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.

Groups stage a rally to show impact of LAUSD drop outs

Student Rally LAUSD Budget empty desks (1)

The sound of classroom silence.

As part of a rally by parents, education advocates and civil rights groups who represent Communities for Los Angeles Student Success, or CLASS, 375 desks were set up this morning at the LAUSD headquarters in downtown Los Angeles.

With downtown LA’s skyline as the backdrop, the empty desks represented the number of LAUSD school students who drop out of school each week, organizers said. The desks were placed along Beaudry Ave., which was closed to traffic for the rally, and were clearly visible to those attending today’s school board meeting.



Charter Groups want four unused LAUSD sites for new schools*

Maybe 4 fewer eyesores?

Maybe 4 fewer eyesores?

Two charter organizations want to take over four LA Unified public schools that have become an eyesore in the West San Fernando Valley, after closing more than three decades ago.

El Camino Real High School, which became a charter in 2011, has proposed taking over three of the school sites – Highlander, Platt Ranch and Oso Elementary.

Preliminary plans include converting the Highlander campus into a K-8 grade school, while Platt Ranch would become the new site of El Camino’s continuation high school. Oso, which is essentially crumbling, would be razed to allow the development of an outdoor science center with a self-contained eco system, green houses and gardens. The center would only be open to El Camino students.

Estimated costs for renovations at the three sites are approximately $18 million.

For another $12 million, the fourth site, Collins Elementary, would be operated by the CHIME Institute, a charter school based on an inclusive model of learning, which puts special needs and gifted students in the same classroom.

The new campus would allow CHIME to expand its K-8 grade school into high school. It projects an enrollment of 480 9-12th grade students.

The schools were initially shut down due to declining enrollment but at a meeting with  homeowners and community members last night, Mark Hovatter, Chief of Facilities for the district, assured community members that history would not repeat itself.

He said despite the exodus from traditional public schools, demand for charter schools is high.

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Torlakson celebrates rise in AP participation at LA magnet school

Tom Torlakson at LACES

Tom Torlakson at LACES

State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson was in town today visiting the Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies (LACES) as part of his week-long “AP Excellence Tour.”

Torlakson said the visits to high schools with innovative Advanced Placement courses are a “celebration” of a 10-year report from The College Board, showing impressive growth in enrollment statewide, especially among low-income and minority students. Nearly 41 percent of the 2013 graduating class took an AP exam, compared with only a quarter of graduates a decade before.

At LACES the numbers are even more impressive.

The popular magnet school offers 27 AP courses. Two thirds of students — that’s 600 out of 900 — enrolled in 9th through 12th grade are taking at least one AP class. About 40 percent of students take AP Calculus, and all 10th graders are automatically enrolled in AP World History.

It’s no wonder that the school is one of the most sought after LA Unified schools for students and parents.

Ellana Selig, Magnet Coordinator for LACES, a 6-12 school, told LA School Report that the school has received almost 1,200 applications for the 2014-15 school year. Only 240 were accepted into the sixth grade. Students in other grades are only accepted as LACES students leave for other schools. Selig says the school has a waiting list of 2,700 students still hoping to get in.

Acceptance letters went out on April 1st.

“You can imagine, my phone’s been ringing off the hook,” she said.

Teachers have ‘amazing’ response to centralized Grants HQ

Grants HQ LA FundJust two week after The Los Angeles Fund for Public Education (LA Fund) launched a new program, Grants HQ, that puts hundreds of millions of dollars in grant money at the fingertips of more than 30,000 LAUSD educators, the response has been “amazing.”

Now, teachers who want to enrich the education of their students, anything from obtaining new equipment to offering specialized courses, can search for grants through a centralized hub, and attend grant-writing workshops.

“The response has been amazing!” said Adena Tessler, Vice president of Mercury Public Affairs, in an interview with LA School Report, “Since we launched the program on March 17th, our classes are 97 percent full, and a few of them even have wait lists. Clearly, we’re going to have to look into creating more opportunities because there are so many teachers that want to learn how to write grants.”

As of last Thursday, more than 450 people had signed up and created profiles on the Grants HQ web site.

