Cortines names new overseer for fixing MiSiS problems

MiSiSThe flurry of organizational changes within LA Unified to deal with the MiSiS crisis took yet another turn late today as Superintendent Ramon Cortines told the district’s Independent Monitor that he is creating a Program Manager position, responsible for managing and overseeing a team working to fix the student data tracking system

Cortines also said he intends to assemble a Project Stabilization team to research, develop and test solutions to bugs in the different components of the system, which has been plaguing district schools since before the start of the academic year.

To oversee the team seeking to resolve remaining problems with MiSiS, Cortines told the monitor, David Rostetter, he is appointing Gary Sabia, an official who has been assisting with the MiSiS project thus far, to a leadership role in addressing MiSiS issues.

“Mr. Sabia had successfully managed the implementation of several Information Technology projects within the District,” Cortines wrote.

Cortines also told Rostetter he is committed to hiring more project managers and allocating more funding to nearly every aspect of MiSiS.

As LA School Report reported earlier today, MiSiS Project Manager Bria Jones has essentially been fired — technically, the district terminated her contract eight months early “for the Convenience of the District.”

In his letter to Rostetter, Cortines explained that the changes are being made to address issues that Rostetter cited for how the district can fulfill a federal court order to satisfy a lawsuit. Rostetter was highly critical of the process leading up to rollout of the comprehensive software program and its development.

In the letter, Cortines agreed with his findings, writing, “[T]he current MiSiS Project composition was not structured in an optimal way to coordinate across development, training, change management, charter school implementation, and recent data correction effort for external systems.”

LAUSD dismisses outside consultant on MiSiS program


Superintendent Ramon Cortines has cancelled the contract for one of LA Unified’s top project managers on MiSiS as part of a larger effort to play a more active role in solving the software issues with the new student-data system.

Bria Jones, an IT consultant who secured a lucrative $280,800 a year deal with the district, was told Tuesday her contract would be terminated “for the Convenience of the District” effective Oct. 31. She’s been instructed to deliver any materials related to her work on the project by the close of business the same day.

In April Jones’ contract was extended for an additional year, through June 20, 2015.

Although Jones described herself as providing “day-to-day project direction and management of the MiSiS team” and took credit for “restoring trust in the project outcomes and on-time deliveries” — both, from her LinkedIn profile – Ron Chandler, the district’s Chief Information Officer, said Jones’ role was limited to “oversee different parts of the development of specifications and code development.”

Still, in an earlier interview with LA School Report about Jones just two months ago, Chandler defended the quality of her work, saying, “She’s leading part of the team and she’s done a great job.”

Jones was hired under a sole-source contract in 2012 to oversee the MiSiS project after district officials determined there were no other viable experts to handle the complexities of the program, according to a district procurement official, George Silva. Continue reading

Port of LA High faculty seeks to join UTLA after principal resigns

Former Port of Los Angeles High School Principal Tom Scotti. UTLA

Former Port of Los Angeles High School Principal Tom Scotti. (Credit:

After the unexpected resignation of their popular principal left some teachers, students and parents outraged, the faculty at Port of Los Angeles High School has voted to join United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA).

Hundreds of people attended the school’s board meeting on Monday and voiced anger over the resignation Tom Scotti, the principal who left Friday to work for another charter program, according to the Daily Breeze.

Scotti had been with the school since 2005, and his departure was seen by some as a response to his displeasure with the school’s top leadership, while others claimed he was forced out, according to the Daily Breeze.

The Daily Breeze also reported there is widespread discontent among students, parents and teachers with the school’s executive director, James Cross, and the move to join UTLA was in response to Scotti’s departure.

Port of Los Angeles High School is an independent charter school with 59 teachers and faculty. In an open letter to the Port of Los Angeles High School community that was presented to the board on Monday and signed by 86 percent of the faculty, teachers explained the move to join UTLA.

“A union will give us a voice and an integral involvement in our school. Our students deserve teachers who are free to express their opinion and who are active participants in the decisions that directly affect our students,” Spanish teacher Mary Marin wrote in the letter, according to a UTLA press release.

A petition was filed on Tuesday with the California State Public Employment Relations Board seeking recognition of UTLA as their union, and faculty will soon begin collective bargaining over wages, hours and conditions of employment, according to UTLA.  

