Flavored milk, high-speed rail, a name change and more LAUSD board decisions


The school board wore their college logos.

It wasn’t all about charters at the 13 hours of meetings held Tuesday by the LA Unified School Board.

They also made decisions on possibly bringing flavored milk back to schools, encouraging more water access, discouraging a high-speed rail rumbling past some schools, a name change to a school with a titled deemed racist, plus more.

Other school board actions:

• LAUSD school board approves one new charter school and three renewals; those recommended for denial to be voted on later today

• Charter school scorecard: How the board voted Tuesday night

• A balanced job or ‘they want to kill our charters’? Debate rages after a day of tough charter decisions

Griffith Middle School

One of the easiest decisions came in a consent agenda item renaming the David Wark Griffith Middle School to simply Griffith Middle School. Parents and activists at the Eastside school of 1,400 followed a wave of the national trend of renaming schools last year and a 2015 summer petition pointed out that the filmmaker that the school was named after created “Birth of a Nation” which celebrated the Ku Klux Klan in 1915.

This year a film of the same name was released but didn’t portray the Klan as heroes. According to a report by Superintendent Michelle King, the school was named in 1957 and “has a rich legacy of graduates, the students and staff, who after being educated about Mr. Griffith’s true history, were in favor of the name change.”

The district held multiple meetings and in June the parents voted. The final tally was 93 votes for D.W. Griffith Middle School, 110 votes for Felix Gutierrez Middle School and 1,220 votes for Griffith Middle School. In support of local school autonomy and the desire of the stakeholders, Griffith Middle School was the prevailing option, and that’s what the district recommended.

“We don’t want the school to be named after a filmmaker who glorified the Ku Klux Klan and espoused white supremacy, even if many of us didn’t know about the history,” said Rosalio Munoz, who pushed for the name change.

Most of the parents and students thought the school was named after the man who deeded Griffith Park to the city and had the observatory named after him. That was Col. Griffith J. Griffith, who is no relation to the filmmaker. So the school will use the name Griffith without anyone specified, and D.W. is removed.

Chocolate milk and water

The school board debated nearly an hour over a resolution brought by Monica Ratliff and Scott Schmerelson asking for a voluntary pilot program to reintroduce flavored milk to schools to get data for possibly opening it up to all schools again.

Five years ago the district stopped serving strawberry and chocolate flavored milk because of the high sugar content. Gabriella Charter School teacher Brent Walmsley, who formed an activist group called SugarWatch, spoke to the board and said, “I’m very very concerned that there is an additional 11 grams of sugar in flavored milk, added to the 11 grams already in milk and that alone is almost the total suggested amount of sugar that children should have.”

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A balanced job or ‘they want to kill our charters’? Debate rages after a day of tough charter decisions


Magnolia CEO Caprice Young on Tuesday night with some of the documents sent to LAUSD.


LA Unified is struggling to define its role in overseeing charter schools as the numbers of academically strong charters continue to grow across the nation’s second-largest school district.

LA has the most independent public charter schools overseen by a single district and usually approves most petitions. But this week a record number of charters, all outperforming neighboring schools, were recommended for denial, and after 13 hours of meetings on Tuesday, five charters were rejected.

One new school was approved, another was allowed to expand and three others were renewed. Plus one high-profile high school was spared as long as its director and several board members resign.

All LA Unified leaders and staff agreed that the charter schools’ rejections had nothing to do with their academic success. Instead, they were turned down for problems with infrastructure, governance or lack of documentation.

“Frankly, this is not about good management,” Caprice Young, CEO of Magnolia Public Schools, said in an interview after she saw three of her high-performing schools rejected for renewal late Tuesday night. “This is about the fact that they want to kill our charters and nothing more.”

Citing thousands of pages of documents that Magnolia provided to the district, Young said, “They are asking us to hire an army of accountants when what I really want is a battalion of teachers. This is pure harassment.”

And that’s coming from someone who has led the school board. “You’re talking to the former president of the LA Unified school board,” Young said. “I believe in charter and non-charter schools. I will continue to fight to be part of this LAUSD family even if they don’t want us.”

In an interview Wednesday, school board President Steve Zimmer said the decisions were not easy, but they were balanced.

“We did our job yesterday,” Zimmer said. “We have an oversight role, and we take it seriously. These are public schools and these are public dollars. The effort to say our decisions are somehow overly political or have to do with any of the drama or atmospherics around these questions is not the case. We did our job.”

That job included hearing emotional speeches from teachers, parents, graduates and administrators begging the seven elected board members to renew their school petitions. The school board, as the authorizing body, reviews charters every five years and either grants an extension to the school or rejects it, which could lead to the school’s closing.

As usual, hundreds of concerned families flooded the downtown Beaudry Avenue headquarters wearing their school T-shirts and carrying signs of support. Most of the 400 who were bused in for the Magnolia hearing didn’t even get inside the auditorium.

“It is very difficult, we don’t enjoy this part of our job at all,” Zimmer said about the charter hearings. “It is part of our job as authorizers and it’s not fun.”

Parent Paul Girard is spending the rest of the week looking for a new school for his twin sons now that their Celerity Troika school in Eagle Rock was rejected for renewal.

“I will have to look for a school outside of the area, outside of the district,” said Girard, who has volunteered at the school for the past two years. “I am very disappointed that my sons won’t have this high-quality education in a diverse learning environment. This is a life-changing decision for a lot of us.”


CEO Mark Kleger-Heine marching with other Citizens of the World families.

None of the schools will close immediately, and all plan to appeal to the Los Angeles County Office of Education for charter approval, then if needed to the state Board of Education. After gaining approval, the schools could continue to operate and even possibly remain on district property, but without LA Unified oversight.

Seventh-grader Abigail Rubio, with tears streaming down her face, was comforted outside the school board auditorium by friends as she contemplated not spending 8th grade at Celerity Dyad School in Los Angeles.

“How could they do this?” she sobbed. “I love my school.”

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Getting ready for college, for pre-K through 12th grade: LAUSD kicks off College Awareness Month


Carol Alexander, director of LA Unified’s A-G Intervention and Support

As part of College Awareness Month in October, LA Unified officials on Tuesday presented a new initiative designed to inspire and prepare the district’s students for college, starting at the pre-K and kindergarten level and continuing every year through 12th grade.

“The Division of Instruction wanted to begin a dialogue of specific activities by grade level, highlighting an activity by grade level that every child by grade level would have,” Carol Alexander, director of LA Unified’s A-G Intervention and Support, told the school board’s Curriculum, Instruction and Educational Equity Committee.

The plan is one of several ways the district is looking to increase college awareness this month. Others include a new instructional video on the A through G graduation standards, which will be shown to students, and a personalized brochure that can be given to high school students on A-G in their native language. The district is also promoting upcoming college fairs, as well as partnering with Cash for College on upcoming workshops for parents and students on how to apply for financial aid.

The pre-K through 12th-grade plan isn’t required for schools but is a list of “suggested activities” that have been sent out to each school, Alexander said, and leaders at each site will decide how best to implement them. The activities include kindergarten students investigating and learning about different careers, researching a college or university in 5th grade, learning about the A-G course requirements and how to calculate their GPA in 8th grade and writing college essays in 10th grade.

Members of the school board on the committee reacted positively to the overall plan and added some suggestions of their own on how to get the district’s kids interested in and ready for college.

“I think every student should take a college-level class. Every high school student has a mandate to graduate,” said board member Richard Vladovic, who chairs the committee. “Back in 1963 — even if it has to be over television — I took from community college, Harbor College, an astronomy class over TV. And earned a grade. I took it. So we can do it, there are vehicles to do it.”

