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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…

L.A. Media In Love With Charters

These are the people who will be vying to take over my school.  See my comment below.



Gigi,

The charter school PR machine does a tremendous job of painting a pretty picture about purported academic success at its schools. You repeat it verbatim, with not a single critical question asked, or alternate point of view presented.

You do the public a disservice.

Public, please google "Stanford charter school study" and you will quickly find that only 17% of charters outscore public schools. 17%. If you choose to highlight successful charters (to which you must apply, impose a parent participation requirement, and in some cases legally hold back students a grade, none of which public schools are allowed to do) then you present the public with a misleading view that all charter schools are better than all public schools. Attrition at the "best" charters is high. Where do the students who don't want to be flunked a grade go? Right back to public school…

Union's Response to Latest Round of School Giveaways

UTLA's response to Public School Choice process, Round 3, from utla.net:
November 3, 2010

PSC Round 3 – Is this really reform?

Late in the day on November 2 (election day!), LAUSD released the list of focus schools for Round 3 of the Public School Choice (PSC) process. PSC Round 3 is an escalation of LAUSD’s irresponsible school giveaway. UTLA contends that the LAUSD school board is abdicating responsibility for L.A. schools by giving them away instead of providing resources and addressing schools’ challenges.
Public School Choice unnecessarily politicizes school reform

The Public School Choice process promotes top‐down decision making from the Superintendent and LAUSD school board rather than bottom‐up reform. School board members should be held accountable for micromanaging what should be bottom‐up reform.


LAUSD has not taken action against many charter schools with similar API scores to those of the targeted focus schools.  Student learning should not be made to suffer as a res…

The maestro is missed

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A vigil was held tonight, in front of the L.A. Times building, to remember the life and work of Rigoberto Ruelas, a dedicated teacher in the South Central community.  The students' signs say it all:

R-responsible
U-united with the communtiy
E-expert
L-free
A-friendly
S-social

Yet newspapers that serve corporate interests deemed this esteemed man ineffective.

I say, L.A. Times, your reporting is what's ineffective.



Set Up for Failure

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When our school lost 23 teachers in the 2009 Reduction in Force, we lost some very accomplished individuals who had chosen to work at our previously hard to staff school, and were making progress with our students in South Central Los Angeles.

When $17,000,000,000 in budget cuts occurred over the last 2 years, we pulled ourselves together and made do with less counselors, less supplies, less professional development, less, support staff, and less summer and Saturday school opportunities for students.

When our school got hit with layoffs again this year, we gritted our teeth, knowing that the positions would not be filled in a timely manner because when all is said and done, the sad truth is that South Central has a bad reputation, some of it well-deserved, for being a scary place to work. We still have not staffed unfilled positions from 2009.

So it was no surprise to anyone on the campus when we received the news that we did not achieve our test growth target according to the Cali…

Corporate Reform Action Pack (C.R.A.P.)

By Sabrina Shupe at Failing Schools blog


When Newspapers Save Parents From Themselves

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photo from msnb.,msn.com. The community of South Central has been struck with another painful blow, in a part of town already plagued by crime, poverty, and violence.  This week, a teacher, a respected and integral part of the Miramonte community took his own life, due to pressure faced about his public job rating, according to family members.
According to parents, students and co-workers, this was the kind of teacher who changed lives and served as a real-life role model for his students and their families.  Making out of the neighborhood is a challenging obstacle for many kids; fewer than 10% actually make it to and graduate from college.  Rigoberto Ruelas defeated those odds, but he did not leave the ‘hood.  He came back, put down roots, and decided to make a life out of helping English learners like himself overcome the obstacles of our stratified society. Former students of Rigoberto Ruela (from left): Karla Gonzalez, Alicia Hernandez, and Perla Cruz photo by Brian Watt/KPCC
Parents …

Test Scores Drop

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Today, the CA Department of Education released the Accountability reports for schools throughout the state.  Although LAAMS had received its raw scores in August, the API score released today is significant because it measures how our school has been performing over time.  After many years of positive growth, this last school year did not produce continued growth.  We went down by 5 points in the API measure.

