Sunday, December 21, 2014

PUNISHED TEACHER IN CLASS AGAIN: Eight-month exile over fundraising spotlights union and district differences on the issue of discipline

By Howard Blume | LA Times |

Teacher Stuart Lutz with a former student

Stuart Lutz, right, a South Gate Middle School art teacher, returned to class Wednesday after being cleared of wrongdoing in a case that drew attention to the LAUSD's "teacher jail" system. Those welcoming him back include former student Armando Chavez, now in high school. (Howard Blume / Los Angeles Times)

Published online Dec 17, 2014/In print Dec  21, 2014   ::  A popular South Gate Middle School teacher returned to the classroom Wednesday, eight months after he was pulled from campus for alleged financial improprieties.

The case of Stuart Lutz, 60, became one more touchstone in the debate in the Los Angeles Unified School District over "teacher jail," the informal term for the administrative offices where instructors report after they've been removed from their classrooms over allegations of wrongdoing.

The teachers union, United Teachers Los Angeles, has insisted that teachers have been needlessly removed from classes, kept out of work for unreasonable periods, overly punished for minor mistakes and wrongly dismissed.

Lutz's experience underscores the question of whether administrators unfairly took advantage of district policy to remove teachers who were troublesome, but not necessarily guilty of substantial misconduct. Lutz was the union representative for his school and had some disagreements with the principal.

Lutz acknowledged Wednesday that he failed to follow proper procedures for organizing and paying for field trips, but added that he and other teachers had been operating this way for years without knowing any better.

At the request of the union, L.A. schools Supt. Ramon Cortines agreed to authorize a fresh and expedited look at the allegations and evidence against Lutz, an art teacher who was involved in student activities.

"Under the new leadership of the district, intelligent minds have prevailed," said union Vice President Colleen Schwab.

Union President Alex Caputo-Pearl called the return of Lutz a "huge breakthrough," but added that major differences remained in contract negotiations that still could result in a strike. The union and the district have agreed to fast-track negotiations, with meetings every week, he said.

Lutz said his discipline ultimately consisted of a "conference memo," in which an administrator explained what Lutz did incorrectly and how to avoid such problems in the future. Such memos can lead to more serious consequences if a mistake or misconduct is repeated.

The teacher praised "this wonderful outcome."

"It’s so great to know that so many people were working so hard on my behalf for this homecoming," Lutz said. "I’m so happy to be back.”

Students also would be pleased, said Armando Chavez, 14, who was in Lutz's class last year.

"It was a lot of mayhem after they took him out, and a lot of things were very different," said Armando, who is now in ninth grade at South Gate High School. "We had about six substitutes for the rest of the year."

The number of teachers and other employees who were removed from schools ballooned to about 300 after the January 2012 arrest of former third-grade teacher Mark Berndt for sexual misconduct at Miramonte Elementary. Berndt eventually was sentenced to 25 years in prison. His alleged victims received settlements totaling nearly $170 million.

That case and others prompted district officials, particularly then-Supt. John Deasy, to take what they considered a safety-first approach, both to limit potential harm to students and to limit liability for the nation's second-largest school system. Other measures included reviewing records going back decades to weed out possible past or future offenders.

District officials have insisted that they want to treat teachers fairly. They note that most teachers continue to be paid after they are pulled from their classrooms. L.A. Unified also recently set up a special unit of investigators to resolve sexual misconduct cases more quickly. And teachers who have been removed from the classroom, who formerly had to report to a district office during work hours, where they did nothing, now can remain at home.

Union activists complained that such measures were insufficient because, they said, allegations still resulted in a teacher being considered guilty until proven innocent.

From the wonderful folks who drew the FBI to LAUSD: PREPARING FOR A RENAISSANCE IN ASSESSMENT

By smf for 4LAKids

Sunday, 21 December, 2014 :: You have to hand it to Pearson. No, really…you have to. It’s in the contract. It’s embedded in the standards and the NCLB waivers. It’s in the stars.

They are the world’s largest publishing company. They are the world’s largest textbook publishing company – which has the best highest-on-investment of any kind of publishing save for printing money itself. They apparently own the market in digital content publishing for the Common Core State Standards with their Common Core System of Courses – which may or may not actually exist – developed with start-up money from the Los Angeles Unified School District, thank you very much.

Now they have a vision for the future, and in it they are the world’s largest testing company.

They have seen the future and it’s Pearson.

Last week Pearson’s Chief Education Advisor, Sir Michael Barber and assessment expert, Dr Peter Hill, generated a report about this bright new wonderful tomorrow. Their “essay” PREPARING FOR A RENAISSANCE IN ASSESSMENT says that new technologies will transform assessment and testing in education.

According to the authors:

  • Adaptive testing (for example, tests that evolve in real time on screen) will help generate more accurate tests and reduce the amount of time schools spend on testing
  • Smarter, automated marking of exams will help improve accuracy and reduce the time teachers spend marking “rote” answers
  • Technology will help combine student performance across multiple papers and subjects.
  • Assessment will provide on-going feedback, which, will help personalise teaching and improve learning.
  • New digital technologies will minimise opportunities for cheating in exams or “gaming the system”.
  • The essay argues that current assessment methods are no longer working, so that even the top performing education systems in the world have hit a performance ceiling.

The authors set out a ‘Framework for Action’ that details the steps that should be taken for “policymakers, schools, school-system leaders and other key players to prepare for the assessment renaissance”


The report is 88 pages under the Pearson imprint. 88 pages of research an inch deep and a mile wide, reminiscent of every slick new modern educational text you’ve ever seen – with pictures and graphs and text boxes, all Helvetica and white space and more designed than written.

It is salesmanship pretending to be scholarship. Data masquerading as knowledge. Advertising making believe it is research.

In print I’m sure you can smell the shiny acid-free paper and soy based ink – with a press run of varnish to make the pictures pop and blacks truly black. You probably can’t smell the barnyard fecal matter at all.

You can read it here: And you should, because as an early reviewer writes: “… these are the people that the reformsters listen to.”

This is the very Kool Aid we were warned not to drink.

That reviewer, Peter Greene, who blogs a at continues:

“…Let me just try to distill some of the big takeaways from Peter Hill and Michael Barber's essay. Here are some important things to know about what Pearson's brave new future education world would look like.

