LAUSD administrative staff jumps 22 percent even as enrollment drops

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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.



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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Special ed: a big drain on the district’s budget, but a potential for attracting more students


Estimated cost per special education student, from LAUSD.

Special education students present one of the biggest costs for LA Unified, but administrators are considering ways to capitalize on the district’s successes with that population.

Half of the school board’s all-day special budget session at USC on Tuesday was spent discussing the costs of dealing with students with mild and severe disabilities.

Special ed is identified as one of the three major deficit drivers on the school budget, along with pension costs and retiree benefit costs. The discussions included better methods of labeling students with disabilities, how to lower costs working with those students and possibly suing the state and federal governments to help pay for them.

The estimated annual cost to educate a student with disabilities is $8,275 more than a general education student. A general education student costs $11,798 per year, so a student with disabilities costs a total of $20,073.


Michelle King with special education students.

The second-largest school district in the nation also has the largest population of special education students in the country, at 72,973 students, excluding those in independent charters.

“We face issues and challenges for this population with inadequate funding from the federal piece and the state piece,” said Superintendent Michelle King.

Chief Financial Officer Megan Reilly said that only 60 percent of the $1.5 billion in costs is covered by the federal and state money. She said, “There is a perception we have the money to cover all our special education students, but we don’t.”

School board President Steve Zimmer, who has personally lobbied both Washington, D.C., and Sacramento politicians for a more fair share of the special ed money, said the district is at the forefront of trying to get the necessary money to cover the costs.

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District puts renewed emphasis on required ethnic studies courses


Nolan Cabrera of the University of Arizona.

Anti-immigrant rhetoric going on in presidential politics and a potential state law have added a renewed emphasis on developing required ethnic studies classes in the LA Unified curriculum.

An expert from the University of Arizona spoke to an LA Unified school board committee this week to explain the importance of ethnic studies in education. He brought in some statistics to show the benefits.

“This is a very pressing educational issue,” assistant professor Nolan Cabrera told the Curriculum, Instruction and Educational Equity Committee on Tuesday. “We need to know how to get along across differences. People like to knock these courses like it’s an easy class, such as basket weaving, but it’s not.”

In Arizona, pilot schools targeted low-performing students and gave them Mexican-American studies courses. The schools saw that attendance, class scores and graduation rates all improved, Cabrera said. Attendance went up by 21 percent, grade point averages went up by 1.4 points and students added 23 credits to their curriculum, Cabrera said.

School board members Scott Schmerelson, Steve Zimmer and George McKenna at the meeting all expressed support for the ethnic studies courses.

“I’m am continued to be troubled about politics in this country,” said McKenna, the only African-American on the board. “People who are running are running anti the concept of ethnic inclusion, and anti ethnic contributions and they are being celebrated for it. Now they have someone espousing with all the bombast that some people should be kept over here and some kept over there, and I know how that feels like because I rode at back of bus for the first 25 years of my life.”

McKenna said that he hoped that the Ethnic Studies Task Force starts meeting again, and asked to district to support the programs.

Derrick Chau, the director of Secondary Instruction for the district, said they are now developing a strategic plan for implementing ethnic studies across the district and are revising three English language arts classes to align with ethniic studies. Chau said the district is planning professional development for teachers, too.

Chau pointed out that the ethnic breakdown among the roughly 650,000 students at LA Unified is now 74 percent Latino, 8.4 percent African-American and 6 percent Asian. He said, “I turn to my own children who are of Asian and Latino decent and I think how beneficial it would be for the children of LAUSD and my own children to have access to these courses.”  Continue reading

Renowned educator warns that LA Unified’s future is ‘dire’


Pedro Noguera presents his recommendations to LA Unified board members and superintendent.

Internationally renowned education expert Pedro Noguera warned members of the LA Unified school board and superintendent that unless more serious measures are taken, the nation’s second-largest school district is destined to lose more students.

