Reconstitution at Crenshaw High School

imageLAUSD Superintendent John Deasy’s letter, dated October 23, 2012, ordered Crenshaw Senior High School to come under the direct supervision of LAUSD’s Intensive Support and Innovation Center, “effective immediately.” Citing “four years of…less than adequate progress in….several key indicators,” Deasy informed the school that it would be divided into three magnet schools with increased AP courses and International Baccalaureate pathways. All teachers and administrative staff would have to reapply for the school’s relaunch on July 1, 2013.

Sylvia Rousseau, former interim principal at Crenshaw High and now a professor in USC’s Rossier School of Education, says the Superintendent has a point. “Clearly, it has to be acknowledged that the school has not performed at the level that it needs to perform,” said Rousseau.

A program called Extended Cultural Learning was partially implemented at Crenshaw in 2011-2012, after some disappointing results on state tests in preceding years. Since implementation, proponents say the school has met or exceeded all of California’s Academic Performance Index targets for growth except one.

Based on those results, Crenshaw successfully applied for the highly competitive School Improvement Grant, or SIG, from the Federal Department of Education and administered through the State of California. Half of all SIG applications from California were rejected. Crenshaw received $6 million dollars to continue improvements at the school. That award may be in jeopardy if the school is significantly restructured.

Furthermore, says educational scholar John Rogers of UCLA, there’s just not a lot of research supporting reconstitution. “Paradoxically, despite the fact that the federal government increasingly calls for research-based reform, there really isn’t a research base for reconstitution.” said Rogers.

Why then is reconstitution becoming increasingly popular—according to one study, up to 60 percent from 10 years earlier? “I think education reform often is driven by a desire for quick & simple & often cheap answers,” said Rogers. “Lots of people are frustrated with the slow pace of reform or by schools that are not enabling young people to achieve the goals the young people have & their communities have.”

But as Rousseau underlines, a large body of data says that kids in under-performing urban schools often don’t see the relevance of education to their lives unless it has positive effects in the surrounding community. “So the students saw the relevance and the importance between education and their own capacity to make change in their community,” she said.

And Crenshaw did this through Extended Cultural Learning. That will be replaced by three magnet schools under Deasy’s proposed revamp. Rousseau says if funding isn’t stabilized, if personnel aren’t stabilized, progress will be hard to hold on to. “Unless the district takes a comprehensive view of the needs of the students, unless we take a more humanistic approach that our students aren’t widget,” she said.

Deasy and Crenshaw High faculty and staff are due to meet after the Thanksgiving holiday. It’s not clear if reconstitution is a done deal, or if there’s still room for negotiation.

OPINION: Crenshaw High School Community Against Reconstitution

By: Christina Lewis, Crenshaw High Special Education Teacher
Irvin Alvarado, Crenshaw High Alumni, Coalition for Educational Justice Organizer
Alex Caputo-Pearl, Crenshaw High Social Justice Lead Teacher, UTLA Board of Directors
Eunice Grigsby, Crenshaw High Parent, Crenshaw High Alumna

On October 23, Superintendent Deasy announced he intends to reconstitute Crenshaw High School. This scorched earth “reform” that is destructive for students, communities and employees has been used at Fremont, Clinton, Manual Arts and more, despite courageous push-backs at those schools. image

The Crenshaw school community is determined to fight back. The slogan that permeated the emergency 150-person Crenshaw Town Hall Meeting at the African-American Cultural Center on October 4 crystallizes the struggle — “Keep Crenshaw: Our School, Our Children, Our Community.”

In an attempt to disarm the push back and win public support, Deasy is combining the reconstitution with a full-school magnet conversion. Crenshaw stakeholders are, of course, open to conversations that will improve conditions and outcomes for our students — but those must be collaborative and well-resourced. That said, it is clear that Deasy’s main objective is not magnet conversion – it is to take top-down control of the school and reconstitute (which means removing all faculty and staff from the school, with an “opportunity to re-apply”).

The school community says NO to any form of reconstitution, and YES to school improvement that includes stakeholders and holds LAUSD accountable for its years of neglect and mismanagement.

