Zimmer, King, Garcetti, U.S. Education deputy kick off LA Unified school year with positive message

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LA Unified is fresh, clean, safe and on the upswing.

That was the message Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, LA Unified Superintendent Michelle King, school board President Steve Zimmer, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education James Cole Jr. and board member George McKenna delivered at a news conference from the library of John C. Fremont High School in South LA this morning to help kick off the first official day of classes at the district.

The location of the library was strategically chosen, as it is brand new.

“We are so excited that this district and this city and our voters have given us the resources to do this, to take a school district that just a decade ago was literally falling apart and now has some of the most shining examples of what we should make our campuses feel like and look like,” said Garcetti, referring to the district’s $27 billion bond program to build 131 new schools, the last of which are set to be completed next year.

All of the leaders who took to the podium highlighted various positive aspects of the district, in a coordinated effort to project LA Unified as a place with a bright future — and not one facing serious budget shortfalls, potential labor unrest and continued declining enrollment.

Zimmer started off, setting the tone. “We have an unprecedented and I would say best-in-the-nation partnership with the city of Los Angeles.”

Garcetti took the opportunity to highlight the numerous ways the city and the district partner together and how the city directly aids LA’s youth. The programs he highlighted included the family source centers and other shared facilities, a summer jobs program called Hire LA’s Youth, anti-gang efforts like Summer Night Lights, an initiative to get LA Unified students signed up for library cards and efforts to boost graduation like Student Recovery Day. He also discussed a new program, Los Angeles College Promise, in which the city has partnered with the Los Angeles Community College District and LA Unified to offer a free year of community college to district graduates.

Referring to a group of high school students who were lined up behind the podium, Garcetti said, “So for our seniors here today, this is our promise to you. When you graduate, community college will be free this next year.”

Garcetti also had high praise for King, who took over as superintendent in January. Referring to her recent efforts to cool relations between the district and charter schools at the “Promising Practices” forum, Garcetti said King is “building a bridge” between reformers and teachers.

During her turn at the podium, King also spoke of the library card program, saying the district and the city are working together “for each and every LA Unified student to have a library card. There are applications in each and every enrollment packet.”

Cole, who said he grew up in a rough neighborhood in Chicago, praised LA Unified for its leadership in the nation on issues like LGBTQ student rights and restorative justice. He then remembered a high school teacher who encouraged him to “dream big” and get a college degree. Speaking to the students, he said, “So what I encourage each and every one of you to do is to find a teacher, find a coach, find a mentor who can help you along the way and help you do great things while you are here at Fremont.”

All in all, the message was clear, and perhaps best summed up by Zimmer in his remarks: “Fremont, this library, the enrollment today, and what you can see in the classes here and the amazing young people that stand with us today represent what is possible when dreams come true though public education.”

A teen’s passion leads to 4,500 free backpacks and school supplies for LA Unified students in need


Riley Gantt, 16, created the Rainbow Packs giveaway.

For six years, 16-year-old Riley Gantt has gathered her family and friends to go to schools in the northeast San Fernando Valley to give backpacks to students who need them.

It grew from a field trip she took as a 9-year-old from her comfortable neighborhood in Sherman Oaks to a less-privileged section of the Valley in Pacoima. There she met a girl who didn’t have the school supplies she needed.

“She asked her mother for skinny crayons and her mother said she couldn’t afford it, and it broke my heart,” Riley said. “I wanted to get her those crayons.”

By the next year, she returned to Haddon Avenue Elementary School and raised enough money to give every child there a free backpack. Now, with a team of volunteers including her mom and dad, Leanna and Brad Gantt, Riley leads a nonprofit team that hands out backpacks and school supplies to children at four Title I schools at LA Unified.

More than 4,500 backpacks will be handed out these first two days of school at Haddon, Telfair Avenue, Pacoima Charter and Sara Coughlin elementary schools in the mostly Latino neighborhoods. More than 1,500 will go to the independent Pacoima Charter, and Riley points out that there is a big misconception that charter schools do not have the same needs or have access to more resources.

“These supplies are meant for students to have at home, where they may not have the same access to notebooks or pencils,” Riley said.

Richard Ramos, Haddon’s principal, gave Riley a big hug when she arrived Tuesday and said, “The students are so excited that Rainbow Packs is coming back to the school.”


Diana Mendez gets her free school notebook.

Local District Northeast Interim Superintendent Susan Allen greeted Riley, as did School Board member Monica Ratliff, who said, “I’ve been a fan of Riley and what she has done ever since I’ve been on the school board.”

Ratliff said she has seen how Riley figured out how to reach every student with the giveaways and how to streamline the process. Yolanda Fuentes, district director for Los Angeles City Councilman Felipe Fuentes, aided Riley’s passion from the beginning, and was there helping six years later.

“She is an amazing young woman and an inspiration to the kids,” Yolanda Fuentes said.

Riley, who takes classes through an online school, said she loves school and told the students how in the past she aspired to be an astronaut, the president, a writer, a videographer and even a dolphin.