UTLA represents over 900 teachers at independent charter schools in the Los Angeles area and has over 30,000 total members. 


Study supports giving teacher leaders more authority

Photo via Aspen Institute and Leading Educators study, ”Leading from the Front of the Classroom”

Teachers should be given more leadership roles with real authority, including the power to evaluate other teachers and set agendas for meetings, a new study concludes.

And while leadership opportunities for teachers is on the rise, the study says, without proper structure and implementation, the leadership roles often fail to have a positive impact on staff while only benefitting the teacher leader.

Released today by the Aspen Institute and Leading Educators“Leading from the Front of the Classroom: A Roadmap to Teacher Leadership that Works” also examines the need for funding for teacher leadership programs and uses several schools and districts around the country as good examples of impacful teacher leadership programs, including Chicago, Denver and Tennessee.

“Done right, teacher leadership elevates the profession while advancing other reforms. For example, it’s overwhelming for principals alone to give every teacher the feedback and guidance they need and deserve – and it’s not how any other profession is structured,” said Aspen Institute Vice President Ross Wiener in a press release. “Teacher leadership leverages talent within the teaching corps, makes the job more attractive to ambitious and accomplished teachers – and can make education reform more sustainable at the same time.”

One example of an effective leadership program the report highlights is Tennessee’s use of 700 teacher leaders to coach 30,000 other educators in implementing new Common Core standards.

“Some of the thinking processes behind the Common Core shifts are difficult, and they sometimes can be uncomfortable,” said Kate Bond Middle School Principal Angela Brown in the report. “But when you have someone right here with you that you trust to talk with or see demonstrate, and then have time to come back and debrief and talk with you, the change becomes much easier.”

Read the full report here. 

Commentary: From Klein’s new book, the key is ‘teacher quality’


Via The New York Times | By Frank Bruni 

More than halfway through Joel Klein’s forthcoming book on his time as the chancellor of New York City’s public schools, he zeros in on what he calls “the biggest factor in the education equation.”

It’s not classroom size, school choice or the Common Core.

It’s “teacher quality,” he writes, adding that “a great teacher can rescue a child from a life of struggle.”

We keep coming back to this. As we wrestle with the urgent, dire need to improve education — for the sake of social mobility, for the sake of our economic standing in the world — the performance of teachers inevitably draws increased scrutiny. But it remains one of the trickiest subjects to broach, a minefield of hurt feelings and vested interests.

Read the full commentary here.

Morning Read: $25 million to be spent on state superintendent race

Union power on the ballot
The campaign for California superintendent of public instruction is on pace to be the most expensive contest in the state this cycle. Politico

LA Unified turns to teenager to teach social media
San Pedro High School senior Delaney Wells recently taught a technology class on Instagram for a group of Los Angeles Unified staffers. KPCC

LAUSD travel spending suspended after Deasy’s final credit card bill
Los Angeles Unified this week suspended all out-of-town travel and off-campus training as well as the former superintendent’s credit card. Los Angeles Daily News

Many schools lack Internet capacity for tests
California officials have identified many schools that will have difficulty offering online statewide tests scheduled in the spring. EdSource

Bay area students’ shrimp project destroyed in Tuesday’s rocket explosion
The explosion of an unmanned Orbital Sciences rocket is a disappointment to hundreds of school children across the country. CBS San Francisco

Cortines ends meetings that take staff out of classrooms

Ramon Cortines

Ray Cortines

Superintendent Ramon Cortines has suspended all out-of-town travel and off-campus meetings for LA Unified’s teachers, administrators and classified staff, calling the time away from the classroom “unacceptable.”

Cortines, who has wasted no time issuing new directives to the staff that he inherited this month from John Deasy, relayed the decision today in a letter to employees, a copy of which was sent to LA School Report by a district staffer who asked not to be identified. In the letter, Cortines expressed clear frustration about the growing number of absences by teachers for professional development and other reasons.

“It has come to my attention that the number of substitute teachers requested for professional development during the school day has increased dramatically in the past two years,” he wrote.

District records show 770 substitute teacher requests were made for professional development activities on Friday, Oct. 17 and another 735 the following week on Oct. 24. Those requests do not account for teachers out on sick days. He called the statistics “staggering.”

