McKenna sworn in as LAUSD board’s seventh member

George McKenna sworn into office LAUSD district 1George McKenna, third from left, officially became the seventh member of the LA Unified school board today, representing District 1, after he was sworn in by Rev. Jesse Jackson, left.

Congresswoman Maxine Waters, second from left, and Danny Bakewell, publisher of the LA Sentinel, far right, also participated in the brief ceremony, which preceded the board’s first meeting of the new school year.

Describing the ceremony as “an emotional experience for me,” McKenna said, “I take this oath more seriously than any other oath I’ve taken.”

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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Vergara decision: Big win for students, big loss for teachers union

Students lawyer Marcellus McRae at Vergara Press Conference LAUSD

Students’ lawyer, Marcellus McRae, discussing Vergara decision.

This story is updated throughout the day

In a stunning defeat for California’s public school teachers unions, a state superior court today ruled in favor of students challenging teacher protection laws in Vergara v California.

It was a total triumph for the nine student plaintiffs, giving them a victory on all counts in an equal protection case aimed at striking down five laws that govern tenure, seniority and dismissal that the students argued kept ineffective teachers in their classrooms.

In his decision, Judge Rolf Treu said, “evidence has been elicited in this trial of the specific effect of grossly ineffective teachers on students. The evidence is compelling. Indeed, it shocks the conscious.”

He concluded that “all Challenged Statutes are found unconstitutional.”

The decision is temporary; final judgement may take as long as 30 days, depending upon any changes or modifications to the ruling. Meanwhile, Judge Treu stayed any changes in the laws, pending appeals.

“This is a monumental day for California’s public education system,” said Ted Boutrous, the lead attorney for the students. “By striking down these irrational laws, the court has recognized that all students deserve a quality education. Today’s ruling is a victory not only for our nine plaintiffs; it is a victory for students, parents, and teachers across California.”

Los Angeles Unified Superintendent John Deasy, who was the first witness to testify on behalf of the students in the eight-week trial, said: “This is a truly historic day for our education system. Today’s decision is a call to action to begin implementing, without delay, the solutions that help address the problems highlighted by the Vergara trial. Every day that these laws remain in effect is an opportunity denied. It’s unacceptable, and a violation of our education system’s sacred pact with the public.”

The plaintiffs in the case were nine California school children who claimed that they were deprived of a quality of education by the application of the laws. The state was the chief defendant, joined by its two biggest teacher unions — the California Teachers Association (CTA) and the California Federation of Teachers (CFT).

The state and the unions intend to appeal the decision, which requires filing within 60 days of the finalizing of Judge Treu’s decision.

Josh Pechthalt, the CFT president, said, “We know that this is not the last word on the case. We know what’s in the record of evidence, and we have a high degree of confidence that we will prevail on appeal.”

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LA Unified Honors 22 as district Teachers of the Year

LAUSDlogoLos Angeles Unified has named 22 educators as a Teacher of the Year for 2013-2014, and they will be honored at an event in September. Here’s the list:

Angeles Cajayon, Bryson Avenue Magnet Elementary School, a second-grade teacher there for 12 years.

Maricar J. Fortuno Catalán, Dr. Julian Nava Learning Academy – Business and Technology, is completing her first year as a seventh-grade life science/health teacher.

Isagani Celzo, Linda Esperanza Marquez High School – School of Social Justice, has been a math teacher there for two years.

Karen Finkel, Broadacres Elementary School, has been a second grade teacher there for 22 years.

Angel Gaines, Birdielee V. Bright Elementary School, has been a special education teacher there for six years.

Jay Gehringer, North Hollywood High School, is a computer science teacher and has been at the campus for 31 years.

Anne Gonzales, Walnut Park Middle School, an eighth-grade math teacher, has been in her current position for two years.

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JUST IN: LAUSD offers teachers 2 percent raise, union insulted

Teacher Salaries UTLA LAUSD teacher raiseLA Unified has opened contract negotiations with the teachers union, UTLA, offering a 2 percent raise for all teachers for the current school year, and another 2 percent increase next year.

The union immediately dismissed the offer in a news release, calling it “far short of what educators deserve after seven years without a pay raise and unabated increases in the cost of living.”

“Earlier this year, the LAUSD School Board saw fit to give Superintendent John Deasy the equivalent of a 15.8 percent raise,” Warren Fletcher, the out-going union president, said in the release. “Now they offer classroom teachers a two percent one-time payment? This is nothing short of an insult to every teacher and health and human services professional in LAUSD.”