Alexander also played a six-minute video produced by the district about the A-G graduation requirements that will be shown to students. The standards, which were required for graduation for the first time last school year, call on students to take and pass a series of courses that would make them eligible for admission to California’s public universities if they earn all C grades or better, although D’s are allowed for graduation. The video featured a series of graphics and a voiceover highlighting the various classes students need to pass to qualify for graduation.

Board President Steve Zimmer offered what he called a “gentle critique” when he said the video could perhaps use a little more excitement.

“As I was watching the video, I was reminded a little bit and it felt a little bit like I was strapped into my airplane seat and I was watching the safety video of like — very important information, but I’m worried that people kind of tune it out,” Zimmer said.

Zimmer then recounted a time he flew on Virgin America and was surprised the company had produced a video that was so entertaining “you can’t help but watch it.”

College and Career Awareness month comes as the district enters the second year of its new A-G standards, and with the recent news that LA Unified broke its graduation record last school year. It also comes on the heels of the August announcement of the Los Angeles College Promise, in which every district graduate starting in 2017 will be offered a free year of tuition at any Los Angeles Community College District campus.

LAUSD leaders need to confront racism in schools, UCLA educator says


UCLA’s Tyrone Howard addresses board members on ways to avoid racism and stereotypes.

Racism and stereotypes continue to plague LA Unified, and it’s up to leaders to change that, according to a UCLA professor who is holding seminars at some schools.

Tyrone C. Howard, associate dean for equity and inclusion at UCLA’s graduate school of education and information studies, spoke to the Curriculum, Instruction and Educational Equity Committee on Tuesday about how he is helping principals and teachers understand how to identify underlying racism and avoid enforcing stereotypes on their students. He said that initiating this difficult dialogue is among the steps needed to help persistently low-performing students, particularly African-American and poor children.

“Bias is real and discrimination is rampant,” Howard told the committee, made up of four school board members, administrators and representatives of some of the major school unions. “People don’t want to talk about race because it is not the politically correct thing to do. If we don’t talk about race, then we ignore one aspect of who they are as young people.”

He added, “Even teachers of color have biases against students of color. Lots of students feel like they have two strikes against them when they walk into a classroom because they are black or brown and poor and the teacher feels they can’t succeed.”

Every administrator and school board member will receive a copy of Howard’s book “Why Race and Culture Matter in Schools: Closing the Achievement Gap in America’s Classrooms,” and some schools will get personal training by Howard, said Chief Academic Officer Frances Gipson.


“We have a bold mission, and Tyrone Howard is an esteemed educator,” Gipson said, noting that some of his philosophies about understanding racial complexity “will intimidate some educators.”

Howard held a two-hour session last week with teachers at Cleveland High School in Reseda to discuss stereotypes and where those ideas come from in people’s lives. “It is going through a process of recognizing implicit bias and how we are all affected by it in one shape or form,” Howard said.

He suggested that requiring ethnic studies classes and emphasizing early literacy are also important steps to helping black and Latino students.


Frances Gipson

“We are one of the most racially diverse cities in the world, and we have the momentum and will and need to start having those conversations,” Howard said.

Howard, who grew up in poverty in Compton, said he would not have succeeded unless teachers put aside racial biases and saw his potential.

Howard said the district is moving in the right direction. He pointed out that 42 percent of students are now making a C or better in the A-G classes, twice what it was a decade ago. But he also noted African-American and Latino students make up more than 60 percent of California’s population but less than 25 percent of the UC system. And under-represented minority groups have not experienced substantial increases in college-going rates.

“We have to tell the narratives and promote things that are moving in the right direction on an ongoing basis,” he said. “We have to be frank and honest that African-American students lag seriously behind others and that it continues to happen. We also have to dismantle the belief that poor kids cannot succeed.”

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A push in LA for 3 education-related initiatives on crowded November ballot


LAUSD board President Steve Zimmer made an unusual appearance during public comment at Tuesday evening’s board meeting to urge people to vote.

Make sure you complete your ballot. That’s the message that came from LA Unified school board members at a committee meeting Tuesday night.

During the meeting, the board’s Budget, Facilities and Audit Committee heard a presentation from Pedro Salcido, the district’s co-director of government relations and legislative affairs, on key initiatives related to the school district on the Nov. 8 ballot.

This year’s ballot is crowded with 17 statewide initiatives. Among the questions to be determined are whether to repeal the death penalty, ban plastic bags and legalize marijuana.

The ballot for Los Angeles voters will also contain four city measures, and residents of Los Angeles County will vote on two county measures.

There are three statewide education-related ballot initiatives: a school facilities bond, the extension of an income tax for high-income earners, and an initiative to bring back bilingual education. Salcido also discussed a city measure that would bring changes to the governance structure of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. LA Unified is the utility’s largest customer.

Board President Steve Zimmer made an unusual appearance during public comment at the committee meeting because he does not serve on the committee. He encouraged those connected to LA Unified to register to vote by the Oct. 24 deadline and to get to the polls in November.

It’s very important that we, who know how much our students have on the line in this election in so many ways, that we encourage folks, not only to go to the ballot box, but to complete the ballot,” Zimmer said. 

Teachers union members will be fanning out across neighborhoods on Thursday in cities throughout California encouraging voters to support Propositions 55 and 58. Members of the LA teachers union, UTLA, will be knocking on doors near LA Unified school sites.

Here are the measures:

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LA Unified President Steve Zimmer on eradicating the school readiness gap

SteveZimmercasualreadingAt a goal-setting meeting last week for LA Unified school board members and Superintendent Michelle King, board President Steve Zimmer said he wanted the district to focus on eradicating the school readiness gap.

Described as the variations in academic performance among children entering kindergarten and first grade who are from low-income and diverse backgrounds compared to their wealthier and white counterparts, Zimmer reiterated in a recent interview with LA School Report that he believes the district can eliminate this gap. California and LA Unified have invested heavily in early childhood education programs like transitional kindergarten and preschool. But ultimately, King and the school board, including Zimmer, coalesced around a singular goal of 100 percent graduation, which King said would trickle down to all grade levels.

Here is the rest of our interview with Zimmer on topics like the school readiness gap, the school calendar and his opinion of King. Read the first part of the interview, which was on credit recovery, here.

Q: Your board office here in East Hollywood seems pretty robust with after-school programs, classes for homeless youth and computer courses for parents through your partnership with Youth Policy Institute. Do other board members run similar operations in their field offices, or is yours unique?

A: I think different board members have different operations. We’re the only one right now. We pay. We invest in this. Most field offices are at school sites. We have an office at Twain and we have an office at Taft. We have a huge district, so it’s important. But they are literally a tiny office or desk. It’s just so when I’m out there I don’t have to ask families to come all the way downtown or to east Hollywood to meet me. Or when we have staff, they can work out of the field. They’re not an office like this. This is the neighborhood I served as a teacher and counselor. This is the neighborhood where I live.

Q: How long have you lived here?

A: I’ve lived here in this area for about nine years. But I worked this area for about 15 years. They actually had me come over for the first week, this was 2007, when they opened Bernstein (high school). This whole area used to be Marshall. It’s hard to imagine now with the building program, what the world was like 10 to 15 years ago. And what the world was like before we built 131 schools. And the whole debate right now over the calendar is a very interesting debate because there’s a whole generation of us who only taught at year-round schools, what were known as Concept 6. 

Q: What is Concept 6?

A: Year-round schools is a misnomer because it implies that there was an academic or instructional reason why we had a year-round calendar. The only reason we had a year-round calendar was we didn’t build adequate facilities for children living in the most economically and racially segregated neighborhoods in the state or in the nation. And so, when we say Concept 6 that was how we designed a calendar so that we could meet, at the bare minimum, the state’s standards, the state’s requirement for days of instruction, while offering less days of instruction.

