Ridley-Thomas nominating Johnson to county board seat

Mark Ridley-Thomas (left), Alex Johnson

Mark Ridley-Thomas (left), Alex Johnson

Barely a week after losing to George McKenna for an LA Unified School District board seat, Alex Johnson is eying another board seat.

His boss, LA County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, has nominated him to fill a soon-to-be vacant seat on the LA County Board of Education, a body that hears appeals of disputes from local school districts and governs the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts and International Polytechnic High School.

Johnson currently works as Assistant Senior Deputy for Education and Public Safety for Ridley-Thomas, who played a major role in generating financial support for Johnson’s school board run.

While Johnson lost to McKenna by 1,814 votes, his campaign raised $421,522, and outside groups, many friendly to Ridley-Thomas, spent another $858,757 on his behalf. Both totals exceeded those for McKenna.

Whether Johnson can serve on the county board, which meets three times a month, and maintains his current position on Ridley Thomas’s staff is unclear. A board member who asked not to quoted said a supervisor cannot appoint someone from his or her staff.

The county board is, effectively, a volunteer organization. Any member can be removed at any time, and members receive only a meeting fee of $150 and mileage costs.

The vacancy on the seven-member County board is being created by the resignation of Rudell S. Freer, the longest-serving member who was first appointed in 1996 by Yvonne Burke. Freer will remain on the board until Sept. 9. 

For Johnson to claim the seat, he would have to be approved by a vote of the Board of Supervisors, each of whom gets to name one appointment for a four-year term. Two other members serve on the board for two-year terms through rotating appointments.

Johnson would have a four-year term.

Previous Posts: Johnson offers McKenna congratulations for his victory; Ridley-Thomas voter group going all out for Johnson; McKenna victory gives appearance of a pro-teacher union board

Morning Read: Deasy urges respect for 1st Amendment

L.A. Unified principals given guidance on student free speech rights
As unrest continues in Ferguson, Mo. and, to a degree in Los Angeles, after the fatal police shootings of unarmed black men in those cities, Los Angeles schools chief John Deasy asked principals Tuesday to be vigilant in their efforts to provide an environment for students to exercise their 1st Amendment rights. LA Times

County yet to approve LA Unified’s LCAP
The Los Angeles County Office of Education is withholding approval of the Local Control and Accountability Plan drawn up by the Los Angeles Unified School District pending clarification of the $700 million the school district says it spent last year on low-income students, English learners and foster children. EdSource

Demise of the school bond means big spike in housing fees
Fallout from the Brown administration’s decision this month to ice the statewide school bond this November will almost certainly spike developer fees on new housing, by as much as $30,000 per unit in some places. S&I Cabinet Report

Gallup finds opposition to Common Core
Americans are hearing more about the Common Core State Standards and most of them don’t like what they’re hearing, according to a national opinion poll released Wednesday. Edsource

Bill would block expulsion for ‘willful defiance’
The state Senate approved legislation Tuesday that would prevent California schools from expelling students for willfully defying school authorities, a punishment that activists say is unevenly applied and disproportionately affects minority students. Sacramento Bee

McKenna’s final margin is 5.63 points over Johnson

election results McKenna beat JohnsonThe City Clerk Elections Division has certified the results of the LA Unified District 1 election, giving George McKenna final tally of 52.81 percent of the vote, to 47.18 percent for Alex Johnson.

Overall, turnout for the Aug. 12 runoff was 9.5 percent of the district’s 342,493 voters, a disappointing but not horrible count, given that no other election was on the ballot.

McKenna collected 17,025 votes against Johnson’s 15,211.

LA Unified computer problems hampering special ed teachers

computer-glitch-problems-LAUSDTwo weeks into the new school year, LA Unified administrators are still working out bugs in a new computer system, a disruption that has made instruction particularly difficult for special education teachers, who need specific information for each of their students..

The new MiSiS — My Integrated Student Information System — is designed to track every aspect of a student’s academic career by integrating a variety of existing computer programs.

Special education teacher Kelly Flores, who teaches at Maya Angelou Community High School, said the problems she has encountered with MiSiS are preventing her from doing her job, costing students valuable instruction time.

