Parent trigger tries takeover at South Central school, again

 

For the first time, a Parent Trigger has been threatened twice for the same school. The parents of the 20th Street Elementary School in South Central Los Angeles are fed up with the lack of response from LA Unified after their first attempt two years ago to take over the school and on Monday filed a new petition with the district.

It all started when Guadalupe Aragon saw the report card that rated her daughter’s elementary school and showed that only 43 percent of the students at the school were performing at grade level. She decided to do something about it.

Parents signed a petition to take over the school through the state’s Parent Empowerment Act, often called a “Parent Trigger,” which allows parent groups to push for sweeping changes and even create a charter school. The LA Unified district administrators changed principals at the school, held meetings, made assurances. But that was two years ago.

This week, the Parents Union gathered yet another petition of 58 percent of the parents in the school of 591 students and called for another Parent Trigger. This time they’re not waiting for promises to be fulfilled.

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The Parent Union of 20th Street Elementary. (Photo courtesy of Guadalupe Aragon)

“We had so many meetings and they told us they were going to do things, but nothing ever happened, we won’t wait anymore,” said Aragon, who was one of two parents signing the Feb. 1 letter to Superintendent Michelle King stating their case for the Parent Trigger and presenting the petition. The petition states that the parents are demanding a “restart,” an option that would allow them to create or bring in a charter school to operate 20th Street.

“The parents shelved their petition the first time around and agreed to work with top district officials, but there was no change at the school, it’s as if the petition never happened,” said Gabe Rose, the chief strategy officer of Parent Revolution, a group that helped write the Parent Empowerment Act in 2011. “Now we’re forced to file again.”

The act allows communities to jumpstart changes at chronically low-performing schools. It requires a majority of the parents to sign a petition that could force a district to bring in new leadership and staff, or convert a school into a nonprofit independent charter.

At LAUSD, nine schools have been threatened with Parent Triggers, and the district made changes to six of them before petitions were filed, according to Rose. Three schools at LAUSD — Weigand Avenue Elementary in Watts, 24th Street Elementary in South Central and 20th Street — resulted in filing petitions with the district to date.

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Expulsions dropping across LA Unified with focused efforts to help

LAUSD Expulsion Data

LAUSD Expulsion Data

The number of expulsions in LA Unified has decreased drastically over the past two years, with numbers far lower than neighboring school districts.

Expulsions have decreased by 31 percent, to 77 in the last school year from 111 in 2012-2013, according to a report presented this week to a district board committee.

That compares with 150 students expelled at Antelope Valley last year, 145 at Fresno and 172 at San Bernardino, each of which has less than a fifth of the population of LAUSD. And, LA Unified officials said they are leading the way in how to handle those who are expelled.

“We have become the mecca for expellees from other districts, not only for the state of California, but for the country,” said Isabel Villalobos, the coordinator for Student Discipline and Expulsion Support at LAUSD. Just last week, students were transferred to the district from South Carolina and Georgia, and the district gets 75 referrals a year, she said.

The district attributes the decrease to programs that identify troubled students, help with early prevention and coordinate with outside agencies that focus on such as issues as gang intervention, drug treatment and family services. The district also keeps better tabs at the expelled students than other districts, Villalobos said.

“We do a good job at bringing everyone to the table and talk at a regular basis,” she said, adding that the district meets regularly with teachers, family, counselors and law enforcement people involved with the student.

School board member Mónica García, who leads the Successful School Climate Committee, said, “We are happy to hear we are the best in class in terms of expulsions.”

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LAUSD could recoup $139 million by curbing chronic absences

Debra Duardo, Executive Director Student Health and Human Services

Debra Duardo, Executive Director Student Health and Human Services

What’s the easiest way for LAUSD to save millions of dollars to help stave off a budget crisis? Keep students in school.

More than 80,000 students are chronically absent at LA Unified, and that results in an annual loss of $139 million in revenue, Debra Duardo, executive director of Student Health and Human Services at LAUSD, told a board committee this week. The school district gets money from the state based on the number of students who attend.