Q: What were the advantages of a year-round calendar?

A: I think for adults, there were things about that schedule that had advantages. There were even things unintentionally instructionally that had advantages when we had funding. Let’s say you were an immigrant student who came to this country in middle school and you went to a Concept 6 year-round school. You basically could go to school all year round, so you really had a chance actually to not have any gaps in your English language acquisition and your academic acquisition. So there were a few advantages, unintentional. But when you really parsed it out, if you went to a year-round school from kindergarten through 12th grade, you actually missed the equivalent of a year and a half of days of instruction, and that was ultimately what won out in court and I think ultimately what helped folks convince the voters that we should pass these (school construction) bonds.

Q: You are constantly asking Superintendent Michelle King to be bold and to take chances. Do you feel like there needs to be more of that? 

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Resolutions as the LAUSD board’s work-around: Too many with too little impact on classrooms, some say


Resolutions are listed on the LAUSD.net website.

Some frank talk among the LA School Board members recently led to questions about how many resolutions the board creates and how effective they are. But they’re also one of the best ways to get things done, members said.

Every school board meeting at LA Unified has a flurry of resolutions: It’s National Disability Employment Awareness Month. Let’s recognize “No One Eats Alone Day.” How about “Be Kind to Animals Week” or “Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day” or the “Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide of 1915.”

Those are some of the 102 resolutions presented by the LA Unified school board in the past 15 months. Sure, most of them get approved unanimously without discussion. And yes, many have nothing to do with anything that goes on in the classroom.

But a candid discussion last week among the seven school board members and the superintendent revealed that some of them believe resolutions are the only way to get anything done at the district.

The discussion at the Committee of the Whole led to board members contemplating whether there are too many resolutions. Superintendent Michelle King agreed that perhaps there are too many and that the process could be streamlined.

“I’m not sure anything we do in these resolutions has any impact on what actually goes on in the classroom,” said board member Monica Ratliff. “If they celebrate everything we tell them to celebrate, they’d be celebrating all the time. Sure, they had to do breakfast in the classroom because we decided on that, but they had no choice. School reform has to happen in the classroom, but it’s not related to what we do here, I wish it would be.”

Sometimes the resolutions reflect a board member’s passions or pet causes. Monica Garcia introduces “Celebrating Latino Heritage Month” every year and has resolutions against bullying and honoring LGBT Pride. The board’s only African-American member, George McKenna, every year commemorates Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Black Heritage Month in separate resolutions.

Ref Rodriguez presented a resolution for Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Month to introduce instructors working at the district who are living with the disease. Scott Schmerelson showcased teachers and students who are overcoming their issues when recognizing Dyslexia Awareness Month. But inevitably, those recognitions can add an extra half hour or hour of discussion to already long board meetings that can stretch to eight hours or more.

Since the new configuration of the school board was seated in July 2015, the number of resolutions introduced by each board member or the superintendent has topped 100. This does not include the board members who signed on to co-sponsor the resolutions, which many of them do.

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School board concedes they don’t have much to do with what goes on in the LA classroom, considers changes


Monica Ratliff places a sticker on a list to identify dysfunctional school board characteristics.

Some school board decisions get ignored, all board meetings are too long and most decisions have nothing to do with what goes on in the classroom.

That’s some of the conversation that came out of an all-day session Tuesday with the LA Unified School Board and superintendent. The meeting, led by a private facilitator, was held to discuss the strategic plan and vision of the nation’s second-largest school district.

They didn’t make any binding commitments, but the discussion could lead to some major changes in the way the school board deals with the public, and how the superintendent deals with the board.

“Everybody knows low-performing schools should not exist, everybody knows this, so why does it still keep happening?” asked board member Monica Ratliff. She noted that the school board doesn’t have much to do with what goes on in the classroom and then answered her own question with: “There’s this giant bureaucracy and layers of bureaucracy and you can get help from one layer and then get stifled by another layer. And sometimes you have to go to a school board member and have that member advocate for them, but it should not have to be that way.”

Ratliff said that even the agreements made at board meetings seem to go nowhere. She said a few members nod in agreement, but sometimes nothing gets done unless she writes a resolution forcing them all to vote on it.

“I see some people (on the board) throw out the same ideas over and over and we all nod our heads and it doesn’t go anywhere,” Ratliff said.

Board member George McKenna agreed and said, “When we throw out an idea, who is supposed to pick up on it? The superintendent? I hope others can pick up on it and will come up with something.”

Superintendent Michelle King admitted that she has to prioritize what the board throws at her. “There are great ideas, but we can’t take the focus off of where we have to go,” King told the board. She noted that if there are five new things for her to do that are suggested by the board, and money is already allocated for other things they must do, she has to “clear the must-haves and stay centered and focused on what is aligned to our mission and where we are trying to go.”

King said she preferred that school board members come to her directly with issues. “I prefer direct contact and we can talk about issues, that works best for me,” she said. “I appreciate clear expectations and where it will go, and that is how I operate. The more the specific the better.” That way, board members can avoid so many resolutions.


Facilitator Jeff Nelsen

McKenna said to King, “I’m concerned what stimulates your office is a private meeting with a board member. You start doing something because a board member is asking.”

The issues brought up were not supposed to lead to direct solutions, said facilitator Jeff Nelsen, of Targeted Leadership Consulting. A coach to more than 2,000 principals and school leadership teams over the past decade, Nelsen said the exercise with the board is to identify dysfunctions, and he said, “some underlying issues naturally surfaced.”

For example, the board members and superintendent were to put dots next to items on a board that had a list of dysfunctional characteristics. Most of them put dots next to: “Disagreement among members on goals and processes,” while others pointed out “Unfocused agenda that wastes time on unimportant, peripheral issues.” A few noted: “Disagreements get personal in public” and “Members represent special interest groups or only certain areas of the district.”

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Strategic plan lacks clear mission, so board agrees to champion ‘100 percent graduation,’ but how?


School board members and facilitator Jeff Nelsen (far right) at USC’s Caruso Catholic Center for a special committee meeting.

LA Unified’s three-year strategic plan lacks a clear mission statement.

That was the consensus of an all-day school board session Tuesday. So the seven board members decided to fix it, landing on the goal of a 100 percent graduation rate. Yet the draft of the strategic plan remains light on exactly how to accomplish it.

Because even with every teacher and principal knowing that 100 percent graduation will be the ultimate goal for the district, the three-year plan presented by Superintendent Michelle King offers targets that expect only 81 percent graduation by 2018-2019, and only 52 percent of students getting a C or better in the A-G classes required for graduation. Board members agreed that while a 10-point increase in the graduation rate to 75 percent from the 2010-2011 school year was significant, it wasn’t enough.


Draft of strategic plan targets.


The strategic plan does not directly address what King has previously acknowledged as two of the most pressing issues facing the district: the decrease in enrollment and a serious financial deficit, which she addressed last spring when she held a series of meetings before the budget was approved to discuss major challenges.

During Tuesday’s discussion at the Committee of the Whole at USC’s Caruso Catholic Center, school board President Steve Zimmer said a number of times, “I would argue that people don’t have a sense of mission” in the district. He insisted, “This discussion today is so important. We’ve got to coalesce about something.”

In a brainstorming session Tuesday that was described in the agenda as discussing “vision elements and core values” rather than specifics of the strategic plan, the school board was led by Jeff Nelsen of Targeted Leadership Consulting who has coached more than 2,000 principals and school leaders over the past decade.

“I will argue today that we should revisit the goals,” Zimmer said. “None of us is OK with 75 percent graduation, and we are being dishonest if we think so.”

