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

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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

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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

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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

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(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

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“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.”

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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

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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

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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.”

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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.

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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.”

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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!”

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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

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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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Zimmer expresses frustration over credit recovery, graduating with D’s and academic counselor shortage

ZimmerTiredWhile the latest academic reports from the LA Unified school district were positive overall, school board President Steve Zimmer expressed frustration at some of the data presented at Tuesday’s board meeting and said he foresees potential problems ahead.

Zimmer asked for a breakdown of how many students are graduating with D grades and in what subjects.

“How many graduate with several D’s? How many of those D’s are in algebra?” asked Zimmer, who said he tries to remain data-driven in his decisions. “I see this and it causes me a lot of stress.”

He also wanted to know if the district is notifying local colleges and universities to let them know that the second-largest school district in the country is hiring academic counselors again.

“We know about the teacher shortage coming up, but I’m worried that we need to be working on hiring academic counselors,” Zimmer said. He pointed out that the district administrators should let the local colleges know of the district’s needs. “If they know we’re hiring, they will graduate them. This is a pretty market-driven system.”

Those academic counselors will also help students with their credit recovery program and push them toward graduation, he noted.

Although some of the academic scores came close to the district’s targeted goals, some were sorely lacking.

Cynthia Lim, the executive director of Office of Data and Accountability

Cynthia Lim, the executive director of the Office of Data and Accountability.

For example, every high school student is supposed to have an Individualized Graduation Plan (IGP), but only 59 percent do, said Cynthia Lim, the executive director of the Office of Data and Accountability for LA Unified.

“We had a few glitches in the system,” Lim explained.

At one point Tuesday, Zimmer turned to the new student school board member, Karen Calderon, and asked if she had an Individualized Graduation Plan. No, she didn’t, but she said she has a good relationship with the counselors at her high school.

Also, about 38 percent of the district students taking the college-level Advanced Placement Exams received a 3 or higher, making them eligible to get college credit, Lim said. The target that the district is striving for next year is 40 percent.

“We have some improvement needed there too,” Lim reported.

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King, Torlakson tout improvements on standardized test scores

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State Superintendent of Instruction Tom Torlakson, left, LA Unified Superintendent Michelle King and LA Unified school board President Steve Zimmer at Eagle Rock Elementary School to discuss new standardized test results.

LA Unified Superintendent Michelle King, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, LA Unified school board President Steve Zimmer and other leaders called a press conference this morning at Eagle Rock Elementary School to tout the results of the newly released standardized test scores.

Scores in the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) went up both statewide and districtwide in the second year the Common Core-aligned tests were given. King was quick to point out that LA Unified’s gains were among the best of any large district.

“These represent some of the highest gains that were achieved among urban districts in California,” King said.

LA Unified’s score jumped six percentage points in the English test — from 33 percent to 39 percent — and three or four percentage points in the math test, from 25 to 28 or 29 percent. (There is a discrepancy between what the CDE website shows and LA Unified said the score was. Officially, LA Unified said the total was 28.696 percent.)

King also pointed out that nearly every important subgroup like English learners and students from economically challenged households also saw gains.

Statewide, students jumped five percentage points to 49 percent meeting or exceeding the English standard, while jumping four percentage points to 37 percent who met or exceeded the math standard.

Zimmer, who is running for reelection, said he does not put all his faith in test scores but was happy to brag about the results. The board president has received financial support and the endorsement of the LA teachers union, UTLA, which has a policy of downplaying the importance of standardized tests, in particular when they are used to judge the performance of teachers.

“Those of you who know me know that I don’t believe that test scores tell us everything. I don’t even believe that test scores always tell us the most important things. But they are an indicator of progress, and the scores that we are releasing today show that in almost every significant area this district continues to make progress,” Zimmer said.