Welcome to the matrix: students will be plugged in

Pearson does not aspire to simply administer a high stakes test or two a couple of times a year. Think of every sort of assessment you do, from unit tests to small check quizzes to daily exercises for understanding. Pearson wants all of that. All. Of. That. Every single bit of assessment will generate data which will go straight into the Big Data Bank so that a complete picture of the individual student can be created and stored. I once noted that the Common Core standards make more sense if viewed as data tags. I wrote that last March, but it still looks correct to me.

The point of having everything done via internet-linked device is not just to deliver instruction and assessment to the student-- it's to be able to collect every bit of data that the student generates.

Through the use of rubrics, which will define performance in terms of a hierarchically ordered set of levels representing increasing quality of responses to specific tasks, and a common set of curriculum identifiers, it will be possible to not only provide immediate feedback to guide learning and teaching but also to build a digital record of achievement that can be interrogated for patterns and used to  generate individualised and pictorial achievement maps or profiles

And Pearson is completely comfortable with assessment and instruction centered on character traits, developing grit and tenacity and prudence and the ability to work well with others. So their system will hoover all that info up as well. By the time your child is eighteen, there will be a complete profile, covering every aspect of her intellectual and personal development. I wonder if Pearson would be able to make any money selling that database to potential employers or to government agencies. Hmmm...

Teachers will not be teachers

Pearson doesn't much like the teaching profession as it currently stands. They believe that teaching must be transformed from a "largely under-qualified and trained, heavily unionized, bureaucratically controlled semi-profession into a true profession with a distinctive knowledge base, framework for teaching, well-defined common terms for describing and analyzing teaching at a level of specificity and strict control."

"Learning systems of the future will free up teacher time currently spent on preparation, marking and record-keeping and allow a greater focus on the professional roles of diagnosis, personalized instruction, scaffolding deep learning, motivation, guidance and care." The system will do all the planning and implementing, and the system will put all the necessary technology at hand. "But without such a systematic, data-driven approach to instruction, teaching remains an imprecise and somewhat idiosyncratic process that is too dependent on the personal intuition and competence of individual teachers."

All educational decisions will be made by the software and the system. Teachers will just be needed as a sort of stewardess. We will teacher-proof the classroom, so that any nasty individuality cannot mess up the system.

Personalized learning won't be

Pearson's concept of personalized learning is really about personalized pacing. The framework for learning starts with "validated maps of the sequence in which students typically learn a given curriculum outcome." So-- like railroad tracks. Personalized does not mean wandering all over a variety of possible learning paths. It means adjusting to move slower or faster while pausing for review when there's a need to fill in holes.

Pearson does not offer an answer to the age-old question, "How do all students move at their own paces but still cross the finish line in time?"  They do suggest that we give up the old age-grade progression, and they believe that high expectations fix everything, but they do not directly explain if that's enough to keep some students from being stuck in school until they're twenty-nine years old.

Character may be important, but humanity, not so much

One of the odd disconnects in Pearson's vision is that they value (enough to plan measuring) social skills and character, but they do not pause to consider how their system might affect or be affected by the development of these qualities.

What does it do to the development of a child to be in groups that change regularly because of differing educational pace. What will happen when an eight year old must leave her best friend behind because she is being moved up? What will happen to the very bright twelve-year-old grouped with a bunch of fairly slow seventeen-year-olds?

Pearson lists a wide variety of possible obstacles to this system's emergence, but they assume that students will simply fall in line and take the system seriously, feeling some sort of accountability to the device screen that delivers their instruction and assessment. Teachers no longer automatically receive the trust and respect of our students--we have to earn it. Pearson assumes that because they think they're important, students will, too. That's a bad assumption.

Software will be magical

Pearson knows that trying to test any higher levels of cognition with bubble test questions is doomed to failure. Their solution is magical software. Software can ask questions that will delve deep, and software can read and assess the answers to open-ended essay questions. Software can suss out a student's intelligence so well that it can then create more test items that will be perfect for that student. Software can unerringly crunch all the data to create a perfect profile of the student. Software can do all of these things better than live human beings (even though software is written by live human beings).

And if you believe all that, I would like to sell you some software that controls the Brooklyn Bridge.

Important people are listening to these guys

You cannot read a page of this essay without encountering familiar references. New tests that move beyond the old bubble tests. High expectations can bring all students up to excellence. Enhanced data collection will lead to better learning. The job of teaching needs to be changed. We've heard it all from various bureaucrats, reformster leaders, and US Secretaries of Education.

Important people pay attention to Pearson, even though most of their ideas are rather dumb and self-serving. We all need to be paying attention to Pearson as well, because back behind the Gatesian money and the policies of Arne Duncan we find these guys, generating and articulating the ideas that become foundational to the reformsters.

It would be easy to dismiss Pearson as simple money-grubbing corporatists, to lump them together with the goofy amateurism of a Duncan or a Coleman. But they are rich, they are polished, they are powerful, and they are, I believe, driven. I have never read work by Michael Barber in which he does not note that changing the global face of education is a moral imperative, a job that he must do because he knows what must be done to improve mankind. For me, that takes this all to a new level of scary. |

●●smf: Does any of that sound somewhat familiar?

Mr. Greene is quite verbose, if you really want to get into the weeds in deciphering Pearson’s Renaissance, continue on here:

Saturday, December 20, 2014


by Vanessa Romo, LA School Report |

Judge Rolf Treu affirm vergara decisionDecember 19, 2014 12:39 pm  ::  LA Unified sustained another legal blow this week in a “whistleblower” case that’ll cost the district millions.

After nearly a month-long trial, a Los Angeles jury awarded retired Air Force Officer and Junior ROTC instructor, Archie Roundtree, $3.3 million, finding that the district had revoked his teaching certification in an act of retaliation.

This latest setback comes a month after the district announced a $139 million settlement in civil cases stemming from the actions of a former teacher at Miramonte Elementary School.

Shortly after reporting a series of violations in the operation of the JROTC program at John H. Francis Polytechnic High School in Sun Valley, Chief Academic Officer Gerardo Loera began complaining to the Air Force about the veteran instructor. The Air Force subsequently revoked Roundtree’s 15-year certification to teach JROTC cadets.

According Renuka V. Jain, a lawyer who represented Roundtree, “The jury awarded Roundtree $1,810,840 on the whistleblower claim, $1 million in defamation damages against Loera, and $500,000 against Assistant Vice-Principal Adriana Maldonado-Gomez. The jury also concluded that Loera had acted with malice, oppression or fraud.”