Zimmer’s preferred goals are to eradicate the school readiness gap and have every graduate be bilingual and bi-literate. “We can lead the state and the nation with this,” he said.

But Zimmer was willing to let go of his ambitious goals to allow for one singular goal that the board agreed on that could encompass other goals. “We can really make real that we don’t give up on a single kid,”  Zimmer said. “We can lead in that area too.”

Zimmer told his fellow board members, “I don’t think we have a mission sense right now, and I think it’s our role to create it. And it has to be big, and the strategic plan should fall behind it. The strategic plan should be about implementing a broad mission.”

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‘I’m very skeptical of online recovery programs’: Q & A with board President Steve Zimmer


LA Unified school board President Steve Zimmer recently sat down with LA School Report at his field office tucked away in an east Hollywood strip mall, where there is a unique partnership with the Youth Policy Institute and the school district that hosts after-school programs, adult classes and classes for homeless youth.

During the hour-long interview, Zimmer spoke about his passion to eradicate the school readiness gap (the achievement gap between students of color from disadvantaged backgrounds as they enter the school system compared to their white and wealthier peers), the relationship between the school board and Superintendent Michelle King, who is entering her ninth month as the leader of the nation’s second-largest school district, and his experience working as a counselor at Marshall High School helping students cross the graduation stage.

Here are Zimmer’s comments on the district’s online credit recovery program, administered by companies including Edgenuity, which has been scrutinized for its rigor amid the district’s recent announcement that its graduation has reached a record 75 percent even as the bar has been raised with the requirement that students pass the A through G, the course criteria established by UC faculty. (Lightly edited for clarity and length.)

• Read more on credit recovery: Are the courses ‘very rigorous’?Credit recovery starts early this year, Zimmer expresses frustration over credit recovery, LAUSD summer school had better teaching 

Q: We’d like to talk to you about the district’s online credit recovery program. On Tuesday (Aug. 23), you made it clear that you have concerns about it.

A: It’s a great concern to me.

Q: What are your concerns? What do you want to see done this year? What did you learn from last year? 

A: So, there’s so many places to start on where I’m concerned. But I think the most important place to start about where I’m concerned is I’m simultaneously concerned about the right now and the long view. The long view is not about how many assignments were in Edgenuity. Not that I’m not concerned about that — actually I am.

But I am much more concerned that we believe having an individual education plan for every middle and high school student is a key lever for moving the needle on this, that we have to be looking very, very carefully at career and training pathways and I don’t think we are. And as a matter of fact, I’m pretty sure we’re not.

And so, both in the immediate short-term when you’re looking at academic counseling loads and ratios, the medium-term in terms of if we do try and bring those down, do we actually have the folks who are credentialed and who intentionally want to work with our students in this way and the long-view is we know we’re going to be in a teacher shortage. I know we’re going to be in counselor shortage. What are we doing in terms of our partnerships to build the right kind of pipelines to make sure the right people are in those counseling seats with the right set of  skills, with the right asset-based mindset about our students and the right balance of a caseload where they can actually do this?

Having an individual graduation plan, as important as it might be, needs to be more important than just having a piece of paper. I mean having a piece of paper actually for urban school districts, where the belief system was not what it was in affluent school districts, is a step and an important step. Because having an individualized graduation plan, by definition, means we expect you to graduate and we expect you to graduate fully completing the A through G’s. So this is not triage or salvage work. This is intentional and very purposeful and is of high rigor and high quality all the way through. When you have a plan, there’s an infinitely better chance that the plan will be executed, as opposed to not having any plan.

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LAUSD summer school had better teaching, higher grades and 758 graduates in August


Summer school students working in groups. (Courtesy: LAUSD)

Innovative summer school practices are credited with helping 758 students graduate through a credit recovery program, and grades were significantly higher as LA Unified went out of its way to increase the quality of the teachers giving the summer school instruction.

“We are emphatically keeping high standards for summer school like we do during the school year,” said Beyond the Bell administrator Betsy Castillo, giving the summer school report to the Curriculum, Instruction and Educational Equity Committee this week. In the past, any teacher with any credential could teach summer school, but for this year, Castillo said, “We were emphatic about the quality and caliber of instruction and that summer school should not have lower standards for anyone involved.”

• Read more on credit recovery: Are the courses ‘very rigorous’?Credit recovery starts early this year, Zimmer expresses frustration over credit recovery

Principals were asked to hire appropriate teachers for the courses with “a deep knowledge which is as necessary for summer as it is for fall,” she added.summerschoolfinalgrades2016

This summer 71 high schools offered 2,749 classes and 174 online classes for 119 different types of courses. Of the 31,729 students taking summer school, 758 were for credit recovery in order to graduate in August and be part of the estimated record 75 percent graduation rate for the district. But 15 percent taking the summer classes still got D’s or F’s, and the school board members on the committee expressed concern for them.

There were 45,454 grades issued and 1,650 teachers employed over the summer, according to Castillo.

Because most of the students were in for credit recovery, the courses with the highest enrollment were algebra and English classes. Castillo said most of the students are in summer school to re-take classes to get a better grade, but some of them are also adding to their credits by taking extra classes, or taking fun courses such as art or drama.

School board President Steve Zimmer noted that the grades were far better than during the rest of the year and suggested it was because the students only took two classes rather than six at a time.

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El Camino Real calls for emergency meeting Friday to discuss possible discipline


El Camino Real Charter High has back-to-school night this week.

An emergency meeting has been called for Friday morning by the El Camino Real Alliance Board to discuss an internal investigation and the paperwork left to satisfy an LA Unified inquiry. On the agenda is “public employee discipline/ dismissal/ release” in closed session.

Meanwhile, the El Camino Real Charter High School already sent new documentation to LA Unified to answer questions of their Notice of Violation which could lead to the district taking back the independent charter school. The school plans to give more documentation before the Sept. 23 deadline next week.

Before Friday’s meeting was announced, Marshall Mayotte, the school’s chief business officer, said Wednesday that the board has been trying to schedule a special meeting since LA Unified issued the Notice of Violation at last month’s LA Unified school board meeting. The El Camino board is made up of three teachers, a parent, a classified employee representative and two community representatives.

“We are not sure what they will discuss, but it could have to do with the Oracle report,” Mayotte said.

The school spent $20,000 to hire Oracle Investigations Group earlier in the summer when LA Unified charter division officials were asking about what they called “seemingly exorbitant personal and/or improper expenses.” It is possible that some results of the investigation will be revealed on Friday, and it’s possible the board could decide whether or not the results could be made public. But it’s also possible the report may fall into attorney/client privilege and never be released to the public.

Marshall Mayotte, El Camino Real chief business officer

Marshall Mayotte, El Camino Real Charter chief business officer.

These next few days are important to the future of the academically successful charter school. Thursday is back-to-school night, which will not be a forum for anyone to address the issues before the LA school board, according to ‎the school’s Director of Marketing Melanie Horton. Parents have been notified by a weekly newsletter and staff is informed regularly at staff meetings about the progress of the school’s response.

Friday’s emergency meeting will be followed next Wednesday by the El Camino regularly scheduled board meeting. El Camino isn’t expected to be scheduled for discussion at Tuesday’s LA Unified school board meeting, but issues or updates could be brought up while other charter school issues are addressed. Then, Sept. 23 is the school’s final deadline to answer all of the district’s questions.

“We feel confident that all of the questions will be answered to their satisfaction and that we will be able to put this behind us,” Horton said.

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JUST IN: City High School closes suddenly after charter loses students following facilities, financial woes


(Courtesy: City Charter Schools)

Citing financial woes due to low enrollment and problems with its private facility, the governing board of City High School voted Monday to close the charter school immediately, leaving 116 students scrambling to find new schools.

