Overall enrollment is down, but LA Unified has the same number of kindergarteners as 9 years ago, data show

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As those inside the district voice a repeated refrain that declining enrollment will likely plunge LA Unified into bankruptcy, new data show it still attracted nearly the same number of kindergarten students last year as it had nine years earlier when it had 133,000 more students overall.

The data come as a surprise amid declining enrollment as the county’s birth rate has dwindled and parents have opted to send their kids elsewhere as charter schools proliferate and many suburban school districts continue to outperform LA Unified.

In 2006-07, the district had 49,896 kindergarteners enrolled as of the October “norm day” an enrollment count used to allocate resources and funding from the state. Nine years later, 49,289 students were enrolled in kindergarten at the beginning of the 2015-16 school year, the data show.

School board member Monica Garcia highlighted these numbers at the last special meeting the board held aimed at tackling its long-term financial situation. She expressed hope that the district can hang on to those students through graduation.

“Let’s keep them,” Garcia said of the kindergarteners.

But the data show, so far, the district isn’t.

The class of 2006-07 kindergarten students, has turned into 36,876 ninth-grade students in 2015-16, a 26 percent decrease. The students will graduate in 2018-19.

And the data show the decline is happening as early as first grade. The number of district kindergarteners who have gone on to first grade has decreased over the past five years, plummeting 17 percent just last year.

In a memo to the Board of Education, Chief Facilities Executive Mark Hovatter, whose office compiled the data, wrote that the increases in kindergarten enrollment “may not be a true indication of future enrollment growth.” He said transitional kindergarten has led to an increase in kindergarten enrollment.

Transitional kindergarten students are included in the kindergarten data, although district officials did not say how many of those students were in transitional kindergarten. So it is unclear how much transitional kindergarten has affected the numbers.

Transitional kindergarten was established by the state Legislature in 2010. It essentially created a two-year kindergarten program.  Teachers must have a credential, the curriculum is a “modified” version of the kindergarten curriculum and students are generally in school for a full day. Since implementation in 2012, the state rolled back the eligibility date one month each year from Dec. 2 to Sept. 2. Now students can be enrolled in transitional kindergarten if their 5th birthday falls between Sept. 2 and Dec. 2. If a student turns 5 on or before Sept. 1, the student enrolls in kindergarten.

“It increases the total pool of children that are counted to be in kindergarten,” said Rena Perez, director of the district’s Master Planning and Demographics.

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LAUSD administrative staff jumps 22 percent even as enrollment drops

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From LAUSD

Despite projected budget deficits reaching nearly half a billion dollars and steep enrollment declines, LA Unified’s certified administrative staff has increased 22 percent in the last five years, according to a superintendent’s report.

The number of teachers has dropped 9 percent in the same period. And teachers and certified staff are aging toward retirement, heading toward a possible teacher shortage.

The report was presented to the LA Unified school board Tuesday at a special budget meeting at USC to discuss ways of lowering a looming budget deficit.

The administrative staffing level increase surprised some of the board members.

“How is it possible that administrators went up so much when we have a decline in enrollment?” asked board member Ref Rodriguez, shaking his head.

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From LAUSD

According to the report presented by Superintendent Michelle King and her staff, certified administrators increased from 2,146 in 2011-2012 to 2,628 positions in 2015-206, a 22 percent increase.

Over the same period, K-12th grade teachers decreased from 27,208 to 24,863, a 9 percent drop.

Concerned that the chart could be “misconstrued,” King explained that many of the administrators are hired for programs located at individual school sites and involve staffing for restorative justice and foster programs that the school board chose to focus on in the past. Also, with the Local Control Funding Formula, schools asked for more local programs requiring administrators, not teachers. Of the administrators, 1,723 are school based while 905 are not.

“We invested in administered accounts, such as more restorative justice and foster programs where the ratios are one person to 100 foster youth,” King said. “You can see how that starts to expand when you’re talking about training for restorative justice coordinators and such. It is important to remember what we invested in and why this is the outcome to where we put our dollars.”

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High stakes over ‘parent trigger’: Closed session discussion tries to avoid 20th Street lawsuit

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20th Street Elementary School

The LA Unified school board broke into a surprise closed session for several hours Tuesday afternoon in the middle of their public meeting in order to head off a potential “parent trigger” lawsuit over 20th Street Elementary School.

All morning, the school board was in closed session to discuss employee actions, contract renewals and pending litigation. Then, in the middle of the 1 p.m. public meeting, school board secretariat Jefferson Crain said they were going into closed session again to discuss the potential litigation involving the elementary school.