“Attendance is our strongest revenue generator–90 percent of the money generated in this district is based on the students coming to the school every single day,”  she said.

Not only that, Duardo said, but if LAUSD were to increase the attendance in schools by only one percent — which would make it equal to the average in the state — that could bring in $45 million a year.

Mónica García, chair of the board’s Successful School Climate committee, jumped on that fact and pointed directly into the closed-circuit camera and said, “That’s $139 million we can recover if have 100 percent attendance. There are 80,000 students chronically absent with 15 or more days; this is a large number of families. I want to challenge of us. We need your good phone numbers, we need your updated information.”

Alluding to families who may have had bad experiences with the district in the past, She added, “If there are issues causing absence, please reach out, there is help for you. If you have been disappointed in the past, reach out to us again. That’s a very large number. We can do better.”

Maisie Chin, executive director of the parent-led CADRE organization, said that parents have had frustration with LAUSD just wanting to collect Average Daily Attendance money and making the parents feel guilty for not bringing their children to school.

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Charters, budgets, expulsions on LA Unified committee agendas

ParentAdvisory

A parent advisory committee discussing student issues.

Three LA Unified board committee meetings that were delayed a month by the superintendent search are scheduled back-to-back-to-back tomorrow, all at district headquarters.

Some of the issues on the agendas involve the continuing discussion about what it would mean to turn LAUSD into an all-charter school district, early childhood education and new information dealing with student expulsions.

The first meeting, at 10 am, is the Budget, Facilities and Audit Committee,  chaired by Mónica Ratliff. A discussion is scheduled to resume on what it would mean to establish an all-charter school district, an odd concept, given the district’s skeptical disposition toward charter schools. Megan Reilly, the district’s Chief Financial Officer, is slated to discuss the financial impact and, Devora Navera Reed, a district lawyer, will discuss the waivers and autonomies that charter schools have that traditional schools don’t have. The Charter School Division will also give a budget update.

The members will get a facilities division update on the hydration station plans, El Niño preparation and water conservation awareness efforts.The meeting also includes a review of the 2014-15 financial report.

At 2 p.m., the Early Childhood Education and Parent Engagement Committee, chaired by Ref Rodriguez, will get updates on early education from Dean Tagawa, the administrator of Early Childhood Education. The committee will also hear reports about parent engagement and expanding early childhood education opportunites.

At 4 p.m., board member Mónica García leads the Successful School Climate: Progress, Discipline and Safety Committee, which is scheduled to discuss attendance issues and expelled students.

All the meetings are open to the public

LAUSD board meets on superintendent as probe continues

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Steve Zimmer and Monica Garcia flank LA Mayor Eric Garcetti

It wasn’t by accident that all seven LA Unified school board members happened to be at this morning’s press conference with the mayor, the sheriff, the police chief and superintendent as they announced closing the schools today.

The school board had already plan to continue closed-door deliberations to select a superintendent to succeed Ramon Cortines. His last official day in office was Friday, but when he came in to the press conference this morning in a sweat shirt, yellow cap, jeans and tennis shoes — very uncharacteristic for a man known for his natty suits and bow ties. He began his remarks, joking, “I have retired and returned now for the fourth time.”

The board’s scheduled meeting was eclipsed by the school closings. Early on, board President Steve Zimmer and member Mónica García joined in, translating news into Spanish.

Then, all the school board members showed up at a 10 a.m. press conference with the major police officials in the county.

There had been some hints that maybe the school board would announce a decision about the superintendent today, but that now seems even more unlikely than it had been. The board was continuing its search discussions, awaiting any further developments on the threat assessment.

Zimmer, other LA Unified board members offer their thanks

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Steve Zimmer joins a pre-Thanksgiving meal.

Several members of the LA Unified board are using their websites to reflect on what they’re thankful for with the long Thanksgiving weekend just ahead.

Board President Steve Zimmer focused on education in his newsletter.