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JUST IN: Free community college and dual enrollment: two new programs to give LA Unified students ‘unfettered access to college’



A meeting of community college presidents and LA Unified officials. (Courtesy: LACCD)

California’s largest coalition of community colleges is finalizing two new programs with the nation’s second-largest school district to give LA Unified students a free year of college tuition and encourage them to enroll in college classes while still in high school.

The details are expected to be announced in September, with the goal of offering the first year of free tuition beginning next fall. The dual enrollment plan could start even earlier.

LA Unified Superintendent Michelle King talked about the first program, Los Angeles College Promise, at the first day of school Tuesday. “We could not be more pleased and excited about this opportunity. Now one of the barriers that inhibit our kids from going onto college is being removed. Our students will be able to have one year of free community college upon graduation. Each student is guaranteed a seat,” she said as she stood beside Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti at John C. Fremont High School at Tuesday’s news conference. The mayor said, “For our seniors that are here today, this is our promise to you: When you graduate, (the first year of) community college will be free.”

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Some of the 38 LA Unified grads who also received AA degrees at Harbor Teacher Prep Academy. (Courtesy: LAUSD)

The two separate initiatives arose simultaneously for LA Unified and the Los Angeles Community College District, which has nine community colleges.

“This is an opportunity and partnership we are very excited about,” said LA Unified’s Chief Academic Officer Frances Gipson. “We are all coming together to show what a city of graduates looks like.”

This past weekend, administrators from the nine Los Angeles community colleges, LA Unified and the mayor’s office met to figure out the details.

“This is really a momentous agreement for education that the rest of the state and nation will look at potentially duplicating,” Ryan M. Cornner, the vice chancellor of Educational Programs and Institutional Effectiveness for the Los Angeles Community College District, said Friday as he was returning from a retreat involving the training for the new plans. “It’s the biggest school district in the state working with the biggest community college district in the state making the pathway easier for higher education for students, and that is pretty meaningful. It is a significant moment in education.”

The two programs in the works are the Los Angeles College Promise and the College and Career Access Pathways, called CCAP.

The Los Angeles College Promise is Garcetti’s localization of the White House’s proposal for tuition-free community college.

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Watch live: LA Unified’s back-to-school news conference

LAUSD livestreamIt’s back to school today, and the LA Unified press conference at John C. Fremont High School is about to begin. Watch live here.

Attending are: School Board President Steve Zimmer, School Board Vice President Dr. George J. McKenna, III, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education James Cole Jr., Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Superintendent Michelle King, School Police Chief Steven K. Zipperman and Local District South Superintendent Christopher Downing.


Morning Read: LAUSD students head back to school today

Half-million Los Angeles Unified School District students return to school
Many of them might prefer to be visiting the beach Tuesday, but more than a half-million students instead will be heading back to class as the 2016-17 school year begins for the nation’s second-largest school district. Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Michelle King, members of the district’s board, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education James Cole Jr. are among the dignitaries who will be fanning out across a variety of campuses to welcome the more than 640,000 students back to class. City News Service

UTLA notifies teachers about new media campaign, possible demonstrations

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A recent UTLA demonstration. (Photo: UTLA website)

UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl welcomed teachers to the new school year and urged them to get involved in a media campaign for late August, according to a recorded robo-call that went out last night.

In the recorded message by Caputo-Pearl sent out Sunday night before teachers return to school, he complimented teachers for the “amazing people and work in our public schools” throughout the district.

He also said union chapter meetings will be held starting the second week of school that will discuss the unprecedented media campaign and call for possible demonstrations later in the school year. The school district may be involved with a nationwide “walk-in” in October as they did last year.

• Read more: UTLA president’s aggressive 10-point plan for upcoming battles

The UTLA president also repeated his call that “billionaires should not be driving the public school agenda,” talking about wealthy Californians who the union says undermine public schools.

The robo-call is meant for the 31,000 teachers represented in district schools and some charter schools at LA Unified.

Starting late August and running through the month of September, the UTLA public relations campaign will include billboards, posters and online messages that will feature union members, students and parents from the district.

Their social media campaign will use #wearepublicschools. The plan for the campaign is to create a “positive public narrative around the great things happening in our district public schools, featuring educators, students and parents, while beating back the corporate charter narrative and to share our vision for fully funded neighborhood community schools.”

New program at Nightingale Middle School for college-bound students


Principal Rafael Gaeta (Courtesy: LAUSD)

An announcement from LA Unified. For more see lausd.net.

At Nightingale Middle School, a college degree is within grasp, thanks to a new program there requiring students and their parents to attend Saturday classes. The Neighborhood Academic Initiative has a new home at Nightingale in the Highland Park area of Los Angeles. Directed by the University of Southern California, the initiative is a rigorous seven-year enrichment program designed to help students become college graduates.

