A few new looks for LAUSD as another school year opens
Vanessa Romo | August 12, 2014
School starts again today. Another year of hoped for higher graduation rates, lower dropout rates, higher academic achievement, lower temperatures between district and teacher union officials negotiating a new bargaining agreement.
So what’s really new this year in LA Unified?
1. More digital devices are coming. They’re not going to be all iPads. Thanks to a review of the program, students in 27 high schools will be getting laptops. The school board agreed to spend about $40 million to buy 19,300 laptop devices for students and staff.
2. More teachers are here. Following an influx of new money from the state, the district has filled 60 positions to reduce middle school class size in math and English language arts by two students and 70 positions to reduce senior high class size in math and English language arts by two students.
3. More staffers are here. The district has filled 60 positions for health and human services personnel for foster youth, 90 to 100 positions at the district’s highest needs schools for special education teachers, secondary counselors and health and human services personnel, 20 positions in the Restorative Justice Program, 15 positions for school nurses and another 100 positions for other targeted student populations.
4. School facilities will be tidier, with fewer broken toilets, and school offices will run more efficiently. The district’s facilities department reports they’ve hired 25 full time building and grounds workers. Twenty seven new full time clerical staff positions have been filled.
5. More access to books. After years of shutting down school libraries because the district couldn’t afford to hire library aides, the district has hired 192 full time staffers and employees to fill 512 three-hour positions.
6. The district has more schools. In the coming year LA Unified is adding 9 autonomy schools – 4 pilots, 4 Local Initiative Schools and 1 Expanded School Base Management Model – and 17 new charter schools.
7. The district is phasing in a new arts program and planning to boost private donations to supplement the decimated arts budget due to years of cuts. Rory Pullens, head of arts instruction and curriculum for the district, says he plans to pursue a similar strategy to the one used at Duke Ellington School for the Arts, which he left to join LAUSD. Pullens says he plans to create a non-profit dedicated exclusively to raising funds for the school.
8. Within the next few days, District 1 will have a new board member, filling an eight-month vacancy following the death of Marguerite LaMotte. The new member will be either George McKenna, 74, a former administrator, or Alex Johnson, 34, a lawyer and policy aide. The election is today and swearing-in will follow certification of the vote.
9. UTLA, the teachers union, has a new team of leaders, led by President Alex Caputo-Pearl. Right now, they’re talking to the district about a new contract after seven years without one. Talking. Negotiating is too strong a word.
10. Instructional strategies are changing with teachers trying to accommodate a shift to Common Core State Standards. The new emphasis is on contextual thinking although any thinking is encouraged. First graders will be expected to study the poem “Mix a Pancake”:
Stir a pancake,
Pop it in the pan;
Fry the pancake,
Toss the pancake—
Catch it if you can.
OK, so it’s not Robert Frost, but click here for more samples of what students at every grade level will be expected to learn.