This score is bittersweet.  We have an organized and efficient campus, one that many families flock to, and one that takes pride in serving the community.  We knew, however, that the loss of 23 teachers due to the 2009 Reduction in Force would have a terrible impact on our school community, and by extension, our test scores.  It did. 

We increased the number of students who sank to the the lowest of levels, Far Below Basic.  This is not an increase that we should have.  Because California gives the most points for moving students out of this level, you also get dinged pretty har…

L.A. Academy Star Releases Second Album

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Lamar Queen continues his mission to educate and empower youth via math raps and songs that appeal to our students.  His sophomore album is called Second Period and features songs about Pre-Algebra.  In addition, the company he founded, Music Notes Online, has also "signed" a second artist, Mr. D, who has released his own album on Geometry.

Many fans search this blog for the lyrics to Mr. Q-U-E's raps, and they are finally available online by clicking here.  Enjoy!

If you are in the Los Angeles area, don't forget to join us at the Back to School Jam at Horace Mann Middle School on September 18th. 

It's going to be another great year in South Central!

Teachers and Turnarounds

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Recently, Twitter has become my news feed of preference.  In a single look, I can receive updates from the education world, converse with colleagues around the world, and debate with pundits with opposing views.  In my short time on Twitter, I have come to "meet" and respect some folks whose opinion I value.

Which is why I have been perturbed ever since one of those "tweeps" responded to a rhetorical question I posed about reconstitution, or turnaround.

The reconstitution of Fremont High School has been distressing for educators in South Central Los Angeles.  We know how important it is for students to be connected with a source of stability, the school, which in many cases is the only source of stability in a child's life.  The feds have deemed turnaround as a viable reform option for struggling schools, laying the responsibility of student performance 100% on a teacher's shoulders.  If students do not perform well, the entire school runs the risk of turna…

Race to the Top and South Central L.A.

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The big news this summer is the speed and ferocity of the federal governments new education reform plans that fall under the umbrella of Race to the Top.  RTTT is a competition for federal funding that will be awarded to winning states who adopt the reforms espoused by the President Obama and the Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan.  Some of these reforms include merit pay for teachers, reforming teacher evaluation, increasing testing in all subjects, imposing sanctions to the lowest performing 5% of schools, and lifting the cap on charter schools.

As we have said before in this blog, the ideas and policies of those in power always present themselves in a different iteration at the school level, and in South Central L.A., even more so.

For example, take the idea of reconstitution.  The idea is that if a school has very low test scores, and has had them for a long time, then it must be the fault of the faculty.  If you fire the faculty and only retain the best teachers (who …

Diane Ravitch Speaks in Support of Public Schools Like LAAMS

Career Day!!

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Many thanks to all the professionals who volunteered their time to share their career paths with the students of LA Academy.   Below are some pics of the event that took place yesterday, June 16, 2010:
The Principal, Maria A. Borges, with students and presenter
LAPD officer chats with students at nutrition
NBA Referee Violet Palmer motivates students to aim for the top
Cynthia Flores from Univision encourages shy girls to speak up
Jim Cloonan, Marine researcher makes his presentation in scuba gear
This event was well-received by students who learned about a wide variety of careers throughout the day.  Over 50 presenters were eager to talk to students and share information about each of their careers.  Poignantly, one student asked why no teachers came to present at the Career Day.  He reprimanded the organizers for not including teachers.  Touche.
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Neighborhood Explosion Rocks the Academy

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It's been a busy month at the Academy and we have not been able to post as frequently as in the past.  But for those of you who work in South Central, Friday was a day to remember.

Friday morning around 11:00 am, a massive explosion rocked the neighborhood.  The explosion was so powerful it shook all the buildings on campus.  It turns out the explosion came from a titanium fire at a recycling plant less than a block away from our school.

The plumes of fire and black smoke immediately rose over the back of our school building, but thanks to the staff's professionalism, all students were safely secured in their classrooms within 30 seconds of the explosion.

