Los Angeles Times reported earlier this month, "L.A. Unified board picks Richard Vladovic as new president. By replacing Monica Garcia with Vladovic, the LAUSD board signals the waning influence of former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. This begs the question: Are days numbered for embattled Superintendent John Deasy?

Saturday, April 2, 2011

School Board Selling Off LAUSD School By School, Entrepreneurs Can Make A Lot of Money

The LAUSD Board of Education last month decided to give Henry Clay Middle School to charter operator Green Dot. The move was part of the LAUSD's Public School Choice motion, where schools with a history of low CSAT scores can be foisted off on entities applying to assume control. The program suggests that the reason scores are low is because the teachers stink. As a nine-year member of the Clay faculty, that's a serious indictment.
I've been spit on, shoved, cussed out, threatened, my car keyed, and I've been ripped off too many times to count. That's why I left publishing and went into teaching (yuck yuck). Yes, all that stuff really happened over the years at Clay, but I'd rather concentrate on students, staff and parents--who have enhanced my life. Hopefully, I've benefitted them too. I've met many inspiring successes and insufferable jerks--often simultaneously. That's the human condition.
Contestants vying for the helm
There were three groups competing to run Henry Clay. Green Dot, which administers Animo High School, the local charter to which many graduating Clay students apply; Team Kuppersmith--comprised of about a half dozen faculty members led by Adam Kuppersmith, a charismatic Brit who teaches English and, during his lunch break, instructs interested students in the fine art of fencing; and a larger group of faculty and staff led by Principal Keri Lew. I am aligned with the latter. Ms. Lew and her colleagues worked hard writing a plan that was endorsed by Superintendent Ray Cortines but refuted by the School Board. Very strange.
The Lew plan was also strengthened by the fact that we raised Clay's test scores 22 points in the past two years. The staff accomplished this by analyzing test scores to address students' skills, planning curriculum to optimize instructional time, and by studying the latest theories on classroom management and pedagogical theory. Sounds like abstract crap? Suffice to say they put in a lot of uncompensated overtime to make sure the LAUSD, and LA, got the most of out of its investment in the staff.
Long before the Board made its final decision, Mr. Kuppersmith complained that his Team was out of contention. Team Kuppersmith was the smallest group of the three, but one player, Karen Orpe, is an LAUSD Teacher of the Year. Opponents of Team Kuppersmith pointed out the lack of racial diversity in its ranks. While that may be true, you sure can't deny the qualifications of its members. Kuppersmith and Orpe are two of my favorite teachers at Clay. I would be honored to have them teach my own children. You would be too. They enhance Henry Clay, and they would strengthen a top performing school basking in an affluent neighborhood. That duly noted, during the meeting at LAUSD headquarters when the Board made its decision, Kuppersmith saw fit to stand at the podium and urge them to surrender Clay to Green Dot. That didn't look good for the school nor for Kuppersmith. It was a subplot of self destruction occurring within the larger tragedy.
Regardless, Kuppersmith's bold but ill-advised move had no influence on the Board. They probably decided to hand Clay over to Green Dot when their boss told them to. The majority of School Board members were elected because LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a charter school advocate, endorsed and funded their campaigns. Meanwhile, UTLA was withering under a president who knew a lot about the issues but demonstrated lackluster persuasive skills. The local media either ignored or panned him.
That brings us to the for-profit business enterprise Green Dot and its Animo High School. I can't begin to count how many students over the years have approached me with their applications to Animo, asking for an endorsement. These were always studious, well behaved kids who didn't want to attend Washington Preparatory High School because they were afraid of getting beat up. I always wrote that these students exhibited exceptional potential, and would no doubt excel in a challenging academic environment surrounded by peers who shared their values for learning and protocol. In other words, they deserved to be attending a school free of predatory delinquents harassing them while they performed their studies.
I send my daughter to a Catholic school because I want her peers to be selected according to their achievements and behavior. I also think religion is an important part of education. The reason I don't teach at a private school is because they are non-union so the pay and the perks are minimal. Besides, I got into this business because I want to teach ghetto kids how to beat The Man at his own game. Unfortunately, many mistake me for The Man. But that's OK. Sometimes I do too.
What tomorrow brings
This fall, Green Dot will be enrolling selected pupils to the Clay campus. Students will be admitted via a lottery. If they act up or don't perform, they will be out on their cans. Don't let Green Dot spin it any other way. They choose their students and quickly get rid of miscreants. Remember, my students had to apply to get into Animo.
Selective enrollment also means Clay will no longer accommodate Special Education. If a local child is physically handicapped or on an individual education plan--he needs to find another school.
Now I need to find another school. The PSC motion states that faculty must reapply for their jobs, and that no more than 50 percent may be rehired.
The Clay faculty and UTLA, along with local community activists, have lawyered up and are planning to wrest the school back from Green Dot. Good luck. I'm with them. That being said, I've already applied for a transfer and will be calling schools in local District 8 and the southern half of District 7 to see if any middle or high schools need an English teacher. Two have already told me to go pound sand. I try my best to figure out what makes individual students tick and strive to keep things interesting during our time together. I don't profess to wield a magic wand, but I know what I'm talking about when I think ahead. No principal has ever told me they regretted having me on their staff. Come to think of it, none ever said they're glad to have me around, either. The students? Well, some of them have passionately vowed to kick my ass. Others have declared me their favorite teacher. Sometimes a single kid will do both albeit on different days.

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