Remember Fremont

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Cardboard Empire

Posted by Chuck Olynyk on June 29, 2016 at 2:15 AM

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.  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  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,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.




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