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, April 24, 2011

Class is Over. Let's Step Outside and Supervise the Hall. You'll Never Know What We'll Find.

The school administrators want teachers to stand outside their classrooms during passing periods to help control  the halls. The bell rang, so let's step into some fresh air and see what's going on.

The Titty Flicking Kid
"Hey, Mistah Blockah! Whad'you kick me out first period fo?"
"Hello, again, there, Raymond. I see you've been quickly paroled from the dean's office."
"You didn't answer my question!" he persists.
"Raymond, you know all too well why you got run. I explained it to you. You read it on the referral. Hopefully Mr. Milder reiterated it to you while performing his dean-like duty."
"He even called my mama! Why?" Raymond cries in mock stress.
"Raymond, you can't be flicking an ol' man's titty with your finger."
He grins, fondly revisualizing the scene. Adding to the fun, he now got me to bite at his bait--retelling the moment from my view. He literally reached over and flicked my titty through my shirt while we were both standing underneath the American flag during the morning salute. Sometimes Raymond pushes the envelope of decency. I have to admit, though, if I'd been watching I would've laughed, too; but, I was the laughingstock. Nevertheless, if I didn't make a big deal out his flicking my titty,  he could start trying it on his lady teachers.

No Respect
"HI BLOCKER!" The jarring shout echoes off the walls above the cacophony of swarming adolescents.
I softly reply, "Good morning, Rochelle." I gently continue, "Could you please put a 'mister' in front of my last name? It demonstrates respect, my dear."
"You always just call me by my first name."
She's got me there. I just look down towards her brown eyes and the giant wad of blue gum squishing between her incisors.  Rochelle giggles and continues victoriously on her way.

Middle School Greenie
To the guttural sound of a loud "hock, tooey," we turn around just in time to witness the flight and splat of a green wad of snot and saliva gracing the cement about three steps away.
"Good Lord, son!" I plea to the back of a dark hoody loosly enveloping the torso and head of a pimp-walking, wanna-be mack strolling to class. With all his bravado, he carries no backpack, nor anything else other than apparent congestion. "Don't blow your disgusting hocks outside my class room! I gotta work here all day."
He turns around briefly, nods to acknowledge my request. He's not one of my students, but I know his name is Dennis because Ms. Beatty, the aid in the special education English class in Room 13 up the hall, is always yelling at him to quit play fighting boys, grabbing girls, cussing--something. Dennis also needs to understand that he can't just loogie anywhere he wants. It's my job, I guess, to do my part.

Caught Looking at Ms. Beatty's Booty
What a coincidence! Lovely Ms. Beatty is gracefully passing. "Good morning, Mister Blocker," she sweetly sings as she does every day. Ms. Beatty is no youngster, but Lord, does that woman have luxuriant curves. And the finest in coiffures, manicures, pedicures, jewelry and clothing. Her designer jeans accentuate her luscious derriere to the point where I . . .
"Ah whoooo . . . you busted Blockah!" rings a joyful chorus from Michelle Branson, Sandra Brooks--and Raymond--back for an encore instead of heading toward his next class on the other side of campus.
Raymond points at my face, "You was lookin' at Ms.Beatty's booty!" The three are jumping up and down simultaneously in some hip hop move that seems too well rehearsed and choreographed to be merely impromptu. If only I could get them to read as well. Meanwhile, Ms. Beatty continues toward Room 13 stepping gracefully in those stiletto heels avoiding the spent gum and hocks.
"Mr. Blocker, tell the truth. You want some of that, huh!" Michelle probes while Sandra waits for my response while studying my face for any incriminating expression. Meanwhile Raymond is wildly thrusting his hips, hands in front like he's gripping invisible hips.
"Look," I begin . . .
"Yeah! You be doin' some lookin' alright."
"Ms. Beatty is a colleague of mine. I have nothing but the utmost respect for Ms. Beatty. She's a very attractive woman. Sometimes a man can't help but. . ."
Sandra interrupts, "You still ain't answered our question. You want some of that, huh?"
"Michelle, Sandra, that's no way to talk about Ms. Beatty. She's a professional educator. . ."
"We talking 'bout you!"
"This conversation is over. Now get inside. Sit down at your assigned seat, and begin copying down today's agenda before you get in trouble."
The girls leave. I look down at Raymond, "Besides, what do you want me to look at? You? Wasting time in the halls? Or that ugly greenie layin' over there?" I motion at the hock. Raymond recoils in exaggerated disgust. "Hurry up to class, Raymond. We don't want to be late!"