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Tragedy prompts safety upgrades at Hollywood school

The scene of a fatal tragedy near a Hollywood middle school eight months ago was populated yesterday by city leaders, parents and students who celebrated new safety improvements at the site and a pilot program aimed at improving pedestrian safety near local schools.

A woman was killed and her 10-year-old daughter injured when they were struck by a truck while walking in a crosswalk on Feb. 11 near LeConte Middle School at 1316 N. Bronson Ave. in Hollywood. But pedestrians who frequent the street can now breath easier as an array of safety improvements was unveiled at a press conference that included Los Angeles City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell.

The improvements include the installation of two flashing signals for the pedestrian crossing at Fountain and Bronson avenues and two stop signs at Bronson and Fernwood avenues.

The improvements were made under a new pilot program called the Safe Passages Volunteer Pilot Program, according to O’Farrell’s office. The program is part of the larger Neighborhood School Safety Program, which is managed by the Los Angeles City Attorney’s office and is taking place at four LA Unified schools this school year, including LeConte.

The Safe Passages program involves recruiting and training parents to volunteer as crossing guards at Los Angeles middle and high schools, since crossing guards are only assigned to elementary schools in the city, NBC Los Angeles reported.

“We’re still working just diligently to come up with the funding so we can fund more crossing guards,” O’Farrell told NBC.

(See the attached video report from NBC for more)

LA Unified getting $26 million in Prop 39 energy efficiency funds

Senate President pro Tem Kevin de León, Gov. Brown, Tom Steyer, left to right

Senate President pro Tem Kevin de León, Gov. Brown, Tom Steyer, left to right

Governor Jerry Brown today dropped by John Marshall High School to talk about energy efficiency and the millions of dollars LA Unified schools can expect to receive from the state as a result of Proposition 39.

The governor, who’s up for re-election next week, was on the Los Feliz campus with Tom Steyer, the Democratic mega-donor who backed the initiative; and state Sen. Kevin de Leon. The Clean Energy Jobs Act was passed by voters in 2012 and changed how corporations calculate their tax loads, sending the proceeds to schools and other learning centers for use in improving energy efficiency.

“Two years ago, voters closed a flagrant tax loophole and sent hundreds of millions of dollars to California schools with passage of Proposition 39,” Governor Brown said. “Today, with these funds, schools are starting to repair inefficient heating and air conditioning systems, replace old windows and install new lighting, saving money through energy efficiency.”

As the largest school district in the state, LA Unified has been awarded over $26 million for the first year of funding from Prop. 39. Funding is based on a district’s average daily attendance. In all, the state has collected over $400 million to fund energy retrofit projects at every K-12 school district in the first year.

Marshall High School will be the first school in California to receive Prop 39 funds. More than $1.8 million will be spent on new air systems for the auditorium and classrooms, lighting controls for the gym and other high-use areas, a new energy management system and improved lighting throughout the campus.

“It’s the kind of investment that you don’t actually see when you walk into a room,” Mark Hovatter, the district’s Chief of Facilities, told LA School Report. “They are all improvements that are hidden behind walls so you don’t really notice them, but in the end, they’ll save the district hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

The energy efficiency upgrades at Marshall are expected to yield 29 percent in energy savings, resulting in an annual reduction of over $100,000 from the school’s electricity bill.

Afterward, LA Unified board member Bennett Kayser thanked the Governor and Senator for choosing Marshall High School, one of the district’s oldest, built in 1930, for the opportunity to “improve our facilities in a sustainable manner.”

“We plan to utilize these critical dollars to address needed repairs,” he said.

Will crowd-sourcing save after-school programs at 7 L.A. schools?

With budgets getting tighter and funding from the state unpredictable, many educational organizations are turning to crowd-sourcing to keep after-school programs going.

Two organizations taking this approach are CORE Educational Services and arc After School Programs, which are using a partnership to provide after-school programs at seven L.A. Green Dot Public Schools in Los Angeles. Green Dot runs a network of 21 unionized charter schools in Los Angeles. 

In a crowd-sourcing campaign on Indiegogo, CORE is asking for $50,000 to keep the programs alive until it can apply for new funding from the state in two years. According to CORE, the programs lost their state funding on May 21.

