Commentary: Report on parent engagement meeting showed heat but not the light

 

Kathy Kantner at the Feb. 2 meeting of the LA Unified school board’s Early Childhood Education and Parent Engagement Subcommittee.

By Kathy Kantner, Rachel Greene and Juan Jose Mangandi

Readers of LA School Report’s coverage of the Feb. 2 meeting of the Board of Education’s Early Childhood Education and Parent Engagement Subcommittee can be forgiven if they only perceived the heat in the boardroom but not the light. It would be unfortunate, however, if LA School Report’s overly dim view of the state of parent engagement in the district was the last word on the subject.

In fact, we, the parents who chair the district’s central advisory committees, feel a budding optimism about parent engagement efforts within LAUSD. Now more than ever, LAUSD realizes that to increase enrollment in our schools, staff must commit to creating welcoming environments and truly partner with parents in word and deed. We believe a cultural shift is taking place.

For starters, the chair of the ECE/PE, Dr. Ref Rodriguez, asked us to present on the challenges and opportunities experienced by our committee members. This is the first time, to our knowledge, parents have been offered such a chance. Dr. Rodriguez invited us back to present recommendations for improvements at an upcoming meeting. We will certainly take him up on this.

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Commentary: Why do many big donors prefer charter schools? (Hint: It’s not because they hate unions)

KIPP Raices

Students at KIPP Raíces Academy in Los Angeles

By Richard Whitmire

Recent big-dollar donations from pro-charter philanthropists leave traditional educators sputtering: Why don’t they just donate their money to us?

Good question, and one that was raised in Los Angeles recently in light of a possible huge gift from philanthropist Eli Broad and others that appears headed mostly to charter schools. LAUSD board member Scott Schmerelson wondered out loud, the L.A. Times reported: Why not us?

The same questions are being raised about the recently announced $100 million education fund coming from Netflix’s Reed Hastings. If past predicts future, most of that money will end up in charter schools — which critics say is part of a larger plot to destroy traditional public schools.

So why do these guys (and they are mostly guys who made it big in Silicon Valley) seem to distrust our neighborhood schools?

The answer offered by charter critics is pretty simple. Big money hates big unions. That’s the take of charter antagonist Diane Ravitch. Her comments about the Walton Family Foundation, which has announced it will invest $1 billion over the next five years to back new charter schools: “The Walton Family Foundation, which was created by the billions earned by Walmart, is anti-union,” wrote Ravitch in her blog. “Walmart does not have unions. It has fought unionization and had to be pushed kicking and screaming to agree to pay minimum wages, eventually.”

So that’s it? Big money hates big unions?

Based on several years of reporting on charter schools, especially California charters for a book about Rocketship charters in Silicon Valley, I see a somewhat different narrative.

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Morning Read: LAUSD has long backlog of El Niño rain-related service requests

Under the leaking roofs of Los Angeles Unified schools
Every time El Niño dumps rain on the city, dozens of LA Unified schools feel the impact of old architecture and outdated roofs.
Los Angeles Times, by Sonali Kohli


How two San Fernando Valley schools have kept learning after an epic gas leak
After LA Unified took the unprecedented step of temporarily closing two of its schools because of the Porter Ranch gas leak, the campuses have settled into their new routines.
Los Angeles Daily News, by David Montero


Legislative Analyst endorses parental choice program
Forty-seven California school districts have opened their doors to students outside their borders, under a little-used program set to expire next year.
EdSource, by John Fensterwald


Academic decathlon Super Quiz is a sport unto itself — with the fans to prove it
LA Unified schools completed the annual decathlon Saturday with the game show-style Super Quiz event at the Roybal Learning Center downtown.
Los Angeles Times, by Sonali Kohli


Room to improve school services for LGBT students
Even with all of the progress made in recent years to improve educational services for LGBT students, their well-being is still at risk in many schools.
Cabinet Report, by Alisha Kirby


As immigration resurges, U.S. public schools help children find their footing
There were more than 630,000 immigrant students nationwide in the 2013-2014 school year, according to the latest federal education data available.
Washington Post, by Emma Brown

Parent leaders trying to engage with LAUSD meet with frustration

DaisyOrtiz

Maria Daisy Ortiz complains about parent involvement with LAUSD.

