Saving the arts at LAUSD

As the executive director of Save the Arts, a non-profit organization designed to promote arts education in the fiscally embattled LAUSD, Suzanne Nichols is used to being on the frontline for innovative social change.

Save the Arts

Suzanne Nichols, founder of Save the Arts.

Nichols founded Save the Arts to address the gutting of arts positions and programs across the district. On Saturday, May 18, Save the Arts will hold its annual silent auction and benefit at the Coconut Grove. [Read more…]

Reconstitution and magnet convert at Crenshaw High draws protests

Parents, teachers and students held a press conference outside of Crenshaw High School on Monday to push back against a plan to magnet convert and reconstitute the South Los Angeles high school. image

Community members are upset at LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy’s proposal to convert Crenshaw High School, including Orville Wright Middle School and Central Region Elementary School #20 (CRES 20), into a magnet school, and reconstitute Crenshaw High, which means all teachers and staff must re-apply for their jobs, according to parent Loutrisha Swafford.

Swafford questioned the necessity of having existing staff and teachers re-apply for positions they were already hired for.

“It doesn’t necessarily stabilize what we’re trying to build here. It destabilizes it,” said Averie Blackwell, student at Crenshaw High School. “It kills everything that we worked for. It doesn’t allow us to be students, to be free, to learn from the same teachers every single day. You know how hard it is to learn in a classroom that has a different teacher every single day?”

Supporters held signs with slogans like “Stop Educational Racism, Keep Community Control” and “Keep Our Schools Public,” while several students sang songs in protest as their peers played the drums.

“We have students here who are high-achievers because they’re coming through the streets filled with crime,” said Swafford.

Anita Parker, a senior at Crenshaw High School, said reconstitution would not help a school with already low resources. She said many lunch tables are broken and some classrooms are so full “you have to sit on the floor.”

image Those at the press conference expressed outrage at LAUSD for not consulting with parents, teachers, students and staff. According to Swafford, there was no prior knowledge or mention to the community by LAUSD of their intention to convert Crenshaw into a magnet school.

Swafford said the community is demanding that LAUSD reverse reconstitution and postpone any vote until further discussions are made with the community. They are also demanding support and resources for a recently implemented Extended Cultural Learning model from LAUSD.

The Extended Cultural Learning model offers a more well-rounded approach to curriculum, according to a statement by members of the school. The model focuses on cultural relevance, behavioral support and services, and outside activities like internships. Based on that model, the school was awarded a grant of $225,000 from the Ford Foundation.

By using the Extended Learning Cultural model, Swafford outlined a list of achievements made by students and staff. In 2011 – 2012, the school was able to improve its API by 15 points, including higher API levels among African-American students that were above six of the seven major South LA high schools.

Haewon Asfar, an organizer with the Community Rights Campaign, said the Extended Cultural Learning model showed improvements in more than just measurable ways. Many of her students in the after-school program she runs at Crenshaw feel more empowered and excited about coming to school.

“It has to be put within the context of their everyday lives…more than half are below the poverty line,” said Asfar, who also mentioned that many students come from single parent households. “It’s not the same conditions as other communities.”

Parents protest as Miramonte Elementary reopens

Parents meet at the end of the day to coordinate organizing efforts.

Miramonte Elementary reopened on Thursday morning after a two-day closure, following Superintendent John Deasy’s decision to replace the entire 128-member staff in the wake of a sex abuse scandal involving two teachers accused of molesting children at the school.

LAUSD officials and police officers were on site at Miramonte Elementary to ensure a smooth transition, as hordes of news crews descended on the school to catch a glimpse of the new teachers and students returning to class.

There were protests throughout the day, with some parents opposing the teacher removals. Many refused to bring the children to school – attendance was only 68 percent.

“This was such a radical change,” complains Eutalia Espinoza, mother of a nine-year old attending Miramonte. “How can they make innocent teachers pay for the dirty ones?”

“We don’t agree with what they did. The children were used to the teachers and so were we,” says Karina Alferez. “With all these new people, it’s as if our children are going to a new school.”

LAUSD officials and police officers were at the school all day.

Cynthia Contreras, whose sister Nicole attends first grade at Miramonte, thinks the school district was wrong to “take out all the teachers. Not all the teachers were bad…. They should have interviewed the teachers during the two days and done background checks again and then put them back in school.”