The campaign has received over $29,000 in donations as of Tuesday afternoon, but donation period expires on Nov. 2.

“When we refer to ‘after-school programs,’ we’re not talking about babysitting services, arts-and-crafts, or open gyms for pick-up sports and dodge ball,” the campaign’s page says. “These high school after-school programs provide enriching classes in art, music production, culinary arts, career-and-college-readiness, and more. Importantly, these classes are taught by skilled instructors from ‘the neighborhood’ who serve as mentors for at-risk students.”

Click on the the attached video to learn more about the campaign.

“If these programs are cut, No. 1, there won’t be a dedicated safe space for these kids to go to every day,” Leon Clayborne, a regional manager for arc, said in the video.


LAUSD aiding students returning from ‘juvie hall’ programs

Juvenile campLA Unified is unveiling a new program today, one directed at a small group of students with exceptional needs: those returning to schools from juvenile justice programs.

Designed to serve students from probation camps, juvenile halls and residential situations, the program aims at helping them mount a successful return to school, with a special emphasis on attendance, academic achievement, graduation rates and the prevention of recidivism.

“Our goal is to make sure every LA Unified student graduates and is ready to go on to a college career or the workforce,” said Lydia Ramos, the district spokeswoman. “That means every student. If we don’t help them, they will end up in the prison system, so either we help them as a student now, or the state deals with them later.”

In a presentation prepared for a board committee meeting today, Debra Duardo, executive director of the district’s Student Heath and Human Services division, says that 180 “juvenile offenders” are returned home from  a detention facility each month, two-thirds of them living within the LA Unified school district.

Last month, as an example, the district found that 159 LA Unified students were in justice programs, and they ranged from age 11 to 28.

These students require added attention for the social and educational disruptions they’ve experienced by virtue of their own behavior.

As a result, Duardo says, the district is appointing three sets of monitors to ease the transition. They include counselors assigned to students in detention, counselors assigned to guide each student’s return to a school site, and “aftercare” counselors to monitor attendance, behavior and academic performance.

The program is a collaboration among LA Unified, the LA County Office of Education and the LA Probation Department.

Editorial: New boss won’t cure ‘poisonous’ LAUSD atmosphere

Los Angeles Times logo

Via The Los Angeles Times | By the Editorial Board

With John Deasy no longer in charge at the Los Angeles Unified School District, the school board needs a new superintendent who shares his passion for improving the lives of children in poverty, but not his adversarial approach or his refusal to listen to critics.

Even if the board finds such a person, however, that alone won’t clear the poisonous atmosphere or do away with the rancorous politics that regularly slow progress at L.A. Unified. Even the world’s most talented and collaborative superintendent will not be effective in a district where opposing camps are at war over high-stakes testing and weakening of teacher job protections, and where the board regularly interferes in minor administrative work.

In fact, the board’s reputation for grandstanding, micromanagement and factional conflict could well diminish its ability to draw top candidates.

Read the full editorial here.

Morning Read: New kindergarten cutoff age causes debate

State implements new kindergarten cutoff age
Of the panoply of reforms now being implemented in California schools, the one affecting the state’s youngest students passed almost unnoticed this fall. EdSource

Title IX decision, a reminder on equality in athletics
With an appeals court finding that a California district violated federal discrimination protections, legal experts suggest a review of athletic programs. S&I Cabinet Report

L.A. school officials order review of every senior’s transcript
Los Angeles school district officials have ordered a review of every senior’s transcript. Los Angeles Times

LA Unified acknowledges mistakes in transcripts as deadlines loom
The new $130 million MiSiS student data system is now turning out student transcripts with incorrect information. KPCC

The Secret Lives Of Teachers: Mei-Ling Uliasz
When’s she’s not teaching, Mei-Ling Uliasz turns bottle caps and little tin cars and brass protractors and other found objects into whimsical “upcycled” jewelry. NPR

LA Unified seniors get reprieve on financial aid applications

application formLA Unified high school seniors counting on grant money to attend state colleges and universities got a reprieve today as the district announced a month-long extension for when student grade information needs to be verified for financial aid.

Merit-based Cal Grants require that the school district verify a student’s grade point average (GPA), and the deadline for doing so has been pushed back to Nov. 30 from Nov. 1.