Parents representing some of the most important advisory committees to the LA Unified school board lodged a litany of complaints this week about a lack of connection with the district.

Long distances to meetings, inconvenient times, police intimidation near meeting sites and a lack of consideration of the parents’ advice were some of the complaints brought up in more than an hour of public comment at the Early Childhood and Parent Engagement Committee Tuesday. The parents said they often felt their advisory committees were held merely to comply with some legislative requirement and that the ideas they advised went nowhere, adding to the difficulty of getting parents to volunteer for the committees.

The three school board members listening to the complaints seemed surprised and dismayed and said the parents’ issues would be addressed. The parents had been invited to Tuesday’s meeting by committee chair Ref Rodriguez, who had asked to hear their concerns.

Some of the dozen speakers were community leaders and officers of major advisory committees to the school board. The Parent Advisory Committee, for example, has 47 parents who meet monthly downtown and come from all over the district, said Chairwoman Rachel Greene.

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Rachel Greene, chairwoman of the Parent Advisory Committee

“We have people coming from Porter Ranch and San Pedro so it is difficult for some to get to the Central Area.  But there are there are pros and cons for meeting centrally there are certain record-keeping requirements for [the Parent, Community and Social Services] to comply with that can be accomplished more easily there.  And they do provide food and beverage for members there.  If they start moving to Porter Ranch, the people from San Pedro will have something to say about it, and vice versa. But having some moving around is something to consider.  Having a joint meeting with some of the other committees so we could hear others’ input could be good but could also be a burden. But as Mr. Mangandi mentioned, the lack of childcare is a problem.”

She said the parents who attend the meetings “were usually at some point stymied by LAUSD, or something went wrong with the district or their school down the street or the one that our children take hours to ride buses to get to. We want to work with you, I don’t think there is any other group of human beings who want to see this district succeed as much as we do.”

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Duncan gives himself ‘a pretty low grade’ on desegregation, wanted more pre-K

Arne Duncan

Former U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (Credit: Department of Education)

Arne Duncan’s administration of the Education Department saw plenty of notable accomplishments: billions of new dollars for preschool, a rewrite of the country’s primary K-12 education law, and a record high school graduation rate.

Yet for all he achieved in his seven years, Duncan said he’s disappointed to leave office without having made sufficient progress in several other areas, including school desegregation.

He sees the connection between his top three self-proclaimed disappointments — failure to further expand preschool, offer financial aid to undocumented students and clamp down on gun violence. They all reflect an unwillingness to protect and invest in children, he said.

“It’s just not seeing our children as the assets — as the extraordinary potential — that they truly are,” he said in a recent phone interview.

More notably, perhaps, is Duncan’s admission that he couldn’t do enough to desegregate the country’s schools. In some regions, America’s schools are now more segregated than they were in the late 1960s.

“I would give myself a pretty low grade on that,” he said.

Duncan said the department poured millions of dollars into magnet schools, public schools with a specialized focus or curriculum designed to draw a diverse group of students. Some, like those in Hartford, Connecticut, are making a big impact, but the program largely failed to make a noticeable difference integrating the country’s schools.

“I don’t so much blame those districts and schools,” he said. He posited that perhaps his department didn’t ask grant recipients the right kinds of questions, or didn’t give the money to the right places.

The country “can and should do more” to integrate schools, both by race and income, he said. Duncan said he’ll never advocate integration achieved by forced busing, but instead thinks schools should offer a wide variety of excellent choices to entice all types of families.

