Cortines doubles number of direct reports in LAUSD overhaul

LAUSD organizational flow chartJohn Deasy was often described by critics as an autocrat in how he ran the district. Nine senior aides reported to him directly.

That was nothing. In the two months since taking over, his replacement, Ramon Cortines, has doubled the number of LA Unified officials under his direct supervision. He has 18 aides reporting to him directly.

The change came early this month when the district circulated a new organizational chart of top district management. In another realignment, Cortines continued the expansion of some departments while eliminating others.

Taken together, the changes throw into relief the differences in management styles between the two men: Where Deasy had a handful of people delivering information from the bottom up, Cortines prefers a more hands-on approach with direct contact.

In a letter to the board that accompanied the new organizational charter, Cortines offered no specifics as to why he was making so many changes, other than to say they would “continue the trajectory of stability and calmness that our schools and support staff depend on.”

The most notable changes within the top tier, which took effect on Dec. 1, affect Matt Hill and Donna Muncey.  Hill’s job as Chief Strategy Officer has already undergone some alterations under Coritnes, after the resignation of the district’s Chief Information Officer, Ron Chandler. A month ago, Hill was asked to share oversight of MISIS, but he has since been pulled off of that project to oversee the Information Technology Department.

Aside from his experience with the district in managing the development and troubled rollout of MISIS, it is unclear what experience Hill has in running an IT department. Prior to his career in education, Hill worked in Black & Decker’s business development group. He’s also been a strategy consultant in the financial services industry.

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5 LAUSD teachers win scholarship, students raise 15K for toy drive

school report buzzFive LA Unified teachers have been selected to receive a Raytheon-Engineering is Elementary teacher scholarship for 2014-2015.

The scholarships will help the educators implement Engineering is Elementary STEM curriculum from the Boston Museum of Science in their classrooms. The award covers tuition and travel to attend a professional development workshop in Boston and has a value of $2,500, according to an LA Unified press release.

The recipients are LaNelle Harvey of 93rd Street Elementary School, Lauren Levy of Synergy Charter Academy, David Owens of 96th Street Elementary, Robyn Tirschel of 96th Street Elementary and Anna Gaiter of Plainview Academic Charter Academy.

“I am ecstatic and honored to be one of the recipients,” Harvey said in a statement. “I’m ecstatic because it’s a wonderful opportunity to stretch my capabilities, and to add to the repertoire of the learning experiences I will be able to provide for my students.

Polytechnic High students raise $15,500 for toy drive

After raising $15,500 for the school’s annual toy drive, students from Polytechnic High in Sun Valley will go on a shopping spree with the funds at the Matel Store in Pomona at 8 a.m. Friday.

Thirty-five students will be purchasing toys and delivering them to a local Los Angeles Fire Department station, where they will be taken to a warehouse and then delivered to needy children, according to a district press release.

The funds were raised through pizza, bracelets, balloons roses and other items, as well through a talent show, student/teacher basketball game and business donations, according to the release.

Ruth Perez on Podcast

In his weekly podcast,  LA Unified’s Local Instructional Service Center-South Superintendent Bob Bravo interviews LA Unified Deputy Superintendent of Instruction Ruth Perez. In the interview, Perez explains why she left a cherished job at another district to come to LA Unified.

Click here to listen to the podcast.

Group to protest LA school police department’s military weapons

The Fight for the Soul of the Cities group protest on Nov 24, 2014. (Credit: Fight for the Soul of the Cities Facebook)

The Fight for the Soul of the Cities group protest on Nov 24, 2014. (Credit: Fight for the Soul of the Cities Facebook)

The Strategy Center’s Fight for the Soul of the Cities and Community Rights Campaign is holding a rally and press conference outside LAUSD headquarters at 4 p.m. to protest the Los Angeles School Police Department’s possession of military-grade weapons.

Earlier this fall, media around the country began to focus on the Pentagon’s 1033 Program in the wake of protesters’ clashes with heavily armed police in Ferguson, Mo. Under the program, local police departments large and small have been armed with billions of dollars of surplus military-grade weapons.