Board member Monica Garcia, who has worked with the 20th Street parents to try to solve the issues, said Wednesday that the closed-door session wasn’t merely to stop the threatened lawsuit.

“We are making every effort to listen to all of the concerns, the dreams and aspirations of all the players and give energy into making that a better school,” Garcia told LA School Report.

Gabe Rose of Parent Revolution — a nonprofit group that helps parents organize and take over a failing campus through the state’s Parent Empowerment Act — said the attorney representing the parents “made it very clear that there’s pending litigation and that’s why in the closed sessions they went in to see what the settlement would look like. The parents expressed clearly there’s no plausible deal without a significant shift in who’s managing the school.”

But the district didn’t offer enough, Rose said. “The parents need autonomy and without the necessary changes, they will go the legal route and be successful. The district never did any of the things they promised, so of course there’s a lot of hesitation on the part of the parents.”

One of the parents, Omar Cavillo, who helped file the trigger against the district, said the parents are trying to work on a deal with Partnership for Los Angeles Schools that could offer a hybrid of a charter and traditional school as an option, which they have done in 17 schools in the South Central LA area.

“We like the Partnership, but the deal the district offered still had them completely in charge of our school,” Cavillo said. “The attorneys are negotiating, and that’s probably what is going on in the closed session.”

No one seems to want to go to court. “We don’t want a lawsuit, it’s not good for the district or school or community,” Cavillo said. “We care for LAUSD, there are some great teachers. We want to work with the district.”

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‘We can’t do this alone.’ LAUSD board votes to seek outside help to fund successful schools

Monica Garcia

Almost without comment Tuesday, the LA Unified school board voted unanimously to seek help from outside the district to replicate high-achieving schools.

The resolution was introduced by Monica Garcia and Ref Rodriguez and asks the district staff to “seek outside support for the funding” to replicate successful school programs in areas of high need in the district.

The resolution, Offering Families More—Promoting, Celebrating and Replicating Success Across LAUSD, asks the superintendent to report back to the board within 60 days on the progress of identifying the successful programs and potential funding sources.

“I am glad to see the board supporting our multiple levels of seeing what works,” Garcia told LA School Report. “I was pleased and encouraged by behavior that is focused on moving to high-quality education.”

The resolution points to specific kinds of schools, and their successes, that could head off the decline in enrollment — and losing students to charter schools — by beefing up magnet, pilot and dual language schools.

• Read more: Are magnets the answer to LAUSD’s enrollment problem?

The resolution was proposed by the two board members most vocally supportive of charter schools (Rodriguez co-founded one), and they can see collaboration with philanthropic groups that others view as threatening to the district.

Rodriguez said he envisions collaboration with all sorts of philanthropical organizations, including colleges and even NASA. “I believe there is a lot of philanthropy for this and there is still a way to engage philanthropy to this district rather than just give to charters,” Rodriguez said.

By identifying the best programs, he said, “We can work with foundations and support these programs.”

Great Public Schools Now, which receives funding from philanthropic groups Rodriguez cited, issued a statement about the passing of the resolution and said, “We are encouraged by the LAUSD resolution seeking to replicate high-performing district schools. One of the best ways to bring additional educational opportunities to Los Angeles students is to expand the schools — charter, district or magnet — that are already succeeding. We look forward to working in partnership with LAUSD on this effort.”

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Apology for involvement in police weapons program not enough for protesters

Protest1033student-union-meme The Fight for the Soul of the Cities, which has disrupted school meetings with calls to end the militarization of school police and reduce their forces, said they are not satisfied with the response from the LA Unified school board.

After students and activists protested Friday afternoon outside LA Unified’s Beaudry headquarters, school board members Steve Zimmer, George McKenna and Monica Garcia issued statements about the 1033 program that allowed school police to get excess military weapons from the federal government.

Only one response, from Garcia, seemed to come close to the apology the group had demanded. She wrote: “I regret that LAUSD’s participation in the 1033 program may have caused a lapse in the trust LAUSD was building with many community partners including the Dignity in Schools Campaign. I apologize for any misunderstanding caused by this participation and the perception among some that LAUSD seeks to perpetuate policies of division instead of creating communities that are safe, supportive and successful.”

Eric Mann, executive director of the protest group, said Garcia’s statement “is a start, but it’s not enough.” He added, “We want the school police to be cut by half, it will save the district money. And the statements from Zimmer and McKenna were just insulting.” At the demonstration, Mann thanked Garcia and said, “I believe her letter is a true first step of good faith and is in sharp contrast to the misleading and hostile letter that Steve Zimmer and George McKenna wrote.”