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Morning Read: New L.A. schools chief ‘up to the challenge’

Michelle King talks to 100 community leaders
Speaking at an NAACP reception at First African Methodist Episcopal Church, the new LAUSD superintendent discussed her plans and challenges for the district.
Los Angeles Wave, by Cynthia Gibson


What happens to the $63 million if no one claims California lottery ticket?
Money from unclaimed lottery tickets goes to the schools. The distribution, however, gets a bit more complicated.
Los Angeles Times, by Sonali Kohli


Santa Monica State Senator Ben Allen tackles California teacher shortage
Legislation could provide matching grants to school districts to create training programs, modeled on those that already exist in LA Unified.
Santa Monica Lookout


LA84 Foundation awards $1.3 million in grants for youth sports
LA’s Best will receive $335,000 for after-school programs in 188 elementary schools in LA Unified.
Los Angeles Times, by Eric Sondheimer


Is it time to ditch Tdap as a routinely recommended teen vaccination?
Routine immunization with Tdap did not prevent pertussis outbreaks, according to a new study by Kaiser Permanente.
Forbes, by Tara Haelle


State to begin collecting data on students who are chronically absent
California will begin its first statewide collection of data on students who are chronically absent, a key indicator of academic trouble.
EdSource, by Jane Meredith Adams


Jindal lawsuit against Common Core scrapped by new governor
Although new Gov. John Bel Edwards is against Common Core too, he ended Louisiana’s lawsuit against the Obama administration’s education standards.
Associated Press, by Melinda Deslatte

6 things to know about LAUSD’s new school accountability system

raising-hands-in-classroom accountabilityA group of six California school districts, including LA Unified, this week unveiled a new school accountability system that represents a far more complex and intricate way of ranking schools.

Simply put, it is not all about standardized test scores anymore, and the school with the highest scores may no longer be the highest ranked school under the new system.

Education leaders in the state and nation will be keeping a close eye on how the new system is received, as it is the first one to be created that fits the requirements of the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA.) Under ESSA, each state is required to implement a set of high-quality student academic assessments, and the developers of the California districts’ system said they hope it becomes a national model.

Here are six things you need to know about the new School Quality Improvement Index.

What is the School Quality Improvement Index?

The index was developed by LAUSD and five other districts — known together as the California Office of Reform Education (CORE) — as part of a deal with the federal government. (Technically there are nine districts in CORE, but for various reasons only six are participating in the new index system.)

The districts banded together for the purpose of getting a much-desired waiver in 2013 from the stringent mandates of the No Child Left Behind law, and part of the waiver required them to develop a comprehensive way of evaluating and ranking schools. CORE became the first non-state to get a waiver.

In CORE’s new system, a school with high test scores won’t necessarily be ranked the highest, like it was with California’s Academic Performance Index (API), which was discontinued in 2013 to give the state time to transfer over new Common Core-aligned standardized tests and develop a new accountability system. The state and LAUSD have operated without any annual accountability system since then.

“[The index] gives schools the ability to take a more complex, comprehensive look at what is going on in their school,” said John McDonald, a consultant to CORE. “And now you have schools that traditionally, if you were just looking at API, may have been at the very bottom. When you look at this index, those schools may not be in that bottom because you are looking at different indicators.”

So if the system is not only about test scores, what is it about?

While test scores still play a role, the CORE index also includes other factors that were not previously considered, like graduation rates, attendance rates, suspension rates and the performance of English learners. It will even include “social-emotional and culture-climate” factors that will come from student surveys. Overall, 60 percent of a school’s score is based on academics; the social-emotional and culture-climate factors account for 40 percent. The surveys are not yet part of the scoring system as they won’t be given until this fall, but everything else is currently part of the scoring system.

How do I find out my school’s score, and how is that score reached? 

Click here and search schools by name. The overall score is on the last page of each school’s report. The list includes 723 LAUSD schools, including traditional schools and affiliated charters but not independent charters. It also doesn’t include adult, continuation or special education schools.