“I can’t really use MiSiS. The only thing I can do is take attendance of the kids that I have enrolled in a couple of classes,” she told LA School Report. “I personally have no access in finding my students, so I’m going on the second week, and I can’t service my students. The only thing I can do is know who the students I had last year were and go look for them class to class.”

Overall, thousands of students in the district are affected. As a special education teacher, Flores must be working with her students either in a classroom or learning center, making sure they’re programmed correctly into the classes they need.

“I’m unable to do this because of the new system,” she said.

Flores says there’s a way teachers can access their case load, but it has to go through an administrator, and at this point, she said, no administrator knows how to do it or has the time to do it.

“To me it’s complete chaos,” she said.

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Teachers union talking strategy for combatting teacher jail

Teacher Jail LAUSDWhile officials from the teachers union, UTLA, are contemplating salary demands in a new labor contract with the district, they have not lost sight of another key issue, how to deal with teachers housed in what union officials derisively call “teacher jails.”

The union’s Committee for Unjustly Housed Teachers was meeting today, for the first time this school year, in a strategy session to determine how to tackle what they view as the district’s abusive use of the “teacher jails.”

“We need to develop a plan for getting the district to follow the policies that they have in place for housed teachers,” committee point chair, Colleen Schwab told LA School Report before the meeting. “That’s our goal, at the minimum. To get them to do what they said they would.”

Schwab, who’s co-lead of the committee since its inception a year ago, stressed that the teachers union has no intention of calling for the complete elimination jails.

“Obviously, we need a place for teachers who could harm students while the district conducts its investigations,” she said. “But there has to be a better solution than what is happening right now.”

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Commentary: The problem with teacher tenure

NYT logoVia NY Times | by Frank Bruni

There are perils to the current tenure talk: that it fails to address the intense strains on many teachers; that it lays too much fault on their doorsteps, distracting people from other necessary reforms.

But the discussion is imperative, because there’s no sense in putting something as crucial as children’s education in the hands of a professional class with less accountability than others and with job protections that most Americans can only fantasize about.

We need to pay good teachers much more. We need to wrap the great ones in the highest esteem. But we also need to separate the good and the great from the bad.

Read the full story here

Morning Read: LAUSD’s computer system problems persist

Los Angeles Unified works to fix new computer system
Although Los Angeles Unified teachers were told Monday they could use a scaled-back version, the district’s new computer system continues to be plagued by problems. LA Daily News

LAUSD policy restricts use of citations, arrests
Students involved in relatively minor offenses on school campuses will no longer be cited or arrested under Los Angeles Unified’s new policy, which takes effect this school year and spells out alternatives district police officers must follow. EdSource

California Republicans want to reverse limits on school reserves
California Republican lawmakers want to revisit one of the most controversial parts of this year’s budget debate, proposing legislation on Monday to remove new limits on how much money school districts can keep in their reserve accounts. LA Times

S.F. teachers vote to strike, but not just yet
San Francisco teachers overwhelmingly supported a preliminary strike vote, with 2,238 checking the yes box on the ballot and 16 voting no. SF Gate

Higher ed is embracing goals of Common Core
Opinion: Most attention to the Common Core State Standards has focused on the continued political backlash against the standards and the status of implementation in schools. EdSource

Teachers union blasts Deasy again for new computer system

UTLA logoThe LA teachers union today intensified its attack against LA Unified Superintendent John Deasy and the administration over the management of the district’s new student data computer system.

For the second time in less than a week, the union put out a press release critical of Deasy and what UTLA says are his attempts to gloss-over the bungled roll-out of MiSiS, short for My Integrated Student Information System.

“When will Superintendent Deasy step up and admit the buck stops at his desk?” UTLA said in a statement released late today. “It is time for the school board to demand accountability from the Superintendent.”

So far, the only high ranking district administrator to take public responsibility for the debacle, which has left thousands of students un-enrolled and without the proper class assignments, is Chief Information Officer, Ron Chandler. Although he has acknowledged problems with the new program, which was designed to consolidate student data, Chandler has repeatedly downplayed the severity of them.

But UTLA has called out Matt Hill, Deasy’s Chief Strategy Officer, for his role in launching MiSiS before it was ready. In an internal memo sent Thursday afternoon to a list of undisclosed recipients, Hill said, “I realize at this point, apologies are not sufficient, so I will just say that your colleagues in IT are working as hard and fast as they can to get this system performing the way it should.”