On Friday in anticipation of the protest, school board president Zimmer and McKenna issued a statement reading: “The district has publicly stated numerous times that the Los Angeles School Police Department is no longer in possession of any weapons or equipment acquired through the Military Excess Property Program, commonly referred to as the 1033 program. We respect the many different views surrounding this important issue. We also understand that there has been confusion about this issue and so it is important to reiterate: LA Unified has ended participation in this program.”

The school police have returned the automatic weapons, three grenade launchers and small tank they acquired through the program.

McKenna was chairing the Committee of the Whole meeting last month when the group disrupted it for half an hour. In the statement, McKenna said, “The district will always respect the rights of organizations to peaceably assemble and protest, and we look forward to continuing our important work with all community groups on the many issues of civil rights, immigrant rights and education equity that affect the lives of our children and families every day.”

Mann said, “It’s safer for the schools to not have a school police that has military weapons.” He added that their protests are not yet over.

LAUSD moving more kids from juvenile camps to graduation

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Randy Dwayne May Jr. talks about meeting graduation requirements after being in three juvenile camps.

LA Unified is expanding a Camps to College program that helps students coming out of juvenile detention camps get back into school and graduate.

Since the program launched two years ago in conjunction with the Los Angeles County Mental Health Department and the Los Angeles Probation Office, it has served 1,189 students. Most of them have come from the South District (299); the fewest have come from the Northwest District (73).

The Camps to College program is currently located at the Boyle Heights Technology Youth Center. In August it will open at the Harris Newmark Continuation School just west of downtown LA, and the district hopes to replicate it in more locations.

“We are not opening a new school, but creating a model that is changing the face of youth transitioning from juvenile camp so they can reintegrate to school and get all the services they need to stabilize,” said Jesus Corral, senior director of the Los Angeles County Probation Department who is working closely with LA Unified on the transitional program. “This is a model we have been working on for quite some time. We are transitioning youth into another school or alternative school based on their needs in a very individualized basis.”

More than half of the students in juvenile youth detention camps are from LA Unified schools. “It is more important now than ever to work together and divert youth from the juvenile justice system and open doors for youth coming out of the juvenile justice system,” said Corral, who on Tuesday addressed board member Monica Garcia’s Successful School Climate Progressive Discipline & Safety Committee.

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From LAUSD

“We can replicate this in all the other local districts to help these students be successful,” said Erika F. Torres, director of Pupil Services and Drop-Out Prevention and Recovery in LA Unified’s Student Health Services.

When the program expands to Harris Newmark in August, it will include probation department support, mental health experts and Public Service & Attendance counselors as well as other school support.

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Jesus Corral, LA County Probation Department

“I see this like a triage,” Torres said. “We will assess their needs and put in place the supports they need for successful graduation. It’s a pathway for youth to welcome them back.”

One of the recent students helped by the Camps to College program who spoke Tuesday was Randy Dwayne May Jr., a senior at the William J. Johnston Community Day in San Pedro. He talked about being sent to multiple camps for multiple parole violations and a burglary charge.

“I remember a time when I saw five different judges and had five different probation officers, it was crazy,” Randy said. “It was the bad influences in my neighborhood that got me making bad choices. People who were supposed to be my friends just weren’t looking out for me.”

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Board to consider pair of resolutions to expand successful schools

(From L): LAUSD school board members Monica Ratliff, Ref Rodriguez and Richard Vladovic

LAUSD school board members, from left, Monica Ratliff, Ref Rodriguez and Richard Vladovic.

Members of the LA Unified school board are taking the lead in identifying, encouraging and replicating successful schools with two resolutions that will be discussed at Tuesday’s board meeting.

One, sponsored by Monica Garcia and Ref Rodriguez, called Offering Families More – Promoting, Celebrating and Replicating Success Across LAUSD, asks that the district identify best strategies to replicate high-performing schools.

The other, sponsored by Monica Ratliff, Richard Vladovic and Rodriguez, titled Supporting Quality Educational Options for Students and Families Through the Development of Magnet Schools, asks for the district to break the backlog of applications for new magnet school programs and start approving more.

Both resolutions will ask Superintendent Michelle King to act within a short period of time to figure out how to duplicate the best schools in the district.

“These resolutions happened completely parallel to each other and yet they have some great connections because we are talking about how to replicate best practices,” Rodriguez said. “We do not have an incubator of ideas or innovation, and replicating best practices is one of the common things both of these resolutions propose.”

