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Showing posts from 2009

On Strike

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The public supports us.

Being on strike makes me proud. To see and hear the support of the public every morning on the picket line, I am further convinced L.A. teachers made the right choice to leave the classroom. It is not an easy choice for many single income teachers, but it is one of the reasons we are striking. Teachers should not have to live paycheck to paycheck when educating society's children.



But our strike is about more than that, and it seems the public is aware of what we have been concerned about for years. In the middle of one morning's picket session I realized that the education reformers had been so very wrong in what they were telling us. The public knows and understands that we know what's best for children in schools. They place their precious children in our hands to educate, and want us to do our job unencumbered by district edicts and structures that get in the way.

The public supports us.


Being on strike is not what I thought it would be. It is be…

End of Year Reflection

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As we approach New Year's Day 2010, Los Angeles Academy Middle School has much to be thankful for. Below are some factors that have helped keep our school together, in spite of forces trying to tear us down:

1. Maria A. Borges, Principal

This dynamic principal is tough as nails and has managed to put together an outstanding group of teachers and support staff that has allowed our school to thrive in difficult circumstances. The secret to her success? She doesn't care about winning popularity contests. She will ONLY do what she believes to be in the students' best interest, and doesn't hesitate to overrule something she thinks is misguided. Arne Duncan is running all over the country trying to figure out what works in education but all he needs to do is pick up the phone and call our Principal.



2. The Teachers










Our LAAMS teachers have gone above and beyond the call of duty to plug in the holes caused by the Reduction in Force at LAUSD this year. We lost over 20 te…

RIF'ed Teachers Won't Sit Around and Wait Forever

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LAAMS teacher RIF'ed in March, laid off in June is subbing in her old position...but for how long?

Read article about Kate Conrath's run for the Long Beach School Board here.

The LAAMS community supports and wishes Kate Conrath the best of luck in her race, because we understand that our talented teachers, relegated to sub work, won't sit around and wait forever.

Our loss.

You Won't Read About This in the L.A. Times

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Here's something you won't hear about in the media: a talented Math teacher and a creative English/History teacher go above and beyond the call of duty to produce educational math songs and videos for students at a public middle school in South Central LA, in spite of one of them being laid off in June.

Lamar Queen signing autographs for his fans


















Lamar Queen with AvalonSensei, teacher/blogger















LAAMS teacher Ha Nguyen and Jimmy Pascascio















Former students come out to support Mr. Queen















LAAMS teachers support their talented colleague













Video Director Jimmy Pascascio with My Dear Aunt Sally, former student Whitney Parham



Its not as fun to read about real teachers that reflect the best that LAUSD has to offer: educators with a passion for for their craft, amazing talents, abundant creativity, a commitment to students and their families...

Close to 100 teachers, community members, and fans came out on Saturday, December 12, 2009 in spite of heavy rain, to support the release of Lamar Queen…

Cortines' New Cuts

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Superintendent Cortines recently announced his plans to balance the LAUSD budget for the 10-11 school year through massive layoffs (again) or a 12% pay cut by LAUSD teachers. It also includes 4 furlough days for this school year. Apparently, the bargaining units have to accept/reject/negotiate this offer by early December, since that is when the school board must submit a balanced budget to Sacramento.

We have to wonder why the District refuses to offer a clear look into their books so the units can make suggestions for cuts away from the classroom, instead of continuing the strategy of laying off teachers (and raising class sizes) to balance their budget. We wonder why this news was announced with such little time for meaningful negotiation. Perhaps it is part of the new trend to usher controversial proposals through with little time to allow for dissent.

Should teachers receive a wage reduction? If there is nowhere else to cut, then it must be considered. But the consequences of…

Dispatches From Students in South Central LA

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Humberto*, 7th grade, Honors

"I am thankful for having great teachers that care for me. Also, all of my teachers push me cause they know that I am smart but they know I don't show it. They also give me tips and comments to help me do better. I am also thankful because this year is going real fast and I just have to wait 5 months so my Dad could come home from prison and be with me for a long time like a father should do."

Valerie*, 7th grade, Honors

"My plans for Thanksgiving are to volunteer at a program and we are going to give the homeless people food. Another thing that I will be doing is hanging out with my family. I am always going to remember that day."

Susana*, 7th grade, ESL

"I am thankful for having my family with me and my plans for Thanksgiving are making food for my family and just celebrate with my family. I think that some people from my family are going to get drunk but they are not going to drive because that is illeagle to U.S.A."

J…

A Bright Spot in Dark Times

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Readers might remember the story of Lamar Queen, a talented third year teacher who was RIF'ed last year, and whose musical abilities gained him lots of fans and followers in cyberspace. His story came to represent the tragedy of losing so many young teachers to charters and other professions when the District sent out layoff notices in the spring.

