OPINION: I smell…synergy

By Melissa Hebert
Editor of 2UrbanGirls.com

Synergy, the interaction of elements that when combined produce a total effect that is greater than the sum of the individual elements, contributions, etc. For many years, synergy ceased to exist between cities and their respective school boards.

To say that the synergy in Inglewood and Compton were lacking is an understatement; it is the equivalent of church vs. state. However, it appears that synergy is brewing in both of these great cities.

image Melissa Hebert

Back in 1993, the state took over Compton Unified School District (CUSD) for a couple of reasons: academic and fiscal insolvency. CUSD was $20 million in the hole and test scores reached rock bottom. Scores at 20 of its 34 schools ranked in the bottom 10 percent of the state in 1992, and Compton residents had little recourse to get its schools back on track.

Ward Connerly, the state administer, who also happened to help author Proposition 208 (you know, removing affirmative action from education) was brought in to bring order to chaos. It was also the first time the state took over a school due to low test scores; normally the fiscal solvency is the most pressing issue.

Recently, Inglewood Unified School District (IUSD) was also taken over by the state for the exact same reasons – low performing schools and a $17 million deficit. IUSD found itself asking for additional funds to keep the district operating and the state’s response was a takeover, earlier than expected.

IUSD currently has 12,000 students enrolled and we lose approximately 1,000 kids a year due to the lack of programs and creativity in the way the students are taught. IUSD has yet to come up with a plan to get kids back in school. They have actually done the opposite by removing discriminatory boundaries such as opening advanced placement classes to all students, regardless of whether they earned the right to be there or not.

While Compton Unified School District (CUSD), made a simple move that yielded huge gains.

CUSD recently made headlines when the state recognized the board’s efforts, as they increased student enrollment, which ultimately brought CUSD an additional $1.2 million in funding for the students.

“We tell districts when they are starting out to make attendance a priority that a good goal is a 1 percent improvement in ADA,” said David Kopperud, a consultant with the California Department of Education who helps oversee student attendance programs.

“If they can do that – that’s a real achievement,” he explained. “Anytime a district increases ADA above 1 percent – that’s exceptional.”

Utilizing a new web-based attendance management system, Compton’s one-year improvement resulted in a total gain of 57,326 learning days over the prior year. While it may be too early to draw conclusions, the district’s performance on the state’s Academic Performance Index increased 11 points in 2011 – 2012 to 697 – a recent high point.

So basically, by turning to a web-based attendance management system this single action allowed for decreased attendance error calculations, which most likely resulted in fewer delays in transmitting the data to the attendance clerks in the district.

The district has become much more vigilant in notifying parents when unexcused absences occur and more consistent in meeting with family members when patterns start to emerge.

It’s too bad that Inglewood Unified School District is still taking attendance by pen and paper and then counting on staff to either drive the forms to the district office or expect welfare and attendance clerks to visit the school sites and enter in the attendance forms manually.

For once, IUSD can actually learn from the progress of the Compton school board. If they followed Compton into the 21st century of technology, our children wouldn’t continue to suffer in their lack of educational funding.

Inglewood’s solution to the lower attendance is to have the children attend school on Saturday for four hours a day with enrichment studies in order to capture the missing funding.

Wouldn’t it be easier to increase technology in both the classroom and attendance office? Oh that’s right, all of the funding received from the Microsoft grant went to LaTijera, who I might add is in the bottom five of all schools in the district.

We see that the City of Inglewood has begun their share of promoting the value of IUSD schools when the annual Martin Luther King Day parade was changed from a parade to a festival at Crozier Middle School. Coincidence? Nope, not with the city preparing to sell the bonds the residents approved when Inglewood residents passed Measure GG.

The good news for Compton residents is the recent declaration of two current Compton USD Board Trustees, Satra Zurita and Skyy Fisher, have both filed to leave the school board and enter the City Council elections.

If they are able to make strides in increasing enrollment and funding for the city’s children, imagine what they can do to turn around the city’s fiscal issues? Perhaps, the money earmarked for Compton USD will actually make its way over there.

We’ll see when City of Compton holds their municipal elections on April 16. Take note Inglewood USD Advisory Board – I know we’ll be watching.