“The future is dire,” Noguera told the Committee of the Whole on Tuesday afternoon. He pointed to entire neighborhoods in Philadelphia with abandoned schools. “It’s not there aren’t enough kids, they lost the commitment to education. I hope that doesn’t happen in this city.”

The challenges LA Unified is facing, he said, include declining enrollment because of the growth of charters and demographic shifts, chronically under-performing schools, structural budget deficits and the need to increase public support for schools.

Noguera has written 11 books and more than 200 articles about education and focuses his research on how economic conditions impact schools. He served as a school board member at Berkeley Unified and is now a Distinguished Professor of Education in the Graduate School of Education and Information Sciences at UCLA.

Committee chairman George McKenna invited the professor to make a presentation to offer advice and give examples of what other schools do.

“I appreciate you coming to tell us the truth, even though we may not want to hear it,” McKenna said. “We have to take this situation seriously, really seriously.”

School board president Steve Zimmer attended the committee meeting although he was on his way to Washington, D.C., for the rest of the week to help lobby for the district. He told Noguera, “There is no more important city in this world for you to be in, and I’m glad that you’re here and work with us.”

Zimmer noted that Noguera discussed the district’s concerns about competition for students between traditional and charter schools. “As you spoke,” Zimmer said, “it was actually quite emotional because I think we have been through a time where we have misunderstood the role of competition and in that misunderstanding have caused some injury and caused it to be potentially more difficult to build the foundation of trust.”

Nearly 16 percent of LA Unified’s students are enrolled in 211 charter schools, and that number would grow significantly under a plan to increase charter enrollment in the district, which the school board unanimously opposed in January.

Noguera said, “Like it or not, schools are competing for kids, and public schools don’t even realize it. Like it or not, that’s the set-up.”

He pointed out his granddaughter goes to a traditional LA Unified school where the parents are only allowed to drop children off between 7:45 and 8:15 a.m., while the charter school around the corner allows drop-offs as early as 7 a.m.

“For a busy working parent, like her mom is, and in a city like this where transportation is a big issue, that is not a small factor,” Noguera said. That alone could be a reason for a family to choose a charter school over a traditional school.

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Dissecting success: Middle school teacher who sets science to rap music is honored

Middle school science teacher Tunji Adebayo was honored by Teach For America at Monday night's benefit.

Middle school science teacher Tunji Adebayo was honored by Teach For America at Monday night’s benefit.

Science lessons set to rap music. Aspirations in envelopes pinned to the ceiling. And a commitment to live alongside students.

Tunji Adebayo, who teaches 7th and 8th grade science at Lou Dantzler Preparatory Charter Middle School, was honored Monday night for his innovation and dedication at Teach For America’s “Celebrating Changemakers in Education.”

“Tunji’s dedication to his students is limitless, especially to young black males,” Lida Jennings, executive director of TFA LA, told the 350 guests at the Petersen Automotive Museum gathered for the group’s third annual benefit dinner.

Adebayo, 25, who was born in Nigeria one month before TFA was launched, is in his third year of a profession he hadn’t planned on. A TFA representative reached out to him while he was studying dietetics and nutrition science at the University of Georgia, and he’s never looked back.

“I’m staying in education no matter what,” he told LA School Report before receiving his award Monday night.

After his first year teaching and commuting into South LA from Long Beach, Adebayo moved to the neighborhood, around 51st and Vermont. For him, “It’s essential to live in the community,” he said.

He often sees his students in the area, particularly on weekends when he is at the farmers market, which is near a mall with a movie theater.

“It’s a blessing to live and understand some of their struggles on a daily basis. It makes it more real, to become a part of the community.”

The middle school, one of 12 operated by the Inner City Education Foundation, serves 264 students in grades 6-8, and 74 percent are African Americans, compared to 8.4 percent in LA Unified. The school’s student population identified as socioeconomically disadvantaged stands at 77 percent, the same percentage as LA Unified students who qualify for free and reduced-price meals. And 13 percent have disabilities.

