Principal Grissom and Superintendent Harding that they feared that the lessons may have been inappropriate in the tempestuous aftermath of the election.

“‘Regardless of their political affiliation, many of our students show signs of emotional stress,’ Mr. Grissom wrote in a letter to parents on Friday. He said he had an obligation to maintain an “emotionally safe environment” for students while protecting teachers and staff against unsubstantiated allegations. The Superintendent said, “We have a heightened environment right now with the election. It’s always a challenge to maintain a line in a classroom…”

That’s why, when 9/11 happened, the principal at Fremont High, got on the PA and ordered all history teachers to turn off their TVs rather than showing the kids what was going on and making as much sense out of it as we could. When we refused, they came to seize the TVs from our rooms. My response was to immediately turn on my radio. Dad, you taught me well.

So where is the line? When I teach about Imperialism and explain that European countries seized lands and made them into colonies, and when students ask about lands the U.S. seized and they ask, “Aren’t they colonies?” “No,” I’m to tell them, “We had territories.”

Are we allowed to discuss Nazis and the Holocaust? Interestingly enough, I noted the day after the election was the 78th anniversary of Kristallnacht, and lost some friends over noting the anniversary, for it was assumed I had said Trump was Hitler. (Of course now I can’t help but notice the increase in reports of hate crimes appearing in the news…).

If we discuss the Holocaust, are we to shy away from the Holodomor, Stalin’s genocide in Ukraine. After all, it was a topic which didn’t show up in U.S. history books for many years. Remember when the neighbor boy, John, got in trouble at Emerson Junior High because the teacher said that Josip Tito was good for Yugoslavia and John stood up and told him otherwise? Sure you do, because just like his dad made a trip to school, so did you when I told off another teacher. The point is, when bias comes into the picture, that’s wrong. But do we keep history in a nice safe package, rate it PG? Or is that PC?

Do we safely tuck away the Armenian Genocide? What about the Belgium Congo? Do Native American genocides get safely put into ethnic studies or do we just forget?

The last two years, during the prelude to World War II lessons, when I have taught about appeasement, I compared Hitler being given the Sudetenland to Russia’s seizure of the Crimea from Ukraine. I explained that, while there was an outcry, the world community did little. I don’t think I was being biased. I was showing the students what was happening. They were seeing connections. They were able to evaluate data and make decisions based upon what they saw, not knee-jerk reactions.

And I’m sure you know, Dad, that Russian interest in the eastern Ukraine, our ancestral home, the home Grandfather fought for independence from Russia, continues. We even have some Ukrainian soldiers crippled fighting for their land who come to our church now.

Dad, this Mr. Navarro, a Holocaust scholar, argued that his lesson was not biased, but fact-based. It was a short lesson which paralleled Hitler’s speeches from 1930 until he assumed power in 1933, and the speeches of Donald Trump, to “make the history relevant and show them that these issues have been around for a long time and are probably not going away.”

Parents and students have been fighting for Navarro’s return and of the petition it reads, “It is dangerous and disgusting that the administration has decided to punish him for drawing parallels between two similarly dangerous moments in history…” It also quotes Navarro as saying: “To stand quiet in the face of bigotry and to turn your eyes away from it is to back up the bigotry, and that’s not what I, or any history teacher, should be doing in our work.”

If Navarro can be censored for drawing parallels, which is how history classes tend to work. who else can be censored? What will we be allowed to teach in order to foster independent thinking?

Given the choice of knuckling under, and doing what I think is right, Dad, I can’t see any other options but to continue doing what I am doing. If one voice is silenced through intimidation, then it will be easier to silence the next voice. And the next.

Thanks for listening, Dad.

 

Whipping Post

Posted by Chuck Olynyk on November 20, 2016 at 11:45 AM Comments comments (0)

Today is Saturday, November 19, 2016 and Day 319 of Year Seven, Day 2226 since I began writing originally about LAUSD’s reconstitution of Fremont High, back when reconstitution was shiny and new and Arne Duncan ruled as the Secretary of Education. It is also Day 2158 PF (Post-Fremont), when I and at least half of my former colleagues were dispersed into what became known as the Fremont Diaspora.

The original intent of the writing was soul-searching, wondering what I had done wrong, what had my colleagues had done wrong to warrant the venom of then-LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines and his then-hatchet man, Dr. George McKenna III, now member of LAUSD’s School Board, and labeled by my union the Teachers’ Friend. (What a changing world…). It became a cry of outrage and boots-on-the-ground (had to use that phrase with tongue firmly planted in my bearded cheek) coverage of the reconstitution process.

Only later, I realized there were other issues, other schools, other trends in education reform conducted by edu-robber-barons. I also wrote a bit about what was happening at my current home, Roosevelt High and the changes and dealings with the overlordship of the Mayor’s Partnership L.A. Schools (which many call PLAS, but their current leadership prefers The Partnership).

Now it seems to be about where PUBLIC (and I do stress that word) education is going.

Clearly, we should define words as they are being used. I don’t consider charters to be public. They are not the neighborhood schools which welcome children of the neighborhood. Certainly not all of them. In the world of education driven by test scores, who doesn’t want only star players to create a winning team? It certainly would make sense in sports, to build that winning franchise.

But this isn’t sports. This isn’t even the business model, except in the most misguided sense. This is dealing with the education and socialization of the youngest and most vulnerable members of our society: our children.

This is not a place where we can pick and choose who attends. This is not a place where we reject those who are English Language Learners (ELLs if you are in education) because they might lower a school’s test scores, if there is a high percentage of ELLs in the neighborhood. Nor is it a place you can “counsel out” special needs students because they’ll create hiccups in those tests scores.

As a former principal told us how he explained charters and test scores and suchlike to conservative in-laws extolling the virtues and wonders of getting “the bright kids away from those who don’t want to learn,”: “Imagine you are a contractor. Building materials get delivered your driveway. However, others companies are allowed to go through your driveway first and take what they want and you are expected to build with what’s left and remain competitive?”

That’s what is like now to work in a public school, where one has to put on recruiting drives while charters bloom.

And that’s why I fear the choices for Secretary of Education being floated about. “Trump’s possible choices for Education Secretary include charter boss Eva Moskowitz, but reveal little about his plan for schools” http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/trump-school-plans-unclear-eyes-education-secretary-article-1.2874773

“Word that President-elect Donald Trump was considering a couple of charter school champions for the nation's top education post took some experts by surprise Tuesday, but others said it revealed little about Trump's ambitions for American schools…

“According to CNN, Trump was considering Success Academy founder and former City Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz and former Washington, D.C. schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee for U.S. Secretary of Education…”

Both, while Democrats, are in favor of vouchers and school choice, as well as Common Core (something the President-elect dislikes), and are notoriously anti-teacher union. Well, that will sit well enough with the President-elect.

You might remember Michelle Rhee from the film, “Waiting For Superman.”

The film, released in September 2010, is built around the stories of five children stuck in failing schools, one of them in D.C, where Michelle Rhee was serving as Chancellor, and one at LAUSD’s Roosevelt, the one I arrived at in September 2010 and which was depicted as a “dropout factory.”

“While chronicling their parents' struggles to place them in coveted public charter schools, where admission is determined by lottery, director Davis Guggenheim recounts the history of failed attempts to improve the nation's education system. He uses Rhee's turbulent tenure in the District as a case study in the obstacles reformers face…” http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/06/24/AR2010062403390.html

She has been described, in the same Washington Post story, as “the super-hero of ‘Superman,’ a combination of Wonder Woman and Xena fighting to bring the D.C. bureaucracy and Washington Teachers' Union to heel…” The New Republic, in that same era, wrote that the film depicts her as “… a savior of schools and someone willing to make tough decisions others have bypassed… in large part thanks to her take-no-prisoners leadership style that the movie praises…” https://newrepublic.com/article/77716/davis-guggenheim-director-waiting-superman-michelle-rhees-fate

And, as to the film itself, which became the reference point of public school “reform,” Guggenheim was quoted as saying, “I think all of the frenzy over this [movie] is showing that people are paying attention and the stakes are really high. Over a million kids are dropping out of schools every year … [and are] walking the streets in this modern economy. We are failing millions of kids. Make no mistake, when people are doing all this political speculation—that’s a game…”

Michelle Rhee’s game continued. When she lost her position as Washington, D.C. Chancellor, she formed StudentsFirst, and between this and a memoir, she pushed to have states pass such reforms to education more school choice for parents (that means charters) as linking teacher assessments to student outcomes (that means merit pay—see the earlier analogy about charters raiding public schools, leaving behind what they’d consider the chaff and comparing those scores). And while she insisted that StudentsFirst was a “grassroots organization,” she relied heavily upon Rahm Emanuel, Eli Broad, the Aspen Institute, and the Hoover Institution, and has courted Oprah Winfrey, Theodore Forstmann, and the Gates Foundation in her self-dramatizing fight against beleaguered school superintendents and presidents of union chapters.

Guggenheim made “An Inconvenient Truth” as a warning about climate change. The incoming administration would ignore that, but embrace “Waiting For Superman” and its star as a more convenient truth.

