Remember Fremont

Never forget. Stand and Be Counted.


Fire and Rain

Posted by Chuck Olynyk on August 6, 2015 at 9:20 PM

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.


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.




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