The school, located in Pico-Robertson on Los Angeles’ Westside, had been offered a location at Dorsey High School through Proposition 39 but turned it down because it was too far away from its middle school, according to Valerie Braimah, executive director of City Charter Schools. Choosing a more expensive option of leasing a private location on the Westside at 9017 W. Pico Blvd., the school struggled with enrollment and experienced electrical and air-conditioning problems at its building, which hurt enrollment more, Braimah said Wednesday evening.

With the only option being to cut staff to the point that academic viability of the school would be hurt, Braimah said the board opted to cease operations at the high school immediately. The school expected 150 students on the first day, but only 125 showed up and more dropped out in the first few weeks, leaving the school in financial trouble, Braimah said.

“This was an extremely heart-wrenching decision. This was not a problem with our educational program, this was an operational problem,” Braimah said.

The high school is part of a network of schools called City Charter Schools that includes City Language Immersion Charter, a dual-immersion elementary school in Baldwin Village, and The City School, a middle school. The middle school has been operating for five years, and the network’s leaders wanted to create a high school to serve its outgoing middle school students, but the school struggled to keep its enrollment up.

Braimah said the school was originally offered space from LA Unified at Emerson Community Charter School in Westwood through Prop. 39, a law that requires school districts to offer space to charters at district schools if it has unused classrooms or facilities. This can lead to charters sharing a building with another school, referred to as a co-location.

Emerson is 2.2 miles away from The City School, but the district changed plans and ultimately offered space at Los Angeles High School, which is 7.5 miles away in the Mid-Wilshire district. After a year at LA High, the school asked LA Unified for another location and was offered space at Dorsey High School, which is 6.4 miles away near Baldwin Village.

“Unfortunately, last year we ended up with a Prop. 39 site at Los Angeles High that was an adequate site facilities wise, but was geographically far for a lot of our families, and so a lot of our 8th-grade class did not matriculate to the high school and we started with a class of 60,” Braimah said.

City High only has 9th and 10th graders because it began last year with a freshman class and planned on adding a new class each year. After being offered Dorsey, the school chose to rent a private facility near its middle school, but the problems with the building added to financial woes and also led to several students dropping out, Braimah said.

“Long term, without a permanent facility in our sights and with the lack of predictability on Prop. 39, this problem really would have persisted. We are still young in our program, and we felt it was better for our kids to have another option that is college preparatory,” she said.

Braimah said the district has been helpful in getting students placed in schools and has extended the magnet enrollment deadline for its students. She also said the school has a partnership with Bright Star Secondary Charter Academy, which has offered to take as many students as are interested and has also offered them free busing to their campus near LAX from a central location.

LA Unified school board President Steve Zimmer, who represents the Westside, said late Wednesday, “The only thing that we are concerned about in this moment is the students and families impacted by this closure three weeks into the school year.”

When asked about the Prop. 39 issues and if City High had been offered an adequate facility, he declined to comment.

“When something like this happens, we should all remember that these are all of our kids and everyone has a role and a responsibility to make sure every family has the services that they need to make sure that there is not academic injury that would compound the stress that happens when the school closes,” Zimmer said. “So that is what is most important right now. There will be time to talk about what we need to do in terms of our early warning systems to know about when enrollment is at a point where viability is a question so that we know about it before it becomes a disruption.”

The school employs 10 teachers and three administrators, and City Charter Schools is working to find them new jobs, Braimah said. She also said the goal is to have every student placed in a new school by Friday.

‘The data is miserable’: LAUSD board members rake academic officer over the coals for ‘crisis’ in test scores


“We have a crisis with our youngsters,” board member Richard Vladovic told the district’s chief academic officer.

LA Unified’s chief academic officer came before board members Tuesday with an upbeat-titled report called “Breaking Our Own Records,” but instead of resting on the improvement in overall test scores, the four school board members in attendance grilled her for nearly two hours throwing out terms like “frustrating,” “depressing” and “disappointing” and saying the district is in “crisis” when educating certain segments of the student population.

“I had to say this because it depressed me as an educator and after eight years I was told it was going to get better, and I’ve been assured it will get better,” said board member Richard Vladovic, chairman of the Curriculum, Instruction and Educational Equity Committee that met Tuesday. “I’m most concerned about those children not getting what they deserve, and that is quality education.”


Math scores highlighting groups that need attention.

Board member George McKenna said, “I’m as frustrated as I can possibly be. The data is miserable. Test scores are still almost embarrassingly low. It is continually depressing and disappointing.”

The committee was discussing the list of lowest performing schools and other test score numbers that the district was touting as “breaking our records!”

Chief Academic Officer Frances Gipson pointed out that the district’s record 75 percent graduation rate is up from 72 percent last year, and she showed other upward trends in the Smarter Balanced Assessments. She also noted that 265 schools are now participating in the Early Language and Literacy Plan, up from 85 in the 2015-16 school year.

“Some of the scores are record-breaking, but we have not hit the finish line yet,” Gipson said. “Our goal for graduation is 100 percent.”

Gipson tried to paint a positive spin repeating district catchphrases including “A District on the Move” and “All Hands on Deck” used by Superintendent Michelle King. But the four of seven board members on the committee were having none of it. Other members of the committee included representatives of three unions and USC and UCLA.

She pointed again to the increase in students meeting or exceeding English Language Arts standards, to 39 percent, up from 33 percent last year. Math scores rose to 29 percent from 25 percent in 2014-2015.

But then came the board members’ harsh reaction to zero improvement for English learners’ math scores: only 5 percent met standards, and only 4 percent met English standards, up one point. There was no improvement for students with disabilities: 6 percent met math standards two years in a row, and 8 percent met English standards.

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LAUSD tries to make it easier for charter families to address the school board


Waiting to speak about a Green Dot charter school.

Charter families have lined up at dawn in biting cold winds holding babies. They’ve sweated it out for hours standing around ice chests or taking turns under canopies. They’ve waited hours—sometimes nearly a full a day—to get into an LA Unified school board meeting. Then, they wait hours more just to be heard.

School Board President Steve Zimmer is out to change that, especially since next week’s school board meeting on Sept. 20 is expected to have many items involving charter schools.

“First and foremost, I want folks to know that we are committed to changing that so they will not be waiting all day and not know when their items will come up before the board,” Zimmer said at the last board meeting. “We are actively trying to get better on this.”

It’s an idea that will help all speakers on any topic who come to address the LA Unified meetings, but it will specifically help charter school families. Many of the agenda items that draw the most speakers involve charter renewals or questions about charter schools that the school board oversees. Parents, teachers and students come to sign up to speak to the school board.

The once-a-month marathon-length school board meetings typically go from 9 a.m. for closed session personnel items until well past 9 p.m. Zimmer promised the public and his fellow school board members that when he was elected as president for the second year he would try to fix the long waits by the public.

“When charter items are being heard, having folks wait all day is not something we want to continue,” Zimmer said.

During the open section of their Closed Session meeting on Aug. 23, other school board members weighed in on rectifying the situation about 54 minutes into the meeting. Board member Monica Ratliff considered making a motion or resolution to come up with a solution.

“I feel like we talked about it, but I do not feel like it’s moving forward and I’m concerned that it’s not happening,” Ratliff said.

Zimmer assured Ratliff and the other board members that the request would be followed. Board member Monica Garcia suggested that the district’s Charter School Office also help notify the schools on the agenda.

“There should also be some trust that when you say something is going to happen, that it actually happens at that time,” Garcia said.

Jason Mandell of the California Charter Schools Association said he welcomes the new procedures planned by the school board because the long waits have resulted in complaints and frustration for the charter school families. He said he has been notified of a “time certain” for charter school issues for the next meeting. And although his group would prefer an entirely separate meeting for charter issues, this is a step in the right direction, he said.