This is a storm warning for public education.

 

Cardboard Empire

Posted by Chuck Olynyk on June 29, 2016 at 2:15 AM Comments comments (0)

Today is Tuesday, June 28, 2016 and Day 175 of Year Seven, Day 2082 since I began writing this blog which was originally about LAUSD;s Fremont High’s reconstitution, and Day 2014 PF or since I realized the issues were about my Post-Fremont time. The school year has been over for two weeks. I can look back at what I did and what I wasn’t able to do as public education continues to shift what is happening at Roosevelt High.

It seems I was in error when I wrote Saturday that I had not written since August 6th, 2015. It turns out that I wrote one on Sunday August 16, 2015, and Day 213 of Year Six. http://rememberfremont.webs.com/apps/blog/show/43491590-haven-t-we-lost-enough-  It was the last day of vacation, and I was taking a look back at what was lost that school year. However, I had been musing on what I wasn’t able to do this year and so the two posts are getting merged.

Last year, my perspective was gained from working in the garage, building a new shop, merging my dad’s tools with mine after some twenty years. Tools were being repaired/refurbished/repainted. Half-completed projects were found, and I puttered on armoring projects (trying to get new stuff built for the new school year), leather-working projects and tool repair, and thought about what I didn’t get to do the previous two years under the earlier leadership, what with changing direction, benchmark assessments, periodic assessments, WASC assessing us.

Now I add another layer, another year of what was lost. The project is reclaiming the house now that my sister has passed. I’m fighting her hoarding instincts and the Alzheimer’s possession of my late mother, so I get to see what was lost over time as I reclaim my house room by room, like the Battle of Stalingrad. Before, it was about the garage and at last turning it into MY shop and begin armor repair for what I’ll use in class. Now one of the big projects is to turn what had been my parents’ bedroom into where I will store my garb (costumes to those who don’t do living history or reenacting) and where I can do leatherworking and maybe self-indulgent writing…

In a way I’m looking at this year the way I did a beloved movie, shown on Memorial Day. (This-TV showed the long version of 1968’s “The Devil’s Brigade,” the unedited version being something I had not seen in years. I sat in joy as I looked all the bits of business even minor characters did to enrich the scenes. Even the bit players mattered, even if you didn’t notice what they added to the overall effect.) I hope I will be indulged and forgiven if I choose to remember what has been lost this one year in the war on ignorance.

This won’t make some folks happy. But I have to quote one of my heroes in “The Devil’s Brigade”: upon hearing the First Special Service Force was being disbanded after much hard work and team-building, Major Crown: “Do you have friends up there?”

Colonel Frederick: “No, but at this point I’m not afraid to make more enemies.”

Last year I wrote this: “Word of warning, if you’re only interested in The Big Issues about School Reform, stop reading. This is about One School and the magic bullets it has endured in the last seven years and how it is broken. If you can get over the One School part and see something in here to apply to a bigger picture, then, by all means, do so. But this won’t be for everybody. Unlike school reform, one size does not fit all—or even most…”

It still applies.

Last year: “Over the past two years, I saw something important go missing. For almost my entire career in high schools in LAUSD, I’d been part of the Humanitas Program, under the umbrella of LAEP. It was a part of me for 19 years… My former principal from the Humanitas Arts School or HARTS decried the loss of the program. ‘Our kids will fail in those programs. They’re artsy kids. These kids can be so annoying in a classroom. That’s why we need to exist, so these kids can fit in.’ That’s quoted from memory. He said it often enough, or something like that, and I agree with him.”

It hasn’t gotten any better.

“’No, no. CNMT and L&G have merged, and they are a Humanitas school—err, Pathway… And STEaM has art. EVERYBODY gets art.’

“’It’s a little ‘a.’ And History, English and Art are all linked in Humanitas—‘”

After some two decades of teaching with arts specifically linked to my curriculum, enriching it where I can, I have to look back at what I was not able to teach in my classes:

I normally can dress-up in period garb or armor some eighty to one hundred days out of the year, have music playing for each era we are studying, art visible to the students.

Last year year, there was no Alexander the Great. He didn’t show up this year, either. A name easily recognizable on the street, and my kids will have no idea who he is.

The Roman Empire fell a lot faster than normal, both last year and this year. So several of those dress-ups went by the wayside. So did Christianity’s rise. It happened. Big deal. It doesn’t have to do with Career Pathways.

Last year, Henry II and his family, and Henry’s changes in English law, didn’t make the cut, travelling straight from the early Middle Ages and the Rise of Islam to the Magna Carta, running through history as if we were running past a picket fence with a stick. The Crusades and how they triggered the Renaissance got skipped again.

Most of my dress-ups got lost there, as well, in part to having to be ready to leave the school at a moment’s notice, due to my sister’s cancer. In fact I haven’t worn my 42-pound mail hauberk, with the mail chausses (mail legs for those who don’t know) in two years. It’s one of those things I have done my entire 33-year career, even the three semesters I taught English, back when literature got taught in English. Normally, that would happen some eighty or more days out of the year. I think my peak year was one hundred.

That I got to dress at all, using a method shown to be effective in my classes, was a minor miracle. My sixth period rarely saw me in garb because I was saddled with a group of seniors during my fifth period and the dressups proved too distracting for them. And I nearly didn’t get to do any dressups at all, when my then-principal gave me three preps, which each being every staggered every other period. At least that got resolved through negotiation and the contract. That narrowed what had been a hallmark in my World History classes down to three periods per day.

Think of this as scenes edited out of a favorite movie to fit in more commercials.

That wasn’t at all what I had in mind.

Instead of properly doing my Feudalism unit, which is something which is not an indulgence, but something fundamental to understanding the Magna Carta, as well as round out what my AP World History class needs to cover, we did a benchmark assessment. At least there wasn’t a rebellion, like in last year’s AP class http://rememberfremont.webs.com/apps/blog/show/42865632-the-fire-inside  But we did lose several days of curriculum in the name of benchmarks, which was crucial in an AP class. Three benchmarks per year, at two or three days per benchmark effectively sucked away nine days out of one hundred seventy-eight, not counting the time to assess each, then make sure that the data, which all know testing is about, is dutifully entered at Illuminate Education, which is in partnership with the err… ahh…Partnership or PLAS. They, in turn, would turn our dutifully-entered data into colorful graphs we’d spend at least three meeting “drilling down into.”

With the benchmarks came the implied pacing plan, as well as the loss of instructional days.

My Renaissance unit proved to be a disaster for the third year in a row. At least I got to teach about art and literature—I just wasn’t linked up with any art teachers, despite being in a Career Pathway which touts Art, and the English teachers had to deal with their own Period Assessments, Benchmark Assessments. Last year, I also had to throw half the unit into the trash because we were directed to issue and evaluate a Benchmark Assessment. That meant that the Northern Renaissance went away so kiss goodbye any Chaucer or Shakespeare, as did the Hundred Years War and the War of the Roses. That meant that for three years I didn’t have my students dress me in Renaissance armor, as they did when the Los Angeles Times came to do a story http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-roosevelt-teacher-20111226,0,6707776.story

Nor did I wear the Elizabethan garb, nor help kids get over their fear of Shakespeare in my class. No “Henry V” the past two years, either, connecting literature, film and history. Sometimes that’s the only dose of Shakespeare they get.

The Enlightenment unit went worse, if possible, last year. We were informed by administration that ALL 10th Grade students had to do projects. The reason was because three Pathways had received grants for Linked Learning and completed products were required by somebody to justify the grants which three out of four Pathways (not mine) received. As I wrote last year, don’t ask me what the money was spent on. My students weren’t involved in any Linked Learning grant. I’d just been doing Linked Learning for two decades without any grants. We just took it for… granted… that this was how we taught.

That meant kiss goodbye my end-of-unit efforts for two units. This year I was ready. Several days were set aside earlier in the semester… And that meant I covered less. No connecting with arts or literature. For the second year in a row we waved at Louis XIV, the American Revolution and the French Revolution… last year because of Exhibition Night, this year, because of another Benchmark. No arts. So much for Enlightenment, eh?

Benchmarks and gathering and recording data have become of greater importance than instruction. Life becomes about the distance we cover than what we see and experience along the way.

More commercials. More scenes cut.

Then there were the numbers: for various reasons which might be cited, the school lost QIEA funding. When I first began here at Roosevelt, I remember arguing with the principal of my Small School (the Mayor’s Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, which oversees Roosevelt, divided the once-comprehensive high school into seven Small Schools): “How am I going to fit 40 kids in here?”

“You’re not going to do that. Our classes are limited to 22.”

“Not in Social Studies. How am I going to fit them in?”

“You’re never going to have to. This is a QIEA school.” (So was the Mont, but they lost their QIEA funding shortly afterwards under a cloud of improprieties.)

Alas, Roosevelt’s QIEA funding was lost and class sizes shot up. Not for everybody, but they did go up. A couple of my classes were at times above the 40 mark. In desperation, I liberated a table from a little-used room to put at the rear of my room. It relieved some of the problems as to desks, but created a host of other problems as to discipline.