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Bebe Rexha surprises Jefferson High with big gift

Students get instruments and selfies with hit singer-songwriter Bebe Rexha

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This week the 800 students of Jefferson High were surprised by singer-songwriter Bebe Rexha with a big gift: $80,000 worth of musical instruments and a live performance. The gift was compliments of the nonprofit Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation, along with event marketer StubHub, which announced last year it would commit $1 million in an effort to provide musical instruments to schools. Rexha, co-writer of the hit song “The Monster,” this week has a new No. 1 song on the rap charts, “Me Myself & I.” She performed for a rapt audience of assembled students including Jefferson’s band members and posed for a few selfies with students.

According to the LAUSD, the donation will support the Jefferson school band and allow student-musicians a total of 2,040 additional hours of practice time in class each year.

Located in South Los Angeles, Jefferson has a long history of producing musical talent, counting singer Etta James and saxophonist Dexter Gordon as alumni.

The school, which has struggled with performance and academic progress for decades, was recently part of a court settlement between the district and the teachers union, aimed at rectifying the practice of sending less experienced teachers based on seniority to high-needs schools. Jefferson was also hit hard in the fall of 2014 with a scheduling crisis after hundreds of students were left without proper classes due in part to a malfunctioning MiSiS computer system.

 

Morning Read: Audit finds problems with mental health services at CA schools

Troubling audit on mental health services for students
A state audit has revealed problem areas in mental health services at some schools, including reductions in services and, in some cases, a backlog of unspent cash.
Cabinet Report, by Kimberly Beltran


State sends mixed messages on Smarter Balanced test participation
The federal No Child Left Behind law requires states to ensure that 95 percent of all students are tested – both statewide and districtwide.
EdSource, by Theresa Harrington


The real cost of a bomb threat at your kid’s school
The decision made by LAUSD to close its schools in December due to a threat cost the district at least $29 million.
CNBC, by Krysia Lenzo


Nation’s charter schools aren’t growing as fast as once thought
The National Alliance of Public Charter Schools estimates in a new report that 2.9 million children now attend U.S. charter schools. But a closer look at at the numbers shows the growth rate is down.
Washington Post, by Emma Brown


In Oakland, building boys into men
The Oakland Unified School District is trying to to rewrite the pernicious script of racial inequality, underachievement and lack of opportunity for African-American boys.
New York Times, by Patricia Leigh Brown


Putting California first in driving education reform
Just how much say should Washington have over California’s education policies in return for the federal education funds the state receives?
EdSource, by Louis Freedberg

Parent trigger tries takeover at South Central school, again

 

For the first time, a Parent Trigger has been threatened twice for the same school. The parents of the 20th Street Elementary School in South Central Los Angeles are fed up with the lack of response from LA Unified after their first attempt two years ago to take over the school and on Monday filed a new petition with the district.

It all started when Guadalupe Aragon saw the report card that rated her daughter’s elementary school and showed that only 43 percent of the students at the school were performing at grade level. She decided to do something about it.

Parents signed a petition to take over the school through the state’s Parent Empowerment Act, often called a “Parent Trigger,” which allows parent groups to push for sweeping changes and even create a charter school. The LA Unified district administrators changed principals at the school, held meetings, made assurances. But that was two years ago.

This week, the Parents Union gathered yet another petition of 58 percent of the parents in the school of 591 students and called for another Parent Trigger. This time they’re not waiting for promises to be fulfilled.

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The Parent Union of 20th Street Elementary. (Photo courtesy of Guadalupe Aragon)

“We had so many meetings and they told us they were going to do things, but nothing ever happened, we won’t wait anymore,” said Aragon, who was one of two parents signing the Feb. 1 letter to Superintendent Michelle King stating their case for the Parent Trigger and presenting the petition. The petition states that the parents are demanding a “restart,” an option that would allow them to create or bring in a charter school to operate 20th Street.

“The parents shelved their petition the first time around and agreed to work with top district officials, but there was no change at the school, it’s as if the petition never happened,” said Gabe Rose, the chief strategy officer of Parent Revolution, a group that helped write the Parent Empowerment Act in 2011. “Now we’re forced to file again.”