The union’s demand for the school board’s intervention comes days before the swearing in of newly elected board member, George McKenna, who many believe with be a sympathetic vote for union-favored issues that come before the board.

McKenna’s addition to the board appears to shift the balance to a majority of teachers union-backed members, which could have a significant impact on labor contract negotiations as they resume later this month.

Board member Tamar Galatzan last week called for an investigation by the district’s inspector general’s office into the development and launch of MiSiS.

Previous Posts: Galatzan calling for probe into computer system snafus; Teachers union says computer glitch cost students first day

LAUSD announcing new strategies for student discipline

LAUSD student disciplineA major shift is underway across LA Unified in how schools and administrators approach student disciplinary issues.

LAUSD officials and LA School Police Chief Steve Zipperman are planning to announce new district-wide protocols tomorrow that will define and limit the role of police on campus, incorporating new student protections and providing opportunities for students to receive help and support.

The announcement will take place at Manual Arts High School on Vermont Avenue.

One of the main changes directly impacts the school police and how officers issue student citations.

Officials from the Community Strategy Center, an LA-based human rights organization that focuses on civil rights, environmental justice, public health and the criminal legal system, say between 2009 and 2011, 33,000 tickets were given to young people under the age of 14 for truancy, tobacco, fights or assaults, and 1,000 students were booked and arrested each year.

Most of the citations led to court appearances or probation, undermining student success at school.

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In a shift, Teach for America is hiring more non-whites

Teach for America LAUSDThe growing diversity gap between teachers and students of color has been problematic for years, and school districts have struggled to find ways to attract a workforce that more closely resembles changing student demographics.

Now, one organization is tackling the issue head on: Half of this year’s Teach for America (TFA) recruits are people of color.

In Los Angeles, the ranks of TFA’s minority teachers are even greater. According to the organizations’s latest numbers, 70 percent of incoming teachers in the metro LA area, which includes LA Unified and other surrounding districts, identify as non-white; nearly half received federal Pell Grants, which are given to low income students; half are the first in their families to graduate from college, and 10 of the new teachers are recent immigrants who earned federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status, which means they are eligible for employment.

“I’ve seen the difference it can make when a student is able to see him or herself reflected in that teacher in the front of the classroom,” said Robert Whitman, principal at Manual Arts High School in Los Angeles Unified.

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Commentary: Teaching and business do not mix

NYT logoVia NY Times | by David Kirp

Today’s education reformers believe that schools are broken and that business can supply the remedy. Some place their faith in the idea of competition. Others embrace disruptive innovation, mainly through online learning. Both camps share the belief that the solution resides in the impersonal, whether it’s the invisible hand of the market or the transformative power of technology.

Neither strategy has lived up to its hype, and with good reason. It’s impossible to improve education by doing an end run around inherently complicated and messy human relationships. All youngsters need to believe that they have a stake in the future, a goal worth striving for, if they’re going to make it in school. They need a champion, someone who believes in them, and that’s where teachers enter the picture. The most effective approaches foster bonds of caring between teachers and their students.

Read the full story here

Morning Read: CA Schools depart from memorization in science

Common Core: CA schools shift science teaching away from memorization
California is at a critical stage in carrying out a wholesale change of how it teaches science and other core topics. It’s a process that takes time when you’re working with nearly six million students. KPCC

Of aching backs and digital textbooks
It won’t be long before hardback textbooks – some weighing as much as five pounds – will become relics of the past, replaced by digital versions. S&I Cabinet Report

Classrooms key battlefields in War on Poverty
Editorial: Of the many battlefields where the half-century-old War on Poverty has been fought, there may be none so important — or difficult to conquer — as our public classrooms. LA Daily News

S.F. teachers miss more school than students on average
While absenteeism is usually considered a student matter, in San Francisco – and many other districts – the average teacher misses more school than the average child. SF Gate

64 San Fernando Valley elementary schools to get new playground toys
A whoop of joy swept through the crowd of students at Kittridge Elementary School Friday as they watched their L.A. Unified School Board representative open a truck filled with hoops, ropes and soccer balls. LA Daily News

Galatzan calling for probe into computer system snafus

LAUSD-computer-system-glitch-prevails* UPDATED

Concerned by a slew of problems with the district’s new student management computer system, board member Tamar Galatzan said today she is asking the district’s Inspector General to conduct an audit of the defective rollout.