So, teacher time per pupil, something which had been a gain when I came from Fremont, and something which contributed to grades improving, became a casualty in the war on ignorance.

Just as last year, the second semester wasn’t so much a loss of dress-ups (you have to understand dress-ups are simply the tip of the iceberg of the lesson—they catch the attention of the students), it was about lessons lost: again, the arts suffered a hit. Romanticism, realism, impressionism… Who were those artists, writers, composers? What did it matter? Literature wasn’t being taught with novels, but excerpts from textbooks. Besides, reading fiction is something which would happen in the workplace only if you were an English major and we have to get these children ready for the workplace…

That’s not strictly true, the part about not reading literature. Two English teachers I intersected with taught “Animal Farm,” and one actually came to me to get an explanation on the history part. But those two English teachers shared students with me in ONE period, plus fragments of another. That left the vast majority of my students missing that linking of arts, literature and history. It was as if the Earth’s orbit intersected the trail of a comet and we got to witness the Perseid meteor shower, a spectacular celestial light show lasting but a few nights.

How many other kids are missing out on those programs where the arts matter? How many others miss reading a novel in English and understanding the why of it in a history class? How many others miss out on the Bard of Avon?

I think the worst thief of time was when it was decreed that we, not just we in Social Studies, but in English and Science, would use an online program called Achieve3000. We used to use it about three years ago, and I despised it then: fluff articles. I viewed the program as the purview of the English teachers, since it was intended to boost reading levels, much like another program the English teachers had great success with. However, with THAT program, the students read actual books. There was fiction involved.

These were articles. And the articles had precious little to do with what I was teaching, but I was told that if I didn’t use the program, I wasn’t doing my part to support the English teachers.

Okay, fine, once a week. That lasted a semester, as do most magic bullets.

Then Achieve3000 went away. I rejoiced. When we were issued the iPads as part of then-Superintendent John Deasy’s plan, the iPads didn’t remain long enough to start Achieve3000. The next year, iPads were reissued to students, but still no Achieve3000.

Then, this Spring, it was back. With a vengeance. One day per week would be dedicated to the use of this program: English classes on Mondays, Science on Wednesdays, Social Studies on Thursdays. I cannot speak for the English or Science articles, but the articles for Social Studies had little to do with what I was covering in class. That was my complaint three years ago. It was my complaint when I was first exposed to it at a Professional Development which I attended one summer.

“Oh you can select which articles you have the students read.” I can select which empty, vapid articles free of any controversy can be used. Articles which had all the substance of something in People Magazine. Okay, that was my other complaint three years ago.

Then came my biggest gripe: 20% of my teaching week would be lost. “No, no, they’ll still be covering Social Studies. You’re not losing time. You’re just using it differently.”

Yeah, reading articles which had little to do with what I needed to cover and which had little substance… “What about my Advanced Placement class? I can’t lose 20% of my time to this. I already don’t have enough time to cover the curriculum which will be on the test as it is.”

Then came the answer: “Just have the students read the articles at a higher level, like their college textbooks…” Which they had difficulty reading in the first place and the articles were mere fluff, such as the one on the relationship between Julius Caesar and Cleopatra… “Just ask the questions at a higher level. Have them do the more advanced questions on the articles.”

So where do I go from here?

Like last year, I’ll have to fight for the arts and for literature to be represented. The vast majority of my 144 10th Graders this year never had an Art class. Many were angry because, when they selected their Career Pathway, STEaM (Science Technology Engineering arts Math), they did because of “Arts.” They didn’t realize it would be “arts” with a little “a” and that their history teacher would be the one emphasizing arts projects with their iPads. It wasn’t any better with the students from other Pathways. Some joked that I was their Art teacher—and that’s just plain wrong. Last year, I was worried that I hadn’t met the teachers in the STEaM Pathway and hoped they’d be amenable to making the little “arts” into “ARTS.” That didn’t happen. I had to do projects on my own.

I don’t envision it being any different this year, but at least I’m prepared to do it by myself if I have to. And at least my chances for doing dressups are better.

 

 

 

Into the Darkness

Posted by Chuck Olynyk on June 28, 2016 at 11:55 AM Comments comments (0)

Today is Saturday, June 25, 2016 and Day 172 of Year Seven, Day 2079 since I began writing this blog which was originally about LAUSD’s Fremont High’s reconstitution, and Day 2011 PF or since I realized the issues were about my Post-Fremont time. I hadn’t written anything since August 6th, as we were dealing with Roosevelt High, newly reassembled from the seven Small Schools, then splintered in four Career Pathways, all the while earning a 2-year probationary status from WASC.

Six years ago, I left John C. Fremont High. Facebook told me so when I first looked at my phone. There I was, dressed as the Pathfinder. How appropriate. I was to go find a new path.

No, that doesn’t tell the whole story. I didn’t leave. I got kicked out. That’s very different. Half of my then-colleagues tried to stay under the new terms and conditions that then-Superintendent Ramon C. Cortines, local District Superintendent Dr. George McKenna III (did you know Denzel Washington played him in a movie?) and the principal imposed. Woe to the vanquished.

The other half of us fought like Hell. We documented where the bodies were being buried, that this wasn’t about retaining the best and brightest to remake the Mont, but keeping the most compliant. We wrote and people read, horrified at the draconian measures employed to gain the $6 million-dollar School Improvement Grant.

Then we lost and were cast upon the winds.

Six years later, I’m at a new school. I don’t write very much, the principal who oversaw what happened to Fremont was awarded a new school, Dr. McKenna now sits on the school board and is now hailed by UTLA as the Teachers’ Friend, the Superintendent has retired a third time (after returning to clean up the messes of iPadgate and other reforms by Dr. John Deasy), and we’re scattered in what has come to be called the Fremont Diaspora. Those who used to interact with me about blogging on education reform (was it just because we were just inside sources about a once-hot topic or was it we were one-trick ponies when it came to writing about education?), now don’t. Sometimes I read what’s going on and feel disconnected, as if the battle has passed me by.

But now I’m not the Pathfinder of Fremont. I’m the Rough Rider of Roosevelt and am surrounded by a team of dance drill team angels and I am thankful for what I have.

But it is tough to look at that reminder on Facebook of fighting overwhelming odds, lasting as long as we did (I can still see the late Mat Taylor’s boyish grin and hear him exclaim, “We were supposed to be all dead by now, but we’re still fighting!”), and ultimately losing.

I’m in a better place now. I don’t mind driving in on my days off, like I will have to on Monday, because I’m sure there will be a practice and I fulfill different roles, such as being advisor and surrogate dad for forty teenaged girls.

But I do taste those dregs.

And Fremont? How is the ‘Mont doing six years after the reconstitution which the District and the L.A. Times hailed as a success, once those “lazy, incompetent teachers” were chased out and after the $6 million-dollar School Improvement Grant was spent?

Fremont went back on the “failing schools list” a three years later.

 

 

Haven't We Lost Enough?

Posted by Chuck Olynyk on August 17, 2015 at 8:40 AM Comments comments (1)

Today is Sunday August 16, 2015, and Day 213 of Year Six. It’s Day 71 of vacation. That’s the last day. Colleagues have been sharing jokes about curling up on a couch with comfort food, crying into our beer.

They’re not that far from the truth.

Normally, I’d be writing something like this at the end of the school year, but last year was such an awful year, I needed a bit of distance to regain some perspective. The perspective came from the garage.

Last summer, it was about dealing with my sister’s cancer treatments and chopping down dead trees and planting new ones in the backyard—just in time for the water measures due to the drought. This year, it more cancer stuff, but my other foci have gone into writing lesson plans for two courses I haven’t taught in over a decade and into the garage: I need to be able to work on projects, but finally reached that stage where I was able to move my dad’s tools. Most had remained where he left them the day he died—I just worked around them. Or used them and put them back.

At last, though, I was able to move them. A new work area got built, relieving the clutter; items were declared junk and were tossed. My dad’s tools merged with mine and were reorganized. Tools are being repaired/refurbished/repainted. Half-completed projects were found.

And while I putter on armoring projects (trying to get new stuff built for the new school year), leather-working projects and tool repair, I’m thinking about what I didn’t get to do the last two years, what with changing direction, benchmark assessments, periodic assessments, WASC assessing us.

Word of warning, if you’re only interested in The Big Issues about School Reform, stop reading. This is about One School and the magic bullets it has endured in the last seven years and how it is broken. If you can get over the One School part and see something in here to apply to a bigger picture, then, by all means, do so.

But this won’t be for everybody. Unlike school reform, one size does not fit all—or even most.

From the WASC report for Roosevelt High School: “One of the major initiatives was to create three career pathways in Law and Public Service, Medical and Health Science, and Science, Technology, Engineering, and Arts and Math (STEAM)…” Actually STEaM. “These programs are introduced to students in 9th grade and made available at 10th grade. These include CTE courses and can lead to industry certification when the student completes three courses…”

Pathways? Vocational Pathways? I’ll come back to that, because it’s a disturbing subject which requires a different post about what had been lost.