The competitive awards are for students with a minimum 3.0 GPA who are from low- and middle-income families. The grants can be applied toward tuition at any CSU or UC campus, and they cover fees up to $5,472 and $12,192 respectively. Students applying to private colleges are also eligible for rewards up to $9,084 toward tuition and fees while those attending most other career colleges can get up to $4,000.

And there may be another silver lining for the district’s most go-getter students applying for early admission who have been let down by LA Unified’s busted student management system: Some, if not all UC’s, don’t offer an early admissions window.

“UCLA doesn’t have an early action or early decision program, and students are not required to submit a transcript at the point of application,” Gary Clark, the university’s undergraduate admissions director, told LA School Report.

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UTLA, AFT demand apology for ‘misleading’ Time magazine cover

Time magazineTime magazine is in hot water with United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) and other teacher unions over what they say is an unfair and misleading cover.

On its Facebook page, UTLA posted a link to the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) online petition that calls for Time to “apologize to America’s teachers for the misleading and hyperbolic attack on your November 3 cover.”

The cover in question is for a story about the impact of Vergara v. California, the case in which a judge earlier this year struck down California’s decades-old laws regarding teacher tenure, firings and layoffs.

The Time article, which features a gavel about to smash an apple on the cover, is headlined, “Rotten Apples: It’s nearly impossible to fire a bad teacher; some tech millionaires may have found a way to change that,” and is a look at the history of the case and the wealthy group of tech executives who have helped support it. The article has been available online since Friday and is scheduled to hit news stands in print form on Nov. 3.

But it is not the article that the AFT finds fault with. It’s the cover, which the AFT says “is particularly disappointing because the articles inside the magazine present a much more balanced view of the issue. But for millions of Americans, all they’ll see is the cover and a misleading attack on teachers.”

So far, over 60,000 people have signed the petition, according to the AFT’s Facebook page. The AFT has over 1.5 million members.

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LAUSD trying to fix transcript errors before college deadlines

computer-errorAmid reports that LA Unified staff experts were working through the weekend to determine the cause of errors in some student transcripts, Superintendent Ramon Cortines issued a letter to parents today, ensuring them that issues will be addressed.

According to the Los Angeles Daily News, the experts were attempting to determine if the problems were caused by computer bugs or data errors.

The district is also looking to hire retired counselors and principals on a temporary basis to review every high school transcript manually ahead of a district-set Nov. 1 deadline, which is when the state begins accepting finical aid applications, according to the report.

“As superintendent, I take full responsibility for ensuring that our systems are functioning correctly in support of students,” Cortines wrote in the letter. “We are working to resolve problems that have been identified.”

Aside from issues with accurate transcripts, glitches in the district’s new MiSiS computer program have caused an array of problems at at schools, including getting some students the proper schedules and Title I funds.

“Technology teams are working closely with data, instructional and school teams to make sure that official reports for students, including vital information, like courses taken, grade-point averages and class ranks—are precise,” the district said in a statement. “In addition, support staff, including retired counselors, principals and assistant principals will assist high schools by reviewing and certifying transcripts, as well as help with master scheduling of classes.”

Aside from the temporary hires, the district also said it will communicate with colleges and universities to make them aware of transcripts that may be inaccurate and set up hotlines in each Education Service Center to record student concerns and to follow up on any problems.

“I appreciate your help and guidance as we move forward in the best interest of our students,” Cortines said in the letter “There are going to be mistakes, but we are committed to fixing them. Your children are the reason we are here and we owe it to them to provide absolutely everything they need to achieve their goals.”


State superintendent race spending? There’s an app for that

Edsource logoVia EdSource | By John C. Osborn

The race for California state superintendent of public instruction has been fueled by a combined $24 million in total campaign spending for incumbent Tom Torlakson and candidate Marshall Tuck.

Outside groups not affiliated with either candidate represent the bulk of that spending – close to $19.4 million on ads and mailers on behalf of the candidates.

For more details about the money behind the race, check out our campaign finance app here.

Torlakson and Tuck have raised nearly the same amount in direct contributions, according to recent campaign filings reported on the Secretary of State website. Torlakson, who started fundraising in 2011, has raised about $2.5 million, while Tuck, who started fundraising in late 2013, has raised about $2.4 million.