He writes: “The recent attacks on liberty and peace in Paris, Mali, and across the Middle East shake our hearts and our spirit. Here at home, the violence that has afflicted South Los Angeles also gives us pause and reflect. We remember each young soul lost in the terror that has become so commonplace that it rarely makes the news. But every life is sacred and for the school children who awaken to yellow police tape and altars in the streets the toll is every bit as devastating.

“Even as we remember and as we reflect, we are grateful for the blessings of family, community and of mission. Our children’s dreams demand that we look all around us and recognize the many who support and elevate hope in these difficult times.”

He thanks teachers and the entire LA Unified family, with a special shoutout to the outgoing superintendent, saying his “return to LA Unified at 83 years young is one of the greatest acts of public service this generation has seen.”

Board member Mónica García collected Thanksgiving messages from others for her newsletter, including one from Cortines. “I’m thankful for all of the progress that we at LAUSD have made together over the past year. There is much to celebrate and much to get done,” Cortines said. She collected messages from three Local District superintendents, chief deputy superintendent Michelle King, principals, parents, teachers and even a school bus driver.”

She also includes a message from a district school bus driver Orlando Perez, who said, “As we come to the holidays we tend to realize how life can be so precious. At this time I start realizing on all the matters I should be thankful for, one of these is my family. I can always count on them. Secondly, my job, not only has it provided me with a stable life, it is now giving me the opportunity to get a greater education so I can promote, and last but not least my friends.”

Board member Richard Vladovic has a cartoon of a wise old owl offering a “Happy Thanksgiving” that vaguely resembles him on his Facebook page.


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LA Unified in final preparations for approaching El Niño

ElNinoSchoolFloodAnd now for the weather forecast:

More than $17 million in roof repairs still need to be completed at LAUSD schools before El Niño arrives in January.

The district also needs to replace aging equipment at the Emergency Operations Center at a cost of $225,000 a year, and it will cost about $5 per student to keep emergency supplies in good condition each year—that’s another $3.5 million.

A simple one-time spend of $56,000 could get a weather alert radio for every school.

Those wether-related needs all came from the district’s Emergency Services and Facilities Services divisions in a presentation this week to the Successful School Climate Committee. Officials said they expect the second worst storm system to hit the area since they tracked El Niño storms.

Deputy superintendent Michelle King introduced the report to the committee as a “timely presentation about El Niño, what it is, and why we should be worried.” After hearing some of the plans and what needed to be done, she suggested that one of the top priorities would be to get the weather alert radios in every school.

Jill Barnes, of LA Unified’s school operations emergency services, said, “It’s hard to imagine in a few months we will be in large deluge of rain. We know that it’s on track to be second largest since recording them in 1950.”

The district has already identified schools that may encounter problems because they are near potential landslide areas or in areas that flood easily. Plans are underway to move some schools to different locations in severe weather.

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LA Unified joins forces to stop commercial child sex crimes

MonicaGarciaDisgusted

Monica Garcia reacts to the gruesome report.

As the FBI agent played a video of a 16-year-old caught in a sex ring in Los Angeles, the audience of the Successful School Climate: Progressive Discipline and Safety Committee yesterday remained hushed. Some wiped tears from their eyes.

LAUSD Chief Deputy Superintendent Michelle King reviewed the list of local schools where such crimes occurred and she she was shocked to spot an elementary school among them.

For the past year, LA Unified administrators have joined the fight to stop child sex trafficking with a group of 60 Los Angeles agencies called the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC) Task Force.

“This is a very difficult topic, it makes us uncomfortable, afraid, repulsed, it’s not something we connect to our students,” said committee chair Mónica García. “I’m proud that LAUSD said ‘yes’ again to getting involved in the program.” Garcia said early next year she will ask the school board to support an update to the district’s child abuse policy to include focusing on commercial sexual exploitation of children.

“I want to be that village for our young people and educate ourselves and empower ourselves to be another level of lifeline,” she said. “The community helps ourselves by knowing more and getting the facts and it’s not going away just because you don’t know.”