“Anything is better than it was before, and overall we are happy because it is easier for families, teachers and school leaders to speak to the school board without having to wait eight to 10 hours,” Mandell said.

Board secretariat Jefferson Crain said emails will be sent to 1,600 people who receive school board news that will indicate specific times for agenda items, most likely after 6 p.m. to make it easier for working parents and teachers.

“Despite past efforts and speaking directly to some people, they still chose to come at 6 in the morning,” Crain said. “We do not want to have a separate meeting for specific types of issues.”

Superintendent Michelle King said her office would conduct a survey to get some input into how to best solve the long lines and waiting issues.

Zimmer said, “We want to make the best way for people to be heard. I want the maximum amount of people to speak and don’t want folks here late into the evening.”

He added, “Clearly the way we did it last year is not something we want to continue.”

The next regular board meeting is set for Sept. 20 with closed session items discussed at 9 a.m. The open session is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. at the School Board Auditorium at 333 S. Beaudry Ave. Charter school items will have a “time certain” starting at 6 p.m., and the order of business will be posted on Sept. 14.

‘A city of second chances’: High school dropouts recovered as Garcetti, Zimmer, volunteers knock on doors


Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti speaks to members of the media outside the home of a high school dropout on LA Unified’s Student Recovery Day.

LA Unified officials and a team of volunteers hit the streets Friday, knocking on the doors of high school dropouts in an effort to get them re-enrolled in school as part of the district’s Student Recovery Day.

Among the door knockers was Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who along with LA Unified Board President Steve Zimmer, board member Scott Schmerelson and Superintendent Michelle King visited the home of a former student living near the campus of USC. After about 20 minutes, as a mass of reporters waited outside, Garcetti and the rest emerged victorious. The young man inside, Jeffery, had agreed to come back to school.

Jeffery had apparently dropped out to work and help his family, but Garcetti and Zimmer announced they had convinced him to attend night classes at an adult school so that he could continue with his day job. Not only that, but his cousin may also return to school and his grandma might start attending adult school.

“This is a city of second chances. We believe in people, and we want to come face to face,” Garcetti said. “That’s why we have a 75 percent graduation rate, the highest that we have had in LAUSD in modern history. That’s why we are coming and finding folks, and we understand they have struggles like working for their families to support them, but they shouldn’t have to choose between a job and a degree. We are going to make sure he has both.”

Student Recovery Day has been happening for eight years at the district and has resulted in nearly 5,000 students coming back to school. District employees from the central office, school board members and their staff, school personnel and volunteers from organizations like City Year fan out into neighborhoods and contact former students and their families while making them aware of the various services the district can offer.

This year, the recovery efforts were focused on dropouts from seven high schools, one in each board district. They were West Adams, Washington Prep, Canoga Park, Bernstein, Marquez, Sun Valley and Dymally high schools. The district reported a total of 230 volunteers visited homes Friday; it will announce next week how many students were visited and recovered.

Less than an hour before Garcetti exited Jeffery’s home, a press conference had concluded at West Adams Preparatory High School that featured five students who had either dropped out of school and returned or had faced extreme challenges just to get into school. One was Glenda Abrego, who grew up in El Salvador but decided to make the trek to America by herself. She was arrested at the Mexican border by immigration officials and spent several months in a detention center in Texas before coming to Los Angeles and enrolling at West Adams.

Abrego credited the counselors and teachers at West Adams with helping her find housing, financial support, legal aid and helping her learn English.

“As an immigrant I have a language problem that made me struggle a lot. In addition to that I didn’t have a place to live and no one to take care of me,” she said. “Now I have a place to live and friends here at West Adams. … Now I am here in front of you and I am incredibly grateful to those who have supported me.”


LA Unified school board President Steve Zimmer outside a home on Student Recovery Day.

About an hour after the mass of reporters swarmed Garcetti and the other district leaders outside Jeffery’s house, Zimmer stood on a quiet sidewalk next to a few district employees, looking over the fence of an apartment building on the 3000 block of West 12th Street. The address he was looking for didn’t seem to exist on the block, and he and his team had already gone to a different wrong address on 12th Avenue. A staffer made a call, and they realized they were at the wrong address again and should be at West 12th Place, one block over.

“This is part of Recovery Day, yes, standing on sidewalks,” Zimmer said when asked if this kind of thing happened often.

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Exclusive: New health benefits help push LAUSD into debt, document shows


LA Unified Superintendent Michelle King signed off on new health benefits for teachers assistants and playground aides even though the agreement stated that it will help push district reserves into the red by half a billion dollars within two years.

And the question in the document asking how the district would replenish those reserves was left blank.

The collective bargaining agreement with SEIU Local 99 signed Aug. 10 by King notes that “the district will have to identify additional balancing strategies to address the cost of the agreement,” and that “program adjustments are needed to accommodate the additional costs.”

According to the agreement, the superintendent acknowledges that the impact of the agreement will cut existing unrestricted reserves in half next year, then result in a $506 million deficit in 2018-2019. The unrestricted reserves meet the state minimum reserve requirement for this school year and next year, but then a “NO” box is checked for the 2018-19 school year.

The new health benefits, which will cost the district an additional $16 million a year, was approved unanimously last week without discussion by the school board and helps 4,197 employees who make an average of $28,000 a year pay for their health benefits. The total cost for the certificated and classified salaries is $117 million a year before the agreement.

Some of the costs of the health benefits will be absorbed by the state’s Local Control Funding Formula and soften the blow to about $5.7 million a year, according to the Memorandum of Understanding signed between the union and the district.

Beginning next school year, teachers assistants who work 800 hours or more a year will get their medical, dental and vision benefits paid for, valued at $506 per month per worker. They will be able to enroll in the Kaiser Permanente plan or a comparable plan.

SEIU Local 99 union protest

SEIU Local 99 members protest during negotiations over the new health benefits.

Playground aides who work 1,000 hours or more a school year will get half of their medical, dental and vision paid for, a benefit of about $253 a month.

Family members, who are fully covered in teachers benefits, are not insured by this agreement for these employees. This also does not involve retirement benefits.

In the district’s original counter-proposal, the superintendent and school board referred to the findings of the Independent Financial Review Panel, which suggested cutting health benefits and decreasing staff by nearly 10,000. Administrative staff increased this year.

In the document signed by King, “specific impacts” of the agreement were listed as: “This agreement impacts the purchasing power of school sites, especially for limited, restricted funding sources. Positive impacts could be claimed in improved quality staff and organizational climate.”

It adds, “The district will have to identify additional budget balancing strategies to balance the one-year deficit” of $5.7 million.

In the section titled “concerns regarding affordability of agreement in subsequent years,” the agreement states: “The out-year impact of this agreement compounds existing budget imbalances brought about by increases in fixed costs as well as decreased revenues due to enrollment decline.”

Teacher assistant Andrea Weathersby, who was on the bargaining team for Service Employee International Union Local 99, told the school board last Tuesday that the agreement is going to be a big help for her. She is an LA Unified parent, as are many of the other workers getting the new benefits. “Unfortunately, there have been times when my children have had to skip the arts classes they love because I need to pay for their health care instead. How can you tell a child, ‘You can’t’?”

It may not go as far as the union wanted, but the agreement helps, SEIU Local 99 executive director Max Arias said at the board meeting, and added, “These are the mothers and fathers of district students, educators committed to keeping our children safe and learning, LAUSD graduates, future teachers and members of our Latino and African-American communities who have historically suffered from unequal access to quality health care.”