Garcia said in an emailed statement: “I am excited that the board is interested in being more intentional and strategic on resourcing and creating success. I hope there is a board majority that wants to be public about their support for a superintendent Plan of Action to increase achievement, creates excellence and supports equity and high-quality schools in every community.”

Garcia said her resolution involves all the different learning models, including dual language, linked learning, pilots and small-themed schools. She said, “My resolution is about creating diverse options for families to choose the district, stay in the district and celebrate 100 percent graduation with this district.”

King stated when she took over in January that identifying and encouraging successful schools was one of her top goals. The district is seeking to boost enrollment and graduation rates as well as stave off a predicted $450 million budget deficit in three years.

The Development of Magnet Schools resolution, which Ratliff asked to fast-track for a vote Tuesday, points out there are 22 applications for magnet schools in the 2017-2018 school year and 47 other schools interested in opening such programs, but the Office of Student Integration Services is “unable to support additional interested schools in their efforts to open a magnet program.”

There are now 210 magnet schools in the district serving 67,000 students, and most of those have higher testing performance levels than traditional and charter schools.

Read more on magnet schools: Are they the answer to LAUSD’s enrollment program? 

LA School Report was told there is some fine-tuning going on with some parts of the resolutions, including financial implications, but both will give the superintendent some direction to explore what it would take to get them done. The magnet schools resolution asks that King’s staff come up with addressing the backlog in a report to the board by June 30.

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Parents fear for dual-language Mandarin program if charter joins campus

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Castelar Street Elementary School backers protest against co-locating with a charter school. (Credit: Martin Wong)

Angelica Lopez Moyes is amazed that her 1st-grade son can speak Mandarin. But she is concerned that his dual-language immersion program at Castelar Street Elementary School could  be jeopardized if a charter is co-located on the campus.

Castelar, founded in 1882 and the second-oldest school in Los Angeles, has 570 students and is at about 75 percent capacity. Under Proposition 39, passed in 2000, the remaining space can be given to a charter.

Some of the rooms at the Chinatown school identified for charter use include two science labs and a room used for special education students. The parents at Castelar have gathered more than 2,400 signatures in a petition and lobbied to keep those classrooms from being shared.

“I have nothing against charter schools, and I don’t have a problem with sharing space that we don’t need, but there is a problem in this district with the process of designating an under-utilized classroom and allowing a charter school to take it over for their use,” Moyes said. “We have poor students who do not have access to computers, and taking over our labs will hurt the school and affect our future programs.”

The district deems classrooms that aren’t assigned to a specific full-time teacher as under-utilized space and therefore eligible for Prop. 39 charter use. The dual-language program wants to expand, and has the demand for it, but needs qualified teachers who can also speak Mandarin.

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Angelica Lopez Moyes with the #SaveCastelar campaign.

Martin Wong, who started an online petition, said, “If children from the charter school want to attend Castelar, they should come. We have awesome kids, excellent teachers, and that amazing Mandarin dual-language program which actually needs the extra space to grow.”

Wong and his wife Wendy don’t consider themselves activists, but they grew up in the neighborhood near downtown LA where they ate dim sum with their families and went to see cool punk bands. Their daughter Eloise has thrived at the school, and they said they were shocked by the “insane idea to have a charter school occupy the unused classrooms at our daughter’s campus. Most of the space is utilized by Chinatown children for music, art, science and P.E. Two schools on one campus would be a logistical nightmare, as well as an unhealthy environment in which the school and students on either side would be in constant measurement and competition against each other.”

Prop. 39 requires school districts to make “reasonably equivalent” facilities available to charter schools upon request. In past years, the California Charter Schools Association has had to sue LA Unified to comply with the state law. That has led the district to determine that essentially if the classroom is not assigned to a full-time teacher, it is considered under-utilized. CCSA continues to closely monitor LA Unified’s use of Prop. 39 to make sure it is fair and equitable toward charter schools.

• Read more about Prop. 39 from CCSA and United Teachers Los Angeles.

Castelar is one of three LA Unified schools offering a Mandarin-immersion dual-language program. It has a 50-student waiting list but not enough qualified teachers for the classes, which are also taught in Chinese. Other classrooms are used for art, dance and P.E. programs.

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How LAUSD plans to dodge its financial crisis: boost enrollment but not cut staff

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Megan Reilly, Michelle King and Monica Ratliff at Tuesday’s special board meeting.