Lamar was one of the few teachers who chose to stay at our school and work as a substitute, in spite of having other options as a gifted math teacher. We are lucky to still have him on staff.

This talented teacher has just completed his first album of math raps, and will be having a release party at Horace Mann Middle School on December 12th, at noon, in the MPR. If you enjoyed his funky Slope Intercept Form rap, or the catchy PEMDAS rap, then you will enjoy the rest of his masterful creations, such as the Quadratic Love Song and Distance Rate Time. The public is invited!!! Copies of the CD and DVD will be available for purchase and a…

Teachers Blamed for Reprehensible Flyer

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To LAUSD Board President Monica Garcia and Fellow Board Members:It has come to my attention that this week, a flyer was circulated by an unknown person, or persons, in an attempt to misinform parents about charter schools and to falsely imply that their immigration status could be in danger if they choose to enroll their child in such a school.Without a doubt, this flyer was beyond unethical; it was perverse. Preying on the fear and fragile vulnerabilities of families in this district is the antithesis of what educators stand for and have a long history of fighting against. Today, you chose to hold a press conference in front of the UTLA building to denounce this flyer, implying, just like the flyer, that UTLA members such as myself, were responsible for its creation and distribution. I am disappointed that you would imply that the thousands of educators who fight every single day to provide students and their families with a quality education could be responsible for this singular ac…

Mobilization

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We are in the 5th month of a school year that is indelibly marked by the loss of thousands of talented, new teachers, disruptions in school faculties district wide, and opportunistic forces who chose this very moment in time to launch a movement to privatize public education.

The people who are champions for public education are being drowned out by the overwhelming negative publicity provided by media and self-proclaimed champions of the people such as Ben Austin of the so-called "Parent Revolution."

In our moment of need (by our we mean the students, parents, and teachers of impacted communities such as South Central who see past the false rhetoric of these corporations disguised as grassroots parents seeking change), our leaders are nowhere to be found. Some are musing alliances with the School Board, some are fighting forces within the union (subs vs. RIF'ed teachers), and some are silent, for reasons not understood.

This week, a sign of mobilization arrived.....via a …

On Charters and Triggers

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This week the L.A. School Board passed a resolution giving parents the ability to "trigger" a change in management if 51% of them sign a petition. Hmmm. What an appropriate term.

At first glance, it sounds like democracy in practice. Parents should have a say in their child's education, and if something isn't working, then they should have a voice to change it. Then, questions start popping up as I think of some events that have recently occurred at LA Academy:



Quorums not met at school governance councils because parents sign up and then drop outA parent yelling at the principal because she enforced the LAUSD no cell phones on campus policy with her child
Second, third, and fourth reminder letters for parents with failing students who have not attended a single parent meeting with their child's teachers this yearOf course, many parents are conscientious and participate in school activities. But by and large, our parents largely deliver their children on our d…

Evaluating Teachers

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Below is a comment I submitted to the L.A. Times in response to their article on this new type of merit pay (read it here).

"As an educator, neither competition, threats, coercion, or merit pay will improve my teaching ability. Money doesn't keep me up at night wondering how I can sneak food to my homeless student so that his friends don't see. A bonus doesn't compel me to spend endless hours preparing lesson plans to make class informative
and meaningful for my students. There is no sum that can buy the feeling I experience when a student finally 'gets it' and it changes his/her life. For many educators, no one can hold us to a higher standard than that to which we hold ourselves. This motivation, this calling, is something to which most teachers gravitate, certainly not for the salary and the demeaning treatment we receive in society today. And for the record, I would never have dared to compare myself as a new teacher, to the many wise veterans who guided me …

Displaced Teachers Rehired...Bye Bye LAAMS

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This week we lost two of our teachers new to LAAMS who were rehired at their former schools or picked up a position in another capacity. Combined with the lateness with which many current positions were filled this school year (some 6 weeks into the school year), we have had/will have several classes taught by long-term subs at LAAMS this year. This is not good.

So let's get this straight: LAUSD fires thousands of teachers, South Central is hit disproportionately with 40% of these, LAUSD sends us permanent teachers in an untimely manner, then takes them back without regard to the children in the classrooms? Truly, if South Central isn't bearing the brunt of these cuts, who is? How many more new staff will be pulled back to their former positions, causing disruption to all involved?

You cannot replicate the quality of the instruction of a permanent teacher even with the most capable substitute. The students know they are not permanent, and they subconsciously don't giv…

October in South Central

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As summer continues to taunt us, the students and teachers at L.A. Academy continue to surmount the challenges imposed on us by a bankrupt state, and cynical society (fueled by non-stop negative press by the L.A. Times and other bandwagon followers...)