“The settlement is good but he will never be able to get his certification back,” Jain told LA School Report. “There is no appeal, there is no review. The only people who can get it back is Air Force and they’re not going to do that,” she said.

The district said in an email response it is “very disheartened” by the verdict.

“It is never the intention of the District or its administrators to engage in defamation or retaliation against any employee for any reason,” the district said. “While the jury found in favor of Major Roundtree, the District believes and maintains that each of the administrators’ actions were taken with the students’ interests at heart and were not done in retaliation against Major Roundtree.”

The district is currently reviewing the record and considering its options with respect to any challenges to the verdict.

2cents small I have some real problems with the reporting of this story – or perhaps the editing thereof.

  • Shortly after reporting a series of violations in the operation of the JROTC program at John H. Francis Polytechnic High School in SunRoundtree Valley….”:  Because this is a whistle blower suit I presume that Major Roundtree made the allegations - though to whom and what the allegations were are totally unclear. Did he complain to LAUSD?  To the Dept of the Air Force? …and what exactly were the allegations? …and even more critically: What is the timeline?
  • “….Chief Academic Officer Gerardo Loera began complaining to the Air Force about the veteran instructor”.  Again, the timeline.  Loera was named Chief Academic Officer on December 1, less than a month ago. The trial was “nearly a month long” so one must suppose that Loera’s action took place previous to him holding that job.
    • Loera’s previous job was Executive Director, Office of Curriculum, Instruction and School Support - where he was often called upon to be the administration’s thankless+unthanked mouthpiece re: the CCTP (iPads)  and MiSiS.
    • Before that he was Jaime Aquino’s deputy when Aquino was Deputy Supe for Curriculum and Instruction.
    • And before that Leora was Principal of John H. Frances Polytechnic High School – a/k/a Poly High.    (I had a girlfriend who went to Poly – that’s a very complicated story!)
    • And as for “Assistant Vice-Principal Adriana Maldonado-Gomez” …that is a new job title to me. We now have Assistant Principals – and back in my misspent youth there were Vice Principals …but…..  Ms Maldonado-Gomez is currently on the faculty of Grant High School as an Assistant Principal


By Thomas Himes, Los Angeles Daily News |

Friday 12/19/14, 1:46 PM PST | Updated: Sat  12/20/14  6AM  ::  Another glitch in Los Angeles Unified’s troubled computer system, MiSiS, has once again delayed efforts to enter grades just before the deadline for report cards.

The glitch shut down LAUSD’s grading system at 11:59 a.m. Thursday, as middle and high school teachers attempted to input marks due Friday evening for report cards.

LAUSD’s technology department fixed the problem Friday morning, spokesman Thomas Waldman said in a written statement, adding “roughly 88% of all final grades had already been verified” as of 9 a.m.

But campus-based educators who spoke on the condition of anonymity said while the system was available again Friday afternoon, it was “off and on.”

The glitch became apparent to educators who had just finished grading finals and were entering the marks to meet a Friday morning deadline set by administrators at some campuses. An emergency faculty meeting was held at at least one high school to address the issue along with a series of emails, as confused teachers tried to figure out why they couldn’t file grades and print mandatory rosters to verify accuracy.

In November, a widespread failure forced the district to delay report cards for elementary school students just days before report cards were set to be issued and after conferences with parents had already been scheduled. The district reverted to old-fashioned paper forms, both posting them online for educators to print and mailing hard copies to campuses.

The latest glitch comes as LAUSD scrambles to ensure students are placed in the proper classrooms when they return from winter break in January.

Schools opened to chaos in August, when the system launched, placing pupils in the wrong classes and stranding them in auditoriums as educators dusted off paper forms in an effort to provide course schedules.

The disruptions cost LAUSD $3.64 million in extra pay for educators and clerical staff who worked trying to put the school year back on track, according to LAUSD financial documents released Friday detailing costs through November.

An additional $1.05 million has been spent on rehiring counselors, dispatching staff stationed in central offices and other emergency fixes undertaken as part of efforts to salvage the school year.

While LAUSD has yet to estimate a total price tag for MiSiS and unexpected fixes, the original budget of about $25 million threatens to quadruple to $100 million or more, according to district sources familiar with ongoing efforts to estimate costs for the system. Those sources were not authorized to speak publicly.


image image image image image image image image image image <This is my favorite page.



By Laurie Udesky | EdSource Today |

December 18, 2014 | As teacher David Ramirez strode around his 7th-grade classroom at Oakland’s Urban Promise Academy, he was taking on a central challenge of the new Common Core standards: how to ensure that students who lack proficiency in English are able to benefit from a more language-based approach to learning complex math concepts.

Most of the students in Ramirez’s class in this small Oakland public school are classified as English learners and most live in immigrant households. Their command of English ranges from minimal, to understanding parts of lessons, to speaking hesitantly. In almost all cases, their native language is Spanish, although the class also includes students whose first language is English. With 23 percent of California’s 6.2 million students classified as English learners, Ramirez’s challenge is one that faces thousands of other teachers across the state.

Seventh-grade boys writing on white board

<<  EdSource Today/Laurie Udesky  Seventh-grade math students at Oakland’s Urban Promise Academy work on solving a math problem.

Under the Common Core State Standards adopted by California, 42 other states and the District of Columbia, math teachers whose students have varying levels of English comprehension are using innovative ways to teach them math, including the vocabulary of math and ways for the students to discuss how they came up with their answers.

The issue of making sure English learners benefit from the Common Core has been the subject of considerable research and discussion. One key finding is that much of what students learn can come from their interactions with fellow students in small group discussions where they analyze a problem, critique each other’s reasoning and find the best way to talk about it. That practice is on full display in Ramirez’s class, where students work in small groups much of the time

In the past, Ramirez said, students may not have known how they reached an answer to a math problem. “With the Common Core,” he said, “teachers are pushed to a new level in order to have students clearly understand what they are doing and why their answer makes sense.”

To bridge the language gulf between the math terms he must use in his class and the limited English proficiency of some of his students, Ramirez spends the first 30 minutes of each class just on math vocabulary.

His lesson on a recent morning focused on “proportional relationships” between quantities, a key part of the 7th-grade Common Core standards.