His commitment to helping other African Americans started in college, where he noticed that other “young black males didn’t accomplish what I did because the expectations and support weren’t there.”

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Vergara reactions pour in as appeal to state Supreme Court is planned

SM_Raylene Monterroza

Raylene Monterroza, one of the plaintiffs. (Courtesy of Students Matter)

The day after the state Court of Appeal ruled that the job protections for teachers do not predominantly harm minority students, the key players in the case said they feel confident the California Supreme Court will take up the issue.

The three-judge panel reversed a landmark 2014 ruling by Superior Judge Rolf Treu, who struck down five of the state’s tenure laws. The case is being watched nationwide and has sparked similar lawsuits in other states.

One of the nine students who filed the lawsuit, Raylene Monterroza, now 18, expressed her disappointment in a Friday conference call. “We deserve better. All of us, in every school, in every grade, in every ZIP code, so even with this decision, we will keep fighting.”

Theodore J. Boutrous Jr., attorney for the students, said the appeals court decision is “divorced from reality.” He said in the call, “We took a hit but have dusted ourselves off and are ready to fight the next round for the students who have been our inspiration from Day One.”

He is ready to appeal to the California Supreme Court and added, “We feel very good about our path going forward.”

School board president Steve Zimmer, who was on a jet and traveling when the ruling was released, said in a statement late Thursday: “Today’s important court decision allows us to return with laser focus to the real question facing our public education system: how will we recruit, train and support a new generation of teachers who will give their lives to the ideal that the American dreams of every child can come true in the schools of our state and our nation.”

Randi Weingarten

Randi Weingarten

American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten heralded the decision and said it will help with the teacher shortage problem facing the state. “It is vitally important that every single child, particularly the kids who brought this case, receive a great public education. That starts with recruiting, retaining and supporting teachers, not blaming educators for societal problems or stripping away their voice.”

Weingarten said in a statement, “The clear lesson from Vergara is that we need to solve the very real teacher shortage problem—not make matters worse by bashing and scapegoating the dedicated educators who teach our children. … When it comes to tenure and due process, these are essential protections for teachers to do their jobs, but they should never be used as a cloak for incompetence or an excuse for managers not to manage.”

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$40 million more OKd to fix MiSiS, then it will cost at least $12 million each year to maintain


Monica Ratliff questioned how much MiSiS will cost.

Another $40.3 million was approved to repair and run the beleaguered MiSiS computer system for the next year, but the big question at Tuesday’s LA Unified School Board meeting was how much it will cost to maintain once all the repairs are done.

The answer came late into the nearly six-hour meeting when board member Monica Ratliff asked Diane Pappas, CEO of strategic planning and digital innovation, “So, how much will it cost to maintain MiSiS?”

Pappas said, “We are estimating this at $12 million, but that is just an estimate, it could be more. I don’t want to tell you 100 percent it’s that, but you should be budgeting a minimum of $12 million to maintain the system.”

Ratliff, while acknowledging Pappas for providing a complete report of the MiSiS progress, said she was still concerned. “I don’t know where we’re going to get that from, and I just want to put that out there that we need to find it.”

The repair funds come from bond money, but the $12 million to maintain the system every year will have to come out of the general fund.

“This is actually a big deal,” Ratliff said.

MiSiS, whose formal name is My Integrated Student Information System, was created to combine student data throughout the district. Its initial cost was $29.7 million. That has risen dramatically since the board approved it in 2013, as additional expenses were required for desktop computers and for repairing major glitches in the system. The system will now also include information from independent charter schools.

When the system launched in 2014 it was glitchy and malfunctioning, assigning students to courses they had already taken or to no classes at all during some periods, and required an influx of extra money to help stabilize it.

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


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


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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Commentary: Cirque du LAUSD


Representatives from charter schools line up outside LAUSD headquarters for this month’s board meeting.