Zimmer, King and Torlakson stayed away from some of less positive news from the test results, including that the achievement gaps between some minority groups and white students, and between students from economically challenged backgrounds and their wealthier peers, remained close to the same as last year. While minorities and subgroups showed improvements, so did white students and those not from wealthier backgrounds, so the gaps remained at close to the same levels.

“Yes, absolutely, we have a lot of work to do. Yes, unfortunately, we did not see the achievement gap narrow. It’s real and we have to redouble our efforts,” Torlakson said when asked by a reporter about the achievement gap. He then added that he is working to create a team on equity in education to focus on the achievement gap.

Zimmer said the new results should “supercharge our urgency around the achievement gap and take very, very clear steps in terms of our investments.”

When it came to the improvements that have occurred, Torlakson said not all the reasons are known, but he did credit the increased education budgets over the last few years from Gov. Jerry Brown as a key factor.

“Why did this occur? We don’t have all the answers to that question. There is research and further analysis of data to be done, but I believe that it is because we have set new, higher, rigorous standards, relevant standards to our students, and it is because we have had better budgets, so we have had the resources to make a difference,” Torlakson said.

Zimmer, King, Garcetti, U.S. Education deputy kick off LA Unified school year with positive message

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LA Unified is fresh, clean, safe and on the upswing.

That was the message Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, LA Unified Superintendent Michelle King, school board President Steve Zimmer, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education James Cole Jr. and board member George McKenna delivered at a news conference from the library of John C. Fremont High School in South LA this morning to help kick off the first official day of classes at the district.

The location of the library was strategically chosen, as it is brand new.

“We are so excited that this district and this city and our voters have given us the resources to do this, to take a school district that just a decade ago was literally falling apart and now has some of the most shining examples of what we should make our campuses feel like and look like,” said Garcetti, referring to the district’s $27 billion bond program to build 131 new schools, the last of which are set to be completed next year.

All of the leaders who took to the podium highlighted various positive aspects of the district, in a coordinated effort to project LA Unified as a place with a bright future — and not one facing serious budget shortfalls, potential labor unrest and continued declining enrollment.

Zimmer started off, setting the tone. “We have an unprecedented and I would say best-in-the-nation partnership with the city of Los Angeles.”

Garcetti took the opportunity to highlight the numerous ways the city and the district partner together and how the city directly aids LA’s youth. The programs he highlighted included the family source centers and other shared facilities, a summer jobs program called Hire LA’s Youth, anti-gang efforts like Summer Night Lights, an initiative to get LA Unified students signed up for library cards and efforts to boost graduation like Student Recovery Day. He also discussed a new program, Los Angeles College Promise, in which the city has partnered with the Los Angeles Community College District and LA Unified to offer a free year of community college to district graduates.

Referring to a group of high school students who were lined up behind the podium, Garcetti said, “So for our seniors here today, this is our promise to you. When you graduate, community college will be free this next year.”

Garcetti also had high praise for King, who took over as superintendent in January. Referring to her recent efforts to cool relations between the district and charter schools at the “Promising Practices” forum, Garcetti said King is “building a bridge” between reformers and teachers.

During her turn at the podium, King also spoke of the library card program, saying the district and the city are working together “for each and every LA Unified student to have a library card. There are applications in each and every enrollment packet.”

Cole, who said he grew up in a rough neighborhood in Chicago, praised LA Unified for its leadership in the nation on issues like LGBTQ student rights and restorative justice. He then remembered a high school teacher who encouraged him to “dream big” and get a college degree. Speaking to the students, he said, “So what I encourage each and every one of you to do is to find a teacher, find a coach, find a mentor who can help you along the way and help you do great things while you are here at Fremont.”

All in all, the message was clear, and perhaps best summed up by Zimmer in his remarks: “Fremont, this library, the enrollment today, and what you can see in the classes here and the amazing young people that stand with us today represent what is possible when dreams come true though public education.”

2 more candidates enter LAUSD school board races

SteveZimmer

Two more people this week entered the March 7 race for LA Unified school board.