Before the program, teachers in LA Unified school had to sleuth around for private support to pick up where public funds left off. Even though these grants were available, finding one that fits a teacher’s grade level, project and eligibility, required a scavenger hunt to disparate corners of the Internet.

“Grants HQ put all of these grants into one place,” said Tessler, “and arranges them by category and grade level so that teachers can find the grants that they need.”

In addition to the program staples, teachers also have access to a full-time grant specialist who is available by phone or email.

Upon completing a grant application through Grants HQ, LA Fund will send an accompanying endorsement letter to the grant organization to signal both the quality of the application and that is was developed through the new program.

“We’re going to continue to look for more grants to add to our database,” said Tessler, “There are so many out there, so we’re trying to make this as comprehensive as possible.”


Education Chief Arne Duncan visits a ‘Promise’ land in LA*

Education Secretary Arne Duncan

Education Secretary Arne Duncan

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan came to Los Angeles today to shine a light on a White House initiative that takes a holistic approach to helping kids learn.

Duncan joined LA Unified Superintendent John Deasy and a group of teachers, students and leaders of the Youth Policy Institute at a community center in Hollywood. The center is part of the city’s two LA Promise Neighborhoods – Pacoima has the other — which include 19 full-service LA Unified community schools and six community centers, like the one Duncan and Deasy visited.

The Promise Neighborhoods, supported by a $30 million grant from the Obama administration, is one of President Obama’s signature education and poverty initiatives, to “transform schools and communities into vibrant centers of excellence and opportunity.” The idea behind it is to centralize community and educational services in one comprehensive program to serve families, with schools at the center of the agency networks.

They are modeled after the Harlem Children’s Zone, which fosters a “cradle-to-career” continuum of services. In Los Angeles, the centers are run in partnership with LA Unified, providing a wide array of wrap-around services, including job training for parents and teens, after-school tutoring, parenting classes and day care services.

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12 LAUSD teams compete in 2014 California academic decathlon

California Academic Decathlon 2014

Teams from a dozen LAUSD high schools will test their mettle in the 2014 California Academic Decathlon Contest as they compete against more than 50 teams from throughout state. The competition will take place tomorrow through Sunday in Sacramento, and the winner will represent California in this year’s United States Academic Decathlon competition, April 24-26 in Honolulu.

Students will compete in 10 categories: art, economics, essay, interview, language and literature, mathematics, music, science, social science and speech. This year’s study topic is World War I.

The competing LAUSD schools goes as follows:

Marshall High School (winner of the the District’s 2014 Academic Decathlon contest)
Granada Hills Charter
El Camino Real Charter
Taft Charter
Van Nuys
North Hollywood high school

The state winner will be announced at noon Sunday in Sacramento.


LA Unified, YMCA to break ground on new Westside facility

University High School

University High School

A large empty dirt lot sits at the Southwest corner of University High School’s campus in West Los Angeles.

It won’t be empty for long.

The Westside Family YMCA and LA Unified are set to break ground this summer on a 60,000 square-foot YMCA facility that will serve the community as well as Uni High students through a joint-use agreement.

The new two-level structure will mean additional space for the school to enhance physical education requirements and athletic programs.

“It gives our students a wider variety of physical education learning environments,” Principal Eric Davidson said in an interview.

Davidson said that the school’s gym doesn’t provide enough indoor space for students, but they will have access to the new YMCA gym as the school and the Y develop a schedule to meet the needs of both the community and the students.

Davidson said that officials at YMCA and LAUSD share the same vision for the project and expect it to “become a center for the community on the Westside.”

“It’s a great example of how a community organization and school can link together to provide an opportunity for success of our kids,” he said.

The collaboration began in 2007, leading to a lease agreement with LAUSD in 2009. The YMCA is only $2.5 million short of its $20 million fund-raising goal, with construction expected to be completed by next year.

The new Y will double the space of the existing Y, about a mile away.

“We outgrew it,” Ann Samson, the Y’s executive director, said of the older building.

Samson says the new facility will include a gym, two multi-purpose rooms, a community room, outdoor space on the roof with a walking track and basketball court and a parking structure for 200 cars.