School board President Steve Zimmer heralded the deal, pointing out that these workers have direct interaction with the children on a day-to-day basis, and the decision is making up for past staff and budget cuts. “I am proud to support the action which ensures that our workers, and their families, will have access to expanded health care options,” Zimmer said in a statement. “We need to make sure that the women and men who take care of LAUSD’s children by day can care for their own families by night.”


Michelle King and Steve Zimmer.

Board member Monica Garcia said, “I am proud to stand with every employee – from our bus drivers to our cafeteria workers, from our maintenance professionals to classroom support staff. You help make Los Angeles great, and we look forward to our continued partnership.”

And school board member George McKenna added, “Providing health and welfare benefits to our employees is the right thing to do and will further strengthen the relationship with vital members of our school families.”

King, who is working on a budget plan that she said she hopes will off-set the additional expenses in the upcoming years, said, “We are pleased to be able to extend health and welfare benefits to support more of the hard-working employees of SEIU Local 99.”

SEIU Local 99 represents nearly 30,000 employees throughout Southern California in public and non-public organizations in early education, child care, K-12 and community college levels and includes maintenance workers, gardeners, bus drivers, special education assistants, custodians, playground workers and cafeteria workers. Nearly half of the union members are parents or guardians of school-aged children, the union said.

King added, “We believe it is in the best interest of the district to support the teacher assistants and playground aides who are committed to providing a safe and nurturing learning environment for our students.”

LAUSD keeps hiring as enrollment declines and financial crisis looms

LA Unified officials persistently wring their hands about losing students year after year, but meanwhile the number of employees continues to rise.

In their latest tally, school district employees rose from 59,563 in the 2014-2015 school year to 59,823 last year and 60,191 in the 2016-2017 school year. (A final accounting of the actual hires will be available after the district’s Norm Day on Sept. 16.)

Last fall an Independent Financial Review Panel recommended a reduction of about 10,000 staff members, including administrators, classified and certificated personnel, for a savings of half a billion dollars a year for the district that faces a dire budget crisis.

And yet both Superintendent Michelle King and school board President Steve Zimmer have expressed the need to hire more employees, both to meet future expected shortages and to replenish the widespread cuts made under the John Deasy administration during the last recession. Meanwhile, some schools still complain of classes that are overcrowded and cuts in janitors and support staff.

About a week before the school year began, King posed with newly hired teachers and sent it out on her district Twitter account and wrote that she is “welcoming over 600 new teachers. Welcome to the family!”


And last week when touting higher test scores, King noted that the district is providing more teachers at high-needs middle schools and high schools to help support the achievement levels.

“I believe that our overall investments in teachers, instructional coaches and restorative justice counselors for our deserving schools will pay off with even better results next year and in years to come,” King said.

King noted in her informative meetings last school year that the generous health benefits package by the district along with employee numbers are a major cause for the financial drain on the district and there’s a drastic need to act quickly to remain solvent.

Michelle King and Steve Zimmer after the speech

Michelle King and Steve Zimmer

Yet the school board last week approved hiring 1,632 more classified, certificated and unclassified employees. And they approved 537 new hires, mostly teachers and counselors, 51 of them with provisional intern permits.

The district over the last year has decreased the number of teachers, from 26,827 to this year’s estimated 26,556. The biggest increase in personnel includes K-12 administrators, nurses, counselors and psychologists.

Zimmer expressed strong concern about not having the needed academic counselors for students in upcoming years and encouraged the superintendent to let nearby colleges and universities know they are hiring for those positions.

Chief Academic Officer Frances Gipson said the additional teachers are an investment in class size reductions and adding to elective opportunities in middle and high schools. She said the teachers will help replenish past losses in classes involving arts, robotics, physical education and leadership courses.

“It means we’re hiring,” Gipson said. She noted that the employee numbers “ebb and flow” due to retirements and transfers.

On the district’s employment site, the public non-classified opportunities include everything from carpenter to sign language interpreter. A listed accounting position can yield $111,000 a year.

It was a surprise to school board members late last year when they saw that administrative staff increased 22 percent in the last five years. In the superintendent’s report, the number of teachers had dropped 9 percent in the same period. And teachers and certified staff are aging toward retirement, heading toward a possible teacher shortage.

King said she will outline her cost-saving measures to the school board later in the year.

El Camino Real Charter teachers voice strong support for school, meet with union reps; LAUSD makes correspondence public

Sue Freitag drama teacher El Camino

Performing arts teacher Sue Freitag of El Camino Real Charter High School.

A $1,139 dinner at a steakhouse. A $95 bottle of fine Syrah wine. A $73 bill for flowers.

Those charges and others made by staff of a successful charter school were cited this week at an LA Unified School Board meeting and led the district to take the first steps to revoking the school’s charter.

El Camino Real Charter High School, which educates 3,600 students in the west San Fernando Valley, was given a Notice of Violations Tuesday that they must answer by Sept. 23, or the district could hold a public hearing to decide whether to revoke the school’s charter and return it to traditional district school status.

On Friday morning, all of the correspondence between the district and the school that was provided to the school board members was made public as per a request by board member Monica Ratliff.

While some of the school board members seemed outraged about the charges against the charter school in more than an hour of debate Tuesday, many teachers who spoke in support of the school said they felt that the district was being too harsh on the school. Some of them supported the expenses on lavish dinners, even though the district rules wouldn’t allow such practices for their own traditional schools.

“There are some things that need to be negotiated, and that may mean taking you out to dinner,” said teacher Sue Freitag. “I think the district is being unreasonable. Once again, it’s a huge bureaucracy trying to tell us all what to do. Charters are supposed to be independent.”

Marshall Mayotte, El Camino Real chief business officer

Marshall Mayotte, El Camino Real chief business officer

Freitag taught at the school for 14 years when it was a district school and after it became an independent charter school. She is also a member of the teachers union, UTLA, and notes that she is making 7 percent more than she did as a traditional school teacher. She said she has been part of the school family for 32 years, going back to being a student there.

“This school has had a pristine reputation in academics and the arts and it hurts me personally to see our reputation under scrutiny,” Freitag testified to the school board on Tuesday. “I question the charter school division as to why these issues were not brought up prior to the school year?” Freitag, who also is in charge of the theater program at the school, said, “I’m here for students, they deserve a safe school environment free of political interference.”

The teachers at El Camino Real will be meeting after school on Friday with UTLA members to discuss the issues with the school. The teachers have a separately negotiated UTLA contract that is different than the one for the overall district.

At Tuesday’s meeting, school board member Richard Vladovic said he sifted through the thousand of expenses of El Camino and asked, “Is it common to ask school funds to pay for a corkage fee? Can you use money meant for the students to pay the price of a bottle of wine? Can they purchase alcohol with school money? … If an LA principal did that, what would probably happen?”

Schools have done that, but they are told it’s against district policy, school officials said. Superintendent Michelle King shook her head and said, “There would be an investigation, and appropriate action would follow. No, we wouldn’t say it’s OK.”

Vladovic added that the school was asked months ago about the charges of “significant meals at restaurants and who attended the meetings and what they were for, and they did not respond.”

Jose Cole-Gutierrez, director of the district’s Charter Schools Division that brought the vote for the Notice of Violations to the school board, said his office noted the “seemingly exorbitant personal and improper expenses” including first-class travel and other expenses into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. He said the school has “the opportunity to remedy concerns noted” including charges on credit cards charged to the school that includes unauthorized travel expense. Although charter schools run independently, they must still follow some overall district rules and procedures, and their charters are renewed by the school board every five years but can be revoked at any time.

“We noted credit card activity that is still problematic,” Cole-Gutierrez said. “It does not prohibit the use of personal expenses. It discourages it, but does not prohibit it.” He said the district’s charter division asked for clarifications for the past two years.

