A Tale of Two Back to School Nights

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Excitement and enthusiasm were in the air as teachers in my new high school in a middle class neighborhood prepared their classrooms by decorating their bulletin boards, displaying student work, and straightening desks. Welcome messages abounded, Remind.com messages were sent, and we opened our doors to meet the parents.
I have done these events for 24 years, four times a year at my former school in South Central L.A. But this year’s Back to School Night left me reflecting, and perhaps shedding a tear.
First, my new parents were fantastic. They were friendly, enthusiastic, and supportive of the new ideas I bring to the school. I knew in them I would have allies to incorporate my findings from my Fulbright exchange in Finland earlier this year. Parent after parent nodded their heads and strongly affirmed that break time was important to students, teachers, and workers in general. They were excited to hear about the summer travel programs I had prepared.
As I looked at their warm and s…

Why Firing Central Falls Faculty Was Wrong






















  

Teachers and students from Central Falls HS



Firing the Central Falls faculty was wrong, for reasons we see every day here in South Central Los Angeles.

1.  The premise is that the 74 high school teachers, and no one else, was responsible for the students' academic struggles.  Not socio-economics, not gangs, not the parents, not the students themselves.  What a mistaken assumption.  If this were the magic bullet, wouldn't it have been used more often?  It hasn't because results have been mixed, at best.

2.  If these teachers are fired, it will scare the bejeezuz out of other teachers who will shape up in order to not lose their jobs.  Wrong.  Most teachers, especially the good ones, are not motivated by money or threats.

3.  When you start with a brand new staff, it will establish a new climate and higher expectations for the students and better test scores.  Where has this been proven to happen?  Not by a paltry few percentage points, but by significant and honest progress?  Not Fenger High in Chicago, not Markham Middle in Los Angeles (teachers there weren't fired there, but 50% of staff lost jobs in July 09's reduction in force, and 8 months later they are not fully staffed.)  Further, who will replace these teachers?  Arne, there is no magical line of teachers waiting to teach in the 'hood.

4.  Firing these teachers was wrong, even cruel, because you are removing what may be the only steady, consistent figures in the students' difficult lives.  Here at DFSC, we have seen this first hand.  We have seen the cruelty of having our next generation of teachers culled from our ranks, teachers who wanted to teach at LAAMS, who did it well, but in the end, were just numbers in an equation that couldn't be balanced.

But the public, fueled by the worst kind of "journalism" seen in recent times, and also suffering from the effects of this recession, want to see consequences.  So the firing is accepted.  The President applauds it.  And the students?  The students will be taught by teachers assigned to that school, some against their will, and who have no knowledge of the community and history of the school.

Hell hath no fury like students scorned.  New staff members at LAAMS, live with this every day, and its not pretty.

One last thought; at Bethune MS, also in South Central, the teachers would often be threatened with removal from the school if test scores didn't rise.  The joke in the faculty lounge was, "what are they (the District) going to do?  Send me to Bethune?"  For the Central Falls teachers, most will probably land in more affluent schools that have less challenging environments.  Supeintendent Gallo, you really showed them!
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photo from www.uri.edu

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