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?

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Harry Mills's Free Fall Through the Big City School District Takes Him From Heaven to Hell

Actually, School Kids are All the Same. It's the Principals That Will Devil You

Part 8 in a series of fictional stories depicting one teacher’s experience working in the nation’s second largest school district. Once again, the characters are made up and should not resemble anyone you know. This story is meant to entertain; not piss off.

By Mark J. Blocker

Teacher Harry Mills was living a dream. His students were raising their hands before they spoke. Without exception, their utterances were reasonable and offered the class discussion insights well beyond their 12 years. Former newspaperman Mr. Mills stood before his journalism class at high-performing Gibson Middle School marveling at his pupils—and his luck.
What a turn of events from the malaise seen three months earlier when he—along with the rest of the faculty—were sent packing out of perennially low-performing Missouri Compromise Middle School when the school board voted to hand the place over to a charter operator under the Public School Choice program.
Making this current situation at Gibson MS even more surprising: numerous interviews during the summer failed to provide any job offers, so the Big City School District placed Mills at this school where the API score was an impressive 850. Mills was also enjoying the picturesque, 10-mile commute to posh Green Tree Farms Peninsula.
Perhaps the BCSD figured it was his reward for his 9 years of tough service at his former school. Receding far back into his mind’s rear view mirror were the memories of shaking hands good-bye to colleagues at the Gold Coast Star when he embarked on this new challenge teaching in the beleaguered BCSD which was desperately recruiting teachers willing to serve in public schools operating inside the nation’s worst crime-ridden and gang-infested shit holes. Mills was proud he had the balls, because the students and the job put new energy and meaning into his 44-year-old life.
About six years later inner-city public school teachers weren’t heroes anymore. Media complained. These teachers are parasites . . . no wait, they’re union thugs stealing money from taxpayers. Teachers secretly hate children and buy off corrupt politicians who rubberstamp exorbitant pay and benefits. Fire all lazy and inept veteran teachers. Look at dismal test scores and high dropout rates. Bring in some young blood with fresh ideas, and pay them less. Strip away retirement and medical benefits. No one in the private sector gets summers off. In fact private sector workers never get two weeks off at Christmas nor a whole week at Easter. Mills read editorials written by unionized journalists hoping the State would go bankrupt so all public-employee contracts could be voided. Radio talk show hosts were even more repugnant and hateful in their effort to pander to their frustrated, exploited audience. Media had changed for the worse in the past decade. So had the public's perception about education.
On that sunny day at Gibson MS, Mills couldn’t care less. Ho ho.
As big, burly Mills was striding comfortably to his car after the three o’clock bell, the new principal called him into his office. The young principal was a pale, diminutive fellow. He was also the son of the local school board representative. Informing Harry of the inevitable news, the impeccably dressed and coiffed man-boy smiled while apologizing profusely. Harry listened, but he had heard it all a week before from the former principal Mr. Dooley.
“What school am I being transferred to?”
“Drawn Middle School,” answered the kid. Harry gazed around the young man’s office. The last time he was in there, Dooley was moving out and the place was bare. Now all sorts of military aircraft adorned the walls and shelves—even the desktop.
“Were you in the Air Force?”
“Oh, no,” the principal replied. “I just thought it would go well considering our proximity to the harbor. You know, maintain a maritime type of motif, heh, heh.” Harry scratched his head over that before the kid queried, “What branch of the service were you in?”
“None. When I turned 18 Carter called off the draft. We had just lost Vietnam. It was all a big mess. I just went to college,” Harry shrugged. In his younger days drinking in bars he would test potential adversaries by telling them all about his aversion to taking orders from assholes. There was no point in doing that today.  Besides, such a proclamation would require a segue into Harry bragging that he never played a down of high school football because he hated the idea of reporting to school early and having to run around in Pasadena’s August heat and smog while some burr-headed prick screamed at him. Shit, he hoped that fucker lost all his games. When young Mills thought about football, he always fantasized he was the one throwing touchdown passes, kicking game-winning field goals from 50 yards out, or delivering a bone-crunching tackle to an arrogant back who coughed up the ball recovered by, of course, Harry, who would run it back for a touchdown. But big, slow Harry Mills knew damn well that his destiny on a gridiron was anonymously blocking for every glorified jock who demanded—and received—the ball.
Fuck that. In fact, that expletive is Harry’s motto about a lot of things in life--but not about teaching ghetto kids. Harry wanted to teach kids born into disenfranchisement how to beat The Man at his own game. It was why he worked at the BCSD. So perhaps it was only fitting he was being sent back to the 'hood. But he didn’t relish the idea. He was 53 now.
Mills failed to report to Drawn MS the next day, and nobody noticed. He did, however, case the joint. He drove west along Burnrock Boulevard, past the town of Southwood, a working class burg boasting warehouses, trucking companies, factories and 2X1 tract homes built right after World War II. Many of the houses had been expanded, often without concern for maintaining architectural integrity. Oh well, if the code enforcers didn’t mind, neither did Harry.
The road curved slightly and Harry entered the area called Burnrock Gardens. The houses became old bungalows and a few two-stories with the wood siding replaced by stucco. The larger homes were long ago converted into apartments. Every window, even the vents, had bars. Storefronts became vacant or peddled second-hand junk. Mechanics hand painted their signage with misspelled words. Within a few blocks, Harry couldn’t differentiate between business signs and spray-painted graffiti.
The next day, rather than report, he phoned Drawn MS to introduce himself to the principal. She wasn’t available. The lady who answered had Mills repeat his name and took his phone number.
A half hour later his cell phone rang, and the words shot out like a barrage of gunfire. It was the first of what would be many salvos aimed at destroying his will to teach.
“This is Wanda Sharperson, principal at Drawn Middle School. I have a few questions to ask just to be sure were on the same page.”
“First off, are you a problem identifier or a problem solver?”
Mills figured she wanted to know if he bitched a lot.
“I pretty much mind my own business,” he said.
“How do you get along with parents?”
“That’s good, because if you come to work here you will have to sign a memorandum of understanding that you will call each and every one of them to introduce yourself.”
Harry didn’t say anything.
“Yes, ma’am.”
“What is your attendance like?”
“Well, average, I guess.”
“You need to be here before 7:20. Classes start at 7:30 sharp, and I don’t like it when teachers come rushing in at 7:29. I will dock your pay.”
Harry got there at 6:40, but the gates were locked. He parked on Burnrock and waited. At 6:45, a custodian drove up in a golf cart and unlocked the gate. Mills drove in, and things went down hill from there.

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