The act allows communities to jumpstart changes at chronically low-performing schools. It requires a majority of the parents to sign a petition that could force a district to bring in new leadership and staff, or convert a school into a nonprofit independent charter.

At LAUSD, nine schools have been threatened with Parent Triggers, and the district made changes to six of them before petitions were filed, according to Rose. Three schools at LAUSD — Weigand Avenue Elementary in Watts, 24th Street Elementary in South Central and 20th Street — resulted in filing petitions with the district to date.

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California’s Super Bowl classroom: Inside Levi’s Stadium, a first-of-its-kind STEM education

Levi's Stadium

Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara. (Photo courtesy of San Francisco 49ers)

The physics of a perfectly thrown NFL spiral. The sustainable engineering of an NFL stadium. The science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) learning opportunities inside San Francisco’s new Levi’s Stadium, home of Super Bowl 50 this weekend, are beyond ripe. And the 49ers have picked the fruit at the tune of 60,000 local students a year going through a first-of-its-kind STEM program in professional sports.

“There is no other education program associated with a pro team constructed and executed like ours,” says Jesse Lovejoy, 49ers museum director and director of its education program. “For an organization to commit the resources necessary, staffing necessary and overall philosophy to serve 60,000 kids in our building this year to teach the intersection of STEM and Levi’s Stadium, there is nothing like that in the United States.”

All of which means when the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos take the field Sunday afternoon, they will be playing in the first professional sports stadium with a dedicated classroom.

Levi’s Stadium opened for the 49ers in Santa Clara in 2014, a new style of NFL stadium focused on sustainable construction. The York family, which owns the team, took the power of STEM learning intrinsic in the building and merged it with the allure of STEM learning culled from the game of football to create a meaningful STEM program in the new venue.

The 20,000-square-foot 49ers museum — composed of 11 galleries, 27 statues, a 100-seat theater and a learning space — marks an important piece of the stadium’s STEM area, which is housed in an adjoining space complete with more interactive galleries and dedicated learning spaces. The STEM program consists of a Levi’s Stadium tour, a tour of the museum and a 60- to 90-minute STEM project lesson, as well as a 60-minute movement lab where students go through non-contact football drills on the field’s apron.

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Morning Read: Legislators look for solutions to CA’s teacher shortage

Legislators challenge Sacramento to tackle teacher shortage
Three California lawmakers have introduced a package of bills designed to attract new teachers to the profession.
EdSource, by Louis Freedberg and John Fensterwald


As California faces a dire teacher shortage, should other states worry too?
A new report suggests that California should expand routes to the classroom to fill positions, including recruiting teachers as early as high school.
Hechinger Report, by Jackie Mader


More money buoys California schools, but challenges remain
Up and down California, public schools are enjoying a rapid rise in state funding.
CALmatters, by Judy Lin


Gov. Brown not ready to engage on ‘adequacy
The debate over adequacy in school funding and what it means has raged for decades and led to dozens of lawsuits brought by advocates.
Cabinet Report, by Kimberly Beltran


Students play mind games in National Science Bowl regional competition
More than 100 students from high schools throughout Southern California took part in the competition, which marked its 24th year at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Los Angeles Times, by Ryan Fonseca and Kelly Corrigan


Fire investigated as arson at Roosevelt High School in Boyle Heights
The flames began inside trash cans placed around a one-story bungalow being used as a temporary classroom. It was contained to that building and knocked down by 4:15 a.m.
City News Service

Linked Learning has helped these LAUSD students thrive

DSCN6311Bryan Cantero discovered in school that he liked to write. Then he found out he could turn it into a career and even spent last summer writing in a paid internship.

Leon Popa always had a passion for medicine. Now every class he takes in high school is geared to something involving a medical career. He interns at Kaiser Permanente Hospital and is being mentored by a doctor. He is also the new student member of the LAUSD school board.

These two students said they thrived in school because of the Linked Learning program. LA Unified has 33 schools that have adopted the program; 11 more are conditionally approved for next year.