Over the past two years, I saw something important go missing. For almost my entire career in high schools in LAUSD, I’d been part of the Humanitas Program, under the umbrella of LAEP. It was a part of me for 19 years but what I wrote two years ago explains it best.

“Around May 29, 2013, Jesse Turner took my grief at losing the opportunity to work with arts teachers and reworked my words in his blog ‘Children Are More Than Test Scores.’ http://childrenaremorethantestscores.blogspot.com/2013/05/we-should-be-saluting-great-teachers.html

I quote the Walking Man’s title for his blog a lot.

‘Good Morning, World! Our last hurrah as the Humanitas Arts School at Roosevelt Senior High begins. Next year will begin the apartheid of public education: AP classes on one side, double-blocking of English and Math and elimination of any real enrichment of the curriculum, but plenty of multiple choice questions answered on computers about articles kids read once and forget. Between Roosevelt and Fremont Highs, I've taught for 19 years in the Humanitas Program, linking History, English and Art, and for a really awesome year at Edison Middle School with Andrea Mordoh and Dwayne Turner doing likewise. Guess I'll just have to have a final project which involves creativity instead of recall, innovation instead of repetition. Because, as my friend Jesse Turner has observed, children are more than test scores…’”

My former principal from the Humanitas Arts School or HARTS decried the loss of the program. “Our kids will fail in those programs. They’re artsy kids. These kids can be so annoying in a classroom. That’s why we need to exist, so these kids can fit in.” That’s quoted from memory. He said it often enough, or something like that, and I agree with him.

“No, no. CNMT and L&G have merged, and they are a Humanitas school—err, Pathway… And STEaM has art. EVERYBODY gets art.”

“It’s a little ‘a.’ And History, English and Art are all linked in Humanitas—”

“The three Pathways get Linked Learning grants.”

I just got the enemy wrong. It wasn’t double-blocking. It was Pathways. And the money.

And the loss of arts.

After some two decades of teaching with arts specifically linked to my curriculum, enriching it where I can, I have to look back at what I was not able to teach in my classes:

I normally can dress-up in period garb or armor some eighty to one hundred days out of the year, have music playing for each era we are studying, art visible to the students.

This year, there was no Alexander the Great.

The Roman Empire fell a lot faster than normal. So several of those dress-ups went by the wayside. So did Christianity’s rise.

Henry II and his family, and Henry’s changes in English law, didn’t make the cut. We pretty much went straight from the early Middle Ages and the Rise of Islam to the Magna Carta. We also had to skip the Crusades and how they triggered the Renaissance. A few dress-ups got lost there, as well. In fact I haven’t worn my 42-pound mail hauberk, with the mail chausses (mail legs for those who don’t know) in two years.

My Renaissance unit was a disaster. Both last year and this year. At least I got to teach about art and literature—I just wasn’t linked up with any art teachers, and the three English teachers had to deal with their own Period Assessments, Benchmark Assessments. I also had to throw half the unit into the trash because we were directed to issue and evaluate a Benchmark Assessment. That meant that the Northern Renaissance went away so kiss goodbye any Chaucer or Shakespeare, as did the Hundred Years War and the War of the Roses. That meant that for two years I didn’t have my students dress me in Renaissance armor, as they did when the Los Angeles Times came to do a story http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-roosevelt-teacher-20111226,0,6707776.story

Nor did I wear the Elizabethan garb.

Many kids get over their fear of Shakespeare in my class, we missed out on watching “Henry V” together, connecting literature, film and history. Sometimes that’s the only dose of Shakespeare they get.

But we did get to do a Benchmark Assessment, which my kids rebelled against doing http://rememberfremont.webs.com/apps/blog/show/42865632-the-fire-inside

It went badly.

The Enlightenment unit went worse, if possible, this year. We were informed by administration that ALL 10th Grade students had to do projects. The reason was because three Pathways had received grants for Linked Learning and completed products were required by somebody to justify the grants. Don’t ask me what the money was spent on. My students weren’t involved in any Linked Learning grant. I’d just been doing Linked Learning for two decades without any grants. We just took it for… granted… that this was how we taught.

Yeah, I did that…

No connecting with arts or literature. We waved at Louis XIV, the American Revolution and the French Revolution… because we had to get a project done for a required Exhibition Night. No arts. So much for Enlightenment, eh?

Maybe that shambles of a first semester had greater impact upon me because of what I spent the summer doing: making repairs and modifications and upgrades on armor I’d neglected for a few years. After all, if I wasn’t wearing it, why repair it?

Because someday I might remind myself what other classes got to see for decades and still talked about on social media with me and what my current students had been missing out on.

The second semester wasn’t so much a loss of dress-ups (you have to understand dress-ups are simply the tip of the iceberg of the lesson—they catch the attention of the students), it was about lessons lost: again, the arts suffered a hit. Romanticism, realism, impressionism… Who were those artists, writers, composers? What did it matter? Literature wasn’t being taught with novels, but excerpts from textbooks. Besides, reading fiction is something which would happen in the workplace only if you were an English major and we have to get these children ready for the workplace…

That’s not strictly true, the part about not reading literature. Two English teachers I intersected with taught “Animal Farm,” and one actually came to me to get an explanation on the history part. But those two English teachers shared students with me in ONE period, plus fragments of another. That left the vast majority of my students missing that linking of arts, literature and history. It was as if the Earth’s orbit intersected the trail of a comet and we got to witness the Perseid meteor shower, a spectacular celestial light show lasting but a few nights.

How many other kids are missing out on those programs where the arts matter? How many others miss reading a novel in English and understanding the why of it in a history class? How many others miss out on the Bard of Avon?

So where do I go from here?

I’ll have to fight for the arts and for literature to be represented. I haven’t even met the teachers in my new Pathway, STEaM (Science Technology Engineering arts Math). Maybe they’ll be amenable to making the arts into ARTS. Or maybe I’ll just have to do it on my own.

I can do that. I’ve done that before, decided what the kids need. Haven’t we lost enough?

 

 

 

Fire and Rain

Posted by Chuck Olynyk on August 6, 2015 at 9:20 PM Comments comments (0)

Today is Thursday, August 06, 2015 and Day 203 of Year Six. I heard who the new principal of Roosevelt High will be. I had questions, was told about the process… and that still didn’t answer my questions. It finally got down to that word.

Politics.

I don’t like that word. I guess that makes me incredibly naïve. A handshake works for me. Unfortunately, we don’t seem to be in a handshake world. After all, our previous principal, who “successfully led us” to a two-year probationary accreditation, had the cheek, after receiving the letter from WASC on June 26, emailed the staff on July 14 and congratulated us on our achievement, before leaving for greener pastures and a new position as an educational leader.

Some of those who also sang the praises are still here.

And some who didn’t join in the song are here, as well.

As is the school, the students, a majority of the staff, alumni and the community of Boyle Heights.

I was disheartened and disgusted with the accreditation process, felt betrayed as the Visiting Committee gave choruses of praise when they met with the faculty at the end of April. The lovefest ensued.

There were many of us who felt we did not deserve better than probationary status, but felt that somehow another Teflon-coated miracle was pulled off, in spite of what we deserved.

I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I know I complained, as did a number of us, but to what avail? “What’s the matter? Didn’t you want us to pass?”

Not like this, no.

Following that came Teacher Appreciation Week and to crown the week, something like 20% of our faculty was called in, to be told they were being displaced, due to loss of QIEA funding (another success for our administration). The problem was, more veteran teachers were being displaced: teachers who were National Board Certified, teachers who taught Advanced Placement Classes, teachers who were alumni and returned to their home and taught for over two decades.

It was explained that certain teachers had received specialized training who circumvented anything to do with seniority or the contract. Faculty and staff split even further, the lines of battle having been drawn.

Faculty and staff were outraged. People stopped speaking to each other. Division was obvious in Professional Development meetings. But our outrage was nothing—compared to that of the students.

They organized a walkout May 15. The irony is the principal sent out an email a couple of weeks earlier, urging Social Studies teachers to teach about the East L.A. Blowouts of 1968.

We didn’t encourage the students to walk out. Word was already out, trickling around the campus as students seethed. Many of us had frank conversations with our classes about what they were planning to do—and the consequences which could take place, that for every act of civil disobedience, a price had to be paid.

On May 15th, at the end of lunch, the campus of 1900 began to empty. The principal later explained in an email that “approximately 300 students” walked out.

No, it was most of the campus. The students marched, fighting for their education and how they felt that, just as in 1968, they were being betrayed. They marched around the campus, just as in 1968, escorted by the Brown Berets.

When they addressed the principal, they were articulate, refused to come sit in the auditorium, and expressed their discontent.

In the end, a few teachers got their positions back, but it was explained that extra funding had been found. The school year ended with farewells and faculty at each other’s throats.

Then came the announcement the principal was moving on.

Then came the initial meetings to find a selection committee and to vet the process.

THEN came the announcement of the probationary status.