Our school continues to work with new staff who are still adjusting to working at the middle school level, since the majority of them came from elementary and high school. One has left the school this week, leaving us with another unfilled on B Track. Teachers serving in the capacity of substitutes (due to being laid off in the Reduction In Force) are being hired back slowly, but seemingly without rhyme or reason. B Track teachers on vacation have had to work as subs on A or C tracks to maintain their health benefits, but when they return to their "own classrooms" at the end of the month they will not have had had any rest or vacation, unless they take time off, which results in a day to day sub covering their current assign…

LAAMS Will Not Be Outsourced! This Year, At Least...

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After the revision of the revised criteria for which public LAUSD schools would be eligible to be outsourced to corporate management organizations, our school is pleased to learn that OUR SCHOOL WILL NOT BE ONE OF THEM!

We grimly noted that both Carver MS and Jefferson HS however, are on the dreaded takeover list. We hope their staff and faculty pull together to out forth a strong plan for the benefit of all of their students. We also wonder which organization will have what it takes to turn around troubled schools such as these, since Green Dot has yet to prove it can do so at Locke HS.

This week we were NOT surprised to learn that many classrooms across the district are overcrowded, some with no seats for the students. We knew this would happen (its chronicled in this very blog), but there is no joy in having been able to forecast this development. Students at this very moment are being robbed of individual attention in many non-Title 1, non-QEIA schools, and no student anywhere s…

LAUSD School Board Votes to Reduce Transparency

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From the Solidaridad blog by Robert D. Skeels. Click on link below.
Transparency has left the Beaudry Building!


from fotosearch.com

Criteria For Being Outsourced

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The Superintendent's "Public Choice" Timeline has been delayed by one week, and is now permanently tentative, according to the Friday email blast received by all employees and posted on the LAUSD website. Criteria for schools to be taken over by corporate management organizations, however, was posted. It includes:





Less than 21% proficiency in either Math or ELA noLess than a 10pt growth in API noProgram Improvement Status of 3+ yesGreater than 10% dropout rates does not apply

We meet only 1 of the criteria, PI 3+ status, so we should be exempt from takeover this year. However, as we understand it, the L.A. School Board called a meeting this past week to support SB51 which will require that 5% of all struggling schools be eligible for a takeover. While we may be out of the fire this year, it is no guarantee we will remain a public school in perpetuity.
Why is the School Board in such a rush to abdicate their authority?
Los Angeles voters are correct when they demand acco…

A.P.I Scores Reflect Progress at LAAMS

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Our students and staff were quite content to receive the news that our school met and exceeded the growth target assigned to us by the state of California. We were required to grow by 10 points and we grew by 17. Almost all our subgroups met their targets with the exception of EL's and Special Needs.
As teachers, without a doubt we believe that today's obsessive climate of testing students is not the solution to improving education. While there is a place for data, it is only a tool, and nothing else. Having said that, we are professionals, and administer all periodic assessments, common assessments, end of unit exams, pop quizzes, and the CST, as required by the CDE.
We anxiously waited for our scores and were gratified to see that our unique schedule that allows us to divide our school into 9 teams of students (teachers have common conference periods) and gives all students real elective classes, resulted in increased academic performance as measured by the API.
It would se…

To Write or Not to Write

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image from laamschampions.org

Teachers at this South Central Middle School are conflicted about writing a proposal to manage
our school. Thanks to NCLB, we are deemed to be a "struggling school", even though our test scores have gone up every single year in the last 5 years. Now, thanks to the Flores-Aguilar plan, our school is up on the auction block, for anyone to bid on.

Should we write a plan? Just who is we? The union? The teachers? The instructional leadership group? The arts department?

Teachers are educators, not business plan writers. Nor, do we want to be. We want to teach. We are in the midst of a new school year, are getting to know our students, and are excited about new projects and initiatives we are trying out this year. We start at 7:30 am and literally do not stop with all our teaching, team meetings, parent conferences, in-services, faculty meetings, department meetings, until 4:00 pm. Then, we try to have decent time with our families. We don'…

Holy Cow, The L.A. Times Sees the Light!

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Teachers in South Central choked on their coffee this morning while reading today's editorial in the L.A. Times. We are pleased that this important conveyor of information realizes that the elimination of unions, especially in professional fields such as teaching, is to the detriment of all Americans.