In response to growing criticism of the program, the LASPD Chief Steven Zipperman announced that the department was getting rid of three grenade launchers and a mine-resistant vehicle it had obtained through the program, but was keeping dozens of assault rifles.

Zipperman explained to the Los Angeles Times that the rifles were used for training, and that many officers are also equipped with civilian-grade assault rifles kept in the trunks of their cars or centralized locations in case of a Columbine High School-type attack.

The Fight for the Soul of the Cities campaign is calling for further moves by the LASPD. In a press release about the protest, the group is calling on the department to end its participation in the 1033 program, destroy its military weapons instead of transferring them to other agencies, encourage the LAPD and Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department to take similar actions and establish a Black and Latino-led community-control board of the LASPD.

“President Obama has called for more oversight of military weapons transfer and body cameras – yet the reality is that we need an end to police violence, criminalization and militarism,” the press release stated. “LAUSD as an institution of learning can provide leadership to reject militarism and police violence, we urge the LAUSD Board to begin the process to end its relationship to the 1033 Program.”


A turbulent year in LA Unified: Our top 11 stories of 2014

Top LA School Report storiesThe year 2014 was not a banner one in the history of the Los Angeles Unified School District. While there was positive news – in particular continued improvement in student achievement – the district often found itself the subject of increasingly negative headlines.

Here, in no particular order, are the top stories about LA Unified as reported this year by LA School Report.


Superintendent Deasy resigns

On Oct. 15, LA School Report broke the news that John Deasy was going to resign the next day as superintendent of LA Unified. Although his future with the district had been openly debated for weeks, the news still rocked the education world to the core and made headlines around the country. Despite his eagerness to help students with the greatest need, his departure was viewed as a victory by those who opposed his centralized style of management.

Key Deasy resignation stories: Breaking News: LAUSD makes it official, Deasy steps downRatliff: lone vote on school board against Deasy settlementCaputo-Pearl insists Deasy’s resignation not a victory for UTLAIn resignation letter, Deasy ‘overwhelmed with pride’

tuck torlaksonSchool reform loss is union’s gain 

Deasy’s departure was a reflection of a general retrenchment of school reform advocacy in 2014. The teachers union showed a strong hand at local and state level in elections this year while reform advocates suffered not only the loss of Deasy but also reform candidate Marshall Tuck in his bid to unseat Tom Torlakson as state Superintendent of Public Instruction. The shift occurred at the local board level, too, with the election of George McKenna, who defeated a candidate, Alex Johnson, heavily supported by charter schools.

Key reform stories: In words of congratulations, Zimmer blasts ‘reform billionaires’Tuck, in defeat: In California, ‘a growing call for change’Reaction to Deasy resignation as polarizing as his tenureMcKenna victory gives appearance of a pro-teacher union board.

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Morning Read: CA opposing suit demanding action on schools

State to fight lawsuit by impoverished students
State officials granted the California Department of Education $3.4 million to fight a lawsuit that demands the state fix disruptive conditions in some schools. Ed Source

California schools step up efforts to help ‘long-term’ English learners
A new law requires the state to define and identify a “long-term English learner,” the first effort in the nation to do so. Los Angeles Times

To give their children a better education, parents launch new school
In a unique showing of parent power, Nava College Preparatory Academy opened in the fall. Los Angeles Times

Will LAUSD get an accountability break?
LAUSD is asking state officials for permission to exclude student test scores from school performance ratings. Politico

Turning around schools with low achievement rates never seems to work
One of the goals U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan set in 2009 was to turn 1,000 schools around annually for five years. Washington Post

Cortines springs an art teacher after months in ‘teacher jail’

South Gate Middle School teacher Stuart Lutz

South Gate Middle School teacher Stuart Lutz

LA Unified art teacher Stuart Lutz had a celebratory homecoming today as he returned to the classroom after nearly eight months in so-called “teacher jail.”

Lutz was pulled from South Gate Middle School on April 21 while the district investigated allegations of mishandling fundraising money for an annual field trip to Disneyland Art Studio.

Throughout the investigation, Lutz, who is the teachers union Chapter Chair for the school, and his supporters maintained there was no wrong-doing and claimed the disciplinary actions taken against him were in retaliation for his queries into the school budget, complaints about insufficient campus restrooms, and concerns about unsafe conditions for students.