She Wants Extra Credit
"Mr Blocker?" Amanda Diaz timidly inquires. This must be a special occasion. Amanda is at school. It's the first time I've seen her in about 6 days.
"Amanda! So nice to see you!" The lashes of her narrow green eyes are heavy with mascara. Her cherubic skin is creating a stark contrast to the metal rings piercing her pink lips and bringing to mind the image of a powerful bass that got away more than the fresh face of a young girl. I subtly gaze at her hair, dyed pitch black with one wide streak of blonde straight down her bangs.
Despite her wild appearance, shyly she smiles. "My mom wants to know if there's anything I can do to raise my grade."
"Yes!" I answer.  "Try coming to class more. You'll be glad to know we conveniently meet here in third period Lunes a Viernes from 10:36 to 11:31."
She pleads, "Can I have some extra credit work?"
"Amanda," I begin earnestly, "extra credit is just that--extra credit--an assignment you do in addition to completed work to enrich what you've learned."
She wrinkles her nose. 'Enrichment' threw her off. So I elaborate, "You see, Amanda, you have to be here when the class discussed these stories, the lessons. We talk about what we read--details like what the characters do, when and where the stories happen and why that affects what they do. Then we talk about questions we have to consider while analyzing the literature. Amanda, if I leave you alone to answer the questions by yourself, all I'm going to get back is just crap, all nonsense. It could even be more harmful to your language development than not performing the assignment at all."
"Well,'' she quickly responds,  "I need to pass this class or they said my mom is going to get in trouble."
I pause a moment. "Who's 'they'?"
"These people that came over to our apartment yesterday."
"Uh oh. You mean the school truant officers?"
"I guess."
"Sweetheart," I stress, "you need to start coming to school. Never mind make-up work. You need to get here everyday, or they're going take your mom--and you--to court. Now go inside and sit down. Today is a fresh start. Focus and carefully write down our agenda. We'll worry about all that other stuff later."

