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, January 28, 2012

Harry Mills Takes His Last Load of Bullshit, Jumps Ship Out of Sinking District, Kids Bid Farewell (In Their Own Way)

The following story is the final installment of the 12-part fictional series depicting a teacher's final months with the Los Angeles Unified School District. It is written solely for the purpose of entertaining the reader. Characters depicted are not intended to represent any living or dead persons.

By Mark J. Blocker

October 7, 2011--a little more than four months after the Big City School District board voted to hand over Missouri Compromise Middle School to charter operator Bright Spot, displaced teacher Harry Mills was enduring his fifth summons within nine days to the drab office of his new principal, Wanda Sharperson, within the confines of grimy Darwin Middle School that excreted an API so low it made Missouri Compromise look like a think tank. Darwin MS is located so deep in the unforgiving urban core of Los Angeles that burly trash men routinely skip their routes and their supervisors forgive them.
Here, in the Beatrice-Burnwood section of the city students at 12 and 13 years of age are busy dutifully preparing for their impending initiations into the Mara Salvatrucha 13 or rival Crips, unfortunately blowing off earnest or indifferent instruction of rookie or burned out teachers. The ‘hood is loaded with contradictions and choices. Darwin is a microcosm of the surrounding environment, so is the former Missouri Compromise MS, as shocked educators for Bright Spot are beginning to learn at the campus now renamed Animus South MS.
Be that as it may, Mr. Harry Mills, two-weeks into his stint at Darwin MS sat across the scratched laminated-oak desk from Ms. Sharperson. Both held copies of his Mills’s Stull Performance Evaluation—a formal assessment of a teacher’s practices and professionalism.
There was no love in the room; nevertheless, Mills knew he was going to get fucked. First off, no teacher gets “Stulled” in October let alone just two weeks onto the job.  Stulls are usually done in December at the earliest. Sharperson made no secret of her disdain for 53-year-old Mills—a nine year veteran of the district and of the classroom, who left the publishing industry 10 years ago when the BCSD was urgently recruiting qualified professionals to teach in its crowded, under-performing and violent schools. Now there was a surplus of teachers, the State was broke, the BCDS was selling off schools to the highest bidder so Mills was out of a job.
He thought he hit the jackpot when the BCSD had sent him to posh Gibson MS in Green Tree Estates. But two weeks later they moved him again, this time to the district’s toilet—Darwin MS--and Principal Wanda Sharperson whose job it appeared was to snake out the sewer line. Congratulations, Mr. Mills, the BCSD has designated you a turd stopping up the drain of a school district with a nearly 50% dropout rate.
Perhaps Sharperson merely hated Mills because he was forced upon her. Harry didn’t know nor gave a shit. All he knew was that he vowed never to be intimidated by Sharperson’s glare, curt hellos or icy silence when they passed in the corridors. He just grinned and figured other pissants had it worse. Like the Black man who two years ago sued Sharperson for racial discrimination. That wouldn’t have been noteworthy if Sharperson wasn’t of African heritage herself. Adding to this indictment of the bitch’s abusive management style was that although the plaintiff lost the lawsuit one judge dissented.
But none of that would help Harry now as he sat reading the “unsatisfactory” notations in every area of his formal Stull Evaluation. This panning of Mills’s professionalism contrasted with six excellent Stulls he received from four principals who praised his work at Missouri Compromise. The only area in which Mills received “needs improvement” was attendance. It seems his absences were higher than average for district teachers. As Mills would quickly tell you, he didn’t mind teaching in a tough school with low performing students as long as one of the perks was a few extra Mondays on the golf course or cruising Pacific Coast Highway. Now it looked like Mills was going to be purchasing a one-way ticket north on PCH.