Alex Caputo-Pearl, the in-coming president, said, “We urge LAUSD to come to the table with the recognition that our educators are the essential backbone of our public schools and that real respect given to educators translates into meeting the needs of students, schools, and communities.”

LA Unified Superintendent John Deasy declined to comment on on-going negotiations.

The contract offer, which was approved by the school board in closed session on May 20 and presented three days later, comes amid a cross-current of fiscal developments at the city and state level as California climbs out of a long recession.

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Where shame is policy: Inside LAUSD’s ‘teacher jail’

The NationVia The Nation | By JoAnn Wypijewski 

Iris Stevenson hurt no child, seduced no teenager, abused no student at Crenshaw High School in Los Angeles. This is what her supporters say in rallying outrage that this exemplary teacher has languished for months in the gulag of administrative detention known as “teacher jail”: she doesn’t belong there.

And she doesn’t.

Days before being removed from her music classes in December and ordered to spend her workdays isolated on a floor of the LA Unified School District (LAUSD) HQ with other suspect teachers, Stevenson, a legend in South LA and beyond, was at the White House directing the renowned Crenshaw Elite Choir as it sang for President Obama.

She has not been officially informed of the charges against her. Unofficially, Stevenson is said to have swept off the choir to perform first in Paris and then in Washington without permission—an absurd claim, since parents had to consent, and Stevenson has conducted such foundation-supported field trips untroubled for decades. District authorities say only that Stevenson is under investigation.

Read the full story here.

LAUSD labor relations lets the sunshine in (kinda)

Screen shot 2014-05-05 at 12.24.50 AMUPDATED*
A committee launched last year by LA Unified’s Office of Labor Relations to provide public information on labor negotiations is meeting today to discuss the district’s collective bargaining contracts. That the committee even exists has not been reported until now.

Called the “Sunshine Committee,” it is intended to bring transparency to the negotiating process. According to a district memo issued last August, the committee’s mission is to provide a forum for parent representatives to review initial bargaining proposals between LAUSD and its labor partners. Among the items on the agenda today are teacher evaluations and an initial bargaining proposal from the principals’ union, AALA.

The formation of the committee signals a policy change for the district, which for years fulfilled its disclosure requirements by giving only minimal public notice at school board meetings, as required by law. Any public access to the secretive negotiation process is a rarity in California, where negotiations with school employee unions is specifically exempted by law from the Brown Act, which requires public access to meetings of local agencies.

In practice, however, the new committee is still a long way from transparent. According to a district staff member, the Sunshine Committee’s meetings are not considered public; no minutes of the meetings are taken; the names of the parent-members appointed to the committee are not publicly available, and information about the contract proposals themselves is not posted on the website.

The staff member said the office is currently updating its website, and some documents relating to past meetings, could not be made available.

In addition to negotiating with the principals union (AALA), LA Unified is expected to enter into labor negotiations with its two largest labor partners SEIU and UTLA in the next few weeks.

Discussions related to collective bargaining issues is one of the few occasions in which school board members may meet or discuss issues outside of public view.

* A previous version of this story stated that a document presented before the committee in August was not available on the LAUSD website. It is, and can be found here.

At a District 1 forum, candidates sound alike on most issues

Candidates at USC forum district one LAUSD

Candidates at USC forum

When Angela Jauregui arrived Saturday at USC for a debate with five of the seven candidates running for LA Unified’s District 1 board seat, she told her friends she was there to listen.“

Let’s pay attention,” she said in Spanish as she shushed all three, found a seat in the first row of the lecture hall and put on a head set that translated the hour-long event.

What they heard was pretty much the same from each of the five candidates who participated in an event sponsored by Parent Revolution, the Los Angeles Urban League and Students for Education Reform (SFER). The participants: Rachel Johnson, a kindergarten teacher; George McKenna, a former school principal and superintendent; Genethia Hudley-Hayes, a previous board president; Alex Johnson, a deputy to LA County Supervisor Mark Ridley Thomas; and Hattie McFrazier, an educator and health and human services director.

Two other candidates, Omarosa Manigault and Sherlett Hendy-Newbill, had been invited but declined to appear. The special election to replace the late Marguerite LaMotte is June 3.