Ramirez focused on the relationship between two squares of different sizes that he had drawn on the board. He threw out concepts using words like “enlarge,” “reduce” and “scale,” and then illustrated each of them and challenged students to interpret the words’ meanings in groups as he listened to their discussions.

Teachers use other strategies to help English learners understand terminology that may be out of their reach. For example, in a math problem that is written in a narrative form, teachers may tell English learners to circle words that are repeated often in the problem, said Crystal Hoffmann, a project specialist with the Kern Unified High School District who trains teachers to work effectively with English learners.

In groups, Hoffmann said, students focus on the importance of the circled words, talk about them and figure out their meaning. Those small group discussions – a major element of the Common Core’s commitment to collaborative learning – are key to helping push students.

Students who are newer to the English language are not always able to verbalize the reasoning behind their answers, said Jeffrey Grisham, a 5th-grade math teacher at Kennedy Elementary School in Santa Ana.

Small group discussions allow English learners to “express themselves freely,” said Martin Perez, a 4th-grade math teacher at Kennedy Elementary in Santa Ana. “It’s not just about math. It’s about kids that are so intimidated to say anything.”

Grisham makes sure that groups include a mix of students – English learners who sit alongside native and fluent English speakers and those who excel in math.

“The English language learners have learned how to express ideas by listening to the conversation of the other students,” Grisham said.

Martin Perez, a 4th-grade teacher at Kennedy Elementary, agreed, saying that the small groups may be the only way that a student struggling with English feels comfortable to speak up.

“It allows them to express themselves freely,” Perez said. “It’s not just about math. It’s about kids that are so intimidated to say anything,”

Perez recalled one student in a small group who talked about math concepts using a combination of English and Spanish. Perez, who understands Spanish, can listen and gauge whether her reasoning is faulty or on track.

“She struggles, but when I hear her explaining something, it shows she’s going through the cognitive steps to get through to the answer,” Perez said. Her test scores also show him that she’s picking up the math concepts he overhears her verbalize.

More-proficient English speakers may help those with less English understand math concepts. But Hoffmann, who coaches high school teachers working with English learners, said learning the language of math or any other subject is a challenge for many students – not only those who are learning English.

Many high school students struggle with academic language, Hoffmann said. Because of that, she added, “We try to teach teachers to bolster language across the board.”

The Common Core standards require that math teachers spend substantially more time helping students than in the past, Perez said.

“It’s a huge paradigm shift in the way math has been taught in this country,” Perez added, “and it’s so much better, because it requires a really active mind at work, not just one following rote steps. Basically, it boils down to students teaching students.”

“The English language learners have learned how to express ideas by listening to the conversation of the other students,” said Jeffrey Grisham, a 5th-grade math teacher at Kennedy Elementary in Santa Ana.

Ramirez, the Urban Promise Academy teacher, said the new standards allow him to apply math problems to the realities of everyday life experienced by his students – something he yearned for when he studied math in school.

For example, in a lesson on how to calculate the rate at which something occurs, he asked his students to look at school dropout rates by race, which hit home for several of them. Others mentioned that members of their families do not have high school diplomas.

“I always wanted math to tie into my everyday life,” Ramirez said. Now, he said, he is giving his students reasons “for why we need to know math.”

 Following is the proportional relationships standard, one of the Common Core standards for 7th-grade math:

    Analyze proportional relationships and use them to solve real-world and mathematical problems.
  • Compute unit rates associated with ratios of fractions, including ratios of lengths, areas and other quantities measured in like or different units. For example, if a person walks 1/2 mile in each 1/4 hour, compute the unit rate as the complex fraction 1/2/1/4 miles per hour, equivalently 2 miles per hour.
  • Recognize and represent proportional relationships between quantities.
  • Decide whether two quantities are in a proportional relationship, e.g., by testing for equivalent ratios in a table or graphing on a coordinate plane and observing whether the graph is a straight line through the origin.
  • Identify the constant of proportionality (unit rate) in tables, graphs, equations, diagrams, and verbal descriptions of proportional relationships.
  • Represent proportional relationships by equations. For example, if total cost t is proportional to the number n of items purchased at a constant price p, the relationship between the total cost and the number of items can be expressed as t = pn.
  • Explain what a point (x, y) on the graph of a proportional relationship means in terms of the situation, with special attention to the points (0, 0) and (1, r) where r is the unit rate.
  • Use proportional relationships to solve multistep ratio and percent problems. Examples: simple interest, tax, markups and markdowns, gratuities and commissions, fees, percent increase and decrease, percent error.

Going Deeper



Laurie Udesky covers the implementation of Common Core.



2cents small My daughter attended the Individualized Honors Program at Reed Middle School; the Reed IHP predates the LAUSD magnet program and presents an extremely rigorous curriculum to the identified highly gifted and high achievers. Reed itself is a regular middle school; the student population ranges from honors kids to underachieving skateboard punks and from the upper-middle class privileged students to recent immigrants - documented and not. The demographics ran the gamut.

Reed’s program+success  thrived by providing opportunity. It had a orchestral, jazz and choral music program second to none – and open to any student  interested enough to do the work – whether from the IHP, general  or ESL population. The Reed Drill Team regularly competed (and even more regularly won) against high school competition.

[I write in the past tense from past experience; I hope+pray it is still so!]

In theory the advanced IHP course work – including its Advanced Placement Physics courses – was open to all students ready to do the work – because there is no reason whatsoever why a student can’t get a 5 in AP Physics just because they don’t speak English!   Sadly there were no takers – even though the Parent Center Director was a great teacher, a powerful advocate, and a degreed mathematician from South America.

It is never about the test scores and the bureaucracy; it will never be about the implementation of the Common Core. It is, was and always will be  about the intersection of People and Opportunity and the recognition of the Moment..   They don’t run the PSA’s any more …but A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste / Una Mente es una Cosa Terrible a Perder.


Friday, December 19, 2014



By Stephen Ceasar , LA Times |

Maria Melendrez

Supervisor aide Maria Melendrez talks with students in the girls locker room at Nava College Preparatory Academy. Melendrez was one of the parents who spearheaded the school's founding. (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)

Maria Melendrez's daughter thrived for three years at the Julian Nava Learning Academy, a sparkling middle-school campus in South L.A. where she was pushed to excel.

But Melendrez feared what would come next for her daughter. She could send her to underperforming Jefferson High, or perhaps put her on a bus to a magnet school in the San Fernando Valley. She and other parents lamented the lack of quality high schools in the neighborhood.