You cannot turn teachers into cheap labor. None of today's leaders (or editors at major newspapers) were educated by "dispensable commodities." Why should we condemn today's children to be educated by people who see teaching as a paycheck, on the road to bigger or better jobs? Will people with school aged children or grandchildren really feel comfort and security knowing their children are in good hands when the instructor is a 23 year old whose only knowledge of the teaching profession is a 40 hour boot camp that focuses on crunching the numbers of the periodic assessments? Or, on the first day of school, do they want to entrust the care of their precious child…
For those who believe the Yolie Flores Aguilar Resolution that turns over management of public schools to non-public entities is not about business interests who fiercely believe in a completely unregulated free market, read the blog entry below written by a proponent at the Cato@liberty blog.
By Andrew J. CoulsonLA School District Vote Shows Further Cracks in Education’s Berlin WallAmerica’s large urban school districts are often the lowest performing, least efficient, and most resistant to change. The poster children for this reality are perhaps Detroit and Washington, DC, but the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) has long been in the running as well.Yesterday, there was a sign that LAUSD would like to get out of that race for the bottom: the district’s school board voted 6 to 1 in favor of a plan that would hand up to a third of its public schools over to private management. Ignoring for a moment the question of how well this policy will work, it is categorically, undenia…

Done Deal

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image from 3.bp.blogspot.com

They say you should wait to write a response when you are frustrated or disappointed. This school community is outraged at the passage of the Flores-Aguilar privatization act. So after waiting two days, we will attempt to share how teachers in South Central are reacting to the news that schools such as ours, LA Academy, might be outsourced to a private organization.

1. School board decisions have a way of trickling down to us in a different incarnation. When the layoffs were announced in March, we knew that if our young staff was laid off, few veterans would want to take their place down here in South Central. We were right. We continue to have unfilled positions, some taught by the very same laid-off teachers who are working in their own classes at substitute pay sans benefits. This is free market theory at its clearest. We think its wrong. We are concerned that the policy passed yesterday will also be implemented in a convoluted way in South Centr…

Build a School, Close a Prison

Mark Twain knew 100 years ago what we fail to understand today. In 1900 he said,
Every time you stop a school, you will have to build a jail. What you gain at one end you lose at the other. It's like feeding a dog on his own tail. It won't fatten the dog.It is not a new fact that strongly investing is public schools helps eliminate the need for an increase in prisons. Educators stay abreast of important educational studies, and the Schools to Prison pipeline theory has only been one in a string of such studies that shows the strong ties between a solid education and a decrease in crime-filled futures. But just building new schools is not enough to eliminate the risks for disenfranchised youths and communities. It means also investing in your human capital, and valuing an educated populace that may one day grow up and think differently than you.

Much has been said about the LAUSD proposal to privatize new public schools by handing them over to charter organi…

On Townhall Meetings

Tonight was the fourth townhall meeting regarding the LAUSD New School Giveaway proposal, held at Hamilton HS on the Westside. We have to wonder if this is an exercise in futility as was the effort to retain the dozens of new teachers our school lost during the massive budget cuts that occurred at the end of the last school year.

At tonight's meeting, there were a scant 110 or so adults present. We would say 20% were parents, 50 % were teachers, 20% were charter school advocates, and 10% were District staff. The presentation revealed that aside from the 50 new schools that would be open to a new governance system, all PI 3+ would also be deemed "struggling" and subject to takeover by any of the following:

1. Charter school organizations
2. Pilot school programs
3. University affiliated programs (LMU Family of Schools, UCLA Community Schools)
4. Traditional schools

The LD3 Superintendent, Michelle King, said teachers would be welcome to submit proposals as well. …

Layoffs, Charters, and Giveaways

According to this report, the language in the LAUSD New School Giveaway proposal will open up the possibility of not only giving governance of new schools to the highest bidder best proposal, but will also put the 34 LAUSD high priority schools on the chopping block. LA Academy is one of them.

This blog has chronicled the pain and heartache of the budget cuts, the marginalization, and the massive teacher layoffs on the South Central community. In addition to these issues, we have had to deal with the skimming of the cream of the crop students by charters who have opened up shop in the neighborhood. While parent choice is important, it is also crucial for them to know what they are getting into. Do parents really know, or are they being blinded by propaganda? For sure, many parents have been let down by dysfunctional schools in the inner-city. But how much of that is the function of our society as a whole, which doesn't really seem to care what happens to black and brown …

Retaining Teachers in South Central

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The problem in many South Central schools is teacher turnover. When teachers come and go from students' lives, it increases the instability they may already face growing up in a challenging environment. The instability always affects their academic performance and, we believe, their self-worth.

L.A. Academy, under the direction of Principal Maria Borges, instituted a comprehensive new teacher support program three years ago that reduced teacher turnover from 35% to .02% last year. Arne Duncan, the new Secretary of Education, has espoused the need to recruit and retain talented teachers, and our school is ground zero of this mandate. How did we do it? It really wasn't that hard. Here is what we did:
1. New teachers receive a welcome rolling start cart full of supplies on their very first day at LAAMS.
2. A flyer is distributed with the pictures and names of new staff members so they can be recognized and greeted by the rest of the staff.
3. We hold a Meet 'n Greet dur…