The Three Stooges
Time is running out, and now here comes Solcedo, Marquez and Rios. Solcedo and Marquez are in my two-hour English class for Spanish speakers who need to clear one more ESL hurdle before getting into regular English. They read the regular 8th-grade textbook and perform all assignments native speakers get, but for court-mandated intervention they get a double dose of instruction--or twice the time.
"Solcedo, Marquez, how are you guys doing?" I ask while they saunter over as if they have all the time in the world. I'm not even supposed to see them until 5th period. It's third, so now they have Mr. Blando's algebra class next door. Blando is standing outside his door casting an annoyed eye through his thick, horn-rim glasses at the boys' lolligagging. Even so, I ask what they think they're doing running around so tightly lately with Rios, a 7th-grader who's enrolled in special ed classes. I don't know why he's special ed, but I do know he has trouble controlling himself. He's thrown trash into my room on numerous occasions, sticks his head inside while wandering the halls during classtime to call me Santa Claus and such, and is often prodded into acting the fool and taking the consequences at the urging of bigger and older students. Rios is a little fellow, even for his age, and wears the same shirt and pants which get progressively dirtier and dirtier as the week wears on.
So I ask Solcedo and Marquez again, "What are you guys doing running around all the time with Rios?"
"He does what we tell him to," Solcedo shrugs while Marquez stands by silently. Solcedo is a nice kid and a fairly hard worker, but he's sort of a weasel: he avoids eye contact and whines about everything--particularly the reading and the writing we do. Marquez, I never heard the sound of the kid's voice until after Christmas. I also never read his handwriting until about the same time. That all was my fault. I blew it as a teacher. Marquez is so damn quiet I ignored him to the detriment of his grades. His electrifying spike hair style failed to generate my attention, probably because he's so short and prefers the cheap seats in the back corner of the room. His parents must've read the resulting Fs and Us on his report card and told him in plain Spanish to get his ass in gear. Which, to Marquez's credit, he did. It's now late April and he's proven himself quite thoughtful when it comes to writing a scholastic essay. A lot of people who bitch about illegal aliens not learning English would be hard pressed to write a better narrative in English about something heroic their father has done. Marquez wrote a memorable story about his dad crossing the searing Arizona desert in the middle of August four years ago. He almost died of thirst and heat stroke. By sheer wits Dad escaped evil smugglers who tried to hold him hostage. After Senor Marquez made it to the corner of 93rd & Normandie, he sent for his wife and sons. It's flattering to think a guy went to all that trouble just so his son could come to the United States to study English under me.
But back to the matter at hand. We're running out of time. The bell is about to ring.
So I glare back at Solcedo, momentarily admiring his hairline. "Romero does what you tell him to?"
"Yeah," he sheepishly answers. The weasel. But he sure won't be going bald any time soon. The barber has to shave the top left and right corners of Salcedo's forehead.
"Well, what exactly do you tell him to do?"
"Nuthin' . . ." Salcedo's isn't a buzz cut--it's more like something you see on Caesar--only shorter.
I look over at Marquez. His eyes are wandering, wishing to be some place else. Even inside Blando's class. "Look," I snarl, "you two bullies are a year older than Rios.  He looks up to you guys. He actually admires you and wants to be a friend. You know he's in special ed. . ."
". . . because he's a 're-tard'," interrupts Solcedo. I told you he exhibited a cowardice unbecoming a lad in an Emperor's haircut. I'm pissed, but we've got to remember these middle schoolers are going through a period when they're neither cute little children nor stylishly cool teenagers.
"Solcedo, you're hanging around Rios trying to hurt him? Wow! You're a great guy to be around. What a wonderful friend!" I turn to Rios, who looks a little ashamed by the realization his new found friendship has not been requited. "Rios, buddy, it's time to get to class. You're gonna be late. We'll see you later." Rios quietly walks off leaving me to finish up with Solcedo and Marquez. "I don't mind seeing you guys walking to class together, but it makes me nervous when I like see you three wandering the halls alone up here during lunch when you ought to be down by the cafeteria or on the field. What're you fools doing?" I pause a little, then pry, "You suckers aren't up here tagging, are you? Trying to talk Rios into vandalizing the school?"
"No!" they exclaim.
"I hope not, because if you get caught, the cops take you off to jail in handcuffs. Then your parents have to go before some judge and pay a big, fat fine." I lie. "And Rios walks because he fingers you two chumps as the masterminds."
They swallow hard, exchange nervous looks.
"Hey, I've got an idea. What would I find if I searched your backpacks right now?"
"You . . . you can't search our backpacks," they stammer.
"Like hell I can't." Then I order,  "Hand 'em over."
Eyes brimming with tears, they surrender their backpacks. But I don't want to search them. Hell no. I may find Marks-A-Lot felt-tipped marking pens. Or worse, cans of spray paint. Then I'd have to send them down to Milder and waste a lot of time filling out paperwork and retelling the story ad nauseam.
Besides, the bell is about to ring. Break is over. I've got to teach an English class. Today we're reading a William Saroyan story about how one time as a kid he got sent to the principal's office for mouthing off and wound up riding his bike around town all day running errands for him--picking up lunch for both of them at the deli downtown, all sorts of crazy stuff. Lets go back inside, because I can hardly wait to get us all started.

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.