A request for comment from the district’s legal counsel on the findings of the investigation was not returned. However, UTLA spokesperson Suzanne Spurgeon told LA School Report, “At the urging of UTLA, the District — under [Superintendent Ramon] Cortines— took a closer look at Lutz’s case and agreed he should be allowed back at South Gate Middle School.”

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JUST IN: Hamilton High put on lockdown after 3 shot nearby

Hamilton High


Hamilton High School in West LA was put on lockdown for over an hour this morning after three men were shot in streets near the school, which is located on S. Robertson Blvd. near the 10 Freeway.

The three victims were shot at different locations — with one victim being found on the 3100 block of Helms Avenue — after likely being chased through the streets by at least two shooters, Officer Drake Madison of the LAPD Media Relations Section told LA School Report.

Madison said the three victims were all adult males and were not students at Hamilton. The shooter or shooters are still at large, and the victims are all being treated at local hospitals. No description of the shooters is available, Madison said.

The shooting was reported around 9 a.m. and the lockdown was lifted at 10:40 a.m. The incident may be related to drug or gang activity, Madison suggested.

“It was not random, let’s put it that way,” Madison said.

UPDATE 2:50 p.m. One of the victims in the shooting died, according to NBC Los Angeles.


UTLA drops salary demand to 9 percent over 1 year

Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of UTLA

Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of UTLA

Representatives for the teachers union, UTLA, lowered their salary demand yesterday, asking LA Unified for a one-year 9 percent pay increase for the current academic year, with future increases tied to that.

Vivian Ekchian, the district’s chief negotiator, said the proposal “is under review and we will ascertain the cost to the District.”

While the shift suggests movement in contract negotiations that have been stumbling along for months, it still leaves the side far apart, with the district holding to a 2 percent salary increase and one-time bonuses.

The union said on its website that its new demand was done as an effort “to increase the pace of bargaining.” In the same vein, it called for weekly negotiation sessions, starting in January even though the sides have been meeting almost once a week since the talks began.

The union’s latest proposal also included demands for three self-directed voluntary planning and collaboration days to be paid at hourly rate, stipends of $1,000 for materials, full rate pay for professional development  and a potential retirement incentive.

Fully anticipating no immediate agreement from the district, the union’s website said Gov. Jerry Brown‘s new budget in January will reflect how much money LA Unified can expect from the state.

Previous stories: UTLA rejects pay increase offer from districtAnalysis: LAUSD offer to UTLA a march to progress or a strike?


Morning Read: LCAPs a mixed bag so far, advocacy group finds

Report on LCAPs finds mixed success
An advocacy organization analyzed dozens of school districts’ inaugural improvement plans and found mixed results. Ed Source

Students’ active engagement in music leads to brain gains, study finds
Brain researchers are finding increasing evidence that music is a powerful learning tool. KPCC

An alternative to suspension and expulsion: ‘Circle up!’
One by one, in a room just off the gym floor at Edna Brewer Middle School in Oakland, Calif., seventh-graders go on the interview hot seat. KPCC

Only GPA outranks attendance as a performance indicator
After grades, attendance habits among Chicago middle school students provided the best indicator of later academic performance. SI&A Cabinet Report

Charges dropped against teacher accused of having sex with teens
A longtime San Bernardino educator accused of molesting two teenage boys is beginning to restore her reputation. Los Angeles Times

CA considering Cortines request to delay use of computer tests

LAUSD Superintedent Ray Cortines

LAUSD Superintedent Ramon Cortines

Responding to a barrage of requests from district superintendents around the state, including a recent appeal from LA Unified Superintendent Ramon Cortines, state education officials will consider a delay in using the results of the 2014-15 Smarter Balanced computerized test as means of measuring academic growth next year.

“This will be a public discussion beginning with the next scheduled State Board meeting in January,” Keric Ashley, a deputy to Tom Torlakson, the Superintendent of Public Instruction, said in a written statement.

He added, “Regardless of this public discussion of the API, schools and parents will receive scores and the Superintendent strongly urges all schools to continue their preparation for the computer-adaptive assessments coming in the spring.”