Contreras, a fluent English speaker who has been assigned the family task of attending parent meetings and dealing with school issues, says her little sister is distraught over losing her teacher.

“Miss Fong was very nice. I miss her,” says six-year old Nicole. That sense of loss was echoed by several other students who were listening to her reminisce about her teacher.

During the past two days, LAUSD rehired 80 laid-off teachers and brought back retired Principal Dolores Palacio to oversee the school. In all, Miramonte will have 169 new staff members, including 45 site counselors.

The estimated cost for the replacement staff, scheduled to remain at the school until June 30, is $5.7 million.

“What we did is unprecedented,” says Tom Waldman, LAUSD Director of Communications and Media Relations. “This district mobilized fast to make it happen.” Waldman emphasized the teacher relocation was to assist the Sheriff’s investigation without disrupting classes. “We couldn’t stop the school year.”

The Miramonte teachers have been temporarily relocated to the recently built August Hawkins High School, which has not yet opened for business. Those teachers have been given the week off.

Parents say media crews have disrupted their school.

According to Waldman, they are scheduled to report next week to the new school for about six and a half hours a day, where they will receive professional development training. Being in another school, he says, will make them accessible for interviews by sheriff’s deputies conducting the criminal investigation of teachers Mark Berndt and Martin Springer, who were arrested last week, charged with multiple counts of committing lewd acts against children at Miramonte.

“We will also conduct an independent inquiry… about policy issues, the process of screening teachers and how teachers should be vigilant of sex abuse signs,” states Waldman.

United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), the union that represents the teachers, today accused the school district of doing a “cheap media stunt” by replacing the entire staff and is threatening to sue if the relocated teachers aren’t allowed to return to Miramonte after the investigation is over.

School officials organized three meetings to talk to parents throughout the day – one in the morning, another at 2:30 pm and the last one at 5:30 pm.

The main concern of parents who attended the 2:30 pm meeting was the safety of their children and whether this week’s interruption will affect their academic performance.

Edward Ozuna is demanding to see his daughter’s teacher credentials and background check.

Edward Ozuna didn’t bring his two daughters to school on Thursday. He says they were afraid of the new teachers and asked him to go to the school to find out what they were like. Ozuna took a third day off from work as a plant manager at a national architecture firm to check out the new teachers and attend the meetings.

“I feel better because we got some answers. I spoke with the teachers, the principal and the staff. I wanted to make sure my kids are safe.” He says he told Principal Palacio he wanted to see the credentials of his daughter’s new teachers and that she promised to have them ready for him tomorrow. Ozuna promised to return on Friday to see those credentials and bring his daughters to class.

“I don’t want them to miss any more days of school. But it’s going to be hard for them. They miss their old teacher. Mr. Vergara was great. The good teachers don’t deserve this… to be taken away like criminals.”

Ozuna had nothing but good things to say about his daughter’s teachers and of school principal Martín Sandoval.

“I’m upset the principal left. He was so good. In just two years since he came to the school, he improved academics. He motivated the kids. We want him back.”

A parent wears a t-shirt with the names of the teachers they want back in the school.

The sex abuse scandal at their school has mobilized Miramonte parents. They are now more vocal. They are demanding stricter background checks of teachers and that the school be more efficient in notifying them of any irregularities.

A group of parent volunteers gathered late in the afternoon to discuss how they would organize in the coming days.

“I want to make sure I know what’s going on,” says Yolanda Rivera, who has a five and an eight year-old at the school. “I want to make sure something like this never happens to us again.”

Authorities on Thursday discovered another 200 photographs, believed to be taken by Berndt. Some of the children in the new photos have been previously identified, but investigators say there may be other victims.

Opinion: LAUSD continues its broken promises

imageLAUSD continues to break its promise to our community by closing adult education. Adult Ed. is one of the few places our students and community can have a second chance at receiving their high school diploma, make up a class they might have missed while in high school, improve their English skills, or simply to learn a new trade in industrial arts. Adult Ed. helps our economy by providing thousands of hard working adults and high school students with the skills they need to enter a new career.