So they decided to start their own.

Morning chats among parents turned into strategy and brainstorming sessions. One enterprising mom picked up the phone and simply called the local L.A. Unified district office to ask how to start a school.

Tom Welch

Principal Thomas Welch, left, shakes hands with Jeremy Brown in homeroom at Nava College Preparatory Academy in Los Angeles. The school launched this fall and currently serves only ninth-graders, but has plans to expand. (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times) >>

"We figured, why can't we make it? Why can't we do something to make sure this community has a better school?" Melendrez said. "We decided that we were going to do it ourselves."

They pitched the idea to their children's teachers. Nava Principal Tommy Welch, who had been working for three years to get the new middle school up and running, signed on to try to do it all over again.

"We were very focused," Melendrez said.

They set a meeting with Tommy Chang, the senior district administrator who oversees the area. When he walked into the small room on the middle school campus a few weeks later, he was surprised to find dozens and dozens of parents. He'd never seen anything like it.

Repeatedly, they told him of the great experiences their children had for the last three years: the top-notch teachers; the safe, clean campus; and how much they wanted to have the same experience in high school.

"It was super powerful to walk into a room of parents — there were like 50 of them — and they all said the same thing: 'We want a great high school for our kids,'" Chang said.

He encouraged them to apply as a "pilot" school. L.A. Unified allows those campuses, like the middle school, to try to spark innovation by giving educators autonomy over curriculum, budget, staffing and training, among other things.

The parents, teachers and administration worked tirelessly on the pilot school plan and submitted it last December. It was aimed at continuing the traditions, structure and culture of the middle school they loved.

The plan was approved by the Board of Education in January.

Nava College Preparatory Academy opened in the fall.

Nava College Prep

Students at Nava College Prep wear uniforms and attend class in bungalows on the campus of Jefferson High School in South L.A. (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)

"We did it. We had an opportunity to put our word in and say, 'You know what, we want something better for our students,'" Melendrez said.

It was a unique showing of parent power. The group had ambitions beyond the typical PTA and used a less confrontational route to asserting control over the education of their children. In recent years, parents at several underperforming public schools have tried to force dramatic changes in management using the state's parent trigger law. If at least half of the school's parents agree, the law gives them the power to demand changes in staff and curriculum, close the school or convert to an independent charter.

Here, however, parents were happy with what they had and fearful of what came next. It was a preemptive move to keep their students out of low-achieving high schools, parents said.

Magdalena Marquez said she appreciated teachers and administrators at the middle school who were relentless about talking up college, and she worried that her daughter would not have the same focus if she went to Jefferson.

"My dream became a reality," she said in Spanish. "She's a smart girl and to see the progress she's made and to know that she won't stop and will keep advancing — it's incredible. It's something many of the students in this community don't have."

The high school opened with about 280 ninth-grade students, using previously unoccupied bungalows next to the football field on the Jefferson High School campus. About 300 students will be added each year to eventually reach about 1,100 students in 2017. Students wear uniforms; for boys, a button-down shirt, tie and cardigan.

Nava College Prep

Parents worried about sending their children to low-performing high schools decided to create a solution: Nava College Preparatory Academy. (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times) >>

The school draws from the same neighborhood as Jefferson; nearly all students are eligible for free or reduced-priced lunch, a poverty indicator. Only three students at Nava College Prep have parents with a college degree.

Nava Prep has avoided some of the problems that plagued Jefferson, where students languished for weeks without appropriate classes after a scheduling snafu. All students at Nava had their schedules weeks ahead of the first day and they had perfect attendance.

In his 19 years in education, Welch has never had a group of parents more driven to have their children succeed in the neighborhood they call home.

"They have such a pride for this little, tiny part of South L.A.," he said.

The staff works to promote transparency and constant dialogue with parents. Welch has an open-door policy. In fact, he doesn't have a door. He doesn't even have an office.

And parents aren't shy about giving their opinions, all of which are welcomed.

"You'd be amazed at these parents. They just walk into the front office," he said, laughing. "They aren't afraid to demand this, question this, ask for this, give their two cents about that."

Melendrez, to the chagrin of her teenage daughter, takes a short walk around the corner each morning to volunteer as a campus supervisor. She checks uniforms as students walk in, makes sure kids get into class and tries not to be too overbearing with her daughter.

"You can tell that every day when they walk in and say good morning to you — they're happy to be here," she said. "I look forward to every day here."


2cents small This is a great story, filled with lovely complications and international intrigue. The regime in Turkey is no more a wellspring of European secular democracy than Fethullah Gülen is a wild eyed bearded mullah. Instead we have nuance and politics and power and money:  This is the New Byzantium.

The Magnolia Charter Schools in LAUSD are affiliated with Gülen.

By Ece Toksabay, Reuters |  from  WorldPost: a partnership of The Huffington Post & Berggruen Institute on Governance |


12/19/2014 8:34 am EST Updated: 10:30 AM  | ISTANBUL,  (Reuters)  ::  Turkish authorities are seeking an arrest warrant for U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen whom President Tayyip Erdogan accuses of trying to undermine Turkey and overthrow him, a government official said on Friday.

The issue of a warrant would take Erdogan's campaign to root out Gulen supporters, including purges of the judiciary and police, to the international arena potentially testing already strained relations with Washington.

Gulen has lived in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999. He was a close ally of Erdogan in the early years after his ruling AK Party took power in 2002 but has been in open conflict with him since a graft investigation emerged a year ago targeting the then-prime minister's inner circle.

Erdogan portrays the investigation as part of a coup attempt and describes Gulen's followers as traitors and terrorists - all charges that Gulen, who runs a vast network of schools and business enterprises in Turkey and abroad, denies.

Turkish courts have dropped the corruption cases, critics at home and in the West citing that as evidence Erdogan is stripping the judiciary of its independence.

Asked about a report that a warrant had been issued, a government official, requesting anonymity, told Reuters: "There is no decision yet. The prosecutor has made a request and the judge is evaluating it."

It was not immediately clear on what specific grounds the warrant was being requested.

If it is forthcoming, Turkish authorities would be free to apply to the United States for extradition, with no guarantee of success. Erdogan's image in the West, once that of a moderate reformer, has been eroded as his open intolerance of opposition and of criticism has grown.