“I demand to know what happened and how this got so messed up,” she told LA School Report. “Because until it happened, the board had no inkling that the system wasn’t ready to go live.”

Galtazan, who made her request in writing to Ken Bramlett this afternoon, added, “After the payroll fiasco of a number of years ago, the board tried to put safeguards in place so we wouldn’t go live with a system that didn’t work. Clearly, that didn’t happen here, and we need to know who’s responsible for it.”

She says the board received little information about the progress and development of the comprehensive system over the last year.

“I can’t remember the last time we got an update on the program . . . and we don’t supervise anyone who works for the superintendent, which is who was running it,” Galatzan said.

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Outside group challenging LAUSD’s view of ‘Parent Trigger’

Gloria Romero, CA State Senator

Gloria Romero


Parent Revolution, an organization that helps parents petition for change at poor-performing schools, is disputing an LA Unified legal opinion that says the state law that gives parents that right is invalid this year.

The conflict came to light in an LA Times story this morning, citing an opinion from a district lawyer sent to Gloria Romero, the former California lawmaker who wrote the 2010 “Parent Trigger” law.

Romero, who founded the California Center for Parent Empowerment last year, said in an interview this morning she felt “angry and betrayed” by a legal decision that was reached last fall by the district but not shared with her until she learned about it three weeks ago.

“I’m not saying LAUSD is wrong on the legal interpretation; I just don’t know, and that’s why I’m seeking another legal interpretation from the state,” she said, “But LAUSD’s decision violates the spirit and intent of the law.”

“What I want to know,” she added, “is why did they keep this quiet all this time.”

The district’s opinion stems from a Federal waiver granted LA Unified and seven other California school districts, allowing them to to create their own metrics for academic performance in the temporary absence of statewide standards — measures used to determine whether a school is failing.

LA Unified Superintendent John Deasy said in an interview that the metrics used by LA Unified and the other districts granted the waiver still give parents the right to use the Parent Trigger law, so long as a school has been deemed in need of improvement for two consecutive years, ending with the 2014-2015 school year.

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Commentary: To those who live with Parkinson’s, you’re not alone

Bennett Kayser LAUSD

Bennett Kayser, representing district 5 on the LAUSD board of education

By Bennett Kayser

As we learned yesterday that Robin Williams had been in the early stages of Parkinson’s Disease, I felt the need to step forward and share my story, and perhaps let others know they are not alone, that there is hope and that life with the disease can be joy-filled.

I was recently honored to be the guest speaker at a Parkinson’s conference in Pasadena and delivered the address, which follows below.

The sad loss of Mr. William has caused me to recommit my energies, as a member of the board of the Los Angeles Unified School District, to serving children and adults, burdened with seen and unseen physical and mental challenges. I am here to help, as are others, never give up.

My speech was called, “What Parkinson’s Has Done For Me”

     About seven years ago, my right hand would occasionally tremble, and then it would stop. I attributed the shaking to cold weather and air conditioning. When the frequency of my hand’s shivers increased, I decided it was time to see a doctor. He told me that it was likely Parkinson’s Disease and referred me to a neurologist who confirmed the diagnosis.

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Morning Read: LAUSD puts new MiSiS computer system on hold

LAUSD in crisis over its new MiSiS computer system
Los Angeles Unified told teachers to stop using the new district-wide computer system Thursday, after days of dealing with glitches and other problems that have lost records and kept students from starting in the proper classes. Daily News

To quell high school angst, some schools build a bridge for 9th graders
Stealing a page from successful college “bridge” programs to help high school students make the transition, some Southern California high schools are offering similar programs for incoming 9th graders. KPCC

Students on computer science fast track
The accelerated program, run jointly by Hartnell Community College in Salinas and California State University, Monterey Bay, will allow them to earn a bachelor’s degree in computer science in just three years. Edsource

School bond moves on to uncertain fate
Even if the full Senate approves the measure next week, there is a good chance that Gov. Jerry Brown will veto it. And, even he were he to sign the bill, it may already be too late to get the proposal on this November’s ballot for voter approval. Edsource