I admit I considered retirement. Not because of the teachers who had to find jobs elsewhere, not just because the grievance filed by the union was considered settled (thus establishing precedent for the actions of the principal and the Mayor’s Partnership for L.A. Schools), but because it had all become too much.

Politics. The business model. “You’re a smart guy, Chuck…”

As I said, I considered retirement. Then I got word of a Town Hall Meeting to discuss the future of the school. I attended, I spoke out, as did others. We all seemed to speak for different reasons. Some had long-standing agendas and this was a forum. Others asked what can we do?

But the ones who moved me were the students. Four student leaders stood at the front, offering their insights upon what was happening to their school. When someone complained that everything should be translated into Spanish, once dutifully complied.

The students showed maturity. They showed self-restraint. They projected calm and asked, “Please invest in us.”

And I felt my faith restored. I thought about the girl I ran into at the initial meeting over the principal selection process and how excited she was to shout at me, “Mr. O! I have you for Government this year!”

I’d forgotten that in the ensuing weeks. Then I saw her yesterday as I was going to the meeting.

“Please invest in us.” To hear those words reminded me of words a friend once said about what was happening to the school: “We’re allowing adult agendas to dictate what we do.”

That has been true. Whenever change is about to take place, whenever we have to prepare a self-study for the accreditation process, the word stakeholders is bandied about. The question is asked, “Does this represent all stakeholders? Does this represent the students, the teachers, the administrators, the classified staff, the parents?”

Stakeholders were there… most of them. There were parents, students, teachers, classified staff… “Beuller? Beuller? Beuller?” No administrators. Granted our new principal sent word he could not attend, but no administrators were present, which did not go over well with those assembled for the Boyle Heights Town Hall meeting. Members of the Mayor’s Partnership did attend, but declined to speak.

It was a lost opportunity. I hope it can be regained and trust reestablished as we prepare to save our school. It was Donald H. McGannon who said: “Leadership is action, not position.”

As for myself, I’m not retiring. I’m going to stay to fight for their school. May those who didn’t attend, and those who brought forth their own agendas join us.

 

 

 

See the Changes

Posted by Chuck Olynyk on July 26, 2015 at 9:45 PM Comments comments (0)

Today is Thursday, July 23, 2015 and Day 189 of Year Six, Day 48 of vacation, Day 1741 since I began writing this blog, Day 1673 PF or Post-Fremont.

That phrase Post-Fremont ceased to have any meaning for the past year. So little meaning, that I stopped writing. The last time I wrote was November 22, 2014. It was about benchmark assessments our administrative team insisted on. It seemed like small potatoes, compared to what everyone else was writing about: opting out of testing and suchlike.

My words had been about reconstitution at Fremont. That story seemed done. When I wrote about LAUSD school board races, I urged people remember a candidate’s past; that didn’t go over so well. What I found myself writing about was reform and how it was affecting Roosevelt. There were iPads and what I like to call iPadgate, which has yet to be resolved, but what I began to feel was that I was writing about one school. A very complicated school. It used to be only one. Then, in the name of reform by the Mayor’s Partnership for L.A. Schools, it became seven schools. And when reform did not yield the desired results, five of those schools were merged into one. One remained a magnet, another spun off to become a magnet. Then one of the five became a pilot and was booted off the main campus by the principal and Partnership last year, only to be returning this year, but still a pilot school.

I told you it was complicated.

Then I gave up on writing. There seemed nothing more to say.

I haven’t been writing for a long, long time. I was more concerned about what was happening IN my classroom. In fact, I was trying to content myself with keeping my nose in the classroom rather than react to what was going on about me. Part of that was about the discipline It had become, at the least, disruptive to leave a door open, much less walk about the campus. At worst it had become unsafe, thanks largely to an administration which decided that consequences for student misbehavior was passé.

But events at this one school, which had endured so many half-baked attempts at reform, has led to it now facing probationary status from a WASC Accreditation.

It’s only one school. It doesn’t seem very big when one looks at the number of organizations and groups on Facebook with overlapping agendas of opposing charterization, privatization, the testing frenzy, edu-robber barons, and a host of other related causes. Surely one school, on that vast battlefield of ideology, seemed small.

There’s an old maxim about small losses: “For want of a nail, a shoe was lost. For want of a shoe, a horse was lost. For want of a horse, a rider was lost. For want of a rider, a company was lost. For want of a company, a battle was lost. For want of a battle, a crown was lost.”

I’m more inclined to quote Capt. John Sheridan, from “Babylon 5”: “Captain's personal log, September 2nd, 2261. Enough is enough.” Yeah, my inner geek is still around.

Back to the Mayor’s Partnership for L.A. Schools (or PLAS, as we refer to it, but we have been informed by the CEO the preferred name is Partnership) and the Accrediting Commission for Schools, Western Association of Schools and Colleges (which we’d just refer to as WASC) and the struggle to bring Theodore Roosevelt Senior High School up to standard.

In 2008, Roosevelt received a one-year probationary accreditation. The next year saw massive change: a three-year accreditation, RHS had a new Principal, Dr. Sofia Freire, and the Roosevelt community had just voted to join former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s Partnership for Los Angeles Schools (PLAS), a turnaround organization with an annual budget of $10 million. For the non-Angelinos, here is what PLAS had to say about itself in 2001: “The Partnership for Los Angeles Schools is a unique collaboration between the City of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Unified School District to turnaround LA’s lowest performing schools and to create a model for doing so district wide. Today it is one of the largest public school turnaround projects in the nation, serving nearly 20,000 students across 15 schools in some of the city’s poorest communities.” To accomplish this, PLAS has an annual budget of over $10,000,000. PLAS would come on board with the understanding that the partnership with the, err, Partnership, would last five years and would be up for a re-vote.

That re-vote never happened.

PLAS announced that, after reviewing the results of school reform efforts in other areas, it was decided that the small school model had very promising results and that Roosevelt be restructured from 12 Small Learning Communities (SLCs) on three tracks (4 SLCs per track) to 7 Design Teams following the same traditional school calendar, then transition to small schools.

During the 2009-2010 school year, Roosevelt remained a comprehensive high school with one principal, but the structure shifted to the 7 Design Teams. During the year, these groups of teachers began to make plans for the following year, where they were to become autonomous small schools with their own principals. Dr. Freire had made the adjustment from working with the LAUSD Local District 5 to working more closely with the Partnership’s leadership. At the same time, reconstitution, later called restructuring was taking place at Fremont High School, with the goal of increasing student achievement by getting rid of over 50 of the current staff and restructuring the master schedule with an eye on a $6 million School Improvement Grant. School reform was in the air.

The Small School era began in 2010-11, with seven Small Schools, headed by seven principals, but they were not true principals in the sense of their pay rates nor authority. At least once per week, they would leave the campus for a meeting, leaving one lone AP in command of a campus which included HARTS (the Humanitas Arts School), STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math),

the School of Communications, New Media and Technology (CNMT, which retained the original Roosevelt CDS code), AMAHS, Law & Government (L&G), and the Math Science & Technology Magnet Academy (located on the RHS site) and the off-campus Academy of Environmental and Social Policy (ESP).

It was a lot for one person to handle, considering there were no other administrators anyplace on the campus. It was also a fairly controversial move, not sitting well with many students, staff, parents and alumni. At the 2011 graduation ceremony in the Shrine Auditorium, Dr. Freire bid RHS farewell and took a position with PLAS, retaining her principal’s office. We’d now had our first graduation as seven separate schools, presided over by the seven principals. But they still weren’t principals, according to pay rate or tenure.

Now we reach 2011: Three of the Small Schools wanted block scheduling. Three did not. Two bell schedules went into effect, causing some chaos. There were also problems with budgeting. The block schedules were more expensive to maintain. What also added to the problem was that, although Roosevelt (Big R, not the Seven Little Rs) received funding from the Quality Education Investment Act (QEIA), which did mitigate the effects of the RIFs somewhat by keeping class sizes small. The QEIA funding was supposed to be divided amongst the Small Schools, to budget as they saw fit. Some spent less. Those who block-scheduled spent more. It was then discovered that the Partnership felt that if some schools ran out, the QEIA funding magically belonged to one big school. Think socialism. Think West and East Germany reuniting: it’s not fair that you have more than me.

In January, 2011, I was writing: “There budget stuff. There’s pressures about the number of F and D students and just how do we go about fixing the problems—or even figuring out exactly where the problem lies. There’s janitorial issues. There’s copying issues. There’s a lot more volunteering for committees. There’s hinting at more volunteering. There’s questions about Advanced Placement classes and just how they work—or even if they will exist. There’s questions about deans.”

Bottom line: there was a lot to figure out, a lot of learning to make due with less, while a Partnership with an annual budget of $10 million and 22 schools to oversee (7 of them at Roosevelt) did not appear very often on campus. RIF notices started going out.