“Nightingale Middle has a special place in my heart because it is part of the Cypress Park community that I grew up in, so I am always excited to see our students participate in unique programs like this,” said Board Member Dr. Ref Rodriguez. “Because of Principal Rafael Gaeta’s leadership and USC’s investment in our young people, Nightingale continues to expand opportunities for our students by putting them on a solid and affordable path to college.”

To qualify, only 34 sixth-grade students will be selected to participate. The applicant must be a first-generation college-bound student, and will attend the Saturday Academy, held at the USC campus in East Los Angeles. The Saturday Academy is a 10-week per semester program that offers students support in math, English, science and other core subjects.

Low-income students, who complete the program (grades six-12) and choose to attend USC, will be rewarded with a full, 4.5-year financial package, minus loans.

“We are very excited to partner with USC to offer this opportunity to our Nightingale students,” said Gaeta, principal of Nightingale Middle School. “Our students are more than ready to meet the challenge to become college and career ready and attend USC in the future.”

A sixth-grade orientation was recently offered to families. Additionally a session will be held for parents and students to meet USC representatives and answer their questions about the program.

Gaeta said that once students graduate from Nightingale, they will attend either Wilson or Lincoln high schools where the initiative is also offered.

Since 1997, students participating in the program have graduated high school with a 99 percent college-going rate.

Exclusive: Where have all the middle school students gone? The key battlefield in LAUSD enrollment drop

LA Unified is fighting a costly enrollment slide, and its biggest battleground is middle schools.

As the district has lost 133,000 students since 2006, data show the biggest consistent declines in enrollment outside of high school over the past 10 years occur when students enter sixth grade.

And the drop has become more pronounced in recent years.

“There is this exodus that does happen in the middle school grades,” said school board member Ref Rodriguez. “When you have a choice and an option, parents look for those other options.”

In the 2007-08 school year, there was a 10 percent decrease in the number of sixth-graders enrolled in district schools compared to fifth-graders the year before. Last year, the decline was 16 percent.

During the past 10 years, the district lost more than 41,581 students from fifth to sixth grade. Even after accounting for the growth of charter schools, nearly 15,000 students simply vanished from the public school system. 

The district middle school that saw the biggest decline in enrollment over the past five years was Gage Middle School, though part of the decline was intentional, officials say.

In 2011, 2,569 sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders attended the Huntington Park school as of that October, according to district enrollment data. The students were staggered on a year-round calendar because there wasn’t enough room in the school for all of them to attend classes at the same time.

Five years later, at the start of school last fall, enrollment was down to 1,707 students. The school has been on a traditional calendar for three years.

Principal Cesar Quezada said part of the enrollment decline is because the district opened two schools — Walnut Park Middle and Orchard Academies — to ease the overcrowding at Gage.

But another reason Quezada believes that students are leaving Gage Middle School is because of the growth of charter schools.

In terms of the Huntington Park community, there are so many different charter schools in this area,” Quezada said.

Rena Perez, director of LA Unified’s Master Planning and Demographics, said it is unclear why sixth-grade enrollment consistently declines in district schools. She said her office doesn’t track individual students. But charter schools might have an influence.

According to independent charter school enrollment data compiled by LA Unified, there has been a steady and dramatic increase of students in charter schools in sixth grade compared to fifth grade.

In 2015-16, there was a 90 percent increase of sixth-graders enrolled in charter schools compared to fifth-graders the year before.

“It would appear that, yes, there is some increase in enrollment from fifth to sixth grade at charter schools that might account for the decrease in enrollment at district schools,” Perez said.

However, when looking at the raw numbers there is still a portion of students who are leaving district schools and not ending up at charter schools.

For example, there were 41,657 students enrolled in fifth grade in 2014-15 at district schools. The next year, there were 35,125 sixth-graders enrolled at district schools — a loss of 6,532 students.

At independent charter schools, there was an influx of 4,624 students in sixth grade in 2015-16 compared to fifth-graders the year before, which means about 1,900 students left the district schools and went somewhere other than a charter.

When looking at the entire 10 years of enrollment data, 41,581 fifth-graders in district schools did not enroll in sixth grade in district schools. During that timeframe, charters gained 26,748 students in sixth grade who were not enrolled in fifth grade. That meant 14,833 students left the district and did not enroll in an independent charter school authorized by LA Unified.

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John Deasy: Bridging the chasm between the world and me — my promise to Ta-Nehisi Coates

Ta-Nehisi Coates

By John Deasy 

“First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Councillor or the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is absent of tension to a positive peace which is in the presence of justice; who constantly says: ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action’ … Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

An open letter to Mr. Ta-Nehisi Coates:

Mr. Coates, I have read with great interest your many provocative and painful articles and books over these past few years. I feel I must speak louder and broader about my reaction, my realizations, and my responsibilities; in writing to you, I am acutely aware of the imprecision of my language, so I ask forgiveness for my prose, and seek acceptance of my purpose.