By the way, Inglewood should also take a look at Compton USD’s website because IUSD’s website looks like a 5-year-old made it.

OPINION: IUSD is getting on my nerves

By Melissa Hebert, editor of 2UrbanGirls.com

The 2012 – 2013 school year started off with a bang. Inglewood Unified School District was in debt, employee morale was at an all time LOW, the state took us over and we got a state appointed administrator. Heading into the winter recess, shit hasn’t changed. It’s actually getting worse! image

What really has my panties in a bunch is the fact that IUSD, in an attempt to be more accommodating of all students, have made the following changes:
• Advanced Placement (AP) classes are now open to ALL students
• $0 funding for GATE

Why is this disturbing to me? AP classes are supposed to be hard to get into while GATE (a program I was in) is practically non-existent. Angie Marquez, who is over GATE, has explained to us time and time again the district has zero funds for gifted students. So wait, IUSD has ZERO funds for kids who are excelling in school, but if your child is dumb and falls into the basic, below or far below categories (based on their test scores) here is what is available, so ask your individual school about these services:
• access to AP classes
• $1,100 in outside tutoring services
• laptop computer
• free uniforms
• free backpacks
• free supplies

Why do basic and below average students have access to AP and magnet classes? Former State administrator Kent Taylor stated it was a form of “discrimination” to not allow all children to enroll in the classes, and it would be up to the child to remove themselves if the classes where too hard. Well how in the hell does Inglewood Unified School District expect to retain quality children if they don’t invest in their achievements? Why should children who earned a right to be in the class be forced to share space with someone who can barely read? It is no coincidence that if you attend any of the various advisory committee or school site meetings that the hispanic community has taken a visual AND vocal stand against what is transpiring on the IUSD campuses.

They protest, write petitions regarding the piss-poor job the staff and faculty are doing both in the class, the lack of hygiene in the bathrooms, lack of administrators present on campus, staff out getting their hair and nails done as opposed to working on-site, and guess what – the district is listening. As a direct result of their actions, several principals where put on notice by Taylor about their school’s behavior (take note Mrs. Baptiste over at Bennett-Kew). It is still unclear why the program coordinator over there is in charge of a multi-subject school although her credential is for single subject only, but I digress, it is sad when only a handful of African American parents are present and voicing their concerns on the lack of education IUSD is giving our children. Are we that complacent and afraid to speak up? Do we not care about our childrens future?

A word to the wise, if you have a smart child attending one of the many Program Improvement schools in the district, get them out of the Inglewood Unified School District as fast as you can! Wilder Prep is the best school in Inglewood and you have Environmental Charter on Imperial. If you are considering a path that includes private schools, A Better Chance is more than happy to help you out. Just ask your neighbors in Ladera.

Inglewood school reopens after reconstruction

Students of La Tijera K-8 School celebrated the start of 2012 with a brand new educational complex.

More than two years after the demolition of the old building, the new school, located on the corner of La Cienega and Fairview Blvds., opened its doors on January 4th.

Since 2009, students were housed in portable classrooms while construction of the new facility took place.

There are currently 389 students enrolled, but it’s expected the number will increase in the new school year.

The modern-looking school has a new state-of-the-art library, an outdoor amphitheater and classrooms with high-end electronic teaching equipment.


Steve Donohue is the school’s principal. He has been overseeing the school and its student body during the past three years and throughout the construction phase of the new building.

The Inglewood Unified School District funded the project through a bond measure passed by Inglewood voters in 1998.

Pictures courtesy of the Inglewood Unified School District.

Inglewood Teachers Association protests potential layoffs

Protesters gathered outside Bennett-Kew Elementary School in Inglewood Wednesday to protest the budget cuts that potentially could lead to the layoffs of over half of the Inglewood Unified School District’s employees.

Read the complete story.

Inglewood Unified principal takes hands-on approach to education

imagePrincipal Richard Barter makes it his business to know the names of all 750 students at Oak Street Elementary School in Inglewood.

When Barter steps onto the playground, he’s welcomed by rousing choruses of “Hi, Mr. Barter!”

Smiling warmly under his bushy moustache, he replies, “Hi, Chris. Hi, Anthony. Hi, Fatima.”