*UPDATE

With LA Unified heading toward financial crisis within three years, Superintendent Michelle King on Tuesday kicked off a series of special board meetings to detail her plans for fiscal solvency. Topping that list is keeping kids in the district. Notably absent was cutting staff.

King’s initiatives would initially cost the district — roughly $20 million. But the programs, if successful, would bring in about $40 million, her staff estimated. The district’s deficit is expected to be about $100 million by the 2017-2018 school year and hit $450 million in three years.

“It sounds like a lot to spend, but if we get double our investment back, or we may even get higher than that, it sounds good,” board member Scott Schmerelson said.

Key to King’s plans is boosting enrollment, which has declined by 100,000 in just the last six years. Her suggestions include: increasing attendance by one percent; creating a unified enrollment process to make it easier for families to enroll in local district magnet schools; adding magnet, dual language and International Baccalaureate programs; making more use of marketing campaigns to highlight district successes; scheduling more professional development for teachers, and increasing parent involvement.

Some of those projects are already in the works, while others King presented to the board Tuesday and asked for their guidance — and eventually their vote to fund them when the budget is approved in June.

“We need to prioritize when we know our resources,” King said. “We can’t do 20, not even do 10, but we can determine six of these are good and let’s do two.”

King’s plans were drafted in response to a blue ribbon Independent Financial Review Panel, commissioned by former Superintendent Ramon Cortines to outline problems and possible solutions for the district, and the first part of Tuesday’s meeting was devoted to where the budget is headed and why revenue is expected to decline. The panel had recommended that staff be cut to adjust to declining enrollments, but King is rejecting that, opting instead to decrease staff through attrition, retirement and leaving vacancies open, as well as a concerted effort to renew grants that have run out.

“We have to align ourselves to what the student population is, and we’re able to shrink the overhead by right-sizing,” King said.

Besides, she noted, the panel’s recommended staff cuts would have saved the district only $36 million, while the revenue loss due to declining enrollment is projected at $127 million in 2016-2017.

However, according to the review panel’s report, a loss of 100,000 students means district staff would need to be reduced by about 10,000 people, for a savings of about $500 million per year. The report pointed out that the district has instead grown its staff — to 64,348 full-time equivalent positions — increasing its costs for both salary and benefits.

Chief Financial Officer Megan Reilly said that increasing student enrollment alone will not solve the deficit projections. Board president Steve Zimmer noted, “We have had these discussions for six or seven years now. Declining enrollment, well, we can’t do anything to affect that.”

Board member Monica Ratliff said, “I’m a little bit concerned that the outcome of this report is dark. If there’s a loss of 100,000 students, we lose 10,000 staff, administrators and teachers and more.”

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Restorative Justice program drastically lowers days lost to suspensions in LAUSD

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Days lost to suspensions have dropped 92 percent.

LA Unified posted a 92 percent decrease in the number of days lost to suspensions as a result of its Restorative Justice program and the district’s new approach to discipline.

In the 2007-2008 school year, a total of 74,765 days were lost to suspensions, but that number plummeted to 6,221 in the 2014-2015 school year, according to a report issued last week to the Successful School Climate committee of the LA Unified school board. Expulsions were down by nearly half, from 141 in 2011-2012 to only 77 in 2014-2015, according to the district data.

“This is incredible news, and it shows that our approach to Restorative Justice and a new look at discipline is working, even though there were many people who were very skeptical about it,” board member Monica Garcia told LA School Report. Garcia, who chairs the committee and sponsored the program, added, “We want to get this to all the schools as soon as we can.”

The district voted in 2013 to bring Restorative Justice into all schools by 2020. The data now show that the plan is working, according to Associate Superintendent of School Operations Earl Perkins.

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Earl Perkins introduces the 45 Restorative Justice teachers.

“We are aggressively training school site staff to implement this in more sites,” said Perkins, who asked the 45 full-time Restorative Justice teachers to stand at the board meeting. They started off working at 150 schools (paid for by Local Control Funding Formula money) and now have trained staff at 423 schools (nearly one-third of all district schools). “These are still baby steps, nothing can be fixed overnight,” he said.

Other district teachers and staff remain skeptical, because ultimately the new approach makes it harder to remove problematic students from the classroom. Keeping students in class, however, saves the district money that would be lost if they don’t attend.

“When this thing first unrolled there was a lot of skepticism, especially on our end,” LA Unified police chief Steve Zipperman said to the teachers. “These numbers we are seeing here would not be possible without your involvement. The data show it’s working.”

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Suspensions and referrals over the past four years.