A piss-poor review
“Do you have any questions, sir?” Sharperson sneered, glaring at Harry from behind her gold-framed aviator lenses.
Mills looked up from his evaluation. She may have been turning into his archenemy, but damn, she was pleasant to look at. “What’s this note about security always having to come to my room to assist with controlling students?”
“They’ve been there five times in 10 days, Mr. Mills. That’s unacceptable. It shows you have no con . . .”
“I was calling during my conference period so they could escort truant students who were raising hell in the halls!”
“Oh . . . well, couldn’t you handle that yourself?”
“I didn’t know them. Didn’t know any of their names. And they just told me to ‘fuck off’.”
“How dare you use profanity in my office!”
“No! Ms. Sharperson, I’m quoting the students directly.”
Holding down her dog-eared yellow legal pad, Sharperson scribbled a note detailing the date and time of Harry’s profane outburst.
“What’s this about me, quote, demoralizing the students, unquote?”
“You told the students that the school doesn’t have any money for supplies and, I now quote your words—‘the whole place is going broke’. Mr. Mills, these are just children. You can’t scare them by . . .”
“I was simply explaining to them why they must take care of their textbooks--cover them, don’t tag or trash them--because the state doesn’t have money to replace them!”
“The children don’t need to hear that.”
“Yes, they do! We need to explain why there’s a limited amount of resources with which to finance their education, and we need to protect and value what we have.”
Sharperson sat frowning, shifting her eyes from left to right and back again. It was a movement to which Harry had grown accustomed. It meant she was thinking about what to say next.
“So, Mr. Mills, sir, you’re saying you control the purse strings around here? You decide what we buy and what we don’t buy?”
“Huh?” Harry stared incredulously, seeing her less as principal now and more of just another crazy bitch in over her head or angry about her lot in life getting kicked out of the fancy district headquarters, sent back down to the shit-hole ghetto to captain a sinking school that would be offered up for grabs to Bright Spot at the end of the year. Only Bright Spot didn’t want it. Nobody did. Sharperson tried to organize a group of faculty and administrators to write a charter proposal to independently operate the school, just as they did last year to no avail at Missouri Compromise, but no one who knew her wanted to work with Sharperson. Besides, the place is depressing. The teachers at Darwin are waiting for the next opportunity anywhere else--or for their retirement date.
“Well, then,” Harry continued, “how about this 'makes poor use of instructional time’?”
“While you were collecting homework, students were disengaged.”
“They know they’re supposed to copy down the day’s agenda and standard that we will be working on during the hour.”
“Not all students were doing that.”
“What they hell you want me to do?” he shrieked. Harry thought about adding, Beat them? but decided not. She would have written on her note pad that he advocates beating children.
“You can collect the homework at the door while students enter.”
“I’d rather the children were inside the room at their desks as soon as possible getting ready for the class.”
“They don’t look like they’re getting ready for anything in your class, Mr. Mills, other than maybe doing whatever they want or fighting—like young Mr. Jackson and Mr. Rodriguez yesterday.”
Harry countered, “You’ve already had four fights on this campus this morning. Are you going to blame those on me, too?”
“Well,” Sharperson sighed, “I see now we’re getting smart. I see no reason to continue this meeting. This is your Stull, sir, we have reviewed it, now please sign.
Mills thought about refusing. He took a deep breath, and wrote in a cursive comparable to his signature, Kiss My Ass. Then he slid the paper across the desk to Sharperson who inserted it into a large envelope—the kind they call “manila.”

The union schlep
Harry walked back to his room thinking about the Philippines. Maybe Europe. How about Mexico?
He quietly finished out the day. After the three o’ clock bell he went to the union representative to give her the Stull Evaluation and to see if she could help out. She shrugged, “Nobody likes her. Did you read about the lawsuit?”
“What lawsuit?”
“It’s on the internet. Google her name, it’s all there.” Then she turned her back and walked toward her car. That was all the union rep offered. He never even got her name. Mills only knew who she was because he recognized her red wig featuring thick, shoulder-length hair and bangs. Even from across the room during his first Darwin faculty meeting Harry was shocked at the contrast between the woman's sagging, aged face and the wig that looked like something a young pop star would wear on stage. Now, two weeks later standing in the corridor outside the women's faculty restroom, she said she would get back to him, but she never did. Harry wasn’t surprised, either. She was probably too tired to deal with it, or the situation slipped her mind by the time she got to her ’79 Cadillac with all the key scratches marring its fading turquoise finish.
He did appreciate her tip to Google Sharperson’s name. That evening he learned she and the district had been sued for racial discrimination by an African-American man who wanted to become a principal but was rejected by Sharperson during what he claimed was a pattern of “abuse and unwarranted reprimands and criticism.” The BCSD and Sharperson argued that the case could not be racial discrimination because Sharperson is black, too. The court agreed, but one judge did write a dissenting opinion, citing the hostility in Sharperson’s actions had exceeded the boundaries of her duties as a supervisor. Amazing, Harry thought.
He continued thinking about all that crap while calling in sick the next morning. And the morning after that.
Harry looked around his small condominium that he had bought four years ago. Located in the middle of Long Beach, the 800-square-foot place was now worth less than half of what he paid.
So he walked away from it as well as from the BCSD. Harry knew it was time to roll the dice just as he had 10 years earlier. It wasn’t his style to hang around where he wasn’t wanted. He’d find a job someplace else. The bad job market? Harry didn’t pay attention to unemployment statistics. He always said, statistics are for losers. This time he may be one of the losers. He wouldn’t know unless he took the gamble. His days at the BCSD and paying dues to its impotent teachers union were over.