By Nick Melvoin

Last week’s Los Angeles Unified School Board meeting was a political circus. Scores of parents, students and advocates in a packed boardroom vied for a chance to speak as the board debated their futures in real time. And while the politics may interest an arm-chair social scientist—“everyone is in such a bunkered battleground” as board President Steve Zimmer put it, before climbing back into his bunker and abstaining on the most contentious vote of the day—our children deserve better than a trip to the circus. Putting aside the merits of the issues discussed, the manner in which the board makes its decisions—and, superficially at least, invites community input—is absurd.

Parents, students and teachers waited more than eight hours to be given a chance to speak. And their futures were left to a process by which the board “cobble[d] together a plan, concocting at least half a dozen proposals and amendments during a lengthy and at times contentious discussion.” And this comes months after the school had to submit their petition.

Unfortunately, dysfunction is the norm, not the exception, for school board meetings. When schools are up for renewal, parents—many of whom have to take hours if not the entire day off work to advocate for their children—often line up starting at daybreak. In many cases, they don’t speak until late in the day, if at all. Parents and community stakeholders are left outside for hours or are relegated to an “overflow” room where they can watch the board meeting (unless, of course, the live stream doesn’t work). And despite stories of parents who are unable to speak after hours of waiting, board members at times let their supporters speak even when resolutions are postponed or abandoned.

Democracy is messy, but it doesn’t have to be dysfunctional. And despite lip-service about the need to engage parents and the community, nothing says “we don’t want your input” more than making parents line up at 5 a.m. to maybe, just maybe, get two minutes to speak before midnight.

When I was a teacher, I streamlined processes to ensure instructional time wasn’t lost and my students and I had a clear understanding of what was expected of us. I encourage the school board to do the same.

Here are a few ideas for new processes that could increase parent engagement and allow for more productive board meetings.

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Fight over weapons in LAUSD not over, group says


A civic group protesting the military-style weapons once held by LA Unified police said they will continue to disrupt meetings and hold demonstrations until they get answers and action.

The group, Fight for the Soul of the Cities, took over a committee meeting at the LA Unified school board headquarters last month, and this week held a loud protest of about 50 students, parents and teachers outside Tuesday’s board meeting shouting chants and banging drums.

“We do not believe that the district has taken away all the weapons, and we are asking for more,” said the group’s director of organizing, Manuel Criollo. “We will not stop the protests and disruptions.”

1033FightforSouloftheCitiesThe group is protesting the Department of Defense’s 1033 program, which allowed surplus military equipment to be used by the schools. It was a solution for unused equipment by President Obama’s administration to help small police agencies.

“We do not believe that they sneaked the guns away in the middle of the night, we need proof of that,” said Criollo, who doesn’t believe the district’s answer that they are no longer involved with the program.

At one point, under Superintendent John Deasy, the school police force had a small tank (more accurately, a Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle) and automatic weapons as well as three grenade launchers.

LA Unified Police Chief Steven Zipperman stated that on Feb. 5, “the last remaining ‘1033’ equipment items within the LASPD inventory (rifles) were returned to the inventory of the Defense Distribution Depot.”

At Tuesday’s school board meeting, P.J. Webb, president of the Los Angeles School Police Management Association, said, “Your police department is completely out of the Department of Justice’s 1033 program, the chief has returned the last of the equipment, and we are done with this.”

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LAUSD turns up the heat on the national chicken industry


Steve Zimmer at Mosk Elementary School.

LA Unified is making no bones about wanting to change the chicken industry, and federal officials visiting the district Thursday say they’re on their way to doing it.

LA Unified became the first large school district in the nation to contract for antibiotic- and hormone-free chicken and turkey in a vote Tuesday. On Thursday, visiting dignitaries from the U.S. Department of Agriculture said that such a bold move could have a direct effect on the way poultry is handled in the country.

“The district uses their leverage because of their great volume, and other districts take a look at what they’re doing, and that is how things get changed,” said Kevin Concannon, Undersecretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services. “It takes leadership to make this happen.”

The leadership came from school board president Steve Zimmer, who is seeing the culmination of more than two years of work since getting the Good Food Procurement resolution passed that supports local farmers and local economies and seeks alternatives to foods that are genetically modified or hormone-filled.