LAUSD intervention coordinator Holly Priebe-Diaz said district officials will soon be adding information to their annual spring child abuse training for principals. She said she will ask the principals then to share the information with teachers.

“I thought I heard everything,” Priebe-Diaz said, until she attended conferences and training about how prevalent the problem was in the United States, and especially Los Angeles.

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After hot debate, LAUSD board refines superintendent criteria

SteveZimmer8After 90 minutes of contentious debate, the LAUSD school board agreed on a list of desired characteristics for the superintendent candidates they will begin interviewing.

The discussion ran the gamut from the definition of the word “bold” to whether the members wanted someone with experience in an “urban environment.”

Ultimately, the one-page list of desired characteristics they approved is only a template, more guidelines than a mandate. The list is designed to help the search firm, Hazard, Young Attea and Associates, find suitable candidates to be interviewed but will not keep candidates from consideration if they don’t meet all the criteria.

“We won’t take someone out because they do not meet all the characteristics on this document,” said search firm president Hank Gmitro, adding, “The idea behind the critieria is to find the ideal person, and as we look at resumes, we will assess and match them against that criteria and see how well they fit in that profile.”

From this point, the next major phases of the search process will be conducted largely in private. The board intends to develop questions for candidates as they come forward, leading to a list of finalists. The goal is to have a successor to Ramon Cortines in place by Jan. 1. Cortines, who is 83, said he intends to step down by the end of the year.

The 7-0 vote to approve the profile came after several members campaigned hard to insert or change language as they wrangled over additions they felt were ignored or underemphasized in the draft document before them.

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A special LAUSD board meeting to define superintendent profile

superintendent searchThe LAUSD school board plans a meeting tomorrow afternoon to set the guidelines for a Leadership Profile that the board will us in picking the next school superintendent.

The meeting was called last week after the search firm of Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates presented its compilation of input from community forums, private interviews and surveys.

In open session starting at 1 p.m. at district headquarters, the school board will hear from the search firm again to discuss and define the desired characteristics of the next superintendent. Then, after hearing from any members of the public, the board will retreated into closed session. Any decisions made will be announced in public after the private meeting.

Earlier, at 9:30 tomorrow morning, the Budget, Facilities and Audit Committee will hear a report from district lawyers about the possibility of turning all of LA Unified in a charter school district.

Also on the committee’s agenda are a detailed report on the charter schools that LAUSD oversees, the budget of the charter schools division and how much it costs for the district to monitor the charter schools. The committee, chaired by Mónica Ratliff, plans to get a report on healthcare, pension and other post-employment benefits costs, which were cited in a report last week as major contributor to the financial stability of the district.

The Office of the Inspector General also plans to report about their collaboration with the Charter School Division and its costs.

At 4 p.m., Mónica García’s Successful School Climate: Progressive Discipline and Safety Committee plans to hear from an FBI agent, a probation director and other experts about a call to collaborate and stop the commercial exploitation of children. The committee also will get an update on the Ready to Learn: El Niño Preparedness in our Schools program from Chief Facilities director Mark Hovatter and Maintenance and Operations director Roger Finstad.


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Search firm urges LAUSD board reach unity on next superintendent

superintendent search

In presenting a detailed accounting of community input for LA Unified’s superintendent search, the president of the search firm urged the seven board members to reach consensus on what they are looking for in their ideal candidate.

“You do not want to make this decision on four votes,” said Hank Gmitro of Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates. “You want to all agree.”

After the presentation, Gmitro told LA School Report it’s not unheard of for a school board—even one with such diversity as LAUSD’s—to agree on a single candidate. “It happens most of the time that the whole board agrees on one person,” Gmitro said.

After Gmitro and members of his team reviewed overall results of two weeks of 9,400 surveys and 120 community meetings, board President Steve Zimmer asked how the firm could possibly come up with candidates that have a proven track record on two strong, but nebulous characteristics that arose time and again from many participating in the feedback process: “equity” and “building trust.”

Gmitro said it’s a matter of “our vetting and your interviews and the kinds of actions they took and the results they achieved.”