I cannot come to any other conclusion about our country’s current state of affairs than that I believe we are now engaged in an uncivil war. The evidence is everywhere: our streets, our schools, our courts, our financial system, our borders, our neighborhoods — and, of course, our politics. I watch people being killed, being re-enslaved in poverty, being removed from the middle class; I watch as walls are erected to prevent upward mobility; I watch seemingly incomprehensible reactions to murder, market manipulation, and monstrously hateful rhetoric; I watch a criminal justice system that seems detached from justice, the willful and deliberate incarceration of our youth, and the deliberate means of school punishment perverted in ways to sort out young black men, and other youth of color.

I watch adults model rhetoric and incivility at a level of such hate and invective that it shames the soul.

This uncivil war is being fought in boardrooms, classrooms, jails and housing patterns; on street corners and throughout our political process. It has many causalities, and I by no means make light of death or destruction (for I am sick and tired of burying children), but I fear the greatest casualty is yet to come: that of a destruction of belief. Belief in our system of governance, education, finance — and most of all our structures built around belief in one another.

Layered in the paralyzing prose you have penned is the chilling statement that you have come to expect nothing from us.

Mr. Coates, you so eloquently place the conditions and plight of the black family in front of us, starkly, without apology. But then I put down your book, and see nothing being done to remedy these wrongs. Again, I read, like so many others, the chilling implications of our collective inaction. (One need only review the New York Times article by David Leonhardt on The 1.5 Million Missing Black Men to fully understand your points of pain.)

As a career educator and public leader, I know much the same could be written about our Latino brothers and sisters, our yet-to-be-documented youth, our families who have recently descended into poverty. Your words also aptly apply to our rehabilitated felons who are seemingly no longer considered full citizens, and also our workers who earn minimum wage for work no politician will do, even as those same leaders push back against efforts to raise the minimum wage.

However, the excruciating impacts of America’s twin original sins — slavery and segregation — leave you no choice but to focus on our black brothers and sisters and their families. Wage justice, criminal justice, social justice, community justice, health justice and environmental justice seem to have been removed from “Equal Justice Under the Law.”

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Morning Read: LAUSD adds new classes in an effort to halt enrollment decline

LAUSD expands class offerings to slow declining enrollment
With most Los Angeles Unified students returning to classes Tuesday after summer break, the nation’s second-largest school district is expected to see its 14th consecutive year of declining enrollment. As of last year, LAUSD schools have lost more than 86,400 students — 15 percent of its population — since 2009-10. The district is projected to lose another 13,500 students this school year and another 13,200 next year, according to budget documents. By Brenda Gazzar, Los Angeles Daily News

2 more candidates enter LAUSD school board races


Two more people this week entered the March 7 race for LA Unified school board.

Gregory Martayan will join Nick Melvoin in challenging board President Steve Zimmer for his District 4 seat. And Joanne Baltierrez-Fernandez joins one other challenger in seeking an open seat in District 6.

Martayan and Baltierrez-Fernandez filed with the city Ethics Commission on Tuesday an intent to raise money for their respective races. Candidates officially file to run for the seats in November.

Zimmer has represented school board District 4, which includes the Westside and Hollywood, since 2009. In his latest re-election bid, he won with 52 percent of the vote.

Melvoin has taken a wide early lead in fundraising. The latest campaign finance records show Melvoin has raised $124,344 from Jan. 1 through June 30. Records show that Zimmer raised $7,304 in the same period.

Melvoin touted grassroots support for his campaign.

Zimmer said he has been focused on statewide ballot measures in the Nov. 8 election, including Prop. 55, an extension of income taxes on the wealthy for public education, and Prop. 58, which would repeal a law that prohibits non-English languages from being used in public schools. Zimmer said he is also working to elect Democrat Hillary Clinton as president.

Martayan did not immediately return a request for comment.

In the board District 6 race, where Monica Ratliff is not seeking re-election as she is running for Los Angeles City Council, Baltierrez-Fernandez joins Araz Parseghian in running for the seat. The district encompasses the east San Fernando Valley.

Neither candidate has reported any fundraising or spending to the Ethics Commission. Both just filed their intentions to run this month.

Baltierrez-Fernandez unsuccessfully ran for the 39th District state Assembly seat occupied by Patty Lopez. She came in fourth in the June primary.

Baltierrez-Fernandez, who served on the San Fernando City Council from 1994 to 1999, said Friday that as she was campaigning for the state Assembly seat, many LA Unified school district issues came up.

She is a mental health clinician and said she sees that there is a need for more mental health services in the public school system.

“Children can’t learn if they’re angry, depressed or worried,” she said.

The other seat up for election is in board District 2 occupied by Monica Garcia since 2006.

Four candidates have filed paperwork with the Ethics Commission to raise money to run for the seat, which covers East LA, Pico-Union, downtown Los Angeles and its surrounding neighborhoods.

Garcia has dominated early fundraising, the latest campaign finance records show. Seeking her third term on the seven-member board, Garcia collected $119,858 in donations between Jan. 1 and June 30. One challenger, Carl Petersen, raised $805 in the same period.