“We are trying to change the industry,” Zimmer told LA School Report after a meeting at Stanley Mosk Elementary School with the undersecretary about expanding free lunches in the district. “We have the courage to make this investment, and then the rest of the nation will follow and eventually the industry-wide expectation is that it will be hormone free and antibiotic free.”

The cost will be higher, in fact about 67 percent higher, than the chicken the district has purchased in the past from Tyson Foods, said Laura Benavidez, interim Food Service Division deputy co-director. The new contract is with Gold Star Foods from Perdue Farms in Ontario, Calif.

“The cost will become less and less of an issue as more districts join us,” Zimmer said.

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Nearly half of LAUSD students now eligible for free school lunches thanks to new program

KevinConcannonMikelahWynn Breakfast

Mikelah Wynn at breakfast with Kevin Concannon.

Mikelah Wynn, 11, looked skeptically at the tall man in the suit who sat down with her and her friends as she opened up her breakfast Thursday morning. The man was Kevin Concannon, USDA Undersecretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services, who came from Washington, D.C., to her fifth-grade class in Winnetka to celebrate the 50th anniversary of School Breakfast Week and introduce a new program that is getting her free lunch at school.

“I’m interested in what you like and don’t like in your school breakfasts, how is it for you?” asked Concannon.

Holding up her apple, Mikelah declared, “I like the fruit. I like the milk too.”


Steve Zimmer asks students what they like in their school lunches.

Across the table, her friend Savanna Sadaba, 11, admitted after some prompting, “The breakfast burritos taste a little rubbery.”

Next to her, the school’s student council president, Cindy Estrada, said, “We all like the coffee cake, but it’s not as sweet as it used to be.”

For that she can thank Local District Northwest Superintendent Vivian Ekchian, who was standing behind them and said she helped the district tweak the recipes to comply more with the federal standards for whole grains and sugars. “We have to watch the levels of sugar and nutritional value, but they are still very good,” Ekchian said. “It is so important that every child has breakfast. And every child’s metabolism is different, and if you are hungry it affects your learning.”


Students take the breakfasts to class.

The national announcement of the federal school food program took place at Stanley Mosk Elementary School in the west San Fernando Valley, where more than 60 percent of students fall into a low-income bracket. Federal, state and local school officials kicked off the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), which allows schools to identify students that could qualify for free meals by referencing other state and federal programs, including CalWORKS, CalFresh, Medicare and other social service programs that already earmark such populations. When more than 40 percent of a school’s population falls into that category, the entire school gets free lunches.

For LA Unified, that means 339 schools and 257,500 students — nearly half the district’s students — will get breakfast and lunch each day at no charge without their parents or guardians having to complete a separate application for free or reduced-price meals. The new program began this month and will continue through the 2018-19 school year. And it will save the school district more than $60 million over the next three years.

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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.


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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You can graduate, but LAUSD doesn’t want to settle for D grades

Percent C or D or aboveAlthough LA Unified stands to potentially have its highest graduation rate ever this year, the district doesn’t want students to settle for D grades.

In fact, the percentage of students maintaining a C or better in college prep or A-G classes has more than doubled in 10 years, according to the latest LA Unified statistics.

In a report presented at a committee meeting Tuesday afternoon, Chief Academic Officer Frances Gipson noted that only 18 percent of the students had a C or above in 2005, but in 2015 that number hit 43 percent — a nearly 20 percent jump just from last school year — and this year it is expected to hit 49 percent.

Gipson repeatedly used the phrase “cautious optimism” when discussing the recent numbers with both the school board members and later with LA School Report. She said part of the reason for the new statistics and the optimistic outlook is “an action plan for incredible personalization” that was implemented by new Superintendent Michelle King when she took office last month.

“It was evident from the first week that Michelle King wants all students to be college ready, and that is C or better,” Gipson said. “We want a diploma from LAUSD to mean something. Ms. King has their families’ best interest at heart.”

