Leaving Finland

Lake Jyvasjarvi I have never lived anywhere for 5 months other than Jyvaskyla, Finland. As my Fulbright journey concludes, there is so much to still digest. It will take months, if not years, to truly assimilate all the learning. Before I left Southern California, I wrote about the what I would miss the most from home and what I  looked forward to experiencing in Finland. It is safe to say I met my goals. Top 7 Goals 1. Discussing Education Helsinki Workshop Through professional development programs, Fulbright Finland connected teachers with scholars and researchers, for the purpose of putting inquisitive minds together. The Making Democracies Resilient to Modern Threats seminar provided participants with fascinating research and presentations. 2. Nordic Model Bus station in Espoo What does an efficient and earnest country look like?  It looks like Finland. Yes, people pay higher taxes, but get so much in return. I for one appreciated the well-maintained ro

End of Year Reflection

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 teachers, causing a tremendous disruption in the fabric of our school community. Our remaining teachers have filled in as substitutes during their vacations, welcomed and acculturated new staff members, conducted extra supervision and monitoring in hallways and stairwells (to combat correlating increase in student misbehavior), made do with less money for field trips, supplies, and professional development, and in some cases, made do with little to no pay due to the Business Tools for Schools debacle that continues to live on in the lives of many a school district employee. Our spirit is being tested, but it will take more than a few cuts to bring us down.

3. Union Leadership

Melissa Naponelli and Joe Zeccola have done the best they can with having to be the bearers of bad news all year, and it just doesn't get any better. In spite of the somber financial landscape, they have instituted a Google news group to keep staff informed about upcoming votes, issues, and mobilizations, organized several large protests that have garnered particular attention to our school's experience with the budget cuts, and formed a functional Staff Association that celebrates staff birthdays, and other special events.

We are still in a precarious position; there are several unfilled positions manned by our homegrown RIF'ed teachers, but at this point, we will leave well enough alone. It seems all the District has left to send us are the teachers no one else wants. We would much rather keep our excellent new teachers for as long as they are willing to serve as substitutes.

Our new staff members who were reassigned to our location are 50/50 about whether they will stay and continue their career journey with us. Although signs are promising, it is difficult to foretell. Continuity in staffing is a HUGE issue for the South Central community. The students need to know that the teachers who know them will be around next year to share their knowledge of them with their new instructors; that they will know who is in extra need of TLC due to a death in the family, a father in jail, or a past history of abuse; that they will hold them accountable to perform at their highest possible level and will not allow them to slack off.

The students, are valiantly struggling to keep their heads above water in a year where they have been assailed by a broken economy and neglect by those assigned to protect them. In this blog, we asked for the School Board to mitigate the effects cuts would have on South Central schools, and there was no such effort made for us. We bore the brunt of the cuts, and we consoled the children who lost important figures in their lives, a disappearance that these kids may not recover from. Our thoughts our with our students who have been made homeless by this economy, and who show up to school every day, wanting to do better, because they know education is their way out of poverty.

The "Public School Choice" movement is one of deep concern for many educators. Those of us who chose to work with children before it became trendy, and those of us who will continue after the charlatans are gone, are concerned as to the long term effects that a widespread increase in charters may have on public education. We are concerned with the students left behind by charters; the narrowing of the curriculum in all schools in the effort to brag about test scores; the movement in the media to discredit the teaching profession and to turn teachers into cheap labor, something that if it happens, will be to the detriment of the entire nation.

We are not looking for kudos, or even a modest raise (LAUSD has absconded with our Cost of Living Adjustment for the last several years). We want the public to keep their eyes open, ask critical questions, follow the money, and support local neighborhood schools.

This blog will continue, in 2010, to report from the epicenter of the LAUSD budget cuts, and we appreciate the support we have received from fellow bloggers and educational activists. Feliz y prospero año nuevo! Happy New Year everyone!


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