LAUSD breaks its promise to our youngest children by planning to eliminate early education. These are pre-K classes that help children get a head start in school. Study after study show that students who are enrolled in early education classes perform better throughout their educational career; it’s a wise investment in the children’s future.* Working class parents especially depend on early education as they do not have the resources to enroll their children in expensive private schools, art and other enrichment programs.

LAUSD breaks its promise to educators by forcing them to take unnecessary furloughs this school year. In fact, teachers and health and human services professionals agreed to make a sacrifice and take up to 6 furlough days for the 2011-2012 year if California State budget projections fell short. Educators made this sacrifice to stop the increase of class sizes, shorten the school year and prevent the loss of thousands of jobs. Once December budget numbers were released, it was clear that the district received enough money to avoid furloughs for the year. However, LAUSD has continued its plans for furloughs and has not kept its promise of avoiding unnecessary furloughs. Moreover, it is doing so WITHOUT the agreement of the teachers union, UTLA.

LAUSD breaks its promise of a quality education to all our children. By shortening the school year, ending essential programs that give students and parents a second chance, and closing early education, LAUSD continues making and breaking promises. This especially affects the working class and communities of color in Los Angeles who depend on these programs for economic survival and success. LAUSD’s broken promises lead down the road to continuing poverty and the widening of the achievement gap.

It is time LAUSD keeps its promises with the community, parents, student and teachers.

What can you do?

Please call or email your school Board Member today and tell them to keep their promises. You can contact them by clicking here.

Also, join teachers, parents, various community groups and UTLA for a planned protest rally in front of LAUSD School Board on:
Tuesday, February 14, 2012 at 4:00 pm.

Jose Lara is a Social Justice Educator at Santee High School in South Los Angeles. He also serves as Secretary of the South Central Neighborhood Council and is very involved in educational and economic justice issues is South LA.

*For study on benefits of early education click here.

Union demands LAUSD rehire laid-off teachers

Listen to an audio story by Annenberg Radio News

imageUnited Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) is calling on the district to rehire 1,200 teachers and support staff that were laid off last spring due to budget cuts.

UTLA held a news conference today in front of Manual Arts High School in South Los Angeles–a particularly troubled school where 3,000 students learn in a space built for 1,000.

The problems at Manual Arts are about more than dealing with reduced resources. The school is currently under the management of a non-profit reform group and its influx of students is the result of a move from a year-round schedule to a traditional calendar this fall.

Representatives at the conference demanded the school district use its year-end surplus of $55 million from last school year to ease strained schools.

UTLA president Warren Fletcher says the biggest problem in LAUSD schools is overcrowded classrooms.

“We have gigantic class sizes. We have Algebra 2 classes with over 50 students. We have P.E. classes with over 80 students,” Fletcher said. “If you’re a seventh-grader and you’re in one of those ridiculously overcrowded classrooms–well–you don’t ever get to be in seventh grade again, so it is something that needs to happen now. The children can no longer wait for this.”

Manual Arts is one of two Los Angeles high schools that has been managed by independent non-profit L.A.’s Promise. The Los Angeles Times reported today that LAUSD officials are poised to retake substantial management control of the school.

While UTLA has been a critic of L.A.’s Promise, it says the district’s hoarding of its surplus funds is to blame for the troubles at Manual Arts and schools like it.

History teacher Daniel Beebe says the lack of staff is at Manual Arts is a problem

“Obviously, when you add eight, nine, 10 students to a classroom, it cuts down your ability to give the students the support and attention they deserve,” Beebe said.

A controversial state law, AB 114, was passed with the budget that prevents school districts from laying off teachers during budget shortages. UTLA says that under the law, the district has the go-ahead to bring teachers back into the classroom.

“This is a serious, serious matter, and the money is there to alleviate it,” Fletcher said. “The school board and the superintendent need to act now. We have already burned a month of school. We can’t burn a whole school year.”

Spokespersons for both LAUSD and L.A.’s Promise said they were unable to comment.

OPINION: LAUP offers educational resources to aspiring teachers


By Jennifer Quinonez for Los Angeles Universal Preschool

imageFinding a quality job and making a difference in a child’s life may seem like an unattainable dream. For many, it may also seem overwhelming as to where to begin to fulfill that goal.