Other candidates for the seat are Berny L. Motto, Walter Bannister and Manuel “Manny” Aldana Jr., who all filed their paperwork within the past two weeks.

Morning Read: New MiSiS tool tracks English Learners to help with reclassification

How LA Unified plans to help schools track English Learners to proficiency

A new tool handled by LA Unified’s MiSiS computer system will help give principals monthly reports on the more than 140,000 English Learner students. Research shows that students who are not reclassified as English proficient by middle school are at a higher risk of not graduating. The new reports will allow them to track individual students and their progress. By Kyle StokesKPCC

The Partnership for Los Angeles Schools adds Grape Street Elementary to its network

PartnershipThe Partnership for Los Angeles Schools and LA Unified announced today that Grape Street Elementary in Watts will be added into the organization’s network of schools. It will be the 19th school the nonprofit organization will now operate.

“The district approached us about supporting Grape Street, and the promise there is as great as the need, so we are excited to get involved,” said Partnership CEO Joan Sullivan.

The five-year memorandum of understanding signed between the district and the Partnership “includes a plan to strengthen instructional practices, implement socio-emotional learning, support teacher and school leader development and increase parent engagement,” according to a press release from the Partnership.

The Partnership schools in South LA, Watts and Boyle Heights are part of a nonprofit started by former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in 2007 while he was still in office. Although still considered traditional district schools, they receive extra funding and support through philanthropic donations and coordination with over 1,000 public and private partners.

The Partnership targets struggling schools and has a track record of improving student performance. According to the Partnership, the organization’s graduation rate has more than doubled, from 36 percent to 77 percent, since its inception, and the organization says it has also seen gains every year on math and literacy assessments. The Partnership last month added 20th Street Elementary to its network, ending a two-year “parent trigger” battle at the school.

One thing that made Grape Street a good fit for the Partnership is that it is a feeder school for Markham Middle School and Jordan High School, which are already part of the Partnership network.

“The Partnership for Los Angeles Schools has been an exceptional partner to LA Unified,” said Local Area South Superintendent Chris Downing in a statement. “This is the second year in a row we have asked them to partner with us in order to propel the progress at our school sites.”

Grape Street has struggled in recent performance indicators. On the California Office of Reform Education (CORE) school accountability system, which was released this year, Grape Street scored a 30 out of 100, while the average score at LA Unified was 60. On the 2015 Smarter Balanced standardized tests, 14 percent of Grape Street students met or exceeded the English language arts test standard and 13 percent met or exceeded the math standard, compared to 33 percent for the district as a whole in English and 25 percent for the district in math.

Grape Street in the 2015-16 school year had a total of 623 students, according to the California Department of Education. Seventy-one percent were Latino, 26 percent were African-American, 43 percent were English learners and 95 percent qualify for free and reduced price lunch.

Sullivan said parents and students at Grape Street “can expect to see a commitment. We are in it for the long haul. We are excited to work with these schools not just over months, but over years and decades,” Sullivan said. “From a macro perspective, we are a capacity building organization, so we invest in building capacity among the adults who serve our children.”

First single-sex school in California in 20 years plans big GALA Friday

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Summer outing with new GALA students at Will Rogers State Historic Park. (Courtesy: GALA)

On the first day of orientation for her all-girls school on Wednesday, Principal Liz Hicks seemed relatively calm. She personally answered her phone at her office as she was in the middle of preparing for the high-profile school celebration coming up Friday morning.

“I’m feeling a little pressure, but I’m mostly excited because this dream is really coming true,” Hicks said.

The Girls Academic Leadership Academy, known as GALA, is a middle and high school that will be the first traditional single-sex school in LA Unified. It’s also the first to open in all of California in nearly 20 years, according to LA Unified’s communications office.

“I guess I’m not too nervous because I’ve had such tremendous support from the community and the school district,” Hicks reflected.

Among her biggest supporters are those planning to come to the Friday morning grand opening: Superintendent Michelle King, school board President Steve Zimmer and school board Vice President George McKenna, who also encouraged a new district all-boys school to be opened by next year. Those school leaders will attend the launching of the school along with State Sen. Holly Mitchell, State Assemblyman Sebastian Ridley-Thomas and Mount St. Mary’s President Ann McElaney‐Johnson. The keynote speaker addressing the faculty and students will be Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s wife, LA’s First Lady Amy Elaine Wakeland, another longtime supporter of the all-girls school.

“We are so honored to have (Wakeland) speak because she will talk about the status of girls in Los Angeles, and she is such an inspiration for the girls,” Hicks said. “And so is Michelle King.”


GALA Principal Liz Hicks. (Courtesy: GALA)

At her State of the District speech on Tuesday, King mentioned GALA and its STEM program that will introduce girls to science, technology, engineering and math and encourage them to pursue degrees and professions where females are underrepresented. King did not mention in her speech that the first all-girls charter middle school, GALS, which stands for the Girls Athletic Leadership School of Los Angeles, is also starting up in the district this year.