In this spirit, teacher, parent and administrative leaders of Crenshaw’s nationally-recognized Extended Learning Cultural model have been reaching out to Deasy to work in collaboration for over a year and a half. He has not responded. It’s clear that Deasy has cynically set Crenshaw up – persistently ignoring calls to meet when it is about something locally-developed and progressive; later, acting as if nothing is happening at the school, and dropping the reconstitution bomb.image

The Extended Learning Cultural model has been developed at Crenshaw over the last several years. The approach is to teach students standards-based material wedded with cognitive skills used in real life efforts to address issues at school, in the community, and with local businesses. Cultural relevance, Positive Behavior Support, parent/community engagement and collaborative teacher training and excellence are foundations of the program. Students engage in rigorous classroom work, as well as internships, job shadowing, leadership experiences, school improvement efforts and work experiences.

The Extended Learning Cultural model is fundamentally about extending the meaning, space and time of learning, and extending the school into the community and vice versa. This rooting of learning into a context is essential for students who have been constantly uprooted and destabilized by economic injustice and a school system that focuses on narrow test-taking rather than cultural relevance. Extended Learning could be enhanced dramatically for our students with LAUSD support. Instead, by threatening it, Deasy is jeopardizing Crenshaw’s progress, outside partnerships and outside funding.

Moreover, the Extended Learning Cultural model is supported by research – it draws from the Ford Foundation and various progressive academics’ national More and Better Learning Time Initiative, and it has been developed at Crenshaw with USC, the Bradley Foundation and other nationally-recognized research partners.

In contrast, the research shows that reconstitutions are not good for students. Reconstitutions cut students off from the faculty and staff they know, from programs they are involved in and from the communities surrounding their schools. Districts reconstitute schools in working class communities of color, creating more instability and uprootedness for students who are often our most vulnerable. Reconstitutions are educational racism. For more details, see a brand new study from UC Berkeley and the Annenberg Institute at Brown University at

Extended Learning showed results at Crenshaw in its first year of partial implementation, 2011-2012, after 2 years of planning. Crenshaw dipped on some indicators between 2009 and 2011 when the school had a principal who wasn’t the first choice of the selection committee, who was imposed by LAUSD, and who did not work collaboratively. However, when the school regained focus around Extended Learning in 2011-2012, the data showed growth, including:

  • Meeting all State of California API growth targets except for one, often far exceeding the targets (for example, a 92 point API gain among special education students);
  • Reducing suspensions and expulsions;
  • Achieving substantial growth among African-American students on the API, reaching API levels significantly higher than African-American students at many other South LA high schools;
  • Achieving an explosive increase in math proficiency levels among Limited English Proficient students on the CAHSEE;
  • Achieving a huge jump in proficiency levels in CST math among all 10th graders;
  • Including many more students in internships and work experiences;
  • Organizing more partnerships for wrap-around services for students;
  • Increasing parental involvement

Yet, Superintendent Deasy wants to disrupt this trajectory of growth and reconstitute Crenshaw. Worse yet, he wants to do this without any consultation with the community, parents, students, alumni, faculty and staff. Part of his agenda is to curry favor with the national scorched earth “reform” movement. Another part is straight union-busting. He has said many times he doesn’t like the teacher union leadership at Crenshaw – many of the very leaders who have been at the forefront of building the Extended Learning Cultural model, its national connections, and the growth that has come from it.

Not surprisingly, other schools that have been reconstituted in LAUSD have undergone “re-application” and “re-hiring” processes that have been shady – unrepresentative hiring bodies, discrimination against older staff and teachers of color, and discrimination against staff based on political issues.

The Crenshaw school community has a strategy to win the push back against Deasy’s reconstitution and to win support for the Extended Learning Cultural model and other enhancements:

  • Amidst Deasy’s intense destabilization efforts that affect the school daily, educators, staff, and parents are working with site administration to tighten up school operations as much as possible;
  • The school community is deepening, refining, and broadening engagement around the Extended Learning Cultural model;
  • Faculty and staff have strongly solidified against reconstitution internally;
  • School stakeholders are building on years of work with a unique coalition of community partners to organize parents, students, alumni, and community. This coalition includes Ma’at Institute for Community Change; African-American Cultural Center; Black Clergy, Community, and Labor Alliance; Coalition for Black Student Equity; Labor/Community Strategy Center; Coalition for Educational Justice; Sierra Club; Southern Christian Leadership Conference; Park Mesa Heights Community Council; and more.
  • The coalition is working closely with UTLA. The House of Representatives voted unanimously to support the Crenshaw struggle. UTLA West Area and Progressive Educators for Action (PEAC) are critical supports for the ongoing organizing.