“We’ll be able to service the community and accommodate more families and their schedules,” she said. “We’re going to be the anchor for building community and healthy lifestyles.”


LAUSD District 1 election still open to write in candidates

imagesWhile the ballot order for the seven qualified candidates has been set for the June 3 special election to fill the LA Unified District 1 seat, there’s still a chance for other candidates to compete.

The City Clerk’s office today explained the way a write-in candidate could join the campaign.

Here’s how: Any write-in candidate must file a Declaration of Intention with the City Clerk-Election Division by 5 p.m. May 20.

The Declaration of Intention must include a filing fee of $300 or nominating petitions with valid signatures of at least 500 but no more than 1,000 qualified, registered voters within LAUSD, Board District 1.

(Then campaign like hell.)



Schwarzenegger benefits LA after school programs with tank ride (VIDEO)

Hollywood star and former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger just launched the coolest campaign ever to benefit after-school programs in LAUSD and in other cities. The campaign comes in the form of a contest. For as little as $10 a ticket, you can win a ride with Schwarzenegger in his M47 Patton Tank. How awesome is that?

The money raised from the contest will go to After School All-Stars – a program Schwarzenegger founded — that aims to enrich students through health, academic and community leadership activities. After School All-Stars is partnered with LAUSD and serves thousands of students in the region, 86 percent of whom are minorities in Title 1 schools.

The contest ends today, so hurry to buy your ticket! Contest Link

LAUSD reports increase in charter school co-location approvals


24th Street Elementary, a school recently approved for charter co-location

LA Unified has released a preliminary list of charter school co-location proposals, showing that the district is offering more traditional school sites for co-locations for 2014-15 than in either of the previous two school years.

According to Lorena Padilla-Melendez, director of Community Relations for LAUSD’s Facilities Services Division, 80 traditional school sites were recently approved as “legally sufficient” for potential charter co-locations, a slight increase over the two prior years, when the district approved 69 and 75 facility requests, respectively.

The preliminary list of co-location proposals is comprised of applications from new charter schools requesting facilities for the first time, existing charter schools requesting renewals of their current facilities and existing charter schools that might need more space to accommodate a growing student body.

The charter schools filed their requests in November. The approval process hinges on the charter’s projections of their average daily attendance and whether the district agrees with the estimate, according to Padilla-Melendez. A charter has until May 1 to accept the district’s offer of the co-location, and if accepted, the charter can occupy the allotted site within 10 working days of the first day of instruction, according to the Prop 39 regulatory timeline.

California voters approved Proposition 39 in 2000, amending the state education code so that school districts must provide “reasonably equivalent” facilities to charter school students who would otherwise attend district schools.

Previous Posts: Charter renewal denied for two high-performing schoolsLAUSD leads Charter Schools Growth in California and NationCharter Schools Association Pushing Election for LaMotte Seat

LAUSD opens more fingerprint centers for volunteers

Tamar Galatzan 2-11-14

Board Member Tamar Galatzan represents the western half of the San Fernando Valley

LAUSD parents looking to volunteer at their child’s school no longer have to brave the LA freeways to get fingerprinted at the district’s downtown headquarters.

Thanks to a recently passed resolution sponsored by board members Tamar Galatzan, Steve Zimmer and Monica Garcia, parents can have their fingerprints processed at local Educational Service Centers, a change to encourage more parent volunteers across the district.

“Allowing volunteers to help on campus gives interested parents a way to support the school, and builds strong ties between school, home and community,” Galatzan said in a press release. “Research also shows that parent involvement is associated with higher student achievement.”

Applicants still must pay the $56 processing fee and show proof of a tuberculosis test, which can cost as much as $40 at a health clinic.

Fingerprinting is done weekdays, 8 am – 4 pm,  at these locations within LAUSD’s Educational Service Centers. The district recommends to call ahead for an appointment.

