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?

Friday, August 12, 2011

School Ends, Clock is Ticking for Displaced Teacher to Find a New Gig Within the Big City School District

So Far, No One Wants Harry (He Doesn't Love Them, Either)

PART 3 of a fictional story written by Mark J. Blocker solely for the reader's entertainment. The following are merely characters. They don't represent real people either living or dead. Heaven forbid they remind you of someone you know, or of yourself; but if they do--that's life! If you haven't already, be sure to read the last two posts before you read this if you want the story in its entirety.

June 24. Last day of school, and last day of Missouri Compromise Middle School being staffed and administered by the Big City School District. From now on, it would still be funded by the BCSD but run by charter operator Bright Spot. Back in March the school board voted to wash its hands of the inner-city school, handing it over to an independent charter operator. This was particularly insulting to the school's incumbent administration and faculty since they had submitted a formal proposal to run the school--a proposal that was endorsed by the outgoing superintendent. Nevertheless, the majority of board members--whose campaigns were supported by the mayor who was a political rival of the superintendent--blew off the suggestion and instead implemented the mayor's mandate: Break up the behemoth BCSD and hand off the goods to major donors to his recent campaign. Surprise.
So the final day had arrived and BCSD teacher Harry Mills was officially without a school. Mills had to find another school at which to teach, or the BCSD would send him wherever it pleased. The clock was officially ticking.
The kids were cleared out, the classroom was swept, Harry's prized pencil sharpener and paperweight were safely ensconced in the trunk of his car, so Harry conducted his last order of business in the front office: surrendering his classroom key. Mr. Frost took it and checked off a box next to Mills's name.
Sticking his right hand out, Harry said, "Perhaps our paths will cross again Mr. Frost."
Frost glanced upward and to the left, cocking a brow at the thought. He silently grabbed Harry's hand and the grip was surprisingly firm. In fact, to Harry the handshaking ceremony was completely free of any awkward pause.
Then Harry moved on to the principal, who was standing at the end of the counter. "Perhaps I'll have the pleasure to work with you again, Ms. Moon. It certainly was too brief. Good luck, now."
She nodded and dabbed her eye with a tissue. "Thank you, Mr. Mills," she sniffed.
Again, Harry was surprised. All through her tenure, Ms. Moon seemed to value efficiency over emotion.
Exiting the office, Harry silently patted the shoulders of each teacher waiting in line for Frost.
Starting his car, Harry was surprised at how little sadness he felt leaving Missouri Compromise after teaching there 9 years. It was the only school where he had ever picked up a stick of chalk and tried to sell a kid on the importance of looking good on paper.
Speaking of looking good on paper, Harry sent out resumes to virtually every school in the southern area served by BCSD. He already had two bites: South Pole Middle School a few miles to the south, and Fresh Gas Middle School, in the town of Worthington--named for a famous car dealer whose business supplied so much sales tax revenue for the city the council renamed the town in his honor. Then they did whatever the fuck he wanted for 20 years until he got caught for Federal Tax Evasion and rewinding odometers. But it's still called Worthington. It's also where Southern California refines its crude oil into gasoline.
Cold wind at South Pole
The nice lady in a sweatshirt running the front desk at South Pole MS directed Harry in his cheap suit to a classroom where the staff was conducting some sort of professional development. It was the first day of summer vacation, so Harry thought it odd that they would be conducting a PD in June and not in September as a warm up for the new school year. Must be something to do with the budget and the fiscal year, he mused.
"No," answered a bubbly woman who looked like a professional soccer mom in her 30s, corn fed and with a toothy grin. "It's just, I believe, we all have separation anxiety." She seemed very warm and friendly. The kids must love her, Harry thought, I hope I get the room next to her.
Harry looked around the room and noticed something was weird. The teachers were all sitting at miniature tables. It was all classroom furniture for grade schoolers. The teachers' knees were up near their chests and many of their asses spilled off the chairs. If they dropped a pencil, they could pick it up without bending down.
They were apparently doing an exercise on teaching juvenile literature. They had big sheets of butcher paper spread out before them, and in groups they were cutting out pictures from magazines to make a collage depicting a scene from the book. Harry thought such endeavors were useless bullshit, but authorities maintained that it helped students with writing difficulties demonstrate that they had successfully visualized and interpreted the story. While everybody busied themselves with the task at hand, unwelcome memories of childhood revisited Harry. He was alone, left out and not immediately fitting in. Good Lord, Harry thought, you're 53 and the new kid in town all over again.
A few minutes later the PD was over, and they led Mills upstairs to the library. Harry thought it odd the library was up on the second floor. He certainly didn't envy the poor saps who lugged all the books up there.
Games begin
"So, uh," began a very stocky woman who apparently liked to shave her head, "Mr. Mills is it?" She double checked his resume, "tell us a little about yourself." Harry did, and the four adults sitting on the other side of the massive library table kept their eyes on their copies of Harry's rez, his cover letter, and three letters of recommendation. Were they checking to see that his stories matched?
