Manual Arts teachers march against school overhaul plans

imageThere are some big changes coming to South LA’s Manual Arts High School, and not everyone is excited about them.

The school has been awarded a $1.9 million School Improvement Grant (SIG) from the California Department of Education. The grant requires major structural changes to Manual Arts, including replacing half of its teaching staff.

Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) asked all Manual Arts teachers to reapply for their jobs. Those who aren’t hired back will be shuffled to other schools in the district.

imageSome, like Manual Arts teacher Daniel Beebe, see this effort to turn the troubled school around as misguided.

Beebe teaches history and is chapter chair for United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), the union that represents LAUSD staff. He and dozens of other teachers, students and union representatives marched in front of Manual Arts on Thursday to bring attention to the restructuring and its effect on teachers and students alike.

“You have a lot of hardworking teachers and hardworking students, and we should be supporting that progress instead of starting over every year or two with something new,” Beebe said.

The union requests that the Manual Arts’ administration retain teachers who have expressed a desire to stay at the school. But many teachers, Beebe included, chose not to reapply for positions at Manual Arts.

A few dozen Manual Arts students participated in the afterschool demonstration, holding signs or wearing homemade T-shirts voicing support for their teachers.

“There are good teachers here, and students need them,” said Jennifer Cardozo, a Manual Arts junior. “I don’t think they should be throwing that away just for some grant.”

Beebe and the teachers’ union argue that replacing half the school’s staff is not only damaging to the school’s sense of community, but also goes beyond what’s necessary to fulfill the requirements of the new grant.

imageBetween 30 and 40 percent of Manual Arts’ teachers were shifted just last year, according to UTLA. And one-third of the schools’ staff has been reassigned to the new Augustus Hawkins High School when it opens in the fall.

“With those displacements, we’ve already met the requirements of the SIG grant,” Beebe said. “This is just being used as an excuse to push out teachers that they want to get rid of.”

Another requirement of the grant is that the school’s principal be replaced. But that isn’t happening at Manual Arts, another fact that angers the marching teachers.

“Principal go! Teachers stay!,” a group of student demonstrators chanted from the sidewalk, as Principal Robert Whitman stood just feet away on the school’s front steps.

Whitman took up his post as principal at Manual Arts less than a year ago, and will remain through the restructuring.

Beebe sees this as “bending the rules,” and says that same flexibility should be applied to the teachers who will be displaced.

Whitman declined to comment.

Manual Arts is one of three LA schools managed by independent nonprofit LA’s Promise. The teachers’ union is unhappy with the group’s management of the school over the past three years — pointing to shortages of books and classrooms, five bell schedule changes and last year’s staff reduction.

imageTravis Miller, a ninth grade English teacher at Manual Arts attributes the school’s problems to “constant administrative mismanagement.” In his 12 years at the school, he says he’s answered to 10 different principals.

Miller says he doesn’t see how replacing teachers will deliver results.

“It makes no sense to get rid of the teachers and keep the administration,” he said. “At GM, they’d never say, ‘Our cars aren’t selling, so let’s fire everyone on the line and keep everyone that’s running our company.’”

Spokespersons for both LAUSD and LA’s Promise declined to comment on the planned restructuring.

In order to receive the School Improvement Grant funding, Manual Arts will be required to increase student achievement in reading and math.

Watch a short video of students protesting at Manual Arts:

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