Linked Learning started at LAUSD in the 2009-2010 school year as one of nine districts in the state to try the integrated learning program through a grant by the Irvine Foundation. The program mixes rigorous academics, career and technical education, work-based learning and student support in a variety of special interests. It incorporates all the Common Core requirements and directs them toward the area of special interest.

Paul Hirsch, principal of the Hollywood STEM Academy at Bernstein High where Popa attends, said, “We had a tough start. Our graduation rate was in the 50 percent (range) and there were fights every day and the attendance was bad. We had to look for money to hire extra security guards.”

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6 inspiring acts of kindness at Southern California schools

Michelle King, kindness

New LAUSD Superintendent Michelle King visits Century Park Elementary School, where she once attended.

2016 is off to a swift — and inspiring — start.

Schools across the country were bursting with inspiring headlines in January, from the Texas neighbors who moved an entire school in a week after it was destroyed by a Christmas tornado to the math teacher who made it possible for a colorblind sophomore to see color for the first time, and the 90-year-old Indiana woman who crocheted 300 hats for every single student a local elementary school.

Here are six more sweet January stories from across Southern California worth sharing:

January 21: Pomona high school senior is one of 55 students in the world to score perfect on her AP Spanish examKarina Aguilar is accustomed to getting good grades. She’s a straight-A student at Garey High School in Pomona. But even Aguilar was shocked to learn that she earned not just a 5, but a perfect score on the AP Spanish exam. She is the first in the Pomona Unified School District to earn the accolade. Aguilar only began studying Spanish her junior year. She spent the first two years of high school studying French. (Read more: Daily Bulletin)

It’s been decades since Michelle King was a student at Century Park Elementary School, but she seemed right at home on…

Posted by Los Angeles Unified School District on Tuesday, January 19, 2016

January 19: New LAUSD superintendent sets aside time to read to elementary school studentsMichelle King will now serve as superintendent in the very school district she grew up in. To celebrate her appointment, she returned to Century Park Elementary School, which she once attended, to read “Howard B. Wigglebottom Learns About Courage” to students. The book encourages children to face their fears. (Read more: Facebook)

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Deportation fears taking a toll on immigrant children’s education

ICE deportation

Protesters denounce ICE raids on Central American refugees on Jan. 26 in downtown Los Angeles. (Credit: CARECEN)

A targeted effort by the Obama administration as the new year opened to remove undocumented families with children has prompted renewed protests from educators and fears in immigrant communities, particularly in Southern California.

Nearly 300 educators nationwide, some lawmakers and the country’s largest teachers unions are condemning the stepped-up enforcement actions that occurred in several states during the first weekend in January.

Among the 121 individuals taken into custody nationwide by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials were children who had crossed the southern border with a parent and who were subject to final orders of removal, according to a Jan. 4 statement from the Department of Homeland Security. Seventy-seven of those taken into custody were deported, the department said, and the efforts will continue.

“I know there are many who loudly condemn our enforcement efforts as far too harsh, while there will be others who say these actions don’t go far enough. I also recognize the reality of the pain that deportations do in fact cause,” Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said. “But we must enforce the law consistent with our priorities. At all times, we endeavor to do this consistent with American values, and basic principles of decency, fairness and humanity.”

Families in Southern California have reported ICE activity in their neighborhoods in recent weeks, local advocates and school officials say, prompting fears there as well as in other targeted states such as Georgia, Texas and North Carolina.  Continue reading

Morning Read: Federal waiver releases CA from after-school tutoring mandate

CA schools freed from costly after-school tutoring mandate
California joined more than 40 states granted a waiver by the US Department of Education from sanctions established under No Child Left Behind.
KPCC, by Annie Gilbertson


Results due from new rating system for 6 school districts
The CORE districts in the state, including LAUSD, received a waiver from No Child Left Behind requirements and designed their own formula for how to rate schools.
Fresno Bee, by Mackenzie Mays


New federal law puts spotlight on English learners
The successor law to the No Child Left Behind Act significantly expands states’ obligations to measure the progress of English learners.
EdSource, by John Fensterwald