School board President Steve Zimmer noted that the Notices to Cure from the charter division are common requests, and that the school board doesn’t plan to revoke the school’s charter immediately. Other school board members expressed serious concerns.

“This does not reflect on a great school, I have major concerns,” Vladovic concluded. “Do we treat schools that are still LAUSD property, as opposed to charter schools on independent sites, differently? No, so they are all treated the same.”

Board member Scott Schmerelson, who represents the district where El Camino is located, pointed out that each of the teachers speaking for the school was passionate and said “the charter school is excellent and used to have a stellar reputation.” Schmerelson noted a media interview with a school representative who said there was a lot of money in the school’s treasury and the expenses weren’t of concern.

“You can’t use public money like that,” Schmerelson said. “What bothers me the most is the arrogance, the arrogance, on the news, as if we’re the bad guys. We like the school, I don’t want to revoke the charter, I think it’s a great school. But you have to play fair and have to be fair with public money.”

Schmerelson said he received many emails from faculty members who said they were happy with the school, but unhappy with the administrators who created these problems. “The great majority of the emails I received were for the school, but against the deeds that were done,” Schmerelson said.

Janelle Ruley El Camino attorney

El Camino attorney Janelle Ruley

In the charter school’s own by-laws, it notes that purchases for staff meals must be pre-approved and “each department has a budget of $50/employee/year for meals.”

Janelle Ruley, a charter rights attorney of Young, Minney & Corr representing the school’s governing board, said the school district’s recent action “feels like a bait-and-switch sucker punch.” She said the school board’s actions are unproductive and said the school answered all the questions in a timely manner and changed some school policies.

“Like Charlie Brown kicking a football, charter schools are set up to make compliance mistakes and they’re heavily penalized when they actually do,” Ruley said. She added that the school board action “will expose the district to liability.” Ruley said the school plans to answer all the questions within the deadline, but that didn’t stop the teachers and families from being angry.

Gail Turner-Graham El Camino

Teacher Gail Turner-Graham

Teacher Gail Turner-Graham pointed out that “El Camino takes care of its teachers” with an average salary scale of $90,000 per teacher last year. She said the school increased classes, clubs and extracurricular activities by more than 15 percent and two college counselors are dedicated specifically for college planning and helping students with credit recovery. She said the school has a waiting list of 1,000 students and has “established a lean operating system,” and support staff increased by more than 40 percent.

Softball coach and teacher Lori Chandler said she had taught at the school since 1985 and when they first talked about going charter. “At the time the faculty lacked confidence and a majority was not in favor, but five years ago was very different and the faculty fully supported it,” said Chandler who also graduated from the high school. “That was the very best thing that happened to El Camino Real. Being a charter school means decisions are made at the school level.”

Chandler pointed out the school won 97 awards in the past five years in athletics. She suggested that the district wanted to take back the school because it was thriving so well and had several million dollars in their coffers for retiree benefits. “Perhaps that’s the problem, we are thriving too much,” said Chandler, who devoted 33 years to the school.

Lori Chandler El Camino

Lori Chandler, teacher and alum at El Camino Real.

District officials said they first notified the school of concerns last year, on Sept. 29, 2015 and issued a “Notice to Cure” to explain the irregularities by Oct. 30, 2015.

But the faculty and students didn’t know of the issues at the school until the first week of school this year, according to a science teacher at the school for the past 14 years, Dean Sodek. He said the faculty and parents were surprised and it was like “having a kitchen sink lobbed at us” by the district.

Sodek said the district paid a total of $1.2 million in oversight fees over the past five years to the district. He said the district charter office should offer more assistance to the school. He and other staff members said the district’s actions have shaken up the school.

“Please try to understand our frustration,” said the school’s ‎director of marketing, Melanie Horton. She said the district’s actions were “distracting and scaring our students and staff.”

Dermot Givens El Camino Real parent and attorney

Dermot Givens, an El Camino parent.

Parent Dermot Givens, an attorney whose son Damian got into the school through open enrollment, pointed out that his is one of the 8 percent of African-American families at the school. “It is not an all-white upper-class population,” Givens said, adding that his son is fluent in French, learning Mandarin Chinese and a member of the basketball team.

Marshall Mayotte, the school’s chief business officer, said the district’s report was a result of “sloppy work and false statements.” He pointed out that his name was mentioned 11 times for charges made on an employee business card and he was not at the restaurants that were named.

After the district voted to approve the latest notice to the school, Mayotte said, “We were caught off guard.” He said he didn’t have time to answer the summary of facts before the district made them public. The Los Angeles Daily News conducted an in-depth investigation of the school finances in May that also detailed expenses.

Tensions during the school board meeting grew so tense that board member Monica Garcia ordered: “OK, everybody breathe! Everybody breathe! There is a lot of tension and anxiety out there. What I hear is there is a lot people who support their school and want to see a solution and concern about some behavior came to light at some point. …  What I’m interested in hearing is a conversation of how to fix the issues.”

Scott Silverstein, a newly elected member of the El Camino school board and the parent of a recent graduate of the school, said, “We are more than happy to make the necessary changes.”

These 20 LAUSD schools are among the state’s lowest performers

CriticalDesignGamingSchoolA total of 20 schools—14 district schools and six charter schools—that fall under the LA Unified umbrella are among the bottom 5 percent of low-performing schools in the state of California.

The schools are eligible for School Improvement Grants (SIG) money that can result in $2 million a year for five years if the school administrators decide to implement one of seven school models that will help improve their scores.

The issue was brought up at the first LA Unified School Board meeting of the school year on Tuesday. Board members also discussed whether they need to intervene with the five traditional schools that are run by Partnership for Los Angeles Schools (and are not charter schools), as well as the six other charter schools that they oversee in the district.

The surprise is that a few of them named on the list are notable and previously celebrated schools as far as past achievements, yet some of them have been identified as low performing since 2010.

The traditional district schools are:

  • 107th Street Elementary
  • Annalee Avenue Elementary
  • Augustus F. Hawkins High School-A Critical Design and Gaming School
  • Barton Hill Elementary
  • Cabrillo Avenue Elementary
  • Daniel Webster Middle
  • Dr. Owen Lloyd Knox Elementary
  • Edwin Markham Middle
  • Florence Griffth Joyner Elementary
  • George Washington Carver Middle
  • George Washington Preparatory High
  • Samuel Gompers Middle School
  • Tom Bradley Global Awareness Magnet Elementary
  • Westchester Enriched Sciences High School Magnets- Health/Sports/Medicin

The charter schools are:

  • Alain Leroy Locke College Preparatory Academy High (Green Dot)
  • Animo Phillis Wheatley Charter Middle (Green Dot)
  • Los Angeles Leadership Academy High
  • Lou Dantzler Preparatory Charter Middle (ICEF)
  • North Valley Military Institute College Preparatory
  • Wallis Annenberg High (Accelerated School Foundation)

The list from the California Department of Education only slightly differs with the low-achieving list from the CORE district ratings which also included Century Park and Hillcrest Drive elementary schools and David Starr Jordan and Dr. Maya Angelou Community high schools.

The list of 291 schools throughout the state of low-performing schools identify 20 in LA Unified, one in Los Angeles County Office of Education (Soledad Enrichment Charter High) and one in Long Beach (Jordan High). In Los Angeles County, there are 12 other school districts with schools named in the lowest 5 percent of state schools.

The state’s lowest 5 percent of schools was based on 2015 math and English assessment scores, graduation rates based on four years of data, the English learner indicator of the past two years, suspension rates over two years and college and career indicators.

Among the charter schools, the 3-year-old North Valley Military Institute is the only one of its kind in LA Unified and is championed by Gov. Jerry Brown.

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