The school immediately implemented the Shelter-In-Place policy and all support staff checked the campus for any stray student, parent, guest, etc.  The lock down lasted 4.5 hours.

For a time, we were told we may have to evacuate to a neighboring middle school because of the air hazard potential.  That order was canceled howev…

Two Teachers, Two POV's

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This email exchange landed in my inbox this week and shows the complexities of the issue of seniority, bargaining rights, and ed reforms.  L.A. Academy is ground zero for this debate, and we are working to try to reach a coherent, reasonable approach to all of these issues.  Of note, both teachers have been RIF'ed in the past 2 years.  (Exchange reprinted with permission of authors.)

Email #1

From today's LA Times.  Interesting to see that the "reform" effort in Colorado was headed by democrats and that the Colorado chapter of the AFT eventually supported the reform in exchange for some changes they wanted. This is just one more indication that teachers are losing the public relations battle with our "just say no to everything" approach.  It's no longer just Republican union-busters coming after teachers, but pretty much the whole political establishment.  I really fear that if California teachers' unions continue to say no to all reforms they are goi…

Spring at the Academy

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We are settling into the final two months of the year, now that the turbulence of C Track is behind us.  It's funny how every year there seems to be a cluster of students who define themselves by their disagreeable behavior.  It can happen at any grade level, any track.  It is like a contagion, and once it takes hold, it is hard to reverse course.  We wonder if the very noticeable behavior differences this year is a result of the layoffs (resulting in new faces on campus) or an increase in more challenging students, since we believe charters do siphon off more motivated families.  It would be great if someone had the data on this.  Until then, we can only wonder.

In our year-round school, we enter our final "mester" with A and B Tracks on, and the final 6 weeks of school upon us.  We are figuring out who our instructors for next year will be, since several of our newly RIF'ed teachers have not had their layoff notices rescinded in spite of the ratification of the ten…

Video of Mr. Queen at the New York Stock Exchange

You can also click directly to the NYSE link here, for better video quality.

HE DID IT! Lamar Queen Wins Ring the Bell Contest!

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STUDENT MATH WHIZ AND TEACHER-RAPPER WIN OPPORTUNITY TO RING THE OPENING BELLSM at the NEW YORK STOCK EXCHANGE
“Ring the Bell” National Contest Winners Honored for Outstanding Achievements in Math
NEW YORK— A math teacher who engages his students through rapping his lessons and a young math scholar opened trading on the New York Stock exchange Wednesday as the grand prize winners of the nationwide “Ring the Bell” contest, recognizing excellence in math education. Reign Glover, a 10th grade student at Choctaw High School in Choctaw, Oklahoma, and Lamar Queen, an 8th grade Algebra teacher at Los Angeles Academy, a middle school in South Central, Los Angeles, were named as winners for their skill, dedication and innovation in math education.
Get Schooled, the national education initiative co-developed by Viacom and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the New York Stock Exchange co-sponsored the contest as part of Financial Literacy Week and in recognition of President Obama’s pled…

Lamar Queen, the Rapping Math Sensation Entered in Get Schooled Ring the Bell Contest

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When the Get Schooled foundation asked for nominations for outstanding math teachers in its Ring the Bell Contest, one name stood out among the other:  resident superstar teacher Lamar Queen!  Below is the essay that was submitted on his behalf:
In 2007 a new Algebra teacher arrived at our urban middle school in South Central Los Angeles. Lamar Queen was the kind of teacher that you know off-bat will have a bright future. His calm demeanor, impeccable dress, and rapport with students was instantaneous. We knew he would be destined for greatness.
Well, it didn't quite work out that way. His students got over his youth and looks and soon started complaining about class being boring. Mr. Queen was mortified. He became stressed.
He showed up at our school's New Teacher support meetings and admitted he couldn't sleep well at night trying to figure out a way to make class more engaging. And that's when the magic began.
Mr. Queen began writing his lessons in the form of math raps…

It IS That Bad

Hot for Teachers w/ Megan Fox and Brian Austin Green from Megan Fox
This week at LAAMS we found out our counseling staff will be reduced in half next year, with each counselor carrying an 850:1 load of students.  Our deans are being reduced from three to two, and our categorical program coordinators reduced from two to one.  We may also lose an Assistant Principal, in our school of 2,400 students in South Central Los Angeles.

