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Posted by Chuck Olynyk on July 26, 2015 at 9:45 PM

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.

 

 

 

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