A Turkish court on Friday kept a media executive close to Gulen and three other people in custody pending trial on accusations of belonging to a terrorist group, in a case which Erdogan has defended as a response to "dirty operations" by his enemies.

Hidayet Karaca heads Samanyolu Television which is close to Gulen.

The European Union, which Turkey is seeking to join, has said last weekend's police raids to detain Karaca and other media workers was contrary to European values. Erdogan told the bloc to mind its own business.

Ekrem Dumanli, editor-in-chief of the Gulen-linked Zaman newspaper, was released but forbidden from traveling abroad before trial. Seven more people whom prosecutors sought remanded in custody in the case were also released pending trial.


  • (Additional reporting by Gulsen Solaker in Ankara and Ayla Jean Yackley in Istanbul; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Nick Tattersall, Ralph Boulton)

120 American Charter Schools and One Secretive Turkish Cleric

The FBI is investigating a group of educators who are followers of a mysterious Islamic movement. But the problems seem less related to faith than to the oversight of charter schools.

Scott Beauchamp | The Atlantic |


Aug 12 2014, 11:25 AM ET   ::  It reads like something out of a John Le Carre novel: The charismatic Sunni imam Fethullah Gülen, leader of a politically powerful Turkish religious movement likened by The Guardian to an “Islamic Opus Dei,” occasionally webcasts sermons from self-imposed exile in the Poconos while his organization quickly grows to head the largest chain of charter schools in America. It might sound quite foreboding—and it should, but not for the reasons you might think.

<<Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen at his Pennsylvania home in September 2013 (Reuters)

You can be excused if you’ve never heard of Fethullah Gülen or his eponymous movement. He isn’t known for his openness, despite the size of his organization, which is rumored to have between 1 and 8 million adherents. It’s difficult to estimate the depth of its bench, however, without an official roster of membership. Known informally in Turkey as Hizmet, or “the service”, the Gülen movement prides itself on being a pacifist, internationalist, modern, and moderate alternative to more extreme derivations of Sunni Islam. The group does emphasize the importance of interfaith dialogue, education, and a kind of cosmopolitanism. One prominent sociologist described it as “the world’s most global movement.”

Singling out the Gülen schools as particularly nefarious, simply for being run by Muslims, smacks of xenophobia.

Much of the praise for the Gülen movement comes from its emphasis on providing education to children worldwide. In countries like Pakistan, its schools often serve as an alternative to more fundamentalist madrassas. Gülen schools enroll an estimated two million students around the globe, usually with English as the language of instruction, and the tuition is often paid in full by the institution. In Islamic countries, where the Gülen schools aren’t entirely secular: The New York Times reported that in many of the Pakistani schools, “…teachers encourage Islam in their dormitories, where teachers set the example in lifestyle and prayers.” But the focus is still largely on academics. Fethullah Gülen put it in one of his sermons, “Studying physics, mathematics, and chemistry is worshipping Allah.”

In Western countries such as the United States, Germany, and France, there isn’t any evidence whatsoever that the nearly 120 Gülen charter schools in America include Islamic indoctrination in their curriculum. The schools are so secular that singling out the Gülen schools as particularly nefarious, simply for being run predominantly by Muslims, smacks of xenophobia.

However, these schools might be suspect for reasons that are completely unrelated to Islamic doctrine. One of their most troubling characteristics is that they don’t have a great track record when it comes to financial and legal transparency. In Utah, a financial probe launched by the Utah Schools Charter Board found the Beehive Science and Technology Academy, a Gülen-run charter school, to be nearly $350,000 in debt. Furthermore, as the Deseret News reported, the school’s administrators seemed to be reserving coveted jobs for their own countrymen and women: “In a time of teacher layoffs, Beehive has recruited a high percentage of teachers from overseas, mainly Turkey.”

Even more unnervingly, the school’s money—public funds from the local community—was being donated to Gülen-affiliated organizations and used to pay the cost of bringing teachers to Utah from Turkey. To illustrate the level of fiscal mismanagement, the school spent about 50 cents to pay the immigration costs of foreign teachers for every dollar that it spent on textbooks. In 2010, after being the first charter school in Utah history to be shuttered, Beehive appealed the decision and was reopened the same year.

There are similar stories from other states. In Texas, where 33 Gülen charter schools receive close to $100 million a year in taxpayer funds, the New York Times reported in 2011 that two schools had given $50 million to Gülen-connected contractors, including the month-old Atlas Texas Construction and Training, even though other contractors had offered lower bids. It was the same thing in Georgia, where Fulton County audited three Gülen schools after allegations that they’d skipped the bidding process altogether and paid nearly half a million dollars to organizations associated with the Gülen movement.

The Gülen movement is known for its secrecy. But when it comes to the Gülen charter schools, the lack of transparency is part of a larger problem that has nothing to do with the Turkish-based organization. Diane Ravitch, education professor at New York University and Assistant Secretary of Education under George H.W. Bush, writes about this larger transparency issue in her latest book, Reign of Error, explaining, “In 2009, New York Charter School Association successfully sued to prevent the state comptroller from auditing the finances of charter schools, even though they receive public funding. The association contended that charter school’s are not government agencies but ‘non-profit educational corporations carrying out a public purpose.’” The New York State Court of Appeals agreed with the organization in a 7 to 0 vote. It took an act of legislation from the state—specifically designed to allow the comptroller to audit charter schools—for this to change.

Ravitch also writes of a similar instance in North Carolina in which the state, urged on by lobbying giant ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council), proposed the creation of a special commission, composed entirely of charter school advocates, as a way for charter schools to bypass the oversight of the State Board of Education or the local school boards. Ravitch writes, “The charters would not be required to hire certified teachers. Charter school staff would not be required to pass criminal background checks. The proposed law would not require any checks for conflicts of interest—not for commission members or for the charter schools.” In other words, it isn’t the Gülen movement that makes Gülen charter schools so secretive. It’s the charter school movement itself.

This comes across in the latest news story related to the Gülen schools: an FBI raid last month on the headquarters of over 19 Gülen-operated Horizon Science Academies in Midwest. According to search warrants obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times, federal authorities were interested in gathering general financial documents and records of communication. The warrant specifically mentions something called the E-rate program—a federal program that, according to the Sun-Times, “pays for schools to expand telecommunications and Internet access.” A handful of the Gülen-affiliated contractors assisting the schools were receiving money from this federal fund. It’s difficult speculate what this could all mean, as all documents pertaining to the investigation, save the warrants themselves, have been sealed from the public.