Between the testimonials from a handful of the Parent Revolutionaries who filled the room, the candidates’ answers differed very little in content, if not style. Often, they began by agreeing with whatever the person before them had just said.

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Parents, with some help, offer views on LAUSD spending plan

LAUSD Logo in iPadIt was “pencils down” day yesterday, for the members of the Parent Advisory Committee, who completed their first opportunity to weigh in on LA Unified’s Local Control and Accountability Plan, the so-called LCAP required of Gov. Jerry Brown‘s new Local Control Funding Formula.

The 47 parents and guardians selected to give feedback, have had two weeks to “live with” Superintendent John Deasy’s proposed 2014-15 school year budget. However,  Rowena Lagrosa, Executive Director of the district’s Parent Community Services Branch, admitted to LA School Report, “Some came more prepared than others.”

“Like all of us, when we’re given something to read as an assignment, we might have good intentions, but you show up that day and . . .” she trailed off. Later she explained, “It’s a heavy document that is filled with terminology inherent to LA Unified, which made it challenging to get through on their own.”

In anticipation of such an outcome, Parent Educator Coaches were assigned to lead groups of four to six committee members through the document and supporting materials section by section. Afterward, they outlined priorities for each of Deasy’s goals.

Lagrosa said it’s too early to identify trends for what are must-haves for parents, but the information will be compiled and presented to Deasy by the May 13 school board meeting.

The public can weigh in on the LCAP during the public speaking portion of the meeting.

McKenna riding decades of experience into District 1 race

George McKenna

George McKenna

Third in a series of profiles of candidates for LA Unified’s open District 1 board seat.

At 73 years old and now retired as an LAUSD administrator and principal, George McKenna shows no signs of slowing down.

With more than 35 years under his belt, serving in multiple roles in eight different schools in several districts, including principal at George Washington Preparatory High School and Superintendent of the Inglewood Unified School District, he says his vision for LA Unified’s District 1 is focused and clear.

Serving him best as a candidate in the June 3 special election for the district’s open board seat, he says, is an extensive background and deep understanding of the social and economic barriers to a quality education that low-income students face, such as gangs, poverty, learning English, and living in foster and single-parent households. And it’s that empathy, he says, that gives him the tools to help close the achievement gap.

“All of those barometers and measurements are crippling in District 1 and I know that it’s important, and I think I’ll be able to make a difference in board decisions that reflect adequacy of resources as opposed to equal resources when some children need more than others,” he told LA School Report.

He said the neediest children, regardless of what district they are in, should receive more resources because it benefits the entire school district. But he says there should also be a plan that measures the outcome.

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Commentary: UTLA needs online voting for a wider union voice

online votingBy Linda Yaron

A vote for online voting next month might be the most important decision UTLA members make as a union. It has the potential to systemically increase teacher participation at a foundational level of our union and make it far easier for all members to have a voice.

As a 10-year teacher in LAUSD, I’ve seen, and have experienced, various levels of participation in the union. Though some teachers are engaged in union processes, many are not. Teacher and online voting proponent Marisa Crabtree states, “The majority of the union is disengaged from the voting process.  This is disconcerting when the union leadership is directly responsible for decisions that directly affect our workplace.”

At the very basic level, voting itself can be a transformative tool to leverage the union as a vehicle to improve student learning and teaching conditions.  Yet, in the 2011 leadership elections, only about 10,000 teachers voted — less than a third of our members.  In both rounds of voting in this year’s elections, barely a quarter of our members cast ballots as they elected Alex Caputo-Pearl the next president.

If we are to truly have a union that represents the voices and needs of teachers and the students we teach, we must both examine the causes of low participation and take steps to make it easier for our busy and overworked teachers to have a voice. The first step is to make it easier for teachers to vote.

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LA Unified board issues warning to CHAMPS over theft

Screen Shot 2014-04-22 at 2.43.00 PMDespite hearing assurances that there are no longer fiscal mismanagement problems at Charter High School of Arts – Multimedia and Performing, better known as CHAMPS, the LA Unified school board voted unanimously today to issue a Notice of Violations, usually the first step in revoking a charter.

At issue is how the school responded to an employee misusing a school-issued credit card.

Appearing before the board to clarify the district’s action, Robert Perry, Administrative Coordinator of LA Unified’s Charter Schools Division, told the members that the CHAMPS staff should view the decision as “an opportunity to remedy, with clear documentation.”

If it’s provided by a May 2 deadline, he said, efforts to close the school could stop.