The outcomes of this year’s reading and math tests are supposed to be used to establish a base in calculating Academic Performance Index (API) scores in 2015-16. But, at a meeting with the California Department of Education in November, leaders from several statewide educational organizations suggested a year-long postponement. They argued that many districts need more time to implement the state’s new Common Core curriculum while others do not posses the technological infrastructure to carry out the exam.

In a letter to Torlakson last week, Cortines joined a growing group of local superintendents’ seeking permission to ignore the test results for “high stakes accountability purposes.”

“We do not feel that our students have had adequate time practicing on the testing devices,” Cortines explained.

As a result, he added, “I would like to ask that any data or scores derived from [testing] not have a negative impact on state and/or federal funds that are allocated for the students in LAUSD.”

The Smarter Balanced tests have replaced California’s statewide exams as the state is transitioning to the Common Core State Standards. All students in third through eighth grade and high school juniors are required to take the exam. In all, nearly 350,000 LA Unified students will take the test in April.

Teachers, LA Unified in last bargaining session of the year

UTLA-Contract-NegotiationsThe teachers union, UTLA, and LA Unified officials will be back at it today, for the last contract negotiations of the year.

The final bargaining session has no set agenda, but Vivian Ekchian, the district’s Chief Labor Negotiator, told LA School Report salary discussions are likely to be front and center.

To that end, the district yesterday sent out an email addressed to its “Dear Employees”  and the subject line: “District’s latest wage offer – willing to pay while talks continue about future increases.”

Earlier this month the district proposed a one-year deal with an equivalent raise of 6 percent. The money would be distributed through a 2 percent ongoing salary increase retroactive to July 1; a 2 percent lump-sum payment based on 2013-14 earnings; and a 2 percent one-time payment for the 2014-15 school year to be paid at the end of this school year.

According to the email, “This offer represents an increase to UTLA members of $48 million above the previous District 4% offer for 2014-15.”

Negotiations on all other issues — class size reductions, so-called teacher jail and teacher evaluations — would continue uninterrupted and UTLA would resume salary negotiations next year.

Although UTLA made no official response, the website pointed out, “the District is still only offering a 2% salary increase.”

The meeting begins at noon today and will take place at UTLA headquarters.

Previous Stories: UTLA rejects pay increase offer from districtAnalysis: LAUSD offer to UTLA a march to progress or a strike?Caputo-Pearl asks energetic UTLA rally: ‘Are you ready for a fight?’

Commentary: The time has come for ethnic studies at LAUSD

Los-Angeles-Times-logoVia Los Angeles Times | By Sandy Banks

An ethnic studies course changed my life when I was a teenager — though not in the way that today’s opponents of ethnic studies seem to fear.

It didn’t teach me to feel like a victim, to despise America or to resent white people. I learned that history doesn’t have to be boring, and that you may have to dig deep beneath the surface to find the truth in a story.

I was a high school junior in 1971, trying to avoid another mind-numbing history course heavy on names, dates and battles. A social studies teacher I liked persuaded me to enroll in her new class. She was a rabble-rousing feminist, a Russian Jew who’d offered to teach “Black History” on a campus where almost every student was black.

To read the full commentary, click here.

Morning Read: Most CA schools free of computer testing problems

Most schools solve web issues for computer testing
Of the state’s more than 11,000 public schools, fewer than 21 of them will be taking the Common Core assessments this spring on pencil and paper. SI&A Cabinet Report

State likely to support existing lunch standards
California’s enthusiasm for healthy school lunches appears unlikely to change under a Congressional budget bill headed to President Obama for signature. Ed Source

Commentary: Teachers need to be honest about their unions
Many individual teachers are wonderful, inspiring people who deserve admiration and respect. But that simply doesn’t extend to the CTA and CFT. U-T San Diego

Getting kids online at home is key to closing the digital divide 
The FCC voted Thursday to increase funding for the federal e-rate program, which provides money for school districts to access the Internet. The Hechinger Report

The top Education Next articles of 2014
Each year we provide readers with a list of the most popular articles we published that year. Education Next

Snag in suit of ex-LAUSD official who criticized Miramonte payout


A judge ruled today that a former LA Unified official’s lawsuit that claims his contract was not renewed in retaliation for criticizing the district’s handling of the Miramonte Elementary sex abuse case cannot move forward without more information being added to the complaint.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Richard Fruin found that there are not enough details in Gregg Breed‘s complaint to support all of his lawsuit’s allegations, particularly in the areas of retaliation, breach of contract and unjust enrichment, City News Service reported.