It isn’t the Gülen movement that makes Gülen charter schools so secretive. It’s the charter school movement itself.

Meanwhile, the Ohio State Board of Education has launched its own probe of the nearly 20 Gülen-associated charter schools in its state. As part of the investigation,  four former teachers from Horizon Academy (the particular name of the Gülen charter school chain in Ohio) gave testimony. The teachers mentioned issues as disturbing as cheating on state tests, unsafe building conditions, overcrowding, and even sexual misconduct. One of the teachers, Matthew Blair, had previously tried to contact the state’s Department of Education in order to file complaints, but hadn’t heard back from officials. Board president Debe Terhar assured the teachers, “Your concerns have not fallen on deaf ears. We hear you, and we will move forward with making sure this thing is investigated.”

I contacted Matthew Blair, and he told me that the problems with the Gülen schools were merely symptomatic of a larger problem within the state’s education system. “The charter school system in Ohio is broken beyond repair,” he wrote in an email. “As it is, charter schools operate in a lawless frontier. Regulations are few and far between. Those that exist are consistently and consciously overlooked.”

The Gülen schools, he wrote, “are an excellent example” of this problem: “A Gülen organization controls the real estate companies that own their schools. They charge rent to their own schools and tax-payers foot the bill. They refuse to answer public records requests, falsify attendance records, and cheat on standardized tests. Yet, Ohio continues to grant them charters to operate.” He added, “It doesn't hurt that the Gülen organization is politically active and treats state politicians to lavish trips abroad.” But overall, he said, “this Wild West atmosphere of few regulations creates incestuous relationships among politicians, vendors, and schools. Charter schools like Gülen's give generously. In return, they are allowed to keep their saloons open and serve whatever they want. The only way to save the charter school system is to start over again by using the model of effective public schools.”

They participate in a system that gives every incentive to keep their financial dealings under wraps.

The Gülen movement insists that the accusations against are the result of gross exaggeration or outright falsehood. Websites like and defend Gülen charter schools from accusations of impropriety: aggregating positive news about the schools, restating their mission in magnanimous language, and distancing Fethullah Gülen himself from any of the legal proceedings or investigations. One particular article quotes Gülen’s attorney, who responds to (more) FBI raids on Gülen schools in Louisiana by reminding readers that Gülen himself “is not the founder, shareholder, or administrator of any school.”

But the problem with Gülen schools isn’t that they’re connected to a particular religious movement (although some might object to public funds making their way to any religious institution). The problem is that they participate in a system that gives every incentive to keep their financial dealings under wraps. Charter schools were designed to provide a certain amount of autonomy, and many schools have successfully walked the line between public responsibility and private innovation. But there are vulnerabilities built into the system, and one is a reduced oversight that enables schools to move vast amounts of public funds into private hands. The Gülen movement, with its foreign origins and mysterious leader, may make for a particular intriguing story.

But as the saying goes, “Don’t hate the player; hate the game.”

2 STORIES: UTLA LOWERS SALARY DEMAND, says pay proposal lowered in hopes of reaching a deal in the next few months

UTLA drops salary demand to 9 percent over 1 year

by LA School Report |

Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of UTLA

Posted on December 17, 2014 9:16 am  ::  Representatives for the teachers union, UTLA, lowered their salary demand yesterday, asking LA Unified for a one-year 9 percent pay increase for the current academic year, with future increases tied to that.

Vivian Ekchian, the district’s chief negotiator, said the proposal “is under review and we will ascertain the cost to the District.”

While the shift suggests movement in contract negotiations that have been stumbling along for months, it still leaves the side far apart, with the district holding to a 2 percent salary increase and one-time bonuses.

<< Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of UTLA

The union said on its website that its new demand was done as an effort “to increase the pace of bargaining.” In the same vein, it called for weekly negotiation sessions, starting in January even though the sides have been meeting almost once a week since the talks began.

The union’s latest proposal also included demands for three self-directed voluntary planning and collaboration days to be paid at hourly rate, stipends of $1,000 for materials, full rate pay for professional development  and a potential retirement incentive.

Fully anticipating no immediate agreement from the district, the union’s website said Gov. Jerry Brown‘s new budget in January will reflect how much money LA Unified can expect from the state.


Teachers union lowers pay proposal, prepares to picket LAUSD campuses

By Thomas Himes, Los Angeles Daily News |

Posted: 12/17/14, 5:40 PM PST  ::  United Teachers Los Angeles President Alex Caputo-Pearl will not be fulfilling his campaign promise of a double-digit pay raise this year, as union leadership backed down from demands for an immediate 10 percent hike.

The 35,000-member teachers union met Tuesday with negotiators for the Los Angeles Unified School District and proposed a 9 percent raise this school year paired with negotiations for additional raises the following year. However, leaders for the school district say they can’t afford to meet the demand.

LAUSD’s latest offer — 4.02 percent in bonuses and an additional 2 percent salary increase to be paid over the next seven months — is $80 million less, and because most of it would be in the form of one-time bonuses, the two sides are divided by $188 million per year in permanent salary hikes.

LAUSD Chief Labor Negotiator Vivian Ekchian said the district simply can’t afford to offer more at this point but will negotiate additional raises for the fiscal year that starts July 1. In order to pay the 4.02 percent in proposed bonuses and 2 percent salary increase this year, LAUSD would have to divert $81 million that was supposed to be set aside to cover the future costs of healthcare benefits for retirees.

“Unfortunately we don’t have another funding source to go to even though we care deeply about our employees and would like to give them more,” Ekchian said.

Caputo-Pearl said the pay proposal was lowered in hopes of reaching a deal in the next few months. Caputo-Pearl said he hopes Superintendent Ramon Cortines and school board members will consider the proposal and direct district negotiators to reach a “fair” agreement.

But in the meantime, he said, union leaders are preparing for a “blitz” of protests, with picket lines to be formed at every campus during January and February, leading up to a massive demonstration at Pershing Square.

The rally, which is expected to draw several thousands educators, is planned for Feb. 26 — six days before voters will elect three members to the school board.

“We know that if it comes to pass that we have to declare impasse, because the district isn’t bargaining with us in a real way, these activities in January and February are going to help us get to a place of strike-readiness,” Caputo-Pearl said.