Read the full story here.

Morning Read: With Deasy gone, is LAUSD’s iPad program history?

With Deasy out, is LA schools’ iPad program ‘dead’?
With the departure of John Deasy, the future of the Los Angeles School District’s controversial one-to-one technology program hangs in uncertainty. KPCC

LAUSD scrambles to ensure MiSiS doesn’t keep seniors from college
Los Angeles Unified’s staff is in a scramble to make sure a computer system doesn’t stop seniors from going to college. Los Angeles Daily News

L.A. Unified students could take iPads home soon
Los Angeles Unified students could take school-issued iPads home as soon as next month. Los Angeles Times

9 LAUSD schools each get $50,000 for proximity to a huge garbage dump
Nine schools will each receive $50,000 grants under an action approved Friday by the Los Angeles City Council. Los Angeles Daily News

Inglewood schools chief criticized over costs of his security detail
Some are questioning why the cash-strapped Inglewood Unified School District is paying for an armed California Highway Patrol officer. Los Angeles Times

South LA charter celebrates community garden’s first harvest


Two Alliance College-Ready Public Schools students at a community garden in South LA. (Credit: LIIF)

A 400-square foot community garden located on the grounds of a south LA charter school run by Alliance College-Ready Public Schools is celebrating its first harvest with an event tomorrow.

The garden, which just opened this school year, is funded by the Low Income Investment Fund (LIIF) and Citi Foundation.

The first City Garden includes an athletic field and is located on the duel campuses of Alliance Renee & Meyer Luskin High School/Alliance College Ready Middle Academy 7. The garden is integrated into the science curriculum of the schools, according to a LIF spokesperson.

The garden also aims to “reduce food insecurity for students and improve health in south Los Angeles, where 25 percent of children live in poverty and 94 percent qualify for reduced price meals at school,” according to press release from LIIF.

The release also said the garden will provide “healthy food to students; an opportunity to teach students and their parents about cooking and gardening; and a new venue for health fairs and farmers markets. The field will create places to play and exercise and a new community gathering spot where none existed before. Together, they create a new hub of the neighborhood.”

At 10 a.m. tomorrow, Alliance parents, students and staff are planning to celebrate the garden’s first harvest with an event that will include performances by the Alliance Luskin Choir & Dance Group and Debbie Allen Dance Academy, remarks by Rep. Karen Bass, tours, cooking demonstrations, and ProCamps events with professional athletes DeAndre Jordan and Shannon Boxx.


Thesis film examines bitterness of Crenshaw High reconstitution


(Photo via

The battle over the fate of South LA’s Crenshaw High School is now over, but a new documentary film from a UC Santa Cruz grad student takes a fresh and hard-edged look at the bitterness and anger that was unleashed when the LA Unified school board voted to reconstitute the school in 2013.

The film, “Crenshaw,” is the graduate thesis project of Lena Jackson, who shot footage in 2012 and 2013 as the debate over Crenshaw’s future was being determined. (See a trailer for the film below.) 

In Jan. 2013, with the support of former superintendent John Deasy, the school board unanimously approved a plan to break Crenshaw into three magnet schools, firing all of the teachers and staff in the “reconstitution” process and making them reapply for their jobs. Deasy argued the school was one of the lowest performers in the distict and in need of drastic change. About half of the staff got their jobs back and the three schools opened the 2013-14 year as magnets.

As the film notes, many in the community viewed the reconstitution as a stripping of South LA’s cultural identity, as well as an unfair targeting of a community with fewer resources to fight the reconstitution than others.

One African-American parent in the film, pointing at the school board during a meeting, says, “You wouldn’t do this in Beverly Hills. You wouldn’t do this in the Valley. But because this is the last predominately black school in LA, you think that it’s OK? Look at these people behind me. It’s not OK. You reconstitute Crenshaw? We’re going to reconstitute you.”

Her remarks encapsulate the sentiment of the film, which focuses on the outrage some students, parents and teachers experienced during the reconstitution. It’s not so much an examination of the pros and cons of reconstitution as it is a look at the resentment invoked in those that opposed it and the insensitivity they perceived from district leaders.

“Sadly, the community ended up being not strong enough to ward off this battle,” Jackson told LA School Report.

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