The same judge ruled last week that LA Unified’s lawsuit against Breed that charges him with leaking confidential documents to the media can move forward.

The lawsuits are all connected to the case of former Miramonte Elementary School teacher Mark Berndt, who was convicted last year of committing 23 counts of lewd conduct and sentenced to 25 years in prison. After settling with a number of student victims for $30 million, the district in November reached a record settlement of $139 million with the remaining victims.

The lawsuits between Breed, the district’s former chief risk officer, and the district stem from the cases involving the original $30 million. In a lawsuit filed in January, Breed claims his contract with the district was not renewed in 2013 after he communicated both internally and to the media that the case was mishandled by inexperienced lawyers who were hired as a result of LAUSD cronyism.

Breed told NBC Los Angeles he had proof that the district paid $470,000 apiece to three students who were not actually abused by Berndt.

The district’s lawsuit, filed in 2013, claims Breed leaked confidential papers to the media related to the Miramonte case, a suit that Fruin ruled last week can move forward. Breed’s attorneys had sought dismissal of the lawsuit, arguing that he was being punished for being a whistleblower and speaking out about alleged corruption in the district.


JUST IN: Cortines requests delay in counting computer test results

LAUSD Superintendent Ray Cortines

LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines

In a sudden reversal for LA Unified, Superintendent Ramon Cortines is asking the state to ignore the district’s Smarter Balanced testing results as a measure of academic growth or improvement next year.

In a letter to the State Schools Chief, Tom Torlakson on Friday, Cortines wrote, “I have determined that it would be untimely to have the test results used for high stakes accountability purposes in spring 2015.”

He explained: “While LAUSD students in grades 3-8 and 11 participated in the Field Test last spring, we do not feel that our students have had adequate time practicing on the testing devices.”

“I would like to ask that any data or scores derived from [testing] not have a negative impact on state and/or federal funds that are allocated for the students in LAUSD,” he added.

The letter did not address what measure the district would or could use in the absence of computerized test results for purposes of tracking student and school levels of academic achievement and for qualifying for federal support dollars.

Torlakson, who was recently elected for a second term, did not respond to a message seeking comment.

Cortines has repeatedly expressed concern over the ticking clock on the time students will have to become familiar with wireless devices before taking the math and English exam, aimed at testing the state’s new Common Core standards, in April.

“I do not believe that the assessments this spring will be an accurate demonstration of what students have learned nor what our teachers have taught this school year…We do not feel that students and schools should be penalized for the transition to new standards, new assessments, and new technology,” he wrote to Torlakson.

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Podcast: Teacher of the Year struggled with English as a child

2015 California Teacher of the Year Lovelyn Marquez-Prueher

Lovelyn Marquez-Prueher

Lovelyn Marquez-Preuher, an eighth-grade English teacher at Dodson Middle School in Rancho Palos Verdes, recently became one of five educators the California Department of Education named California Teacher of the Year.

In an interview with Bob Bravo, LA Unified’s Local Instructional Service Center-South Superintendent, for his weekly podcast, Marquez-Preuher discussed her path to becoming a teacher, a road that included coming to America when she was 9 and struggling to learn English. Marquez-Preuher has been teaching for 11 years, the last six at Dodson.

Click here to listen to the podcast.

One of the five winners will be chosen to enter the National Teacher of the Year award, which will be given out by President Obama in April.

Recent California Teachers of the Year honorees from LAUSD include Veronica Marquez (2013), Jose Navarro (2009), Lewis Chappelear (2008) and Kelly Hanock (2006).

