24th Street Elementary parents vote for reform

24th Street Elementary parents voting on reform

Parents at 24th Street Elementary voting on a proposal to reform the school under the California Parent Trigger Act.

Listen to an audio story from Annenberg Radio News

Amabili Villeda says her eight-year-old son goes to an elementary school with unclean facilities, one of the highest rates of suspension, and a difficult principal.

“She didn’t communicate with the parents,”said Villeda. “Even the teachers complained that they couldn’t communicate with her, and parents started take their children out of the school.”

Over the course of a year, the enrollment rate at 24th St. in South LA dropped from 1,000 students to 600. Some parents were discouraged, but Villeda saw this as a reason to get motivated. [Read more…]

Former Fremont High teachers join charter school movement

By Elizabeth Warden

imageJohn C. Fremont High School, located in South Los Angeles, recently underwent reconstruction, a process that allows the Los Angeles Unified School District to make teachers at low performing schools, evaluated by a consecutive high dropout rates and low standardized test scores, reapply for their jobs. Some Fremont High teachers, at the time, decided not to reapply for their jobs as a symbol of opposition to the school district.

“It definitely [does not have] a community in mind,” said Joel Vaca, a 10-year Fremont High veteran during an interview in spring 2010 after the school district had approved the reconstruction process in Dec. 2009.

“Every other neighborhood in LA had a voice in their opinion: East LA had a choice with the public school choice initiative, the beach harbor area had a voice when their schools went up for vote, and it’s the disenfranchisement of South Central and neglect of what happens here in South Central,” he said.

Fremont’s reconstruction and the maelstrom that ensued speaks to the politics of culture and change that often make school and community reform exceedingly difficult.

But just around the time reconstruction at Fremont High began happening, the LAUSD public school choice 2.0 options sprouted up in the spring of 2010 and the district announced nine new campuses. The district intended to use one of the campuses – South Region High School #2 – to relieve overcrowding at Fremont High and neighboring Jefferson High. This gave a team of former Fremont High teachers, and some from Jefferson High, the opportunity to send in a letter of intent and draft a proposal for the South Central Region #2 High School campus that the school district had already started constructing.

Some former Fremont High teachers – like Erica Hamilton who taught at the school for six years – had been looking at alternatives for Fremont High students far before this. She had explored the option of charter operators as early back as 2006, which was the only option at the time.

Read more…

OPINION: A field report from the Public School Choice 2.0 Advisory Vote

imageBy David Lyell (left), L.A. Unified Teacher

As a tax-payer and teacher who has taught at Rosemont Elementary School, I decided to make my voice heard Saturday, January 29 at about 2:30 p.m., for the Advisory Vote for Central Region Elementary School #14. The question: to hand the school over to charter operators, or a group known as United Teachers Los Angeles/Echo Park Community Partners.

For the uninitiated, Public School Choice is the latest gimmick marketed as reform by our current Los angeles Unified School district board of education, board member Marguerite LaMotte excepted. The board doesn’t actually have to follow the Advisory Vote, so, in essence, the voting process is designed to give you the impression that the board is doing something meaningful to improve education. They’re actually doing quite the opposite.

There were probably about a dozen people on the sidewalk handing out pamphlets, and I couldn’t tell which side had more numbers. When I got out of my car, a woman introduced herself, said she was a teacher at Rosemont Elementary, wanted to talk to me about the vote, and handed me a piece of paper. The small black-and white pamphlet listed some charter school scandals, their focus on refusing services to disabled students, those who don’t speak English, and a desire to pay teachers half what we make now. It also listed how the UTLA/Community plan would offer the opportunity to learn two languages (the opposing plan would only offer multi-lingual curriculum after being open for five years), adherence to Board of Education guidelines and oversight, Special Education programs, weekly field trips, and partnerships with museums, concert halls, universities and local businesses.

imageI listened as this teacher passionately described how a group of unproven business people were coming into a community in which she has worked for years, cares so much about, and has given so much of her life to. I had heard about people being bused in to vote the last time this charade known as reform took place, and asked if she had seen any buses. She said that the charter operators had brought several busloads.

I walked towards the entrance to the actual polling site, and a smiling woman handed me two large double-sided color glossy flyers with “Camino Nuevo” written on it. We briefly spoke in Spanish, before the language barrier finally caught up. Another woman intervened, said she lives in the community, and that Camino Nuevo is a community-based organization of parents interested in operating the school.

I asked if anyone had been bused in to vote because that’s what the teacher had told me.

“They’ll tell you anything. They just care about their jobs,” she responded.

When I repeated my question, she said there was in fact a bus, one bus, with about five people. Surely no one would bring a bus with only five people, I asked. Yes, she insisted, that was the case.

I asked about their funding, and she said it came from the school board. I asked what other funding sources they had. She said she did not know. I gently pressed, and she reiterated that she did not know. She brought over a young gentleman she described as a current high school and former Rosemont student. He didn’t know where their funding sources came from either. I asked how they expected me to consider voting for their proposal if they could not even tell me where their funding came from. Neither had an answer.

Voting was simple. I didn’t have to provide any documentation to prove that I had any connection to the community whatsoever.