Previous Posts: Board Members Seeking to Ease Requirements for Volunteers

Community meetings ahead on CA school spending plan

Screen Shot 2014-02-18 at 11.12.08 AM

via the LAUSD Parent Community Services Branch

A series of meetings are scheduled to help LA Unified parents and other community members learn about the new Local Control Funding Formula, the state’s new funding stream. A coalition of advocacy groups known as CLASS, as well as LAUSD board members are holding community meetings to help the public understand the changes. Below is a guide to meetings scheduled in the coming weeks.

Click here to see the schedule.

Watch Now: Livestream coverage of today’s LAUSD Board Meeting

stevezimmer12_17A heavy agenda for today’s LA Unified School Board meeting.

Expected to get some attention is a report by board member Steve Zimmer on the role of a ‘caretaker’ appointee to temporarily take the seat recently vacated by the unexpected death of Marguerite LaMotte late last year.

LA School Report, is there live NOW.

Check us out on Twitter @laschoolreport

To access, click: LIVESTREAM LAUSD

For meeting agenda click: Agenda

Aspire charters planning to expand ‘blended learning’ model

Aspire Titan AcademyAspire Public Schools, a nonprofit charter school operator with 12 schools chartered through LAUSD, announced this morning that it will expand its blending learning curriculum to all of its elementary schools in the Los Angeles region by the end of the 2015-16 school year.

The expansion is supported by The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, and comes after the organization’s blended learning model — digital content, instruction away from school and classroom instruction — showed early signs of success at its Titan Academy in Huntington Park. According to Aspire, the percentage of K-5 students reading at grade level at Titan Academy rose to 80 percent from 66 percent over the past year.

“Because of blended learning, students are getting more quality time with their teacher in a smaller, focused setting,” Mark Montero, a second grade teacher at Aspire Titan Academy, said in a press release. “This is an incredibly powerful instructional tool that would not be possible without technology in the classroom.”

A spokeswoman for Aspire Public Schools said the organization’s blended learning programs all use laptops, not iPads, for their instruction, but added that the LAUSD locations would be receiving the tablets by the end of the district’s technology rollout.

Previous Posts: DC Think Tank Touts “Blended” LA Charter SchoolRatliff is seeking alternatives to using iPads in LA Unified’s future

LAUSD joins partnership to confront school health hazards

Screen Shot 2014-02-04 at 12.09.43 PMAn intergovernmental pilot project began last week to address potential environmental health hazards in Southern California schools, with LAUSD as the only school district involved as a core particpant.

The six month pilot program, known as the Southern California – Clean, Green and Healthy Schools Partnership, is intended to foster collaboration among local, state and federal regulators — including school districts — on environmental health issues that had been unaddressed because of red tape and jurisdictional conflicts.

John Sterritt, LA Unified’s director of Environmental Health and Safety, told LA School Report that when a health hazard arose in the past, whether at a school or on adjacent property, the district and local officials often didn’t know who was responsible.

“The formation of this functional working group will allow us to solve some of the bureaucratic questions by getting everyone around the same table,” said Sterrit. He added that the idea for the working group stemmed from a 10-year partnership with the Southern California Department of Toxic Substances Control.

Thomas Cota, chief of the department, agreed that the pilot program will expedite the identification process, but added that it should also enhance transparency by engaging the local community in the process.

“We wanted to develop a system for the community to bring us issues they’re concerned about so that we can triage the problem and decide how best to fix it,” Cota told LA School Report. Cota is encouraging anyone with health hazard tips or neighborhood complaints to email the working group at

Survey Shows LAUSD schools not ready for computer tests

computer testsWhen California decided it was out with old standards and in with the new, Common Core-aligned assessments, it was only the start of a long and arduous transition for local school districts in adopting to the new computer-based “Smarter Balanced” tests.

That was seven months ago.

Now, an internal LAUSD memo released to LA School Report, shows that only 38 percent of LA Unified schools are currently capable of administering the new tests, which will be field-tested by 3rd through 8th and 11th graders beginning April 7.

The district sent the Smarter Balanced Readiness Survey to nearly 800 schools last month, posing three simple questions to school administrators that were to be answered in part by administering a practice test to one class at each school site.

Does the school have wired computers available for testing in a lab setting?

Were you able to install the secure browser on all the computers that will be used for testing?

Did the students get to the first question?

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