Gregory Martayan will join Nick Melvoin in challenging board President Steve Zimmer for his District 4 seat. And Joanne Baltierrez-Fernandez joins one other challenger in seeking an open seat in District 6.

Martayan and Baltierrez-Fernandez filed with the city Ethics Commission on Tuesday an intent to raise money for their respective races. Candidates officially file to run for the seats in November.

Zimmer has represented school board District 4, which includes the Westside and Hollywood, since 2009. In his latest re-election bid, he won with 52 percent of the vote.

Melvoin has taken a wide early lead in fundraising. The latest campaign finance records show Melvoin has raised $124,344 from Jan. 1 through June 30. Records show that Zimmer raised $7,304 in the same period.

Melvoin touted grassroots support for his campaign.

Zimmer said he has been focused on statewide ballot measures in the Nov. 8 election, including Prop. 55, an extension of income taxes on the wealthy for public education, and Prop. 58, which would repeal a law that prohibits non-English languages from being used in public schools. Zimmer said he is also working to elect Democrat Hillary Clinton as president.

Martayan did not immediately return a request for comment.

In the board District 6 race, where Monica Ratliff is not seeking re-election as she is running for Los Angeles City Council, Baltierrez-Fernandez joins Araz Parseghian in running for the seat. The district encompasses the east San Fernando Valley.

Neither candidate has reported any fundraising or spending to the Ethics Commission. Both just filed their intentions to run this month.

Baltierrez-Fernandez unsuccessfully ran for the 39th District state Assembly seat occupied by Patty Lopez. She came in fourth in the June primary.

Baltierrez-Fernandez, who served on the San Fernando City Council from 1994 to 1999, said Friday that as she was campaigning for the state Assembly seat, many LA Unified school district issues came up.

She is a mental health clinician and said she sees that there is a need for more mental health services in the public school system.

“Children can’t learn if they’re angry, depressed or worried,” she said.

The other seat up for election is in board District 2 occupied by Monica Garcia since 2006.

Four candidates have filed paperwork with the Ethics Commission to raise money to run for the seat, which covers East LA, Pico-Union, downtown Los Angeles and its surrounding neighborhoods.

Garcia has dominated early fundraising, the latest campaign finance records show. Seeking her third term on the seven-member board, Garcia collected $119,858 in donations between Jan. 1 and June 30. One challenger, Carl Petersen, raised $805 in the same period.

Other candidates for the seat are Berny L. Motto, Walter Bannister and Manuel “Manny” Aldana Jr., who all filed their paperwork within the past two weeks.

LAUSD’s graduation rate a record 75 percent, Michelle King announces at her first State of the District address

Michelle King announced a record 75 percent graduation rate at her first State of the District address as superintendent of LA Unified, “a district on the move,” she proclaimed Tuesday.

King noted that the 75 percent rate is based on “preliminary data” as she addressed 1,500 principals, assistant principals and district administrators at the annual kick-off to the school year, held at Garfield High School in East Los Angeles.

“We are a district on the move,” King said after her speech, when asked what she wants the general public to know about the second-largest school district in the country. “The movement and trajectory is from the earliest youth, pre-K and not just stopping at high school but through college. Right now our preliminary data shows that the class of 2016 is at 75 percent graduation. It Is supposed to be as high as we can get it. It is better than we’ve done in the past. Last year was 72 percent, and we’ve exceeded that.”

The graduation rate jumped nearly 3 percentage points over last year despite a new requirement that students pass a rigorous college-prep curriculum in order to earn a diploma. The slate of classes known as the “A-G curriculum” qualifies students to attend California’s public universities.

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Michelle King at her first State of the District address.

She added, “This is exceeding expectations of those who said our students couldn’t do it. Today we say our students can and will thrive to meet the standards to be college-ready.”

The theme of King’s address was “A District on the Move,” and she introduced a promotional video of the same name showing the district’s successes. She also emphasized that “we’re in it together,” and she peppered her speech with more than a dozen names of principals and administrators in the audience that she congratulated for their successes.