Several people from CHAMPS, including Joanne Saliba, the out-going executive director, tried to convince the board members that the episode was an anomaly and actions have been taken to make sure it would not happen again.

In September 2013, school officials discovered an employee who was hired as a fundraiser used a school-issued credit card to charge $27,000 worth of personal items. When the theft was discovered, the school’s board of directors took no disciplinary action and tried to contain the problem internally.

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A new $33,600 grant is music to LA Unified’s ears

images-1Music is returning to LA Unified, at least in some schools, thanks to a grant from the SoCal Acura Dealers Association and EcoMedia, a company that helps provide financial support for underfunded projects.

The grant, totaling $33,600, will help national nonprofit Little Kids Rock to expand its music education programming to more than 8,400 music students in LAUSD.

As part of the donation, musical instruments will be delivered tomorrow to Pio Pico Middle School’s Modern Band music program, which is part of Little Kids Rock’s free programming.

“With this donation, many more children will have the opportunity to unlock their inner-music makers,” said David Wish, Little Kids Rock founder.

The grant will help Little Kids Rock provide additional training, professional development and add more than 600 music instruments including guitars, drums, bass guitars and keyboards to the program.

LA County Fed decides not to endorse in the school board race

afl-cio_logoDelegates of the LA County Federation of Labor AFL-CIO, which represents 600,000 workers in the Los Angeles area, decided last night not to endorse any of the seven candidates for LA Unified school board after a motion to endorse candidate Alex Johnson failed to carry a required two-thirds majority vote.

The decision mirrors that of SEIU Local 99, the LA Unified support staff union, which also voted not to endorse anyone in the special election for the South LA seat, left vacant by the death of longtime school board member Marguerite LaMotte.

The vote was a reversal of sorts. Last week, the County Fed’s political action committee, COPE had voted to recommend “no endorsement” in the race, a decision made after interviewing four candidates: Alex Johnson, and the three teacher union-backed candidates, Sherlett Hendy-Newbill, Rachel Johnson and Hattie McFrazier. But a day later, that recommendation was trumped by the Federation executive board, which recommended Alex Johnson’s name be put before the delegates for a vote.

Johnson, an aide to County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, and a product of the LAUSD school system and American University Law School, is the top fundraiser in the election but has little name recognition.

The other three candidates, including George McKenna, considered by insiders to be a front-runner, were not involved in any round of the process because they failed to obtain a required letter of recommendation from any one of the 300 labor affiliates in the federation.

McKenna, a retired administrator, was the subject of a made-for-TV movie and has the backing of the prinicipal’s union, AALA.

LA Unified district 1 candidate forum scheduled for 6 tomorrow

imgresCandidates for LA Unified’s open District 1 board seat are gathering again tomorrow for a community forum at the West Adams Church of Christ, 4959 W. Adams Blvd.

So far,  said one of the organizers, Rashad Trapp-Rucker six of the candidates have committed to participate — all but Alex Johnson — with a moderator kicking things off at 6 p.m. with a series of questions about Common Core, Local Control Funding and other issues that will affect the district.

The session continues at 7, with questions from the audience.

The seven candidates are competing in a June 3 special election to fill the seat vacated by the late Marguerite LaMotte, who represented District 1 for 10 years through her death in December.


Vision to Learn helping students with eye exams and glasses

Vision to Learn Eye TestHow can students excel in the classroom — much less learn — if they can’t see what their teachers are writing on the whiteboard? It’s a problem that afflicts approximately 15 percent of elementary school students in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

But one organization is working toward a solution.

Today, Vision to Learn, a local nonprofit created by the Beutner Family Foundation, is partnering with nursing services for the District’s Education Service Center – East to provide 70 elementary school students and seven early education students with eye exams, and if necessary, eyewear.

“Our vans visit 250 schools across the school district throughout the year,” Yolanda Lasmarias, field coordinator for the District’s Education Service Center – East, told LA School Report. “At the schools, the certified school nurses administer an eye screening to see if the students need eyewear, and if they do, they send them out to one of our vans to see our optometrist who give the an eye exam.”

Since its inception in 2012, Vision to Learn has equipped over 14,000 students with eyewear and other forms of ocular assistance. Since last January, the group has been helping pre-K students to acquire the eyewear they need.

“If our optometrists see that a child has special eye-related needs, like for glaucoma, we will connect them with our hospital partners and arrange for the child to have surgery,” said Lasmarias.