Both all-girls schools can use a few more students on their rosters, and they have developed a unique positive coalition of cooperation between charter and traditional schools that seems to be rare at LA Unified.

“We help each other as much as possible, it’s not a typical model in LA where we’re thought to be in competition with charters,” Hicks said. “It’s to our benefit that we both succeed.”

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Commentary: The hidden crisis of teacher turnover in Los Angeles’ public schools



This is the first in a five-part series about teacher sustainability in Los Angeles and California public schools and the available solutions to reversing teacher turnover.

When I was growing up in Birmingham, Ala., nearly 30 years ago, the same teachers taught kindergarten year after year. It was almost a given that my sister would have the same four options for teachers at each grade level as I had two years before. Everyone in our community knew that Ms. Mayfield loved giraffe gifts and Ms. Dorsett sang to her students. Teachers only left the classroom when they retired, or perhaps moved to another city.

Today, in most public schools in Los Angeles, somewhere between 40 percent and 50 percent of teachers leave the classroom within five years. Let me put that into perspective. That means, on any given school site, that if you have a child who starts kindergarten in 2016, and another one who will start in 2021, approximately half of the staff will be new by the time your second child enters a classroom. In Oakland, that number is a staggering 70 percent.

Teacher turnover isn’t just a problem in California. Nationwide, more than 46 percent of teachers leave the classroom within five years (see chart below from researcher Richard Ingersoll). This costs our school districts nationwide over $2.2 billion every year.


(Credit: Richard Ingersoll’s teacher attrition study)

You can calculate the cost of teacher turnover in your own district by using this calculator from the National Council on Teaching and America’s Future.

But this isn’t just a money problem.

When a great teacher leaves a school site (or more than a few a year, which is more of the current average), there are many effects on the school site ecosystem:

  1. Expertise is lost. Ask any teacher how long it took them to get really good at his or her job, and you’ll hear almost unanimously, “At least five years.” Teaching is hard—and it takes a handful of years to feel like you know what you’re doing, how to manage a classroom and affect the academic outcomes that you, your principal and the government want. Every time a teacher leaves, academic and social expertise is lost. And who does that hurt the most? Kids.
  1. Community connections are lost. Most good teachers work very hard at making positive connections with their students and their students’ families. Many great teachers build powerful partnerships with community organizations (like after-school tutoring programs with local businesses or college students). When the teacher who created those connections leaves, it’s very difficult to maintain that same level of engagement with those specific families and community organizations. Schools should be active community spaces, and teacher turnover makes that more difficult to maintain.
  1. Emotional stability for students suffers. In many of our communities, especially in underserved urban areas, school sites are one of the most stable fixtures in students’ lives. Most pre-teens and teenagers actively emotionally develop by attaching to adults outside their nuclear families. In addition, students affected by autism, homelessness, childhood trauma and the foster care system need stability in their teaching populations at an even higher level. When teachers make vital connections to these marginalized youth and then leave, the students in our public schools are affected emotionally and academically.
  1. School site productivity is affected. Every year, administrators across Los Angeles invest time and money into professional development for teachers. The goal of professional development is to use continuing education to continually increase the productivity and cohesion of a faculty. When teachers leave on a regular basis, administrators must waste time and money repeating professional development for new teachers and never get to move their entire staff forward with higher levels of academic and organizational development. Teachers must spend time and energy investing in new department teams, new personal relationships and “catching new staff up” on school culture, student needs and community expectations.

If we intend to provide educational spaces where all students (especially those in underserved, urban schools) thrive emotionally and meet the continually increasing standards set out by the Common Core and the Next Generation Science Standards, we must create educational policy and systems which value the sustainability of the teaching force.

Jane Mayer is a former LA Unified and charter school teacher in Los Angeles. She currently directs the Los Angeles region of a nonprofit organization, The Teaching Well, committed to transforming education by prioritizing teacher well-being and sustainability.

*UPDATED to add author’s note:

I am thrilled at the energy around this topic, as evidenced by the comments and shares of the article on Facebook since yesterday. It’s part of my life’s work to engage educators in reimagining solutions to public education, especially as a former teacher. Over the next several weeks, LA School Report will publish four more articles on the topic which detail WHY teachers leave and how we can solve it. If you are interested in sharing your story, email me at janemayer@theteachingwell.org. I would love to hear and integrate your voices into the exposure of this critical issue.