A month later, I noted: “It’s a strange thing to watch, this destruction of solidarity. You see it in the schools, dividing kids, resources, teachers, positions up. There’s the talk of bell schedules changing for each Small Schools, whether that might happen or not, the door is open, and we talk about it. We talk about how to cover Health without Health teachers, to teach high school kids who ask ‘What’s a circumcision?’”

That was a few days before a meeting after school in the cafeteria in which the various support people on this campus (College Corner, Testing, etc. etc.) were supposed to be presenting. The intent was designed for the School Site Councils of the seven Small Schools Roosevelt has been turned into under PLAS to hear from these offices as they decide on the budgets for next year and decide what offices should be supported. Although designed for the School Site Councils, it was a open meeting.

It also served to degrade our staff. They were there to beg for their jobs.

February 26, 2011: “Now PLAS has put it on us to choose, or rather, our School Site Councils, who most likely will ask for input from the faculty divided by seven. New Math. Perhaps some Small Schools will partner up to buy a position, if they can’t afford one outright. If not…

Who chooses? How? Which limb do we save, PLAS and LAUSD? Librarian? College Counselor? Career Counselor? The deans? The school nurse? The psychiatric social worker? Title I Coordinator? Bilingual Coordinator? Testing Coordinator? The Special Education Office? The clerk in the textbook room? The office technicians in the ISIS office? The Art/Music department? The office technicians?

“I had another reason I admired some of my kids this week. When I talked about this in class, making the Industrial Revolution a bit more current, one of my kids blurted out, ‘You make it sound like you’re buying people at Wal-Mart!’ I had to explain further about the concept of ‘Don’t think of these as people, but rather as positions to be filled. Can this person’s job be done by someone else?’ The reply was, ‘Do they think of the students that way?’”

A touch of Thomas Malthus for 2011.

In the Fall of 2011, each small school participated in the Expanded Substantive Change visit. The three-year term was extended to 2012-2013. So we slid by another accreditation. There were improvements. Through an intense focus on such achievement indicators as California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE) passing rates, California Standards Test (CST) results, graduation rates, and English Learner reclassification, all of the small schools were able to achieve impressive results.

However, back to the budgets and block schedules and QEIA funding. Let’s add a new factor: declining enrollment. In December 2012, the small school principals received a letter from LAUSD Superintendent Deasy stating that the district had determined that Roosevelt High School had not demonstrated adequate progress overall. He also stated that the current structure at Roosevelt must become more cost-effective and functional. We were spending too much in some areas. Submit a plan or the District takes over from PLAS.

I was thinking about reconstitution and what happened to Fremont.

There was the chaos of reconsolidation. ESP went its own way, becoming a Magnet school affiliated with Lincoln High. I don’t know who pays for bussing kids over.

That had reduced the campus to six Small Schools. The Math Science & Technology Magnet Academy would retain independent status, with its own principal. I don’t know at to rate and tenure for either the ESP or Magnet principals. That left CNMT, HARTS, AMAHS, STEM and L&G to consolidate into one comprehensive high school. The Big R was going to be back. Because of this change, RHS was granted a one-year accreditation extension.

We held our final graduation as Small Schools, under our seven banners, in 2013.

In 2013-14, Roosevelt High School opened as a consolidated, comprehensive high school under a new principal, Bruce Bivins, formerly the principal at ESP. That consolidated comprehensive high school didn’t last long.

Some staff had looked forward to it. Why couldn’t we just be one big school which could provide flexibility and choices? We certainly should have been able to compete with charter schools (remember, Roosevelt was one of the public schools mentioned in “Waiting For Superman”;). Even the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation had stepped away from the idea of small schools, removing all such material from the foundation’s website.

But we should have had a few clues. Mr. Bivins, in his initial interview said he was “a small schools guy,” then quickly changed his tone. And there were those lured by the siren call of “purity and autonomy.”

By the Spring Semester of the 2013-14 school year, the new vision was being laid our: the school would be divided into Pathways, with career readiness in mind. Students would enter these Pathways, which would have “purity and autonomy,” in the 10th grade, making career choices by Spring of their freshman year.

This proved too much for some teachers. STEM formed a pilot school. Mr. Bivins refused to allow them to share the campus. These colleagues moved across the street to Hollenbeck Middle School, beginning with a class of 9th graders.

Roosevelt with a Big R had just taken another hit. And WASC was coming. RHS was again given a one-year extension in 2014 to allow more time for the school to conduct the self-study as a single, comprehensive high school. A comprehensive high school divided into four career pathways and three 9th grade houses.

Initially there were three pathways, but a fourth formed as an alternative. Before the end of the first semester word was it had been dissolved, its students to be absorbed by the other pathways. More on that later.

From the WASC report: “One of the major initiatives was to create three career pathways in Law and Public Service, Medical and Health Science, and Science, Technology, Engineering, and Arts and Math (STEAM). This is a new program for the 2014-15 school year. These programs are introduced to students in 9th grade and made available at 10th grade. These include CTE courses and can lead to industry certification when the student completes three courses. Currently 10% of RHS students achieve certification, an internship, or job placement from these pathways. A 4th pathway exists, ACE, for students who haven’t chosen a pathway. It is the VC’s understanding that this pathway is in its’ final semester and students in ACE will be incorporated into one of the other pathway. Currently the 11th and 12th grade students are not part of pathway but all students in 10th-12th will be in pathways in the next 2 years…”

But it was, again, another major change for a school which suffered through changes. And the Committee saw that as a flaw:

“Based on the frequent changes in focus due to the constant reorganization efforts over the last several years, there are questions remaining as to the extent to which the partnership, local district, and entire district at large will support and demonstrate the professional leadership commitment necessary for the school to continue to make progress. The school’s action plan incorporates important school-wide issues and relates them to the concepts of the Focus on Learning criteria. A possible impediment to the plan would be the lack of commitment on the part of all district and site leadership to follow through in a consistent manner on implementing the action plan…”

“The Accrediting Commission for Schools, Western Association of Schools and Colleges (ACS WASC) announces the action taken at the Summer 2015 Commission Meeting. The ACS WASC Commissioners have determined Theodore Roosevelt Senior High School deviates significantly from the ACS WASC criteria for accreditation in one or more critical areas. This accreditation status is based on all of the information provided by the school, including the self-study report, and the results of the on-site accreditation visit…

“Therefore, it is the decision of the Commission to grant Probationary Accreditation Status to Theodore Roosevelt Senior High School through June 30, 2017, with a two-day visit in 2017…”—addressed June 26, 2015. Shared via email July 14, 2015. So much for transparency…

At Fremont, part of the trouble had been the short term administrators were assigned to the school site. In the sixteen years I was there, there were eight principals. The average lifetime of one was 23 months, one week.

In the five years at Roosevelt, I’ve worked with three principals (I count Dr. Freire as one of them, because she oversaw what I’d refer to as the Seven Dwarves). But the Partnership has also had those changes in leadership. Within those five years, the second in command left, to be replaced by someone I never learned the name of. Marshall Tuck, the CEO of the Mayor’s Partnership L.A. Schools, left a couple of years ago (the same year Mayor Villaraigosa left), in a heavily-Broad-backed but unsuccessful bid to become the California State Superintendent of Schools, and was replaced by Joan Sullivan. And the changing of the guard continues at PLAS—I mean, the Partnership: as we seek a new principal (Mr. Bivins left for greener pastures two weeks ago), representatives from the Partnership arrived at a meeting to discuss the selection of a replacement. The word interim was used a lot. As in referring to those present.

In those seven years of the Partnership overseeing Roosevelt through being a Comprehensive High School, through SLCs, to Design Teams, to Small Schools, back to a Comprehensive High School, now divided up into Pathways, who bears the responsibility for a school which went from a one-year probationary accreditation to a three-year (with multiple extensions) to a two-year probation?

Is it the faculty? Is it the District? Is it the turnaround organization?

We have two years to figure it out, and to fix it.

 

 

 

The Fire Inside

Posted by Chuck Olynyk on November 22, 2014 at 10:55 PM Comments comments (1)

Today is Saturday, November 22, 2014 and Day 311 of Year Five, Day 1494 since I began writing about education, Day 1426 PF or Post-Fremont. It’s the 28th anniversary of my knighting in the Society For Creative Anachronism, where I swore an oath to defend those who cannot defend themselves, something I believe I’ve taken seriously outside what some would call a “dress-up game” or “cocktail costume party.” It is also the day after the hundredth anniversary of my father’s birth, so I’ve been moody about what he taught me, as well. The day before that, UTLA members rallied at Mariachi Plaza, a short distance from Roosevelt. The first 70 days of the Fall Semester have passed. I haven’t written a word for this blog in 119 days.

I wrote something like that 176 days ago, when I needed to share my impressions about Marshall Tuck. Old news: he lost the bid for becoming California’s education tsar (I know, I should write “czar,” but I’m being ethnically correct here). Current news: his legacy lives on in the form of the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools.

I could write about not having a dean and watching discipline go to crap (but I already wrote about that back in June http://rememberfremont.webs.com/apps/blog/show/42412976-smokin-in-the-boys-room

And it hasn’t gotten any better). I could write about iPad “deployment” (like it’s a military operation—“Gunny, what’s your evaluation of this operation?” “It’s a clusterf*c#, sir.”—“Heartbreak Ridge”), but that’s not the Partnership’s fault.