Goodbye to all that
One week later after dropping off his classroom key to the front office, Harry was strolling up Payton Avenue toward his car. Harry paused in front of “Rodriguez Tramision” the garishly painted auto shop he liked to admire across the street from the doorway to his classroom. Before disappearing into the sunset, Harry wanted to say so long to his friend the old German Shepherd who everyday returned Harry’s gaze. Harry liked the way the old dog always followed the sun—even if it was only back up the driveway as the day wore on.
While Harry stooped and fondly scratched his pal under that water-rusty whiskered chin, a gaggle of kids broke out of the classroom and clambered onto the reinforced security fence that cordoned off the school.
His former students began to shout,“Hey! It’s Mr. Mills!” “Where have you been Mills?” “Hey, Mr. Mills, when you comin’ back? The sub sucks!” “Mills, you muthafuckaaaaaaaaahhh!”
Through the cacophony Harry heard the squeaking voice of a young lady feebly commanding, “Children! Get back in here right now!” The kids continued shouting. The loudest was Raye-Raye Jackson, “Ey Mills, getcho ass ovah here suckah!”
Rodriguez slid out from underneath a dented Aerostar, quizzically gazing up at Harry, before remarking, “Those kids, man, they’re craaazy!”
“Yeah, I used to be their teacher.”
“I know! I always see you over there. Why you no there now? They make you quit?”
“No not them--the loco principal. The kids are easy, they’re predictable. It’s adults you have to watch out for.”
“Man you got that right. But the kids are nuts too. In fact everybody around here is loco. When I make enough money I’m selling this place and going back to Mejico. You can have it!”
“I know, brother. Take care of yourself, Rodriguez. And take care of my friend here.”
“Oh yeah. Don’t worry about him. He’s been around for nine years, and he’s gonna be around for another 10 years.”
What a coincidence. Mills had been teaching nine years and wanted to give it another 10 before calling it a career. With that, Mills resumed his stroll up Payton listening to the chorus of students chanting “Mills! Mills! Mills! Mills!” as security guards rolling up in golf carts closed in from opposite ends of the corridor.


Need the rest of the story? Read the past 12 posts! Thank you for visiting Blocker's Blog.
Harry Mills will return this spring in "Goldfinger" or "Gold Coast Finger." Either way, Harry says, "I'll be back."


  1. This was such a wonderful post and so spot on. I can't believe how teachers are treated at the highest needs schools. I was laughing with tears streaming down my face

  2. (From a 9-year teacher from Ohio who's friend just forwarded this blog. Read all the posts and replied to him...)

    Thanks for one uncomfortable moment after another. This is for LAUSD teachers what "Curb Your Enthusiasm" is for entertainment people in Hollywood. I could barely read another paragraph, sadly because everything rang so true.

    Another analogy - Slowly driving by a car wreck with the injured bodies and paramedics laying on the grass, not wanting to see how bad the injuries are, but looking anyway.

    You know the recent movement from the political right (and others) that positions teachers as lazy, tenure-sucking parasites with extraordinary pensions and working conditions while the private sector is going down the tubes? Well, I have been wondering how to get a counter-movement going that highlights one of the true problems of modern education: Incompetent principals/superintendants/school managers. Almost all of them. And probably the few good ones are made useless by the horrible system they have to work in.

    Most schools these days run only by the grace of the teachers' good will and work.

    Great writing, Prof. Blocker - I can't promise I'll have the strength to keep reading, because it hurts so bad.

  3. Thank you my friend. Maintain your sense of humor. Enjoy the kids. Arrive every day to work with some truth in your briefcase.

  4. Mark, you've captured the personality dynamics so well here. (I've only read the installment above so far.) It is truly sad and very unfortunate for our society that intelligent, ethical, caring folks like "Mr. Mills" are chewed up and spat out by the system. I've known schools and administrators such as you describe.

    I agree strongly with the second comment posted above: poorly prepared administrators are certainly part of the problem, as are disengaged parents and certain buget-slashing US Congress politicians who don't give a hoot for public education. They take away the little that public schools have, then fall all over themselves complaining how "broken" our system is. They don't care. They have their fancy private schools they send their kids to. The 99% can jump in the toilet, as far as they're concerned. I truly believe that it's only the people, district by district, who can take their schools back and "fix" them, with strong local involvement and by voting out the slashers from elected office. We cannot count on the government to care for public education as long as a certain party is in control of Congress. Sad but true.