Today, students have a place to turn to for guidance and financial support, thanks to Los Angeles Universal Preschool (LAUP), which is seeking to support and inspire people interested in working with children and their families.

LAUP is a non-profit organization providing high-quality, free or low-cost preschool to children in Los Angeles County. Three years ago, LAUP launched an Early Care and Education Workforce Initiative to provide resources, funds and one-on-one support so that a person can more easily pursue an education in the field of child development. The Initiative is composed of seven collaborations located throughout Los Angeles County.

One collaborative, called Project RISE, is led by Long Beach City College (LBCC) and the program has partnered with the Long Beach Unified School District and California State University, Dominguez Hills to recruit, train and help students receive their degrees in early care and education, as well as furthering their careers in the field.

“We’ve changed the way our students think about their career path,” said Donna Rafanello, Long Beach City College. “Instead of taking a couple of courses, they’re thinking about this as an educational career, because we help them with the certificate process and offer specialized counselors — so it’s really made an impression.”

LAUP also supports its own LAUP preschool teachers by providing financial assistance through its stipend program to those who want to further their education. The LAUP Stipend Program awarded more than 200 stipends to LAUP teachers who have successfully completed college coursework in child development over the past year.

“The LAUP stipend was a great motivator, just knowing that there was somebody looking out for me, and encouraging me to go back to school while I tried to work as well,“ said Preschool Teacher Leslie Toscano. “I think teachers having degrees is very important. Sometimes, we think of preschool as a time of play or just daycare, but I believe children need teachers who understand that this is a very important age for them to learn. It’s the foundation of their young lives.”

For more information on these programs, contact LAUP at 1-866-675-5400 and visit

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OPINION: How to help the transition from preschool to Kindergarten

OPINION: Walk in the shoes of a teacher

imageBy Sujata Bhatt, a teacher at Grand View Elementary

All names have been changed to protect students’ privacy.

The first month of school has ended, and many teachers working in urban districts have already gone through the seven stages of grief. Shock and denial over the skills of incoming students. Pain at the thought of how much work it will take to get them up to speed. Anger at the many factors that have brought these students to the classroom in this state of unpreparedness. Depression in the face of the magnitude of the task ahead. Reflection on what it will take to get the students going. The upward turn as students begin to cohere as a class. Reconstruction as the teacher finds methods and strategies to teach this group of students. And, finally, a glimmer of hope that maybe, just maybe, the job will get done.

In short, as the barbs and battle cries in the Great Education Debate fly all around us, we teachers have gotten down to work. We have assessed our students to see where they are in reading and math skills, in writing and comprehension. We have pored through databases to analyze test scores and fill out numerous worksheets to satisfy the experts and district number crunchers. But equally importantly, we have gotten to know our students as human beings.

I know that four out of my 24 fourth-graders read at grade level. One knows her times tables. Almost no one knows his or her phone numbers. Most don’t know their addresses. Many don’t know that they live in the city of Los Angeles, which is in the state of California in the nation of the United States on the continent of North America. Four did not read a single book over the summer. One has missed a week of school already. The other students say she has gone to Mexico, but we don’t know for sure, and we don’t know when she’ll be back. One has already moved to Bakersfield.

I know that fifteen out of twenty four parents showed up at an evening class meeting I held. Two sent notes that they couldn’t make it because they were working; I don’t know about the remaining seven.

I know that Osvaldo’s mom will meet me at the gate once a week to check on how he’s doing.

I know that Avery’s mom wants me to let her know about his behavior every single day, but she won’t come to class meetings or Back to School Night.

I know that David has a handicapped sister at home which makes it hard for his single mom to give him attention, but if I call her and let her know how he’s doing, she’ll make the time for him.

I know that Timothy’s mom will verbally support everything I do but has no time or energy to follow up on it.

I know that Harry has five siblings from five different dads and his mom has “f*** you” tattooed on her eyebrow.

I know that Nicandro’s dad drinks, curses, and (according to him) beats him, and his older brother is in and out of juvie.

I know that Monica’s mother has promised to take her to the California locales we’re exploring in Social Studies if she works hard and does well.

I know that Emilio’s family is taking him to Yosemite because we’re studying it in science. I know that Rigo’s mom is saving to buy him a laptop after I showed her how much extracurricular support the kids can find on the web.