No, instead I’ll write about assessment—and what my kids lose to it. Earlier this semester, we as a department, were informed we’d be giving benchmark assessments, that ALL departments would be doing so and that these assessments would all be occurring at the same time. Administrators would be able to see, as they walked from room to room, that children would be working in silence as they struggled to go through the hoops, and we as a body would sit together and calibrate our grading. We would score the benchmark assessments (which are not the same as periodic assessments, I was told this week), bubble in scores—and hold up pre-slugged scoring sheets to a camera in order to record the data. This would be use of technology, I presume.

(Question from one of my drill team angels, a number of whom were present for this: “Mister O, are ALL your meetings like that?” “Pretty much.”)

Besides the question “Why don’t we just log on and click the scores?” there came another: “Who gets the data?”

The first assessment was a disaster. Many students stared at a reading covering material which they had not encountered before. It was the same at every grade level. Large numbers of my students fidgeted, turning in partially completed graphic organizers, highlighted sentences, three-sentence paragraphs. Many of my AP World History students kept asking, “What if we don’t do this?”

The only answer I could give was, “For every act of rebellion, there is always a consequence. You have to decide if the consequence is worth it.” (I kept thinking of “Shogun”: Toranaga-sama: “Then it is treason!” Anjin-san: “Only if you lose.”)

Many refused to do it. “It’s a waste of our time to take this, and a waste of your time to grade this!” (Flashback to “The Dirty Dozen”: “Major Reisman: “Hey, hey, we got something out there.” Capt. Kinder: “Yeah, and the Navy has a word for it—mutiny.” I scored what I could but never bothered to enter it. If my best and brightest thought this was a waste, how good I grade this as a test grade.

They got participation grades worth a day of notes: you either played or you didn’t. I thought about what we lost in those few days, what we couldn’t cover because we were being “assessed.”

Then came word about the second assessment. We’d have input on what we were doing by grade level, which I gave and which was mutually agreed upon, primary sources from the Enlightenment. There were windows for dates. Then that went to Hell. I realized I’d have to abruptly scrap the rest of the unit I was covering. The Renaissance was gone: no Shakespeare, no Reformation.

Kids groused. “Isn’t this stuff going to be on the AP test?” asked one of my bright rebels. “This is bogus,” said another, using more colorful language, “No Shakespeare? I thought he was supposed to be important.” I didn’t know whether to feel better because they were upset—or worse.

I shrugged it off. “You’re taking this awfully calmly.”

“Play the cards we’re dealt.” We wrapped up the Renaissance with an essay and launched into the Enlightenment. Handouts, primary sources, highlighters and bulletpoints, with an eye on the calendar for “iPad deployment.” We knew it would play hob with the assessment, but were told, “School goes on.” School goes on? That didn’t sound like ideal “assessment conditions.”

The iPads have yet to be deployed. We soldiered on, counting on that week in December. “No,” we were told. “Assessment will be during the week before the Thanksgiving break.” More lessons and dress-ups scrapped, in order to prepare the kids for the periodic assessment.

“No,” I was corrected. “BENCHMARK assessment.”

The dates were changed again. They’d take place AFTER the break, very likely with iPad going on. And we had it explained to us, as we debated on fairness and how many days to give this over, “It doesn’t matter if the students have ever seen this material before. This assesses their mastery of skills in analyzing any two documents.” I can’t remember when I heard terms like “drill down,” but I do recall hearing, “We can see which teacher is doing better and try to find out why.”

Without background knowledge? Teaching history without teaching what happened?

And that’s when I decided to “teach to the test.” NOT because I want those higher scores. This was material my kids were going to be exposed to anyway. They were going to write an essay anyway. But I refuse to put my students through another meaningless exercise.

We covered the American Revolution. Fifes and drums played in the background as I spun tales about the Founding Fathers, startling kids as I acted out what occurred at Lexington and Concord, drawing gasps and tears as I spoke of the friendship of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson and how they met their ends. Intrigued, some read the Declaration of Independence on their own, coming up with insights and questions we debated.

In the end, I ran off copies, handed them out, watched for two days and got back essays from a mere 49% of my students. Someone else said, he got the same results. This time, I’m grading it as a normal essay, one I taught to. And while I’m grading, I’ll be thinking about how we’ll be told how we need to “provide academic rigor,” yet “re-assess” our grading practices, because so few participated.

 

 

 

I Will Not Go Quietly

Posted by Chuck Olynyk on September 1, 2014 at 8:00 PM Comments comments (0)

Today is Sunday, August 31, 2014 and Day 228 of Year Five. The first three weeks of the school year have passed. In reality, it has only been thirteen days. “Thirteen. Bad luck.”—Paden (Kevin Kline), upon being reminded by Cobb (Brian Dennehy) of the favor of a loan, “Silverado”.

And it was only Day 12, on Wednesday, August 27, that we had what I like to call the Impressive Child-Beating Ceremony or Back-to-School Night--my nod to the Impressive Fainting Ceremony in “Catch-22”. Parents came, expecting grades. Parents came, asking about whether I used Engrade. Not many, but some, as well as some kids.

I replied in the negative. “We were told we’ll all be using MISIS for grading in a few months.” There were smiles at that. Yeah, they were buying that. [INTENSE SARCASM ALERT] When we can’t even figure out how many kids are even enrolled, we’re going to be posting grades… “In the meantime, I’ll be using a spreadsheet, like I’ve been using…” ever since the Rand Corporation Think Tank down at the Dark Tower (District headquarters) decided to “improve” Grademax until it became useless… “I don’t want to start on one system and then switch to another a few months later. I have my district email address in your child’s syllabus and on the board over there. How many of you are online at home?”

Very few hands went up. That happened all night.

Uh oh.

So much for the “groundbreaking effort to provide an iPad to every Los Angeles student, teacher and school administrator…”

When the Mayor’s Partnership for Los Angeles Schools purchased the iPad model with 16GB of memory for most of the teachers and administrators at Roosevelt, I stared at it, puttered with it, then, when the Partnership “gave” us MacBooks the next time around--I still think these were bigger “now-shut-the-Hell-ups,” I handed my iPadito back to my administrator; he said he had a better use for them for labs or suchlike. I rejoiced that I wouldn’t have to carry the cursed thing to Professional Development meetings.

“Partnership.” There’s a kindness.

Higgins: “It’d have to be somebody in the Community.”

Joe Turner: “Community.”

Higgins: “Intelligence field.”

Joe Turner: “Community! Jesus, you guys are kind to yourselves. Community.”—“Three Days of the Condor.” The novel was originally titled “Six Days of the Condor.” It was a favorite novel and movie from my post-high-school days and has been getting a lot of airplay of late, so it’s hard not to draw comparisons. For “Community,” I’ve been wanting to substitute “Partnership,” or on a larger scale, “Reformers.”

I find myself becoming more suspicious, less trusting. After all, these people are supposed to be working for the benefit of children, operating with money from the public, for the public good. Certainly they wouldn’t act like heavies in a spy movie.

Would they?

“LAUSD report faults iPad bidding”

http://www.latimes.com/local/education/la-me-lausd-ipads-20140822-story.html#page=1  “The groundbreaking effort to provide an iPad to every Los Angeles student, teacher and school administrator was beset by inadequate planning, a lack of transparency and a flawed bidding process, according to the draft of an internal school district report obtained by The Times…The bidding process — and events leading up to it — were singled out for particular criticism. The report concludes that the district needlessly limited its options on price and product, and raises questions about whether the process was fair…”

Maybe they would. Shades of “Wall Street” and Gordon Gecco.

We’ve waited 10 months for this, 10 months since School Board member Monica Ratliff began chairing a committee made up of LAUSD officials, parents and even teachers. It was supposed to remain confidential, but the L.A. Times got a hold of it early “…from sources who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to release it…”

Joe Turner: “Just look around. They’ve got it. That’s where they ship from. They’ve got it all.”

Higgins: “What? What did you do?”

Joe Turner: “I told them a story. You play games. I told them a story.”

Higgins, realizing they’re standing outside the New York Times: “Oh you… you poor dumb son of a bitch. You’ve done more damage than you know.”

Joe Turner: “I hope so.”—“Three Days of the Condor”

The report “applauds the goals and potential benefits of the technology push…” (You’re not supposed to put a student down for a wrong answer. I guess the same applies to a Superintendent “Good try, Johnny. That wasn’t the answer we were looking for, but good try. Who’s a good little superintendent? It’s you, huh?”;) and “stops short of accusing anyone of wrongdoing…” (“We had some guys that got over-zealous. Over-zealous. The O-Zs, we call ‘em…”—from comedian Robert Klein’s Watergate routine) but does “offer a carefully worded rebuke of the $1-billion-plus technology effort in the nation's second-largest school system…”

You were bad.