The four silently stared at the bald lady. She began talking again, "Says here, on this letter from a . . . a Mr. Biting, that you, and I quote, 'bring new ideas to the table'." After a pregnant pause she continued, "Could you please tell us what some of these, uh, 'new ideas' are?"
Whether wittingly or by accident, the woman caught Harry off guard. He really had no idea to what Biting was referring. Harry considered all of his own ideas used. They were based on previous experiences and tried-and-true suggestions from past mentors. He frantically tried to reload memories of meetings with Biting, his former literacy coach, to come up with something good.
He shrugged, "Err, maybe . . . I guess he's talking about ideas I may have had during collaborations, how to . . . approach implementing lessons after looking at test data, things like that."
The woman frowned. She reminded Harry of actor James Earl Jones with too much estrogen. Man, what an ass kicking principal, he thought. If a kid ever got called into her office, she'd . . .
But she wasn't the principal. That was the Caribbean dude wearing the Belize soccer jersey who silently sat observing the unfolding tragedy. He escorted Harry out of the building where they had a nice conversation about how South Pole Middle School really is a nice place in which to work.
The principal told Harry the campus is divided into two sections: one for 7th and 8th graders; the other for 6th graders. The sections are separated by a narrow street, but joined by a pedestrian bridge that allows students to safely cross from one campus to the other when needed.
"During the last week of school," the principal proudly recounted with his refreshing Caribbean patois, "we have a ceremony where the 6th graders cross that bridge and they are escorted by the 7th graders around the campus to meet next year's teachers and visit the classrooms. They have lunch together and play sports and other activities all afternoon. It gives them the opportunity to formally meet  their peers for the following year."
"What a great idea!" Harry enthused. He told the principal he certainly would look forward to joining South Pole's staff. They shook hands, the principal patted Harry on the back, and that was the last Harry had ever heard from Antarctica Middle School. Or whatever it was called.
Hey! Come on down to Fresh Gas Middle School in Worthington just off the 610 Freeway take the Avalon exit go right . . .
Things didn't go much better later that week at Fresh Gas MS down in Worthington. The principal reminded Mills of his estranged brother's second wife: a size 2 shrew with flaming red hair and long, sharp finger nails. Those were also red. Mills's brother's wife hated Harry and forbade them to have any contact after Harry once said something nice about his brother's first wife. The way the principal eyed Harry, his gray beard, pony tail, ill fitting suit and black sneakers contrasting against his brown belt, she looked like she was going to declare a similar mandate, too.
Instead, she led him into a conference room where two other teachers were waiting. He remembered the woman from a week-long professional development they had together the previous summer. He waited for some acknowledgement of their previous encounter, but she offered none, so he let it rest. The other teacher was some young guy who looked more like Opie Taylor than Ron Howard. He even had freckles, tousled red hair and squinted while reading Harry's paperwork. Mills noticed something while gazing at the others seated around the circular table: they all had red hair.
Ding! Round Two
"So," the principal began, "tell us about your test scores."
"They're fine. I passed the SSAT and the CBEST on my first try. I have a CLAD, and my credential is good for another two years."
"No, no, no! I mean your students," she sneered.
"Oh, them! Heh, heh," Harry chuckled. "Did anyone tell you why I'm looking for a job? They closed down my old school, heh heh." Harry noticed he was a little too jovial compared to the others.
The red brigade just stared back at him. Then they smirked and dropped their eyes back upon photocopies of his papers. Before they asked a follow-up question, Harry threw up his hands.
"I'm not a magician. I don't have a magic wand. My students tended to score what is average for the district and what was average for Missouri Compromise." Then, like a fool, he continued. "These standardized tests are just one measurement of a student's capabilities. They don't measure his or her ability to come up with an original thought and defend it. They only measure how well he or she agrees with whoever wrote the test. And most of the students we teach in this district come from a different culture than the individual who wrote the test. There's a chasm, a disconnect that's affecting the results, so you can't use them as the sole measurement of achievement. Hell, I even have trouble with some of these tests for the textbooks, and I'm pretty confident I could argue that my answers aren't any more or less correct than those on the so-called answer key! Our kids don't have the opportunity to explain or defend their answers.
"Half the time I just write my own tests covering what the class and I agree upon as the important elements of an author's argument. Of course, it's not really a democratic consensus. Sometimes I have to issue a teacher's declaration."
There was silence. Harry punctuated the end of his monologue with another regrettable chuckle. No one else joined in. No one else smiled. They didn't even shake his hand when the interview was called to a conclusion, and Harry was told by his angry sister-in-law's doppleganger that it was time to go.

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