By their questions to Gmitro and his team, the board members seem to be laying groundwork for finding a superintendent comfortable with fulfilling the priorities of the board, rather than bringing “an agenda” or “ego” to the position, a not-so-veiled reference to past superintendents.

“They want a humble person,” said Darline Robles, a member of the search team who summed up the characteristics that emerged from community forums. “Not someone who comes in whose ego is the forefront.”

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‘Zimmo’ urges more participation in LAUSD superintendent search

WheresZimmo

Where’s Zimmo? Steve Zimmer appears at Vine Street Elementary in costume.

Where’s Zimmo?

Dressed as the popular “Where’s Waldo” red-and-white-striped children’s book character, LA Unified School Board President Steve Zimmer took to the Vine Street Elementary School twice today to encourage parents and teachers to get involved in the superintendent’s search.

He used his appearances to say he is extending the deadline for people to complete the school board survey that seeks community input.

Even here, his home school, he found parents who didn’t know about the survey. After attending more than half-a-dozen community forums, he said he was disappointed in the low turnouts. However, he has done his own canvassing.

“The most important revelation of the day is that we need to reach out more to high school students,” Zimmer said. “High school students, especially seniors, really care. We need to do that even if it takes more time.”

Zimmer, who has kept a tight control of the superintendent search and stayed in close contact with the search firm, said additional input probably won’t delay the process of them compiling all the data.

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LAUSD board votes down special panel for superintendent search

Mónica García: her proposal was defeated.

Mónica García: her proposal was defeated.

As LA Unified school board president Steve Zimmer pleads for more involvement with the public for the superintendent search, the board voted down yet another effort to give the community greater influence in the selection process.

It was the latest example of how the district is urging the public to play a role in the selection process, but only to a point.

After a closed-door meeting today that included an update on the search, the school board returned to an open session and member Mónica García proposed forming a “confidential stakeholder committee consisting of seven people picked by each board member to represent each district.” Some community groups have been pushing for such input.

Right away, fellow board member Mónica Ratliff objected to the idea because she didn’t want “a secret committee, but wanted to make this open to everyone and introduce the finalists to the entire public. It should either be everyone or no one.”

Ratliff’s motion last week to have the finalists introduced to the community in a public forum failed in a 4-3 vote.

Garcia’s motion today failed 5-2, with only Ref Rodriguez agreeing with her.

Garcia said, “I wanted to make sure that public is clear that there are differences on the board, and we are welcoming the best superintendent possible and I believe that confidential stakeholders could provide input from non-elected people.”

At that, she walked out and decided not to participate in the Committee of the Whole meeting that followed. The committee is comprised of all board members in a setting that allows them to discuss issues but not vote for passage of any policy.

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LAUSD’s ‘OUT for safe schools’ praised, expands to other districts

OUT for safe schools LGBTQTwo years after it was launched, an LA Unified program aimed at making schools safer for students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning (LGBTQ) is being praised as it expands to eight other major districts around the country.

The “OUT for Safe Schools” program was created in 2013 by a school board resolution authored by board member Mónica García and calls on district staff and teachers to wear rainbow-colored badges on Oct. 11, which is National Coming Out Day. The badges identify them as an ally of LGBTQ students.

The program, with the aid of the Los Angeles LGBT Center, has seen around 30,000 LA Unified staff participate in each of the last two years. This year, districts in New YorkChicagoBostonSan FranciscoSan DiegoDuval County (Florida), Oakland and Washington, D.C. are adopting the program.

“Despite increased public acceptance of LGBT people in general, many school campuses remain toxic environments for LGBTQ students, contributing to higher rates of suicide, depression, homelessness and HIV infection,” Los Angeles LGBT Center CEO Lorri L. Jean said in a statement. “We approached the LAUSD about developing this program to create visible adult allies throughout the entire school system, helping LGBTQ youth feel safe and supported while helping to deter would-be bullies. Now, wherever students look, they’re sure to see adults who proudly identify themselves as LGBTQ allies for students.”