The L.A. Times: “Among the findings:

“•The initial rules for winning the contract appeared to be tailored to the products of the eventual winners — Apple and Pearson — rather than to demonstrated district needs.

“•Key changes to the bidding rules were made after most of the competition had been eliminated under the original specifications.

“•Past comments or associations with vendors, including by L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy, created an appearance of conflict even if no ethics rules were violated…”

(Joe Turner: “Boy, what is it with you people? You think not getting caught in a lie is the same thing as telling the truth.”—“Three Days of the Condor”;)

“The report suggests that from the beginning district officials, including Deasy, made decisions that created an appearance of impropriety, clouding good intentions… The superintendent recused [?] himself from the bidding process because he owned Apple stock, which he has since sold. But he seemed to signal where his preferences lay in a promotional video filmed for Apple in December 2011, as a school pilot program using only iPads was set to start…” Promotional video, eh? Like a … commercial? Like… being the spokesperson for a product? John Couch, Apple's vice president of education: “‘This would be the first time we will have shared these things with an educator or superintendent… If you believe, as we do, that these things will help catapult us forward towards the vision we both share, we would also like to request interviewing you on video.’”

“‘We had decided to adopt iPad technology, as we were trying to provide ways for increasing student engagements,’ Deasy said in the spot…” Sounds like a commercial to me. “The device, for example, had to have at least a ‘10-inch multi-touch display…’” By the way, the model of iPad the district agreed to buy was almost immediately superseded by a newer version on store shelves. And was still much more expensive than various notebooks.

Why? What made this feature sooo important, especially when it was later discovered that an additional keypad was needed? And that the keyboard would cost more money?

“In an interview last month, Deasy stressed his conviction [there’s a loaded word] ‘that every youth regardless of ZIP Code will have access to technology… I wanted this to happen as quickly as possible,’ he said…”

We call that a sense of urgency in education parlance. It’s a phrase which can be waved like a banner or brandished like a dagger, all in the name of a desired change. I’m sure “status quo” will make its appearance, too. It was so urgent that the iPads distributed to 47 schools, including Roosevelt High, where I work, “suffered a series of setbacks,” as the L.A. Times put it. “In one, students at three campuses deleted security filters so they could browse the Internet — prompting officials to prohibit the iPads’ use outside of school…” (“LAUSD halts home use of iPads for students after devices hacked”

http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-lausd-ipad-hack-20130925,0,6974454.story?track=rss&utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+lanowblog+%28L.A.+Now%29"%20 )

Then there was the incomplete curriculum from testing giant Pearson. “The report noted that the district insisted on a new curriculum that would align with recently approved learning goals adopted by California and most other states, known as Common Core. No one wanted a recycled curriculum masked by a fresh label… Given the short time frame, only a major corporate player could promise to deliver a full new curriculum. But during the bidding, neither Pearson nor several other vendors had such a product to submit. The district based its decision on a small number of sample lessons, the report says…”

So much for being data-driven.

How about dollar-driven? “‘I believe we would have to make sure that your bid is the lowest one.’” That’s then-Deputy Superintendent Jaime Aquino, who was an executive with a Pearson affiliate before gaining that post, emailing Pearson on May 24, 2012. (“LAUSD had close ties with Apple, Pearson execs, records show”

http://www.latimes.com/local/education/la-me-ipads-deasy-20140825-story.html#page=1 ) By the way, he joined the District in July 2011, and LAUSD ethics rules required him not to become involved in Pearson contracts for one year. Looks like he didn’t make it. And by early 2013, he was involved in overseeing the bidding process. By the end of last year, he was no longer in LAUSD.

Isn’t he working for Pearson now? No, wait, it’s New Teacher Center. It doesn’t help that he won’t respond to interview request, either.

By the way, the questions of Deasy and Aquino to Apple and Pearson were brought up before. Steve Lopez was making those pointed observations back in September of last year: “New problems surface in L.A. Unified’s iPad program”

http://www.latimes.com/local/la-me-0929-lopez-ipad-20130929,0,6616782,full.column

Just sayin’.

Making sure Pearson had the lowest bid created at atmosphere where the District cut itself off from vendors who may have had products that would have worked. The report suggests that this might have been a less expensive way to go with voter-approved school construction bonds. “The Pearson part of the deal also attracted critics because, for example, the school system was paying full price for a curriculum that still was under development during the first year of a three-year license…” One year of that three-year period has already passed and we weren’t able to use said licensed curriculum. Now how about that?

While officials from LAUSD defend both Supt. Deasy and former Deputy Supt. Aquino (“…no scoring was revised at the request of Aquino or the executive committee…” “it’s not unusual for LAUSD to work with private companies in developing materials or testing devices…” or limits), it doesn’t help appearances that Pearson (which has had to pay the state of New York $7.7 million as a settlement), subsidized a July 2012 conference in Palm Desert and handed out iPads “for district use.” Or that Pearson was working with District officials to develop curricular materials, and that later some of these same “officials” were involved in evaluating bidders for the computer/curriculum contract. It also doesn’t help if you change the bidding rules during the process.

“In June 2013, the school board had a choice of three finalists: All included a device paired with a curriculum. All three used Pearson. Two were for iPads, from different vendors… District staff asserted that the Apple/Pearson bid was both the lowest in price and highest in quality…”

The Board rubber-stamped this in June 2013. Pearson would provide its incomplete curriculum. Apple would supply the iPads which would be used for not only accessing the curriculum developed by Pearson, but which would be used for the pesky Common Core tests. Keyboards not included.

It didn’t help LAUSD that in January 2014, the Board decided to disband the iPad watchdog committee (“iPad watchdog committee set to disband

Decision to end schools' iPad panel raises questions about oversight of the program that has had a bumpy rollout.”

http://www.latimes.com/local/la-me-lausd-ipads-20140120,0,7334041.story#ixzz2rbixXnSt ), that they send committee member Stuart Magruder, an architect and L.A. Unified dad packing in May, for asking inconvenient questions, such as “whether it's appropriate to use bond money — which is paid back over 30 years — to buy electronics with a life span of three to five years….” And for having concerns such as “‘I cannot for the life of me see how an elementary school kid needs an iPad, and how that's moving the pedagogical ball forward.’” (“L.A. Unified watchdog back on the job”

http://www.latimes.com/local/la-me-0618-lopez-scrum-20140618-column.html )

By Monday, August 25, Deasy had hit the Escape button: “L.A. Unified halts contract for iPads”

http://www.latimes.com/local/education/la-me-deasy-ipads-20140826-story.html “L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy suspended future use of a contract with Apple on Monday that was to provide iPads to all students in the nation's second-largest school system amid mounting scrutiny of the $1-billion-plus effort…”

“‘Moving forward, we will no longer utilize our current contract with Apple Inc…. Not only will this decision enable us to take advantage of an ever-changing marketplace and technology advances, it will also give us time to take into account concerns raised surrounding the [project],’” Deasy wrote to the Los Angeles School Board.

“Moving forward…” When my re-enactment buddies talk about advancing to the rear, that’s a retreat. This is advancing to the rear. It’s not just the questions being asked about the coziness of LAUSD top officials and two corporate giants. (Just read the lovefest emails between Apple execs and Supt. Deasy in “LAUSD had close ties with Apple, Pearson execs, records show”

http://www.latimes.com/local/education/la-me-ipads-deasy-20140825-story.html#page=1 )

Steve Lopez thinks so, too. “Can Supt. Deasy survive LAUSD’s iPad fiasco?”

http://www.latimes.com/local/la-me-0827-lopez-lausdtech-20140826-column.html  “You'd think all had gone according to plan, but make no mistake: Despite the upbeat, moving-on tone of that message, the Deasy pullback is a defining moment in his tenure. It was nothing short of a forced surrender to critics who have argued for months that Deasy charged ahead on the iPad project as if he knew best and everyone else's job was to get out of the way… And what did that get us? A commitment to spend tens of millions of dollars on pricey tablets and on software programs that hadn't even been developed…”

“This decision [will] enable us to take advantage…” [Someone sure took advantage already] “…of an ever-changing marketplace and technology advances…” Such as students preferring taking the new state tests on other devices because the screen size of iPads is small and the iPad keyboard covers part of the questions. By the way, that was being mentioned back in October: “More questions on L.A. Unified’s iPad program, but few answers”

http://www.latimes.com/local/la-me-1023-lausd-ipads-20131023,0,3182287.story#axzz2ieJgIJgS

The schools which were part of Phase I, the schools which got the iPads in the first place, will have them re-deployed. Whether or not the students get to take them home or not, fears of “hacking” and other problems are still under debate. That’s under the old contract, which affects 52 schools.

Does that mean the iPads which have now had one-third of their lifespan pass as they sat in boxes or carts, and the unfinished Pearson curriculum, which was licensed for the same length of time, be used? Or does LAUSD plan to buy new models and start the circus all over again? And to remind folks, the original cost per iPad was to be $678. Howard Blume pointed out last year that, with taxes and a mandatory recycling fee, the cost rose to $744. Looks like we’ll get our money’s worth out of that recycling fee…

 


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