In her first meeting as superintendent, King let her local district superintendents know that they should all be personally accountable for contacting students who are not on track to graduate. Staff was notified to help students get into credit recovery programs so they can turn F grades into passing grades. Although the district lowered standards so that students can also graduate with D averages in A-G classes, that is not enough for King.

“You can receive a D to graduate, but we are looking toward the C college-ready achievement, and we would be very pleased to look at how we moved the needle for our kids to make them more college ready,” King said.

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Nick Melvoin declares candidacy for LA Unified school board District 4 seat in ’17

Nick Melvoin

Nick Melvoin

The 2017 LA Unified school board elections are still more than a year away, but that isn’t stopping Nick Melvoin from officially throwing his hat into the ring of the District 4 race.

The District 4 seat is currently held by board President Steve Zimmer, who has yet to officially declare he will be running for a third term. In next year’s two other board races, District 2 and District 6, no challenger or incumbent has officially declared candidacy, making Melvoin the first to jump into 2017 school board election waters.

Melvoin, of Brentwood, graduated from Harvard-Westlake in 2004 and then Harvard and earned a master’s from Loyola Marymount University and a law degree from New York University School of Law. At 30, if elected he would become the youngest member of the board.

Melvoin started his career working as a teacher for two years in LA Unified’s Edwin Markham Middle School through the Teach For America program. He has also worked as a legal clerk for the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, as director of policy, communications and associate counsel for Great Public Schools Los Angeles, a consultant to Educators 4 Excellence and is currently a consultant to Teach Plus.

Melvoin worked on the ACLU’s  Reed v. California lawsuit, which challenged LA Unified’s seniority-based teacher layoff policies, by helping recruit former students and co-workers from Markham to join the lawsuit. (Click here to read Melvoin’s Los Angeles Times editorial on the case.) He also testified in the Vergara v. California lawsuit where a group of students successfully argued that the state’s teacher employment laws are unconstitutional. The case is currently under appeal.

LA School Report spoke with Melvoin by phone recently. This is an edited transcript of the conversation.

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Commentary: LAUSD should reverse cuts to immersion program at Broadway Elementary


LA Unified school board President Steve Zimmer at Hamilton High “walk-in.”

By Jennifer Pullen

Tens of thousands of people, including Los Angeles Unified School District Board President Steve Zimmer, participated in a “walk-in” last week to show support for traditional public schools at a time when they are facing increasing pressure from — and loss of students to — charter and private operators.

Staged in partnership with local and national unions and other interest groups, it was a great photo op for Mr. Zimmer. But the truth is that when the cameras are gone, the district too often closes the door when parents choose to walk away from non-traditional schools and walk into LA public schools. We know, because they are closing the door on us right now.

We are proud that we walked in to the economically and racially diverse Broadway Elementary School in Venice in 2010 when it was facing closure due to low enrollment. We stepped forward with time and resources to support the launch of a Mandarin immersion program at Broadway that was championed by Mr. Zimmer and was designed to help make this traditional public school more attractive, and to create the type of learning opportunities our kids need to compete in 21st century Los Angeles and the global economy.

With the strong parental support, the program has flourished, and each year we have seen families literally camping on the street to enroll their kids. Broadway wasn’t closed, and the program was expanded from two classes to four, and there has been enough demand to support two additional classes for a total of six. The district’s response? They recently decided to cut the program down to two classes. This is unacceptable and the district must reverse course and maintain four classes in a program that has been proven successful and for which there is proven demand.

With this decision, the district is failing our kids. In the battle against charter and private operators, the district is shooting themselves in the foot. And here is a crucial stat: if the district stands by its decision to cut the number of immersion seats from 96 to 48, there will be an almost zero chance for new families to enroll their children in the program because 47 seats are already claimed by sibling-priority students. This directly disserves the local student population served by Broadway Elementary.