Restorative Justice has been catching on across the country, particularly in urban areas, and takes an approach to discipline that moves away from punishment. It involves restoring a sense of harmony and well-being for those affected by a hurtful act and provides families, schools and communities a way to solve problems as opposed to the student being tagged as the problem that adults must fix.

“We have stopped sending kids home,” Garcia said. “We understood when we started this that we helped create a better solution, there was more learning and guess what? Our budgets were better.”

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One Monica in, one Monica out: How the LAUSD school board will change

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Monica Ratliff plans to run for City Council.

UPDATED *

It’s official. Monica Garcia announced Tuesday to her supporters that she will be running to retain her seat on LA Unified’s school board.

Meanwhile, fellow board member Monica Ratliff surprised many education and City Hall watchers last week when she quietly took out papers with the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission to allow her to run for the City Council seat that is being vacated by Felipe Fuentes. She has named a treasurer, David L. Gould, based in Long Beach, to start collecting money for that campaign. She has also set up a new email to deal specifically with that race.

Ratliff doesn’t want to publicly discuss leaving the board until the end of the school year, in mid-June, because she doesn’t want it to disrupt work she is still doing with the district. She notified each of her fellow board members of her decision before it broke in the media last week, and she asked them not to discuss it.

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Monica Garcia has declared she’s running again.

Garcia, on the other hand, declared in an email Tuesday afternoon, “I’m in!”

Garcia writes, “It has been an incredible honor to serve you for the last 10 years; together we have been able to increase graduation and reduce the dropout rate. I am looking forward to continuing our work transforming this district so that all children can learn to read, write, think, believe and be college ready and career prepared. But I need your help to win.” She asks for $10, $25 or up to $100 to help launch her campaign for re-election.

So far, Garcia’s only declared competition, who also filed with the Ethics Commission, is Carl Petersen, a gadfly at the school board meetings who said he is purposefully moving into Garcia’s district to run against her.

Petersen said that he and his wife, Nicole, will move into the heavily Latino district that includes Boyle Heights and South Los Angeles so he can run against Garcia. Petersen said he has two children who graduated from LA Unified schools and triplets who are still in district schools. He spoke often to the board about issues he had at schools in Granada Hills in the San Fernando Valley. Petersen ran last year against incumbent Tamar Galatzan, who was ousted by Scott Schmerelson. Petersen came in fifth in that election with 10 percent of the vote.

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After denying parent trigger, district meets with school but some parents are still unhappy

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20th Street parents discussing petition. By Omar Cavillo.

About 100 parents from 20th Street Elementary School met Tuesday night in the auditorium with more than a dozen school administrators after the district denied a “parent trigger” that would allow them to make sweeping changes to the school. Some of the parents were still unhappy, however.

“It was like a big cheerleading session,” said parent Omar Cavillo, who is on the school site council and the English Learner Advisory Committee and one of the parents who started the petition drive under the state’s Parent Empowerment Act. The act, also known as parent trigger, is geared toward underperforming schools so that parents can force changes in instruction and personnel or even create a charter school.

The Parents Union tried for nearly three years to make changes at the school and threatened to file a parent trigger petition last year but withdrew it when the district promised to make changes. They filed in February after they said no changes were made this school year, and they were equally underwhelmed at Tuesday’s meeting.

“They offered no plans to improve education whatsoever,” Cavillo said. “It was very disappointing.”

But Local District Central Superintendent Roberto Martinez told LA School Report that he thought the meeting went very well and that they answered many of the parents’ concerns. He mentioned some of the immediate responses the district has made regarding the initial petition, including changing the principal seven months ago, creating a new reading pilot reading program and getting a grant to keep the school open on Saturdays and allow more parents to be trained and involved.

“We want the parents to be involved and empower them to ask the right questions,” Martinez said. “Our expectation for the teachers is that they communicate where the children are at every step of their education. There are immediate changes going on, and it’s happening right now.”

More than 58 percent, or the 342 families (and more are still signing on), signed a petition for the parent trigger, but last weekend, in the final hours before the district’s Saturday deadline to respond, the district said the school was ineligible for four reasons, which some say are counter-intuitive to the law. Parent Revolution, a nonprofit group that helps parents organize and take over a failing campus, said that some of the district’s arguments were similar to arguments made by Anaheim’s school district in rebuffing a similar parent trigger, but those were rejected by a judge last summer. The case is on appeal.

