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…

When It Comes to Students, It's Never a Celebration to Say "I Told You So"

from L.A. School Report
This week, teachers reacted to news of the Superintendent's departure with reactions spanning from joyful to sobering. As one of the many concerned teachers who wondered why on earth a non-educator would be selected to lead a school district, I felt John Deasy's decision to step down was the right one. But why was he ever hired in the first place?

The prevailing narrative is that public schools are failing and that infusing them with the business model of competition and reward and punish would push them to do better. This, in spite of no evidence that the schools are doing as poorly as those who have a vested interest in their failure say they are. I see nothing wrong in hiring someone that has risen through the ranks, knows the frustration of teaching in an overcrowded, under-resourced classroom. One that has been whacked in the head by a flying water bottle or a mushy burrito. One that has seen the gleam of understanding in a student's eye when they finally get the lesson that you crafted as an art.

Here's my wish list for the next superintendent of Los Angeles schools:

1. Select someone not beholden to corporate interests-There should be a law where if you serve in a public office, you are prohibited from departing to private industry to benefit from the decisions you made while in office. You shouldn't sit on corporate boards like Scholastic or make commercials for Apple while you are in office. Decisions should be researched based and sound.

2. Do for L.A. kids what you would do for your own-if small class sizes are a selling point for your child's private school, then they should be the same for the majority black and brown kids of our district.

3. Listen to teachers-maintain on open line with the troops on the ground. Sometimes the message gets filtered when you have to many people in between.

4. Require significant experience in schools-TFA teachers are great. But youth does not always equal greatness. In fact, there is no substitute for experience. The schools that survived the Misis crisis had veteran administrators on staff who knew how to program students without a computer. A superintendent has had to have risen through the ranks to know exactly how each level is supposed to function

5. Do something about unchecked charter growth-it's affecting regular schools by draining the most able of families. It causes destabilization. It drains resources. If the charter model is so great, allow schools the autonomy to do what charters do.

And finally,

6. Do something great! We are an amazing city with incredible students, dedicated teachers and staff, and parents who want to help schools. We should be a model for other districts.

While Deasy's departure could be a sign of better things to come, I am saddened at three years of lost progress. It is not a cause for celebration. It is a time of reflection for us as teachers for what we need to do to make sure our voices are heard and mistakes like these are not repeated.

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