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


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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Students, educators rally for public education across LAUSD

As part of demonstrations taking place at schools around LA Unified and in cities across the country, a group of roughly 100 protesters made up of parents, students, district leaders and politicians gathered outside Hamilton High School Wednesday morning to rally in support of public education.

“Every day at this school I’m exposed to someone with different experiences,” said senior class president Brittany Pedrosa. “The cultural diversity makes it so beautiful.”

Pedrosa’s fellow students talked about being at Hamilton with special needs, or in special programs like music, arts or Arabic language, with teachers and counselors who help them even after hours. They also talked about having class sizes of more than 40 students and not having enough resources. One student talked about coming over from Mexico at 6 years old with her sister.

Alex Caputo-Pearl

Alex Caputo-Pearl

“I remember coming home from school with my sister surrounded by my uncles helping me with English homework. Those were the hardest years of my life,” said Jessica Garcia. “Now I will be the first in my family to go to college.”

Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of the LA teachers union, UTLA, said that 40 cities throughout the country and 170 schools at LAUSD alone were participating in the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools demonstrations.

“I just got off the phone with the people in Chicago and this is happening all over the country where we are highlighting great programs in sustainable neighborhood community schools,” Caputo-Pearl said. “If billionaires want to be involved, they should not undermine programs, they should contribute their fair share in taxes.”

Caputo-Pearl was talking about the non-profit Great Public Schools Now program, which was started by the Broad Foundation and has announced a plan to expand the number of charter schools at LA Unified. Megan Baaske, representing Great Public Schools Now, was at Hamilton observing the event and handing media a statement saying, “Great Public Schools Now is an effort dedicated to expanding high-quality public schools, not privatizing them. We hope to work constructively with any group that shares our deep desire to improve education in Los Angeles, and we support all communities who are rallying for better schools.” Continue reading

20,000 expected to ‘walk in’ at LAUSD schools Wednesday morning

Alex Caputo-Pearl strike talks UTLA

UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl

More than 20,000 parents, students and teachers in LA Unified are expected to stage a “Walk-In” before school on Wednesday orchestrated by the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools to protest charter expansion and call for greater investment in public education.

“We have coordinated this with the school district and the superintendent’s office,” said Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, which is leading the LA part of the nationwide protest.

In fact, Superintendent Michelle King will be attending one of the demonstrations at Hamilton High School in West Los Angeles along with school board president Steve Zimmer and vice president George McKenna as well as American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten.

The purpose of the demonstration, they said, is “to fight back corporate privatization and stand up for fully-funded public education; to reclaim the promise of public education in LA.”

Specifically, their mission is to protest the proposed Greater Public Schools Now (GPS Now), which plans a major expansion of school funding and an increase in charter schools for the area. “We reject Broad-Walmart’s plan to undermine LAUSD,” according to the mission statement. “We call on Broad and the Waltons to pay their fair share in taxes to support quality schools that serve all students.”

King issued a statement saying, “Great progress is taking place in our classrooms and schools, thanks to the thousands of talented and dedicated teachers in LA Unified. The United Teachers Los Angeles ‘Walk-in’ will take place before the start of the school day on Feb. 17, allowing our employees to celebrate their success without disrupting the teaching and learning process. We are grateful to our teachers and join with them in recognizing their pride and enthusiasm for their work.”

UTLA’s website included a sign-up list and offered information tools and flyers to print out at the 70 school sites.

The flyers they plan to hand out to parents, staff and community members state, “We stand together—parents, educators, students, school staff and community organizations—to send a strong message to policymakers and billionaires like Eli Broad that public education is NOT for sale. We are reclaiming our school and committing to work in solidarity to ensure that our school serves the needs of its community.”

Maria Palma was incensed when her child brought home a flyer asking her to attend a meeting after the demonstration at the San Jose Elementary and Highly Gifted Magnet School in Mission Hills. She complained to her school principal and district representatives.

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How this math teacher helps kids get perfect scores

AnthonyYomCedrick Argueta1

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.

MonicaGarciaAnthonyYomCedrick Argueta

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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