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LAUSD board has mixed views on foundations’ charters expansion plan

 Some think it is a threat to the public education system. Some welcome it. Members of the LA Unified school board have reacted quite differently to the announcement that the Broad, Keck and Walton Family Foundations are planning to expand the number of charter schools in the district to serve well beyond the 101,000 students (nearly 16 percent) now enrolled in the district’s 211 charters.

The role of charters has been a long-running battle among board members, and now it’s sure to intensify with so many more in the planning stage. Issues involving charters, such as applications for new ones, renewals for existing ones and operational transparency, are part of almost every monthly board meeting, and even before the first meeting of the new year, opinions remain divided, based on interviews with LA School Report and other media outlets.

The foundations revealed their expansion plans several weeks ago but provided few details. One unnamed source told the LA Times that the goal was to enroll as many as half of LA Unified’s students in charter schools within eight years.

One of the two new members, Ref Rodriguez, a charter school founder, said, “I believe we need to offer every family a high quality option in public education, and that can be a LAUSD school or a charter school. I also believe that we need leaders in this district to advocate for transformation. I always welcome ideas around innovative and life changing approaches to creating quality and excellence in every single school across this district.”

Rodriguez added, “Is this plan a bold idea? Maybe. I don’t know the particulars.  But, I want to stay open to hearing about bold options and ideas to get to excellence in all of our schools. And, I want those bold ideas to come from the grassroots – communities, students, and parents.  I want to hear directly from our communities about what they need, what they want, and what they deserve.”

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Garcia: LAUSD families need to feel ‘connected and supported’

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Monica Garcia talks to students at a board meeting.

As the school year begins next week, Mónica Garcia is celebrating her 10th year on the LA Unified School Board and her 15th year working in District 2, where she served as an academic advisor.

A lifelong East L.A. resident, her parents met at Stevenson Middle School in the 1950s and they remember more of an ethnic mix in the area at that time.

Garcia sat down with LA School Report at her LA Unified office to discuss the issues and anticipation of the new school year ahead.

LA School Report: As LA Unified’s longest-serving board president, six terms, what do you see as the most pressing challenges facing the district over the coming year?

Garcia: This year, even as leadership transition occurs, we want to make sure that our families feel connected and supported. I think that achievement, safety and communication are always at the top of any school. We’re going to see more technology.

We will allocate money from Measure Q [a bond for construction] which will be good for kids and good for jobs and good for our existing campuses. Roosevelt High School in my district will get support in the neighborhood of $100 million dollars. It doesn’t happen but once in a long time. We really have to be purposeful around how to support schools so it continues to grow. We will be talking about roofs and pipes and fields, but we have to really be strategic on the investment.

LASR: Do you think there’s been an erosion of trust with the parents and how do you improve that?

Garcia: We always need to improve whatever we do. When we say LA Unified is 70 percent graduation that means we’re getting it right with 70 percent of the families and missing it with 30 percent. I think we have to continually have to introduce ourselves as a service provider.

Every year there are changes at school sites there are changes with the district and we have to constantly be in communication with families about that.

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Garcia welcomes foundations promoting charter school expansion

Mónica García

Mónica García

LA Unified board member Mónica García, a leading voice for education reform efforts, said she is open to plans by a group of foundations that wants to expand the number of charter schools in the district well beyond the 285 that are now serving district students.

“I’m open to any strategy that helps children and families. We know there is no one strategy for everybody,” García said in an interview with LA School Report.

She was specifically referring to recent reports that the Keck, Walton Family and Broad foundations plan to help children in low-performing schools who desire more educational choices by adding charters that could serve as many as half of LA Unified’s 650,000 students. Currently, about 100,000 students are served by charters in the district.

“I would go to any philanthropic arm and say ‘Please invest in our kids,’” García said. “We have many, many good strategies that need support.”

Her sentiments come in sharp contrast to other board members who view the proposed expansion with skepticism or even as a threat for the possibility that it would drain public dollars from the district’s traditional schools. Board president Steve Zimmer told the LA Times last week that an aggressive expansion of charters could undermine the district’s own improvement efforts, saying, “The most critical concern would be the collateral damage to the children left behind.”