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Charter school scores hard-won approval despite objections by board staff, president and superintendent

 

 

To help a model charter school expand into high school, the LA Unified school board took unprecedented steps Tuesday night to cobble together a plan, concocting at least half a dozen proposals and amendments during a lengthy and at times contentious discussion. District staff had recommended that the board reject the school’s petition.

Ultimately, the charter school was approved for three years, against the recommendations of not only the district’s charter school review staff but also Superintendent Michelle King and school board president Steve Zimmer, in whose district the school is located.

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Michelle King and Steve Zimmer were still discussing the charter vote long after Tuesday’s meeting ended.

This was the third time in two meetings that the board voted for charters against staff recommendations. The robust debate both this and last month indicates that the board, which has been recently criticized for voting against charters, is trying to help charters they find effective, even if they don’t meet all LA Unified qualifications.

About 80 students, teachers and parents from Westside Innovative School House Inc. (WISH) elementary and middle schools in Westchester cheered and applauded the decision after some of them had waited more than eight hours before the board took up the issue. The vote was four in favor of allowing the school to try a high school for three years, two against, with Zimmer abstaining.

The vote followed a frenzied debate where sidebar conversations were happening in different parts of the school board auditorium and ended as board member Monica Garcia was standing near a back door to leave early because she was the keynote speaker at a Linked Learning Showcase at a local high school. It was her plan for the WISH high school that eventually passed.

After the meeting, Zimmer and King remained in their seats for nearly half an hour talking about the evening’s drawn-out discussion.

“We deeply care about the kids, this was not a charter or anti-charter issue, it was very complicated,” Zimmer told LA School Report. WISH is in his district, and he supports what they have done, but he remains concerned that the school cannot handle the leap to starting a high school just yet. Zimmer offered a proposal that WISH students attend Venice High School beginning in the fall in a “full inclusion model that would be comparable to the WISH model.” His five-part proposal would also expedite money for disability access to the classrooms because WISH is noted for having a high percentage of students in wheelchairs.

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KIPP Raíces celebrates its National Blue Ribbon Schools award

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LA Unified school board member Monica Garcia with two students from KIPP Raíces Academy School.

The National Blue Ribbon Schools award given out each year by the federal government is considered among the highest honors a school can achieve, and of the 335 Blue Ribbon schools in 2015, only one was from LA Unified.

That school, KIPP Raíces Academy School in East Los Angeles, celebrated the award today in a special ceremony that was attended by numerous local politicians and LA Unified administrators, including school board member Monica Garcia, who was the event’s keynote speaker.

“America is better and safer and stronger because KIPP Raíces is in East LA,” Garcia, who grew up just a few blocks from where the school is located, told the crowd.

The elementary school received the award in October but formally celebrated it today. The KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) network operates 13 LA Unified independent charter schools in South and East Los Angeles. The school is 96 percent Latino, and 90 percent of its students qualify for free or reduced price lunch.

The Blue Ribbon award is given to both public and private schools, from elementary through high school levels, and KIPP Raíces was honored as an Exemplary High Performing School, essentially marking it as one of the top schools overall in the nation.

KIPP Raíces poverty and English learner levels are higher than the LA Unified average, but its 2015 Smarter Balanced standardized test scores were far above the average for traditional LA Unified district schools. Seventy-four percent of its students met or exceeded the standards in English language arts, and 79 percent met or exceeded standards in math, compared with a 33 percent average in English and 25 percent in math for LA Unified traditional schools.

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What does it mean that LAUSD is a ‘safe zone’ from immigration officials?

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Isabelle Medina told the school board, “Take care of my family as if they were your family.”

The second largest school district in the nation went on record last week saying it won’t allow law enforcement agents looking to deport those without documentation into any of its 1,274 schools without a review process.

The LA Unified School Board voted unanimously to make the district a “safe zone.” The district is not the first. Across the nation from San Francisco Unified to Montgomery County, Md., school districts have made the same declarations in recent weeks.

It’s significant here because about 74 percent of LAUSD students are Latino, and an estimated 10 percent of LA’s population is in the city illegally. “I appreciate when we try to take a leadership role in situations like this,” said board member Monica Ratliff. Fellow board member and teacher Monica Garcia was adamant about her response if Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents showed up asking for information about her students.

“When ICE comes to my school, I’ll say, ‘You sit right down and I’ll call somebody,’” Garcia said. “You don’t have access to my kids!”