Among those she called out included: California’s National Distinguished Principal Marcia S. Reed of 186th Street Elementary School in Gardena; teachers Anthony Yom and Sam Luu and Principal Jose Torres of Lincoln High School who helped every student pass the demanding Calculus Advanced Placement examinations; and Hesby Oaks Leadership Charter Principal Movses Tarakhchyan who required all of his staff to learn CPR and then saved a cafeteria worker when she collapsed this year.

“Together we are turning the tide in a district on the move,” King said. “We are at our best when we are unified and working together as a team.”

All of the school board members except Ref Rodriguez and Richard Vladovic attended the speech, held one week before the Aug. 16 start of school. School board President Steve Zimmer gave a rousing introduction, calling King “not only the best but most qualified leader in public education in the United States.”

Zimmer thanked his fellow board members, school police and principals for their response to the terrorist threat that closed down the schools on Dec. 15. “We hope that never happens again, but if it does, LA became the model on how we all come together and work together and be strong together in the face of danger.”

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Marcia Reed, in white sweater, was one of the principals honored by Michelle King.

King noted safety as a top priority. “As I talk to parents, one topic that continuously emerges is school safety in this time when the headlines are dominated by tragedy and violence. Our students, families and employees want to feel safe, and I am committed to ensuring that they do.”

King also announced:

• Preliminary results of last year’s Smarter Balanced Assessments show that some math and English scores have improved by as much as 7 percent.

• Nearly 200 Title III coaches for English learners have been added.

• 1,000 classrooms in bungalows will be replaced this year with new, modern classrooms.

• Linked Learning will expand to 20,000 students.

• 16 new magnet schools will start this year, including firefighter academies at Wilson and Banning high schools and the very first robotics magnet at Mulholland Middle School.

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LAUSD’s ‘Promising Practices’ forum: Just ‘good vibes’ between district and charters or a new era?

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LA Unified Superintendent Michelle King at the “Promising Practices” forum on July 23.

There were plenty of kumbaya moments at the July 23 “Promising Practices” forum, called by LA Unified Superintendent Michelle King, leaving charter leaders cautiously optimistic it can lead to a new era of cooperation.

More than 200 people from the LA Unified world attended the forum, which featured a series of workshops and discussion panels aimed at sharing best practices between the district’s charter schools and traditional schools. Another forum is planned for next spring, and while it is too early to tell, some charter leaders said they hoped the sharing would continue.

“I’m so excited about what Michelle King is doing, because for the first time since I was on the board, we have a superintendent who is saying, ‘Hey, we can learn from each other,'” said Caprice Young, CEO of Magnolia Public Schools and a former LA Unified school board member. “And it’s not like charters have the answer or traditional schools have the answer, it’s that we can all learn from each other. And she is supporting her internal innovators like pilot schools and magnet schools.”

Young said it is too soon to tell if there will be more tangible evidence of increased cooperation beyond the forum, but “good vibes are not to be underestimated, particularly in a place where there has been so much conflict. The fact that there are good vibes matters.”

Jason Mandell, spokesman for the California Charter Schools Association, said the focus on learning as opposed to politics was refreshing.

“I think it was a very healing event because it did provide an opportunity for teachers and the elected officials and the appointed officials to all focus on instruction and learning and say regardless of the issues that sometimes cause conflict, this is what we are here to do. This is why charters are here,” Mandell said. “They are here to innovate and to try and do things and share what’s working with district schools. There is so much time that could be spent on solving those problems that aren’t.”

Parker Hudnut, CEO of Inner City Education Foundation Public Schools, who attended the forum, also said it is not yet clear what will come of it.

“The teachers and I were pleasantly surprised when they got their session surveys back to find out that most of the people in the seminar were district teachers and not other charter teachers,” Hudnut said. “It was amazing that the LA Unified teachers came to us. Now there needs to be a follow-up. I’ve not heard what they are doing with what was heard at the sessions, or what people came away with, but there could have been a goldmine of ideas that were shared.”