Morning Read: Some LAUSD students take iPads home

Amid safety concerns, LAUSD students hauling home iPads
Students at Valley Academy of Arts and Sciences in Granda Hills are among the first in LAUSD cleared to tote home their iPads for homework. KPCC

Group seeks oversight of military arms after LAUSD’s arsenal revealed
An advocacy group is calling on LAUSD to create a citizens oversight panel to monitor its military weapons. Los Angeles Daily News

Commentary: For schools, seek justice
Philadelphia represents one of the most vivid examples nationally of what happens when systems fail to fund schools properly. Philadelphia Inquirer

State Leaders Confront Full Plate of K-12 Issues
Issues such as common standards, testing, and school choice are likely to dominate the education policy debate. Education Week

California study finds harm for some in repeating algebra
One of the most often repeated courses in U.S. high schools is algebra. The Hechinger Report

LAUSD board honors Marguerite LaMotte, retiring employee

Retiring LAUSD employee Linda Perez with board members Bennet Kayser (L) and Richard Vladovic.

Retiring LAUSD employee Linda Perez with board members Bennet Kayser (L) and Richard Vladovic.

The LA Unified school board honored two people at its meeting Tuesday as retiring 20-year employee Linda Perez received a certificate of appreciation and late board member Marguerite LaMotte was remembered with a moment of silence.

LaMotte was a long-serving member of the board when she passed away on Dec. 5, 2013 at the age of 80. On the year anniversary of her death, the district named a school in her honor, the Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte Elementary School at 4410 Orchard Ave. in south LA.

Before a moment of silence, each member of the board offered words of remembrance of LaMotte. (Click on the below video links to see portions of the meeting when LaMotte and Perez were honored.)

“I’m probably more personally involved with Marguerite than most, although I didn’t sit on the board with her. We were colleagues in many endeavors and friends,” said George McKenna, who won LaMotte’s vacant seat in a special election earlier this year.

Superintendent Ramon Cortines described the ribbon cutting ceremony of the school named for her and said he could feel her presence there.

“She was so focused on the importance of schools and children, and opportunities for children, and this ribbon cutting ceremony was just beautiful,” Cortines said.

Monica Garcia recalled how LaMotte was always friendly despite their often being on opposing sides of issues.

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Heavy rains caused little disruption across LA Unified

rainLA Unified escaped major disruptions because of the rainstorm that swept across the region last night and this morning.

Mark Hovatter, the district’s Chief Facilities Director, told LA School Report today that power was reported out in only four schools, and three were back to normal by mid-morning with one remaining to be rectified by this afternoon.

He also said the district got 203 calls about leaky roofs, which the district immediately placed into three categories: emergency, for those needing immediate repair; urgent and routine.

He said the 40 calls classified as urgent have been repaired, the 121 “urgent” calls would be addressed by the end of the day, and the 42 “routine” problems would be fixed within 30 days.

One benefit to the rain: Fixing roofs, Hovatter said, “is one of our priorities, on the top of the list.”

Ballot order set for 2015 LAUSD board candidate races

election results McKenna beat Johnson* UPDATED
The City Clerk’s office today completed verification of petitions to qualify for the March primary in LA Unified’s four school board races.

After a random draw of letters, the ballot order is now set for how candidate names will appear. Here’s the way they will be listed:

District 1

George McKenna, incumbent

(No one else qualified)

District 3

Carl Petersen

Ankur Patel

Scott Schmerelson

Filiberto Gonzalez

Tamar Galatzan, incumbent

Elizabeth Badger Bartels

District 5

Ref Rodriguez

Bennett Kayser, incumbent

Andrew Thomas

District 7

Lydia Gutierez

Euna Anderson

Richard Vladovic, incumbent

How helpful is being listed first? It’s a question that political scientists have studied for years. Here’s the money quote from “On the Causes and Consequences of Ballot Order Effects” — a recent paper by Marc Meredith of the University of Pennsylvania and Yuval Salant of Northwestern:

“We find that candidates listed first on the ballot are between four and five percentage
points more likely to win office than expected absent order effects.”

Theirs is a highly-academic treatise on the subject that takes into account things like ap,j = αp,t(j) + Incp,jλt(j) + εp,j where αp,t(j) = δp,t(j) + Incp,jγp,t(j) + Xjβp,t(j) .

But in an LA Unified school board race, the more likely influences are incumbency, financial support and turnout.

* In an earlier version several names were mistakenly reversed. This version correct that.