Part of the logic behind offering on-site care is that in many cases, parents and/or guardians aren’t able to take leave from work to obtain the glasses for their children. Vision to Learn, however, can administer the screenings and exams, and set up the children with eyewear so long that parents and/or guardians give consent.

All of these services come at no cost to the parents.


Commentary: Mayor Garcetti’s elephant in the room



In his first State of the City speech, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti laid out a plan to boost job creation, safety and the city’s ability to compete in a global economy.

Noticeably absent, however, was any mention of the vast education challenges facing the city.

The Mayor’s vision of Los Angeles was notable for its optimism and his passion. And the half-hour speech (transcript here) was heavy on specifics — including a focus on neighborhood improvements, DWP rates and carpool lanes. He cited how he “pushed and prodded” the feds to open a lane on the 405 earlier than expected, and he pledged to “pave more streets and fix more sidewalks.”

But wait, is he talking . . . potholes?

I couldn’t help but flash back to my home town, Chicago, where the late Mayor Richard J. Daley, ran the city with an iron fist for more than 20 years in the 60s and 70s. Boss Daley knew how to fill a pothole, but sadly, at the same time he presided over a disastrous decline in the city’s pubic education system.

Mayor Garcetti’s goal, of “building a better city,” while admirable, is ultimately not achievable without addressing the elephant in the room — education — and his hands-off approach is bad for students, parents and ultimately the economy. The recent departure of Thelma Melendez, who carried the title of education deputy but in practice was almost invisible makes matters worse. And, so far, he hasn’t named a replacement.

Granted, the mayor’s office in Los Angeles officially exerts very little control over the vast LA Unified School District, run by an often fractured seven-member elected board. But that didn’t stop Garcetti’s predecessors from using the bully pulpit to try and enhance the educational opportunities for city students. The outgoing Mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, who considered improving public education his mission, devoted a large portion of his 2013 State of the City address to education and saw it as vitally linked to job-growth and the economy.

The district is slowly improving, but challenges like high dropout rates and low student achievement are so profound that it’s hard to argue that all hands should not be on deck, especially those of the mayor.

And the excuse of not having mayoral control? Well, the last time I looked, the mayor doesn’t have much influence on the 405 federal highway project, either.

Vergara teacher tenure case: point counterpoint

EdWeekEdweek has done a nice job providing opposing perspectives on the potential outcome of the Vergara v. California case, a lawsuit challenging the state’s teacher tenure and job protection laws.

Below are the two articles, the first of which claims that the case is a lose-lose for the plaintiffs and defendants, while the second lauds it as a revolution in education equality.


Why Vergara Is a Loser for Both Sides
Via Education Week | David Menefee-Libey and Charles Taylor Kerchner

The two contending sides wrapped up their cases last week in Vergara vs California, the education lawsuit being tried in Judge Rolf Treu’s Los Angeles Superior Courtroom. Treu has ninety days to make his ruling.

But from our perspective this is a case that the plaintiffs can’t win and the defendants will lose regardless of the outcome.

Vergara went to trial in January, with Beatriz Vergara and eight other school children suing to overturn the state’s teacher tenure and job protection laws.  Represented in court by former U.S. Solicitor General Theodore Olson and a team of star attorneys not accustomed to losing cases, the plaintiffs argue that those laws play out in classrooms and schools in ways that violate students’ rights to access equal education under the California constitution.
Read the full story, here.

Former LAUSD Leaders: Vergara Case a Turning Point in Education Equality
Via Education Week | Marlene Canter and Roy Romer

In all our years and roles in education, we’ve experienced firsthand almost every challenge facing our public school students. We’ve also seen many educational reforms that purport to solve those challenges come and go with varying levels of success.  Roy led the first ever National Goals Panel on education in the 80s, and focused on education as chair of the National Governors Association before becoming Superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD).  And Marlene, who was a special education teacher in LAUSD, co-founded a firm that became a very successful provider of teacher training materials, led the LAUSD Board through major transition just a few years ago, and is now the Board Chair for Green Dot Public Schools.

There is no “silver bullet” for education–one idea that will instantly fix everything–but we’ve become involved in something recently that perhaps comes the closest to a silver bullet as we’ve seen in our long careers.  A lawsuit currently pending the court’s decision has the potential to dramatically improve educational outcomes for every single student in California, especially our neediest students, and potentially in other states.

Read the full story, here.