Perhaps the crescendo of the good vibes at the forum was a speech by LA Unified school board President Steve Zimmer, who spoke about breaking down barriers and working together. The speech turned heads due to Zimmer’s sometimes incendiary comments about charters schools and their proliferation.

“Steve Zimmer gave a wonderful heartwarming speech. Michelle King was very positive. The vibe in the room seemed very positive,” Hudnut said. “I see the day as positive, but LAUSD and charters still need to work to improve our relationship. It should be more of a partnership, not a compliance culture. How strong can that relationship be when one day we are working together to better educate children and then the next day we get a notice to comply that is pretty silly. There needs to be positive celebration that stands shoulder to shoulder.”

School board elections heat up with 4 more candidates jumping into race

MonicaGarcia1Four more candidates have entered the race to run for two school board seats in the March 7 election.

Three people in the last 10 days have filed with the city Ethics Commission an intent to raise money to challenge Monica Garcia for school board in District 2, and one person has entered the race for the vacant seat in District 6, which is held by Monica Ratliff, who is running for City Council.

Manuel Aldana Jr., Walter R. Bannister and Berny Motto have joined Carl Petersen in challenging Garcia.

Araz Parseghian will run in District 6 and is the only candidate to declare an intent to do so.

Campaign finance reports show Garcia dominating in early fundraising. She raised about $120,000 in the first six months of this year. Petersen, who ran unsuccessfully in 2015 for the District 3 seat, raised $805 in the same period.

District 2 covers East LA, Pico-Union, downtown Los Angeles and its surrounding neighborhoods and is heavily Latino. Garcia, who was board president for an unprecedented six consecutive years, was first elected in that district in 2006.

District 6 covers the east San Fernando Valley. Ratliff was elected in 2013. She filed an intent to run for a City Council seat in March.

Parseghian filed an intent to run for the seat on Aug. 2.

The primary election will take place on March 7. Also running are Board President Steve Zimmer in District 4, who is seeking re-election against challenger Nick Melvoin. Melvoin has raised about $124,000, compared to Zimmer’s $7,300, according to city filings.

School board candidates officially file for the race in November, but they can begin to raise money and declare their intent to do so with the Ethics Commission.

If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the votes in the March 7 primary, the top two vote-getters go on to compete in the May 16 general election.

Challenger Nick Melvoin raises more than incumbent Steve Zimmer early on in school board bid

Nick Melvoin

Nick Melvoin

*UPDATED

The candidate challenging LA Unified board President Steve Zimmer for school board has raised more money early on in the March 7 election campaign than the incumbent did in his entire re-election bid three years ago, according to city campaign finance records.

Nick Melvoin announced this week that as of the June 30 filing deadline, he has raised $124, 344. Records show that Zimmer raised just $7,304 in the same period.

“I’m grateful to all the individuals who have supported this campaign so far,” Melvoin said in a statement. “I’ve just begun to share my vision for improving public education in Los Angeles, and I look forward to working on behalf of all the communities in the 4th District to turn those plans into real change.”

Melvoin noted that many of his campaign contributions were $100 or less, but about 30 percent of the donors who gave more than $100 live outside California, records show.

The early filings indicate that money will likely be pouring into this race, as it has in previous elections for school board seats.

But money wasn’t the deciding factor in Zimmer’s previous reelection bid. He won with 52 percent of the vote even though he was outspent by his opponent.

Zimmer said he is “very focused” on November, specifically the passage of statewide ballot measures Prop. 55 and Prop. 58 and the election of Hillary Clinton as president. Prop. 55 is an extension of income taxes on the wealthy to fund public education under Prop. 30 that was passed by voters in 2012. Prop. 58, the California Multilingual Education Act, would repeal a law that prohibits non-English languages from being used in public schools.