At the moment, the organizing will focus on the two places Deasy needs to go with his destructive plan for approval – the LAUSD School Board and the California Department of Education (Deasy cannot undermine Crenshaw’s federal School Improvement Grant, SIG, without communicating with Sacramento, because the grant is administered by the State).

The Crenshaw school community knows that the eyes of the city, state, and nation are watching Crenshaw. If Deasy gets his way at Crenshaw, it further opens the door to these kinds of moves everywhere – including places he’s already attacking locally with similar reconstitution efforts, like King Middle School, and far more. On the other hand, if Crenshaw is able to organize with school and community to push back on Deasy and to further advance a deep and hopeful educational and racial justice-based reform, its reverberations will be felt incredibly widely. Keep connected to the struggle and “like” us through the Facebook page – Crenshaw Cougars Fighting Reconstitution – and be in contact with us through email at [email protected].

Fremont teachers react to restructuring plan

imageBy Gisela Alvarez

Frustrated teachers and administrators clashed on January 26 during an informational meeting over the plan regarding the restructuring of Fremont High School.

A copy of the draft was handed out during the optional staff meeting. The draft included commitments that teachers, parents and students would have to adhere to, suggestions for a better teaching structure, and a timeline for the progression of the restructuring schedule.

“The plan is what you as a community decides upon,” said Local District Seven Superintendent, Dr. McKenna, after the heated discussion over the draft.

Prior to the district meeting, some staff congregated and discussed their view of the upcoming changes. Some teachers voiced their objection to the plan, calling it “vague” and saying that it does not outline their involvement in the restructuring process if they do reapply. Teachers defended their performance by pointing to the increase in Fremont’s test scores during the past few years. During the meeting, teachers also emphasized that parents and students would have to be informed and deeply involved in order to create a plan that is beneficial for all members of the Fremont community.

Magnet math teacher, Mr. Vaca, said, “It’s not the teacher’s problem, it’s everyone’s problem, and we all have to step up. And if the community voice isn’t heard then outsiders will keep dictating what our future holds.”

Another staff concern involved the panels chosen to interview the reapplying staff. Fremont Principal Mr. Balderas said that he will choose the members of the panels and each one will include members of the surrounding community, parents, students and alumni. However, the panels’ reports and opinions will only be taken into consideration, making the power they hold strictly advisory.

“For the first time we’re going to have some parents say, ‘I want this teacher to teach my child,’” Mr. Balderas said. “We’ve never had that.”

Teachers have created a petition stating that they will not reapply unless their demands and concerns are met. Some staff members have also begun to plan informational meetings in order to inform parents and students of the effects of the restructuring process and their decision to not reapply.

“In general, parents don’t know what’s going on,” Mr. Vaca said. “Our first item is to be able to get the info out to encourage and empower our community to create a vision for Fremont.”

Mr. Balderas said if the majority of Fremont teachers do not reapply, then new teachers may be brought in to replace the open positions from outside teaching programs such as Teach For America. The petitioning teachers argue that they also want change, but in a different manner. Many said that bringing in new teachers to replace those that leave would be rash because teaching programs such as Teach For America would only require the teacher to stay two years, causing constant change in the teaching staff.

“We want to make sure that the teachers stay here because they want to,” said A-track science teacher Mr. Jauregui. “What’s the point of having teachers teaching the students if they don’t want to be here? It’s not going to work out.”

Possible plans for Fremont include dismantling the lowest performing small learning communities and merging them with other SLCs. A uniform policy and gender-based classes are also being considered.

During the district meeting, Pathways counselor Ms. Cesare said in response to the drastic changes, “How can you come in here and have a plan? You don’t have any idea what we have here and you’re destroying what works.”

Mr. Balderas pointed out that Fremont is not the only school to be going through a dramatic change. Fremont’s feeder middle schools, Bethune, Drew, and Edison, will host only 7th and 8th grades next year, while elementary schools will host K-6th grade.

The final decision ultimately belongs to Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent, Mr. Cortines. However, he and Dr. McKenna have declared themselves simply overseers of the process, saying the power lies with Mr. Balderas.

“Imagine if they told us what to do. I’d quit too,” said Mr. Balderas. “But I choose to stay here. I’m not leaving until I am done.”

Gisela Alvarez is a reporter for Fremont High School’s Magnet Chronicles.