School funding increases in California don’t buffer from future uncertainties
In 2013, California changed the way it funded schools by adopting what it calls the Local Control Funding Formula.
Cabinet Report, by Alisha Kirby


The Seventy Four, founded by controversial advocate, takes over LA School Report
Critics question the merger while the CEO of The 74 defends its reporting as unbiased.
Los Angeles Times, by Howard Blume


Commentary: Our children are not commodities
Three LA Unified board members reiterate their opposition to the new charter expansion plan and promote the board’s “Excellent Public Education for Every Student” plan.
By Steve Zimmer, Scott Schmerelson and George McKenna

Power outages from high winds fail to stop schools

MarvinAvenueElementarySchool

Marvin Avenue Elementary School suffered a power outage.

The high winds and rains over the weekend caused power outages at four LA Unified campuses, and a tree fell in the middle of another school.

None of the schools closed nor did any report damage, according to an LAUSD spokesperson. Power generators at the school sites were working, and even though neighborhoods in the area were without power, the schools had electricity.

South Gate High School, Mid-City’s Prescott School of Enriched Sciences, Canyon Elementary School and Marvin Avenue Elementary School and Early Education Center were all affected by power outages. At Avalon Gardens Elementary School a tree fell in the arcade area of the school near the administrative building but caused no damage to the building.

Preparations made in the months before the anticipated El Niño helped keep storm damage to a minimum. Previously, Director of Maintenance and Operations Roger Finstad said that all the generators at schools were checked so they were in good working condition, and branches and brush were trimmed and removed from school roofs.


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Villaraigosa on why he opposes Friedrichs, his take on charter expansion

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Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa

Two and a half years ago, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa left his office steering the nation’s second-largest city with a legacy of pushing the kind of changes in the school system that education reformers relish.

Trying to make good on a campaign promise to fix the city’s schools, he fought the teachers union in court to limit seniority-protected layoff policies (he won) and supported another court challenge that sought to incorporate student test scores into teacher evaluations (no clear victory yet on that one).

He successfully lobbied lawmakers to wrest control of the school district from its elected school board (the courts turned him down), aggressively expanded choices for parents, including charter schools, founded the non-profit Partnership for Los Angeles Schools to take over the city’s lowest-performing schools and raised a boatload of money to help elect reform-oriented school board members.

Since leaving office Villaraigosa, 63, who drew national attention as the city’s first modern-day Hispanic mayor, has been stumping for Hillary Clinton, teaching at USC and traveling the country giving corporate speeches. Most recently, the man who tried to remake the sprawling Los Angeles Unified School District while in office has been singled out as a likely gubernatorial candidate.

In an extensive interview last week, we spoke with the former mayor about the political challenges he faced, what he told Eli Broad about his foundation’s $490 million proposal to dramatically expand charter schools (he’s for it with some caveats) and national education controversies. Take, for example, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a case before the Supreme Court in which justices are weighing whether charging mandatory union dues to cover costs for activities like collective bargaining violates teachers’ free speech rights. The justices heard oral arguments in January and will have to issue a decision by the end of their term in June. If the Supreme Court sides with the plaintiffs, their ruling could severely hamper a major fundraising vehicle for teachers unions across the country but also support educators who feel union leaders use their money on political causes they don’t agree with.

Here’s what Villaraigosa had to say about Friedrichs: 

I do not support the appellants in this matter. … In a democratic society, it’s critical that workers have an opportunity to organize and collectively bargain their wages, their hours, their working conditions. … I believe the agency fee issue that is particularly in question is one that is very important. Unions have a duty (to provide) fair representation. I worked for them for eight years. They are, by law, required to represent people, even if they are not union members. I think it’s important that those non-union members pay their dues so that they can be represented fairly. I do not support the plaintiffs in that matter at all. … In fact, I am vehemently against it. … At the same time I am vehemently against the status quo where African-American children and English language learners are relegated to the bottom. … We have to stand up for these kids too. You can be pro-union while at the same time stand up for the civil rights of these kids. Continue reading

Big news: from LA School Report founder Jamie Alter Lynton

LA School Report founder, Jamie Alter Lynton

LA School Report founder Jamie Alter Lynton

Dear Readers:
I am thrilled to announce today a partnership between LA School Report and the online education news site The 74.