The resolution that was passed:

  • Forbids agents from coming on campus without review and not before a decision is made by the superintendent and the LAUSD lawyer’s office.
  • Forbids school staff to ask about a student’s immigration status or that of family members.
  • Provides teachers, administrators and other staff training on how to deal with immigration issues and how to notify families in multiple languages of issues.
  • Asks all schools to treat students equitably, including those receiving free and reduced lunches, transportation and other services.
  • Requires the superintendent to come up with a plan in 90 days to provide assistance, information and safety for students and families “if faced with fear and anxiety related to immigration enforcement efforts.”

The resolution was presented by school board president Steve Zimmer, who said he doesn’t usually bring up such proposals.

“I don’t do it lightly, the chairman doesn’t usually bring up resolutions like this,” Zimmer said. He felt that decisions pending with the Supreme Court about immigration laws and the fear-mongering banter at presidential debates have led to high anxiety at school campuses.

“I hear the vitriol and hate that is part of the political dialogue on TV and radio waves literally every morning, noon and night,” Zimmer said. “It is creating anxiety with students, parents, families and school communities. I ask that we stand with our families in this important moment. I want every child and every family to feel safe in our schools.”

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How this math teacher helps kids get perfect scores

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Teacher Anthony Yom with student Cedrick Argueta at Tuesday’s school board meeting.

It was cause for celebration when 17-year-old Cedrick Argueta was one in 12 students in the entire world to ace one of the toughest college-level calculus tests.

But it wasn’t just one test. Cedrick also earned perfect scores on the English and math sections of the American College Testing entrance exam.

And it wasn’t just one student.

When the international spotlight shone on Cedrick, and his family, and his Lincoln Heights School in East Los Angeles, Cedrick kept pushing the credit back onto his teacher. “I could never have done it without him, he inspired us,” Cedrick said Tuesday when he addressed the LA Unified school board. “And, by the way, it was a team effort because the other students in my class did well too.”

In fact, for the past five years, everyone at the school who took the Advanced Placement Calculus AB exam passed it. And this past year, every student scored a 3 or higher. The scale is 1 to 5, with the highest score meaning “extremely well qualified” enough to do the work of a college level course.

So who is this teacher, Anthony Yom, and what are his secrets? Yom said he truly enjoys teaching. He doesn’t depend solely on the textbook, he doesn’t sit still in class, and he considers the students not only his colleagues, but his friends.

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School board member Monica Garcia, Principal Jose Torres, Cedrick Argueta and his teacher Anthony Yom.

“I don’t really feel like I do anything different than many of the 30,000 other teachers who care about teaching in this school district,” Yom said in an interview with LA School Report. “I love spending time with the students, and I don’t consider what I do to be work. I also try to make it fun.”

Making calculus fun may seem like a tough task, but Yom said he doesn’t depend on dry lectures or boring textbooks. He seeks out additional teaching tools and examples on the Internet and develops worksheets from that. He tries to bring real-life applications to the math as much as possible. He also divides students up into groups so they can learn to help each other.

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School board’s high-drama discussion: Are we fair to charters?

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George McKenna and Monica Garcia in school board debate.

If anything, it was good television.

LA Unified school board members confronted each other headlong in a dramatic discussion Tuesday night over whether charter schools were being treated fairly by the district.

The discussion opened calls for a deep dive into how district staff comes up with its recommendations for denials or approvals of charter schools.

The debate erupted during talks about the renewal and a new application for two charter schools run by Partnership to Uplift Communities (PUC). By state law, the school board oversees the creation of charter schools in the district and renews the contracts for up to five years. LA Unified is the second largest school district in the nation and has the largest number of charter schools.

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PUC students and teachers cheer after vote.

Because board member Ref Rodriguez co-founded PUC, he stepped out of the meeting and watched on closed-circuit live stream television, which is also available to the public.

The drama began when recent media reports, including those in LA School Report, were brought up that suggested charter schools were under more scrutiny.

Monica Garcia, whose district has the PUC schools, said flatly, “I think that the politics of the board has changed.” When asked to clarify the statement by board President Steve Zimmer, she repeated the statement.

Monica Ratliff responded, “I think something has changed. I’m not necessarily opposed to it, but let’s be transparent about it.”

  • VIDEO: To watch the board members’ debate, start at 5 hours 51 minutes into the meeting in this video

Ratliff asked the chief of the Charter Schools Division, Jose Cole-Gutierrez, why the staff suggested denying the PUC petitions. “It seems like you are saying we are always consistent in our denials,” she asked.

Cole-Gutierrez said, “We strive to be consistent, period.”

George McKenna, the senior statesman of the board and vice president, called out some of the statements by his fellow board members. Sitting next to Garcia, he said he didn’t like the idea that she suggested that charter school decisions are based on politics.

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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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