And we thought we were having discipline problems this year?

My position as half time GATE coordinator that oversees 700 Gifted/Advanced Students will very possibly be eliminated.  How will these 700 students and their families be served during one conference period, in addition to the 150 other students I teach in the classroom?

If forward progress paused this year because of the layoffs, it will most certainly reverse direction with these "final blow" cuts to our school.  If it wasn't for our fiercely dedicated teachers, our school may have collap…

Cutting the School Year Short

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This week, members of the United Teachers of Los Angeles will vote to approve 12 furlough days in the next 15 months. These furloughs translate in to a 5% pay cut. Should teachers vote for this measure, as a way to preserve jobs? Yes.

It is completely understandable why many UTLA members may want to vote this measure down. It is unclear whether the LAUSD has cut enough from its own bureaucracy in order to justify a pay cut for teachers. Although many districts have their budgets posted online as a way of promoting transparency, getting accurate numbers from LAUSD is like pulling teeth. As teachers see it, vast mismanagement of funds, and poor management in general led to a surplus of workers in a district with declining enrollment. Now, to balance the budget, teachers are asked to sacrifice pay. This is not okay.

Other UTLA members believe in the "last hired, first fired" way of fairly dealing with layoffs. That might make sense except at schools like L.A. Academy a…

A Week of Turmoil and Tension

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This past week at L.A. Academy has been marked by the dread of imposed layoffs, uncertainty as to how many would actually go through, and the potential loss of our award-winning librarian.
Coincidentally (or not), students decided at this time to behave in a manner unseen in years, to the faculty who has been around since the opening of the school in 1998.  There were “rolling fights” on campus, where students run in hordes from place to place, to witness fights or other disturbances.  This situation has the potential for lots of physical injury because if you are in the way of an approaching horde, you will get knocked down, run over, and trampled.  Two students were injured, and many others were pushed, shoved, and stepped on.
Is there a connection between these two situations?  Teachers believe so.  Our school is a distinctly different place since 23 of our established faculty were laid-off in the 2009 Reduction in Force.  More than half of those teachers left the school, and the oth…

Numbers: Do They Tell the Whole Story?

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The internet has given many folks the opportunity to chime in about education reform (including those that author this blog, teachers from Los Angeles Academy MS).  Our school that has been labeled "Program Improvement" -California's label for "failing" schools--- for the last several years.  This is due to one simple measure, created by George Bush in his signature piece of legislation known as No Child Left Behind.   In NCLB, each school has to have 100% of students scoring Proficient or higher to be deemed a successful school.  This includes all English learners, and special education students who are mentally impaired.  Many schools, including ours, did not meet our targets, hence the PI label.

But does one single test label measure the worth of a school?  I believe not.  Having worked at several schools in the Los Angeles Unified District, and having hundreds of colleagues spread out all over the district, state, and nation, I have some thoughts on what h…

Kick 'Em While They're Down

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Starting at dinner time on Friday the 12th, the texts and phone calls started coming in.  "I'm fired,"  "guess I'll be looking for a new job" or  "I get it, LAUSD, you don't want me."  Apprehensive teachers had made their way home to find their pink slips waiting for them.

Unlike last year, the teachers were realistic about their chances of getting another one this year.  Nothing can really prepare you for getting the letter that tells you you have less than four months left of being a teacher and working with your students.  LAAMS lost 23 teachers last year, and with that fact in mind, and no clear UTLA plan of action, our new crop of RIF'ed teachers are grim about their future, and the future of our school community.

At least 10 new RIF's have been confirmed, but LAUSD saw it fit to send duplicate RIF's to last year's laid-off teachers who are currently working as substitutes.  In a time of contract negotiations between the …