He often joins the students outside for recess, during which he emerges wielding a boom box, hula hoops and jump ropes. On a recent morning, children ran toward Barter as he threw a yellow hoop over his head and began swirling to the music.

“I realized when I first became principal that I could not say, ‘Hey, you in the blue shirt.’ The children wouldn’t turn around,” said Barter, who recently began grading tests in his free time to get to know the students even better.

“It gives me a personal connection with the child. Because then I can say, ‘Hey, you passed the division test. I’m really proud of you.'”

Barter’s involvement would be appreciated at any school. But in the Inglewood Unified School District, which has experienced declining enrollment in part due to the increased presence of local charter schools, Barter’s good reputation has helped retain current students and recruit new ones.

“Mr. Barter is a one-of-a-kind principal,” said Xol Isaiah Gonzales, a fourth-grade student who transferred to Oak Street Elementary this year. “I never met any principal who has fun like that.”

Gonzales and his schoolmates were quick to add that Barter frequently makes them laugh, usually by dancing on stage during school events or dressing up for Halloween. They giggled when describing how Barter played basketball with students while dressed up as a cereal box one year.

“He’s just so involved with these kids, ever since I’ve known him,” said Rodtego Roth, a campus plant manager whose children were taught by Barter at Clyde Worthington Elementary. “And that’s the thing: keeping them busy in activities.”

In his 10 years at Oak Street Elementary, Barter has initiated dozens of student activities at the school, which runs from Kindergarten through sixth grade. Some of the activities include soccer, basketball, students vs. faculty athletic competitions, multiple levels of choir, glee club and a special group—the only in Inglewood Unified School District—that practices baile folklórico, a traditional form of Mexican dance.

“We’re always involved with the City of Inglewood through the different programs,” said Norma Rosales, a school clerk whose third-grade son dances in the baile folklórico group. “They’re always calling us to perform.”

School performance groups also regularly appear at city-sponsored events, nursing homes, local churches and parades, including the 2010 Westchester Christmas Parade.

“The more that you have for the children, the less discipline problems that you have,” said Barter, who doles out more certificates of achievement than detention slips.

imageBarter’s office hardly seems the place where students come when they get in trouble. Crayola-brand crayon memorabilia and art fill the shelves and cover the walls. A picture frame decorated with crayons displays the message: “It’s okay to color outside the lines.”

Barter puts creative philosophies to use, such as when he accepted a request to host a polling place for Election Day 2010 in the cafeteria. He simultaneously scheduled student body campaign speeches and elections to occur on stage while Inglewood residents voted on the floor. The student elections were a first for Oak Street Elementary, to his knowledge.

“It was kind of bizarre because they were having the mayor’s election. It was like as if they were there to vote for me,” said Paola Camacho, the sixth-grade student who was elected president. “I think he places an emphasis on having role models for the lower grades because they might not have any older brothers or sisters.”

Barter has implemented several mentoring programs, including pairing older students with younger ones for tutoring sessions during recess and lunch periods. He is currently developing a program that will invite reading tutors from Loyola Marymount University, where he received a master’s degree in educational administration.

“He’s just such a dedicated servant,” said the Rev. Kristian Johnson, pastor of First Lutheran Church in Inglewood. “He’s very relational with everyone and very proactive in making the school the best it can be.”

In 2010, Oak Street Elementary scored an Academic Performance Index score of 826, placing it third in California for an elementary school of that size. Students from economically disadvantaged families make up more than half of the school’s student population, according to the California Department of Education.

Last Thanksgiving, Johnson’s parish received a grant from Thrivent Financial for Lutherans to purchase turkeys, and Barter helped place them with school families that had difficulty affording a complete Thanksgiving meal. He has also been known to help parents pay for the school’s regulatory uniforms and laundering services.

In addition to his behind-the-scenes altruism, Barter regularly honors student achievements publicly, whether for academic, athletic or community service-based merits. He has forged partnerships with Inglewood businesses such as LAX Tacos and Shakey’s, which donate certificates and prizes to students.

“The children, I think, for the most part are happy. And when you have happy children, I think they go home with that happy feeling,” said Barter, who added that whenever he needs a pick-me-up, he just visits one of the kindergarten classrooms.

“They really do make me smile from ear to ear.”

Photo Credit: Lisa Rau

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