Funding lifeline for trade tech centers
The state’s network of regional occupational centers – which still provide most trade and technical training for the public school system – would be eligible for funding from the $250 million Career Pathway Trust program, under pending legislation. S&I Cabinet Report

Another Johnson (Daymond) lining up for LAUSD District 1

Daymond Jonhnson LAUSD School boardDays before Marguerite LaMotte died last December at the age of 80, Daymond Johnson, a school safety officer and consultant, filed papers with the City Ethics Commission to run for her LA Unified District 1 board seat when her term expired in 2015.

Whether she intended to seek reelection or not, his rationale was to infuse the board with some youth — he was 32 at the time — and maybe some fresh ideas.

Now, Johnson finds himself in an awkward spot.

After George McKenna’s name arose as a community favorite to serve out LaMotte’s term, Johnson became a McKenna supporter.

“I felt it was very important to support him because the community asked him to run,” Johnson said in an interview this week. “That was different to me from politicians’ asking someone to run.”

So Johnson was happy this week when McKenna, 73, finally claimed the seat in a runoff election, defeating Alex Johnson, 34, to serve out LaMotte’s term through next year.

But that has left Daymond Johnson with a difficult balance — still feeling a need to bring some youth to the LA Unified board, but willing to give McKenna a chance.

So where does that leave his candidacy?  In tact, for the time being.

“I’ve already started reaching for (campaign) dollars,” Johnson said. “But if Dr. McKenna is doing what the community wants him to do, sometime down the road I might be willing to back out of the race.”

When might that be?

“I’ll definitely give him to November or December,” he said. “If McKenna is doing what students need, I’ll support him.”

Of course, the political landscape is always changing. McKenna might run for reelection or he might not. Alex Johnson might try again. Other candidates might emerge. The primary for District 1 — as well as for Districts 3,5 and 7 — is in March.

That’s seven months away – but an eternity in LA Unified.

Kayser, FixLA campaign for funds for more crossing guards


Officials from FixLA and LA Unified at a press conference, calling for more school crossing guards.

As the new school year gets underway, so does a campaign to increase student safety at LA Unified elementary schools.

District officials, including board member Bennett Kayser, and members of the  FixLA coalition gathered at City Hall this week to express their concern over a shortage of crossing guards at more than 100 LA Unified and charter elementary school intersections, a vacuum they say that puts students and their parents at risk of injury, even death.

They called on city leaders to restore the number of crossing guards at schools.

“It’s about the safety of our children,” said Scott Mann, a spokesperson for FixLA.

The Los Angeles Department of Transportation is responsible for supplying crossing guards to elementary schools within LAUSD.

A department traffic study in March showed that 507 intersections near 307 elementary schools qualified for crossing guards.

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LAUSD opens arms to Central American immigrant children

Logo_LATimesVia Los Angeles Times | By Howard Blume

At the low-slung bungalow west of downtown, a youngster screams from a vaccination and a nurse records the height and weight of an older boy. Academic counselors stand by, because it is here that many children who recently crossed the southern border enroll in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

As the line runs out the door of the cramped reception area, José Miguel waits his turn to sign up 17-year-old niece Elena, a native of Guatemala who crossed over from Mexico in March without her parents or a guardian.

Under federal law, these children are entitled to attend public school regardless of immigration status.

Read the full story here

Morning Read: McKenna’s friends beat Johnson’s money

Outspent by rival, McKenna drew on connections in school board victory
In this week’s election for a seat on the Los Angeles Board of Education, one side had deep pockets and extensive political connections; the other side had people such as Orley Frost Jr. LA Times

Judge: State must help all English learners
A judge has ruled that the state is ultimately responsible for seeing that school districts provide services to all English language learners not receiving the help they need to become proficient in English. Edsource

With Tueday’s school board loss, charter advocates recalculate
After Tuesday’s defeat of another of their candidates to the Los Angeles school board, charter school advocates are rethinking how to support local candidates. KPCC

Federal education officials to fund preschool expansion
While it is significantly less than the $75 billion the White House wanted, the Department of Education Wednesday announced $250 million in preschool expansion grants for states. KPCC