García said many schools in her District 2, which includes South Central, Boyle Heights and other low-income areas, will be overcrowded and could thus benefit from additional charter schools.

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Students face LAUSD board, demanding end to military weapons

The LA Unified board endured a long and unusual protest last night as about 50 students demanded specific actions to get military-style weapons out of the hands of district school police.

The students, some of them wearing bullet-proof vests, chanted for 20 minutes at the start of a meeting — “Back to school, no weapons” and “We want justice for our schools” — in protesting the federal 1033 Program, a federal effort that provides school districts with surplus military-grade weapons. LA Unified has been a recipient.

Board president Steve Zimmer let the chanting continue and at one point said, “Let them go on.”

The demonstration inside the board meeting followed two hours of drumming and shouting outside LA Unified headquarters, with students holding signs bearing the face of President Obama and Superintendent Ramon Cortines.

Manuel Criollo, a protest organizer from the Labor Community Strategy Center, told the board that he wanted an end to the program, which had given the district a tank, three grenade launchers and dozens of M-16s. The district returned the tank and grenade launchers last fall, but has kept the M-16s. In a June letter the Criollo’s group, Cortines said the district had ended its involvement with the program.

Brillo called for the board to be more public about the weapons and demanded that they be returned.

“It’s ironic that we have surplus weapons but we do not have surplus books,” he said.

Inside, the crowd called out to the only black school member, George McKenna, and he responded by recalling his own experiences with civil unrest while defending the need for school police to be prepared for any occasion in which student safety is at risk.

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Garcia’s School Climate Committee leads LAUSD’s restorative justice era

Monica GarciaRarely, there’s anything more dry than an LA Unified committee meeting, where the minutia of reports and statistics are vetted before they make their way to the full school board.

But as the laboratory for forward-thinking ideas surrounding school discipline, meetings of the Successful School Climate Committee are typically anything but dull.

Chaired by board member Monica Garcia, the committee was formed in 2013 not long after the groundbreaking School Climate Bill of Rights was passed.

The measure was the first effort by a large school district in the nation to reverse the trend of “zero tolerance” by adopting restorative justice techniques and ending “willful defiance” suspensions and expulsions.

Much of the committee’s work focuses on issues surrounding the bill of rights and efforts to increase graduation rates by sending students to outside counseling instead of court and by having counselors work with troubled youth instead of suspending or expelling them. The shift requires nuanced and complicated efforts by school officials, and the Successful School Climate Committee is where many of the district’s ideas are hashed out.

“The committee gave us the forum to learn together about what works and then to hold the district accountable to do what it said what it was going to do,” Garcia told LA School Report.

“I’m most invested in helping us stay focused on that it’s all of us together, its not just one data piece or one instructional program, but really the comprehensive view of the lives of young people,” she added.

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LA Unified board to consider request to delay computer tests

iPad program report

In its first meeting of 2015, the LA Unified school board tomorrow will debate a range of issues, from students’ eating alone to farm workers’ pay. But it’s the issue of state testing that will have the most immediate and significant impact on more than 300,000 district students.

Adding a powerful voice to the growing opposition against using the Smarter Balanced computer test this spring as means of measuring academic growth, board Members Monica Ratliff and Tamar Galatzan have co-sponsored a resolution that asks the state to delay use of the test results for any official purposes.

“It would be patently unfair to use the Spring 2015 SBAC assessment results for high stakes accountability purposes with respect to the students, teachers and schools of the District and any other school districts in a similar situation,” they say in their resolution, which will be voted on during the afternoon session.

Rarely do Galatzan and Ratliff work together on an issue. If passed, their measure would put the state’s largest school district in opposition to the tests.

The primary objection is not that students are ill-prepared in the subject matter — the new Common Core standards — but rather, they have not had the sufficient time to become familiar with the testing devices on which the computerized exam will be administered.

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