I founded LA School Report more than three years ago on the belief that there is an urgent need for quality journalism in the education arena; that without vigorous scrutiny, decisions made by elected officials, special interests and district bureaucrats go unchecked. Why the urgency? Because the Los Angeles public school system – which ranks among the worst in the country –  is profoundly failing the vast majority of students, especially those who are not white and middle class. At the same time the district’s sheer size and diversity make it a national player. If this district can turn itself around, the whole country will benefit.

Since our launch, LA School Report has sought to bring some of the critical issues facing the public school system to the forefront. In this short time, a lot has happened: we have seen in quick succession the district bailed out of a budget crisis with a windfall from the state only to be faced with predictions of bankruptcy; a statewide suspension of academic progress tests that leaves the district – and parents – with no accountability measures, and a fractious, erratic school board that has hired three superintendents in five years and, in a recent clumsy move, put charter schools in its crosshairs instead of targeting its failing schools for improvement.

Amid these events and others, from our daily coverage of the Vergara trial to our in-depth reporting on school board elections, LA School Report has broken stories, won awards and helped galvanize a resurgence of education reporting in Los Angeles.

I believe that more attention and more public discourse spell good news for the 650,000 students in Los Angeles public schools, and in joining forces with The 74 – which takes its name from the number of public school students nationwide – the deeply rooted challenges facing this enormous and unwieldy district will now get a national audience.

With The 74 roster of smart, veteran journalists, we are ready to expand our reach and deepen our coverage. We usher in this next phase with a new executive editor, Laura Greanias, who has been a journalist in Los Angeles for nearly 25 years, including 15 years at the L.A. Times and most recently as city editor of the L.A. Daily News.

Along with our own seasoned staff, who under the leadership of managing editor Michael Janofsky has brought you quality reporting day in and day out, our new partnership will allow us to continue to bring you quality reporting with context and analysis – always with one primary question in mind: What is in the best interest of students?

LA School Report welcomes new Executive Editor Laura Greanias

Laura Headshot LASR

LA School Report Executive Editor Laura Greanias

LA School Report didn’t exist when I was an editor at the Los Angeles Times, but I wish it had. Jamie Lynton launched this site three and a half years ago. Since then, most recently as city editor at the Los Angeles Daily News, I found myself turning often to LA School Report for its news updates, analysis and commentary. I read as an editor, wanting to stay on top of the LA school beat; I read as a mother of two boys enrolled in both traditional and charter public schools.

When I was invited to help expand LA School Report in partnership with The 74, I jumped at the chance to advance the cause of journalism in public education reporting. That’s my goal as LA School Report’s new executive editor (and The 74’s first West Coast bureau chief).

I’m a product of public schools. My mother was a public school teacher in Minnesota. In an ideal world every one of America’s 74 million students would receive a stellar education at their local public school. That’s what I want. Sadly, that’s not the reality, not even close. Millions of our children and their families have no other options when their local public schools fail them.

As a journalist, I’m naturally interested in broader reporting on the school leaders and policymakers who are fighting to give these children more options — as well as the innovation happening in classrooms across California. I’m equally interested in the $71 BILLION that California taxpayers gift our K-12 public schools. Where exactly does it come from? Where does it go? Where is it succeeding? Where is it failing?

Who is accountable for results?

Most of all, I’m eager to meet and share the stories of those who are giving their all for the education of the students of this great city and state, in both traditional and charter public schools, and what we can learn from their success to help all of America’s 74 million children.

And I’m pleased to meet you, our readers who care about them.

–Laura Greanias

[email protected]
[email protected]
@LauraGreanias