In less than 30 seconds of research online, I discovered what neither of these two charter school advocates could tell me: who they were working for. Camino Nuevo’s Donor list reads like a “Who’s Who” of charter school proponents, including The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Who else but a billionaire with a $147 million-dollar mega-mansion overlooking Lake Washington and zero public school classroom teaching experience whatsoever is better qualified to reform education? Gates wants to increase class sizes and videotape teachers so a panel of six-figure bureaucrats can scrutinize every twitch and tell teachers what they already know. He’s also a strong proponent of value-added teacher evaluations, and his beloved foundation hasn’t even bothered to respond to phone calls and email seeking comment after it was revealed that they’ve been intentionally withholding data from researchers.

Our current school board majority is hoping you’re not smart enough to realize that by simply offering a “choice,” we’re not all of a sudden going to magically skip down gumdrop lane to 100 percent literacy and graduation rates. Their best idea is to give more of your tax-dollars to some of their friends, people who already have so much money and time on their hands that they don’t even know what to do with themselves.

Please vote March 8 in the Los Angeles Board of Education election for Marguerite LaMotte in District 1, a candidate sincerely interested in doing what our current board majority has refused to do for years: address the achievement gap.

Read more from David Lyell at davidlyell.blogspot.com.

Read David Lyell’s other opinion pieces on Intersections South LA:
Value-add assessments: has the data been cooked

The school board election: what LA Unified doesn’t want you to know

John Deasy announced as new lausd superintendent

Photo courtesy of Robert D. Skeels

VIDEO BLOG: Starting the dialogue about social justice in education

By Jose Lara, a teacher at Santee Education Complex

This is the first in a series of videos that I will be producing bi-monthly. I hope to engage people in a dialogue surrounding social justice in education and community organizing. Although I live and work in one of the most oppressed parts of Los Angeles, every day I am inspired by the resiliency of my community. Once we unite and become organized I know that there is nothing that can stop our demand for justice! This is our struggle. I hope this can begin the dialogue.

Videos are produced with a low-cost hand held digital video camera and incorporate the perspective of other LAUSD teachers, as well as South L.A. students, parents and community activists. Using YouTube, Facebook and Twitter to spread the message, these video blogs will bring to the fore ideas and initiate discussions that the South L.A. community needs to have. To view the video blog steam, please visit Jose Lara’s author page.

Become a fan of Jose Lara on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.

More from Jose Lara: Teachers gather at candlelight vigil

Left behind by the LAUSD, parents get organized

By Martha Sanchez, a parent and community organizer at 28th St. Elementary School

imageTwenty-Eighth Street Elementary School is one of the most overcrowded schools in the LAUSD. The school was built in 1800s to accommodate a maximum of 800 students. In 2003, it housed over 2,300 students turning the school calendar in to a multi-track system with four tracks. In 2007, the LAUSD facilities department invited me to participate in the process of selecting two sites for the construction of two new elementary schools to relieve overpopulation. Since then, I have participated in all phases of the construction, including site selection, cleaning of soil, and architectural design.

Historically our community has been victim to stereotyping and lack of support. Since 2004, I have been organizing at the grass-root level parents, teachers and community members to improve education, bring economic resources to the area and sustain the environment. After years and years of struggle I was relieved to know that we would finally have new schools and could return to a traditional calendar.

However, it appears that once again we have been left behind.

Since the approval of the School Choice Resolution, our community has requested that the LAUSD allow us to participate in the process by giving us access to accurate information in a timely manner. The LAUSD called on us to choose a plan for the new building at site #18 that would take our overflow. But apparently, as was soon revealed, the LAUSD has not yet finished the design of the new school boundaries. “We cannot tell you who will be attending the new school until the process is completed,” LAUSD officials said.

But we were missing vital information. Who can vote? Who are the affected families? What alternatives do parents have if the new school turns into charter and they don’t want that option? What if parents want their children to stay in a regular school system instead? A community meeting was held at John Adams Middle School but no answers were given by the LAUSD. The translation services were so poor that many of our Spanish-speaking parents no idea what was being said. Everyone left disappointed.

imageTherefore we decided to organize a grass-roots effort to involve most of parents at 28th St. School. On January 22, 2010, I began a campaign to organize and obtain the authentic opinion and desires from parents about who they want to control school site #18.

For that reason, we organized a survey to ask parents to choose among the options that they felt could best improve their children’s education. Out of 900 surveys, 739 parents voted for the Local District 5 Plan. Just 9 voted for the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools to take over.

So, on Monday, a group of parents headed for the LAUSD head quarters to deliver the surveys, and try to encourage the board members to support the community voice. As a result, the board not only ignored the advisory vote (566 votes) but the surveys as well (788 votes) that favored the Local District 5 Plan. Parents and teachers are astonished at the LAUSD decision to support the Partnership for L.A. Schools instead.

But we won’t give up.

We will re-organize to make clear what we expect from the partnership in the following days. We will not let our schools fail again in hands of people that haven’t showed results in our community.


The South Los Angeles Report will be publishing regular updates from Martha Sanchez as her organizing effort continues.