Charter chiefs applaud Zimmer’s summit speech
Mike Szymanski | July 25, 2016
LA Unified School Board President Steve Zimmer offered a rousing speech at Saturday’s “Promising Practices” forum that was praised by charter leaders because of his inclusiveness.
“We understand that a narrative that blames charter schools for all that is wrong in public education may serve short-term organizing goals but is counterproductive and doesn’t help every child,” Zimmer said. “Equally, a narrative that perpetuates the notion that LAUSD schools are failures may increase the short-term goal of increasing charter schools and reinforces deficit mindsets. It’s an immoral narrative. Both of these narratives are not factual, both goals have the effect of dividing us artificially and not really serving the needs of kids and their families and why we got into this work.”
Zimmer, who was on his way to catch a plane across the country, stayed only for the first hour of the forum, but people were talking about his speech all day.
“We haven’t yet figured that out with LAUSD and charter schools how to share promising practices, and this is a beginning,” Zimmer said to the room of about 200 teachers from traditional and charter schools. “We have things that we can learn from each other, we have ways that could get over the barriers … and work together to make those dreams come true.”
“Wow, I feel like we charter schools don’t have cooties anymore,” quipped Caprice Young, chief executive officer of Magnolia Public Schools, who was also a panelist at the forum. She joined with Granda Hills Charter School to discuss “Communities of Practice: Special Education Innovation.” “I think Steve Zimmer’s speech was wonderful and this forum is giving all of us a chance to share and discuss. It’s very good energy all around.”
Parker Hudnut, CEO of Inner City Education Foundation (ICEF) Public Schools, said he was also pleased. “Steve did an excellent job setting the stage for collaboration through his vivid imagery. He reminded us that we each got into this work to fortify future generations and to be successful, we must all collaborate across adult divisions.”
Hudnut pointed out that two of his ICEF teachers gave a lecture titled: “Moving Away from Sage on the Stage Teaching: Targeted Group Structure” attended by 15 LA Unified district teachers. He said, “To me, that is the entire point of the gathering. Here were educators focused solely on how to teach students better: two charter teachers sharing their learning with 15 LAUSD teachers. That is beautiful to me!”
Zimmer, who is running for re-election, has tempered his comments about the proliferation of charter schools in the second-largest school district in the country.
“I ask that you be really active listeners today,” Zimmer told the audience before heading to Philadelphia, not for the Democratic National Convention but to accompany a family member to a medical appointment. “Listen with open minds and open hearts. You all have a very, very important role in changing the narrative.”
Zimmer pointed outside to the ash, smoke and dark clouds of the Sand fire in the Santa Clarita Valley and said, “That’s symbolic of what is facing our kids, who need public education the most. We understand the devastating effects of poverty, which affects the kids in LAUSD schools and in charter schools.”
Zimmer spoke of the immigration raids on undocumented families and said, “Those raids upon our families that tear them apart affects charters and LAUSD schools alike.”
He added, “Violence walking home from charter schools affects charter students the same as walking home from LAUSD schools.”
He referenced the fearful scenarios of America brought up by Donald Trump at last week’s Republican National Convention and said, “That was directed at our children on every network, right out front unapologetically. It was directly aimed at our children and our families, at LAUSD and charter schools alike.”
He spoke about his mother being an educator in Flatbush, New York, and LGBT children feeling safe, and about special needs students.
“We know that we must serve every kid that comes to the schoolhouse door, and we know if we are public school educators, there is nothing more important than making those dreams come true,” Zimmer said. “We also know there are a lot of things we have not figured out.”
One of the traditional teachers at a table said, “I thought I was coming here to be inspired by Ms. King, and it ends up being Steve Zimmer, who’d have thought?”
Superintendent Michelle King said she wanted to bring educators from all different models of LA Unified schools to share ideas. “I wanted to create a safe space that colleagues could come around a table and discuss what works and doesn’t work and hopefully seeds will be planted here, fostered and grow.”
King added, “Charter schools and traditional schools have some great developments going on and this is a chance to come together to collaborate. We are looking at breaking down these silos, these walls, to only one type of grouping.”