“There will be plenty of time to talk about the looming battle for control of the school board and the obscene amounts of money that will be raised and spent on that struggle,” Zimmer said in an email. “For now, as Michelle Obama said this week, ‘We have important work to do.'” 

It is early in the citywide election season. The primary is March 7. The general election will be held May 16. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the votes in the primary, the top two vote-getters will compete in the general election.

Melvoin launched his campaign in February. So far, no one else has entered the race. Candidates officially file for the race in November but can begin to raise money.

In his previous reelection bid in 2013, Zimmer raised a total of $122,000. His opponent, Kate Anderson, brought in $263,603. Independent expenditure committees poured nearly $2.7 million into the race.

The school board races that year received national attention and money from outside donors like former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who gave $1 million to a coalition formed by then-Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa that donated money to the three school board races and supported a slate of candidates. Villaraigosa’s group opposed Zimmer.

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Two other school board seats are up for reelection next spring. Longtime board member Monica Garcia, who was first elected in 2006, is seeking reelection in board District 2. She is being challenged by Carl Petersen. Petersen ran in 2015 for the school board District 3 seat and came in 5th place in the primary. (Scott Schmerelson won that seat.) The city Ethics Commission has not posted campaign finance reports for Petersen or Garcia on its website.

School board member Monica Ratliff will not seek reelection and has opted to run for City Council. No one has announced an intention to run for the open board District 6 seat in the East San Fernando Valley.

So far no independent expenditure committees have spent any money in the school board races.

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Charter chiefs applaud Zimmer’s summit speech

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Steve Zimmer at Saturday’s “Promising Practices” summit.

LA Unified School Board President Steve Zimmer offered a rousing speech at Saturday’s “Promising Practices” forum that was praised by charter leaders because of his inclusiveness.

“We understand that a narrative that blames charter schools for all that is wrong in public education may serve short-term organizing goals but is counterproductive and doesn’t help every child,” Zimmer said. “Equally, a narrative that perpetuates the notion that LAUSD schools are failures may increase the short-term goal of increasing charter schools and reinforces deficit mindsets. It’s an immoral narrative. Both of these narratives are not factual, both goals have the effect of dividing us artificially and not really serving the needs of kids and their families and why we got into this work.”

Zimmer, who was on his way to catch a plane across the country, stayed only for the first hour of the forum, but people were talking about his speech all day.

“We haven’t yet figured that out with LAUSD and charter schools how to share promising practices, and this is a beginning,” Zimmer said to the room of about 200 teachers from traditional and charter schools. “We have things that we can learn from each other, we have ways that could get over the barriers … and work together to make those dreams come true.”

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The “Promising Practices” forum was held at the Sonia Sotomayor Learning Academies campus.

“Wow, I feel like we charter schools don’t have cooties anymore,” quipped Caprice Young, chief executive officer of Magnolia Public Schools, who was also a panelist at the forum. She joined with Granda Hills Charter School to discuss “Communities of Practice: Special Education Innovation.” “I think Steve Zimmer’s speech was wonderful and this forum is giving all of us a chance to share and discuss. It’s very good energy all around.”

Parker Hudnut, CEO of Inner City Education Foundation (ICEF) Public Schools, said he was also pleased. “Steve did an excellent job setting the stage for collaboration through his vivid imagery. He reminded us that we each got into this work to fortify future generations and to be successful, we must all collaborate across adult divisions.”

Hudnut pointed out that two of his ICEF teachers gave a lecture titled: “Moving Away from Sage on the Stage Teaching: Targeted Group Structure” attended by 15 LA Unified district teachers. He said, “To me, that is the entire point of the gathering. Here were educators focused solely on how to teach students better: two charter teachers sharing their learning with 15 LAUSD teachers. That is beautiful to me!”

Zimmer, who is running for re-election, has tempered his comments about the proliferation of charter schools in the second-largest school district in the country.

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