Morning Read: LAUSD parents and teachers want later school start date

LAUSD students go back to school Aug. 16, but parents and teachers say that’s too soon

On Aug. 16, most students in the Los Angeles Unified School District will return to the classroom. But according to a survey of LAUSD parents and employees, summer fun doesn’t last long enough. The district conducted a phone survey in September 2015 to gauge what its employees and parents of students want future school calendars to look like. A majority of both parents and district employees were in favor of pushing the school year start date back into September — sometime after Labor Day. By Ryan FonsecaLA Daily News

Commentary: LA teachers head is ready to incite a ‘state crisis’ if union demands are not met

Alex Caputo-Pearl

Alex Caputo-Pearl

Alex Caputo-Pearl is the president of United Teachers Los Angeles, a union that has a long and storied history of discarding presidents elected as firebrands but who reign as defenders of the status quo. Caputo-Pearl seems determined to end that cycle and bring teacher union militancy to the entire state of California.

In a July 29 speech to at the UTLA Leadership Conference, Caputo-Pearl outlined the union’s plans as it readies for the expiration of its contract next year and a gubernatorial election in 2018.

“The next year-and-a-half must be founded upon building our capacity to strike, and our capacity to create a state crisis, in early 2018,” Caputo-Pearl told an audience of 800 activists. “There simply may be no other way to protect our health benefits and to shock the system into investing in the civic institution of public education.”

While it’s not clear what form a “state crisis” would take, Caputo-Pearl described a series of actions the union will undertake in coming months, beginning with a paid media campaign denouncing “billionaires … driving the public school agenda” and a “massive” political mobilization to ensure the November passage of Proposition 55, which would extend a 2012 measure that raised taxes on high-earning residents to fund schools.

UTLA will then set its sights on the next Los Angeles Unified School District board elections.

“We must face off against the billionaires again in the School Board elections of 2017, and WE MUST WIN,” Caputo-Pearl said, explaining that the next board would vote on a new contract. The union needed to help elect a board that would resist a “vigorous campaign to cut our benefits” by district leaders, he suggested.

But Caputo-Pearl isn’t content to shape LAUSD’s agenda. He hopes to organize the entire state.

“All of the unions representing LAUSD workers and the teachers unions in San Diego, San Bernardino, Oakland and San Francisco share our June 2017 contract expiration date,” he said. “We have an historic opportunity to lead a coordinated bargaining effort across the state.

“Coordinated action could dramatically increase pressure on the legislature and fundamentally shape the debate in the 2018 Governor’s race.”

Caputo-Pearl stopped short of calling for a multi-city teacher strike, but pointing to a common contract expiration date that enabled “coordinated action” put it on the table.

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UTLA president’s aggressive 10-point plan for upcoming battles


UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl

The president of the LA teachers union, UTLA, outlined an aggressive plan for the coming year during a speech on July 29 at the 2016 UTLA Leadership Conference at the Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles.

Predicting that LA Unified will look to cut UTLA’s health benefits in 2017, along with other coming battles, Alex Caputo-Pearl said that “the next year-and-a-half must be founded upon building our capacity to strike, and our capacity to create a state crisis, in early 2018.”

Caputo-Pearl then walked through a 10-point action plan aimed at achieving strike readiness and advancing the union’s agenda between now and early 2018:

  1. Media campaign  UTLA plans on launching its first paid media campaign in years starting this month. The campaign will use billboards, signs, bus benches and more aimed at pressing an anti-charter school agenda. “This is a major intervention in shaping the public narrative, and there will be a key role for you in amplifying the media campaign through social media,” Caputo-Pearl told the crowd.
  2. Prop. 30 extension — The union will organize to help pass an extension of Proposition 30, now called Proposition 55, which seeks to extend the temporary personal income tax increases approved in 2012 on incomes over $250,000 for 12 years to be used for education and healthcare funding.
  3. Contract preparations — Caputo-Pearl said in preparations for the 2016-17 contract re-openers, UTLA leaders will engage hundreds of members in school-site dialogues about what priorities the union should have in the talks. He said some issues, like class size and salary, are already on the agenda, but other issues like the district’s ability to reconstitute schools, standardized testing and restorative justice implementation could also be prioritized.
  4. Anti-charter agenda — The UTLA president also outlined an agenda aimed at taking on independent charter schools in the district and the state. “This fall, we will build a community forum here in Los Angeles with Senator Ricardo Lara, chair of the Senate Appropriations committee,” he said. “The hearing will look specifically at the fiscal report on the impact of charters on LAUSD. It will look at changes to state law that will be necessary if we want to protect the civic institution of public education from insolvency.” He also talked of a plan to coordinate efforts with other teachers unions in the state that will also be entering contract negotiations soon.
  5. Organizing — UTLA will be launching a coalition in the fall with the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, the LA Alliance for a New Economy, and the Schools LA Students Deserve Grassroots Coalition to “bring parents, youth, clergy and community into efforts to push for community schools, public school accountability and educator unionization,” Caputo-Pearl said.
  6. Contract priorities — In the winter, Caputo-Pearl said UTLA “will initiate a systematic process to identify priorities for our full contract bargaining in 2017-18, through school site chapter meetings and collective surveys, and through input from committees. We will sunshine demands and plan for escalating actions as we head towards the expiration of our contract,” as well as develop coordinated bargaining for UTLA-represented charter schools.
  7. Training — Caputo-Pearl said UTLA “will continue our tradition of providing trainings and ongoing support for school site organizing and contract enforcement, from taking on bad principals, to organizing for effective school discipline programs, to holding administrators accountable to the contract, and more.” He added that additional money from a recent dues increase has been used to hire more staff to help achieve this.
  8. Social justice — As a way to stand for racial and social justice, Caputo-Pearl said UTLA will be “organizing for infusions of resources into our highest-needs schools. In a time of unprecedented wealth inequality, this is the right thing to do. It is also the strategically smart thing to do, because in the absence of a pro-active approach to these school communities, Broad-Walmart will target these schools for privatization, leading to a further undermining of the entire system.”
  9. Board elections — Caputo-Pearl said UTLA is already endorsing LA Unified school board President Steve Zimmer for reelection, as he faces off against Nick Melvoin and any other challengers that may enter the race. “We expect the billionaires to come hard after Zimmer again and we have to be ready. On top of this, the composition of the school board will be up for grabs as board districts 2 and 6 also have elections,” Caputo-Pearl said.
  10. More money for political action — Caputo-Pearl said UTLA will encourage its members to invest in its political action fund, PACE, in preparation to fight the Great Public School Now plan — which he calls the Broad-Walmart plan due to it being funded partially by the Broad Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation — and to fund school board candidates UTLA endorses.