I know that Liam will do anything in order to get computer time.

I know Aline has an enormous talent in motivating her classmates, but that she can only keep focused for 20-minute stretches.

I know that Isabel needs to speak up more, and Reginald needs to learn to listen to others more.

I know that Steven wants to be President of the United States so he can help poor people and those without documents. To motivate him, I just need to ask him if he thinks what he’s doing is presidential enough.

I could go on and on about their lives, their dreams, their weaknesses, their stories, and the year is just beginning.

Does any of this information matter in the Great Education Debate? No, say the experts, because it is not data. It is not quantifiable. It is not part of standardized testing. It can’t be used in Value-Added Measurements. It is merely anecdotal.

But is it valuable? It’s what teachers learn in order to help each individual student move forward. It’s what we have to work both with and against — even as all those so-called experts are telling us how and how not to do our jobs. I wish just for a month they’d walk in our shoes.

Settlement changes teacher layoffs

By: Albert Sabate

Listen to the audio story here:


Read the script here:

A new agreement by the Los Angeles Board of Education and the American Civil Liberties Union changes the usual practice of laying off the most recently hired teachers first. Now, some teachers will retain their jobs over teachers who have been teaching longer. Some teachers say this is especially important for South Los Angeles.

Teacher:: “I think in any other school community, a policy that continually lays off more than half of the teachers at one school site, year after year, and places substitute after substitute in front of the students, would be an outrage, and it would be deemed criminal. Today, this settlement says to us that this policy will no longer be tolerated by the schools of South Central Los Angeles.”

The American Civil Liberties Union, and others, filed a lawsuit against the Los Angeles Unified School District in February. The lawsuit accuses the Los Angeles Unified School District of denying students equal access to public education.

Mark Rosenbaum from American Civil Liberties Union:

Rosenbaum: “The American dream must be open and accessible to all children. Poverty and race shall not disadvantage any child.”

Until now, layoffs have been based on seniority. More often than not, new instructors teach at poor or low-achieving schools. But because these teachers are at the bottom of the totem-pole, they are the first to go. That means that those schools lose a larger proportion of their teachers.

Speaker:: “At all costs, we must retain and support those teachers who are making the most differences in the lives of our students.”

Plaintiffs found a loophole in the education code that said seniority could be used in determining layoffs, but only if it does not interfere with the students’ education.

Here is Kenneth Aubrey, a teacher at Gompers Middle School:

Aubrey: “Why should I be punished, and other teachers be punished, for making a social decision to go where they are most needed, where they can be the most effective?”

The unanimously approved settlement would spare 45 struggling schools from layoffs. Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villraigosa says these reforms were just a start.

Villaraigosa: “This isn’t just about fixing the dance of the lemons. It’s about cutting down the trees. The system where decisions are based solely on seniority has created a system of inequality. And a system where decisions are made to protect the adults has only served to hurt the children.”

The settlement still has to be approved by a judge, but is widely expected to be approved.

Teachers share reasons for marching

imageAfter the last bell rang on Thursday, many L.A. Unified School District teachers headed to Pershing Square to join a protest against education budget cuts.

The L.A. Unified Board of Education approved thousands of layoffs Tuesday afternoon, affecting teachers and other school personnel.

Many educators say they’re worried not just for their jobs, but also about the effects that cutting programs and raising class sizes will have on their students.

And while some are angry with the school district, others also feel betrayed by Sacramento, which dramatically decreased the funding provided to local schools.

The rally was one of several dozen held throughout the state and country, mostly on colleges campuses, as part of the March 4 Day of Action to Defend Education.

L.A. Unified teachers share their motivation for protesting.

LAUSD Board of Education approves layoffs for 4,700 employees

The Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education voted Tuesday afternoon to approve sending thousands of layoff notices to teachers and staff. Board members blamed cutbacks in state spending for the layoffs, which they said were unfortunate but necessary. Even though 4,700 employees will receive layoff notices, some workers may be able to keep their jobs. LAUSD is required to notify employees that may lose their job, and in the past the district has been able to rescind notices after additional funds become available. Ariel Edwards-Levy filed this report for Annenberg Radio News, click below to listen.