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Morning Read: LAUSD will add 9 more dual language immersion programs

Dual language programs could get boost with initiative on November ballot

With a growing number of parents embracing the value of their children learning a second language, nine more dual immersion programs are coming to L.A. Unified when schools open next week. Among the additions are one in Armenian and another in Arabic, giving the district 65 such programs, a 25 percent increase over the last three years. By Michael Janofsky, EdSource

LAUSD’s graduation rate a record 75 percent, Michelle King announces at her first State of the District address

Michelle King announced a record 75 percent graduation rate at her first State of the District address as superintendent of LA Unified, “a district on the move,” she proclaimed Tuesday.

King noted that the 75 percent rate is based on “preliminary data” as she addressed 1,500 principals, assistant principals and district administrators at the annual kick-off to the school year, held at Garfield High School in East Los Angeles.

“We are a district on the move,” King said after her speech, when asked what she wants the general public to know about the second-largest school district in the country. “The movement and trajectory is from the earliest youth, pre-K and not just stopping at high school but through college. Right now our preliminary data shows that the class of 2016 is at 75 percent graduation. It Is supposed to be as high as we can get it. It is better than we’ve done in the past. Last year was 72 percent, and we’ve exceeded that.”

The graduation rate jumped nearly 3 percentage points over last year despite a new requirement that students pass a rigorous college-prep curriculum in order to earn a diploma. The slate of classes known as the “A-G curriculum” qualifies students to attend California’s public universities.


Michelle King at her first State of the District address.

She added, “This is exceeding expectations of those who said our students couldn’t do it. Today we say our students can and will thrive to meet the standards to be college-ready.”

The theme of King’s address was “A District on the Move,” and she introduced a promotional video of the same name showing the district’s successes. She also emphasized that “we’re in it together,” and she peppered her speech with more than a dozen names of principals and administrators in the audience that she congratulated for their successes.

Among those she called out included: California’s National Distinguished Principal Marcia S. Reed of 186th Street Elementary School in Gardena; teachers Anthony Yom and Sam Luu and Principal Jose Torres of Lincoln High School who helped every student pass the demanding Calculus Advanced Placement examinations; and Hesby Oaks Leadership Charter Principal Movses Tarakhchyan who required all of his staff to learn CPR and then saved a cafeteria worker when she collapsed this year.

“Together we are turning the tide in a district on the move,” King said. “We are at our best when we are unified and working together as a team.”

All of the school board members except Ref Rodriguez and Richard Vladovic attended the speech, held one week before the Aug. 16 start of school. School board President Steve Zimmer gave a rousing introduction, calling King “not only the best but most qualified leader in public education in the United States.”

Zimmer thanked his fellow board members, school police and principals for their response to the terrorist threat that closed down the schools on Dec. 15. “We hope that never happens again, but if it does, LA became the model on how we all come together and work together and be strong together in the face of danger.”

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Marcia Reed, in white sweater, was one of the principals honored by Michelle King.

King noted safety as a top priority. “As I talk to parents, one topic that continuously emerges is school safety in this time when the headlines are dominated by tragedy and violence. Our students, families and employees want to feel safe, and I am committed to ensuring that they do.”

King also announced:

• Preliminary results of last year’s Smarter Balanced Assessments show that some math and English scores have improved by as much as 7 percent.

• Nearly 200 Title III coaches for English learners have been added.

• 1,000 classrooms in bungalows will be replaced this year with new, modern classrooms.

• Linked Learning will expand to 20,000 students.

• 16 new magnet schools will start this year, including firefighter academies at Wilson and Banning high schools and the very first robotics magnet at Mulholland Middle School.

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