In response to union skepticism of budget figures, LAUSD offered to open its books for UTLA auditors to inspect and asked union leaders to identify funding sources that could pay for a 9 percent raise in future budget years, Ekchian said.

“We gave them the opportunity to come with as many forensic accountants as they wish and comb through our books,” Ekchian said.

But Caputo-Pearl said the offer was insincere and made along with “veiled threats” of layoffs.

In addition to pay raises, the two sides remain divided over staffing levels, class sizes and a new evaluation system that would judge teachers partially on the performance of their students and provide for incentive-based pay.

Caputo-Pearl, however, commended Cortines for his efforts to hasten the pace of investigations involving teachers who are pulled from classrooms for alleged misconduct. On Wednesday morning Southgate Middle School teacher Stuart Lutz was returned to his class.

Eight months ago, Lutz was removed from the campus where he teaches art for alleged thievery, Caputo-Pearl said.

But after reviewing the case, Cortines put Lutz back to work without disciplinary action. Lutz, who also serves as the campus’ union chair, had been paying for supplies out of pocket – not stealing as alleged, Caputo-Pearl said.

“It really shows how screwed up (former Superintendent John) Deasy’s teacher jail system is and our proposal to do case-by-case reviews should be adopted,” Caputo-Pearl said.

  • The two sides agreed to pick up the pace of negotiations by meeting at least once a week starting Jan. 14 and continuing through the end of February.


Annie Gilbertson, KPCC |

Audio from this story ::  3:42 Listen

97259 full

Maya Osborne, right, takes care of her granddaughter, 17-year-old Passion Rencher, in their South L.A. home on Tuesday, Nov. 11, 2014. Maya Sugarman/KPCC

19 Dec 2014  ::  Seventeen-year-old Passion Rencher can't speak. Cerebral palsy causes her head to lurch back and her hands to seize up. She presses her fists against her chest and needs help to stretch out her limbs.

Despite her disabilities, she greets everyone with a wide, joyful smile, and according to her teacher at Widney High, a special education magnet school in near Mid-City, Passion can indicate yes or no when asked questions.

Passion is one of Los Angeles Unified School District's roughly 82,000 special education students whose disabilities can be profound and whose services are increasingly costly to the district.

Changing demographics, advances in care and stronger advocacy by families are all combining to drive up the expense of providing for students' special education needs.

Sharyn Howell heads the district's special education department and manages an annual budget of $1.4 billion, about 20 percent of LAUSD’s education expenses.

As the general education student population declines, propelled by factors like lower birth rates and departures to charter school, the concentration of special education students in the district is growing along with the cost of services.

“The math does not look good,” Howell said.

She does not begrudge parents who ask for more services for their children.

“It’s always like trying to catch up to the next part. More and more needed to catch up. I think that’s just a natural thing parents want,” she said.

But as she looks into the future, she’s worried.

“Families with students with severe disabilities are often congregated in urban areas. You look at the hospital services that you can get in Los Angeles and the other kinds of services you can get here — many children need those,” Howell said.

The California Legislative Analyst’s Office, adjusting for inflation, found special education costs soared about 10 percent over the last five years. And, there is no cap: the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act guarantees special ed students extra help no matter how much it costs.

“That’s how the law was designed in the 70s, and that’s how it’s been maintained ever since," said Dean Hill Rivkin, a professor at University of Tennessee Knoxville and a special education lawyer.

For school districts across the country, the costs will only grow more expensive with each advancement. "Medicine is getting better. Psychology is getting better. Testing is getting better,” he said.

While the federal government mandates quality services, it doesn’t pay for all of the costs. Only 15 percent of L.A. Unified’s special ed costs are covered by federal funds.

Stephen Rosenbaum, a law professor at UC Berkeley and the father of a special needs student, said its up to Congress to increase spending.

“They’ve never come close to doing it, so this became the bane of everyone, from administrators to parents to the students themselves,” Rosenbaum said.

He points to litigation spanning nearly 40 years since the passing of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to show many schools cut expensive services even when kids were shown to need them. 

“There is game playing going on, shuffling around the funds or manipulating the process,” Rosenbaum said.

Families are more successful in arguing for services when they bring in an attorney, Rosenbaum said. He argues the government could equalize access to services by supplying low-income families with private lawyers.

One family's fight for services

Beside teachers, Passion also sees an orthopedic therapist, a speech pathologist, a physical therapist, aides and a school nurse, all paid by the district.

Passion's family pays for her care as well. In one year, speech and physical therapy bills exceeded $30,000, said her grandmother Maya Osborne, wiping out Osborne's savings in the process.

Osborne wants her granddaughter's special education school to provide more of her services, but she has to beg, bargain and badger for each hour of Passion’s occupational therapy, she said.

“After a while they just ignore you,” Osborne said. “The more I talk about it the more I get upset.”

Over Passion's lifetime, the cost of her care could swell to $1 million, according to the Centers for Disease Control. LAUSD must share the responsibility for her needs until she turns 22.

“Passion deserves the opportunity to have a good quality of life,” Osborne said.

At their house in South L.A, Osborne helps her granddaughter stretch her fingers, and tries to alleviate the painful paralysis in Passion’s limbs.

“I’m teaching her to stretch her arms out, open her hands up,” Osborne said, messaging the girl's palm. “Because you have to do this, not grandma,” she tells the girl.

Osborne hopes her granddaughter will learn to communicate, if not verbally, than through a computer.

She keeps stacks of reports and receipts for Passion’s care on a card table living room table, layered like shingles on a roof.  Osborne, a former medic in the military, meticulously documents any development or fact that could prove valuable in a lawsuit she’s preparing – her second – against the district on behalf of Passion.

Some improvement, but graduate rates still trail

In the 1990s, special needs students alleged they were deprived the right to an education and sued. The district entered into what is known as the Chanda Smith Consent Decree in 1996 and began tracking special needs students' outcomes more closely.

Last year, L.A. Unified handled 3,206 special education disputes with parents, who are encouraged to resolve issues informally or through mediation.

Special education services at L.A. Unified are improving, according to independent monitors.

Students wait less time for evaluations, and disputes with parents are settled sooner. More special education students are graduating, although their rate still trails the district average by more than 10 percent.

But parents often feel ill equipped to deal with the complicated special education system.  L.A. Unified's independent monitor surveyed parents and found about 10 percent felt pressured to sign their child’s Individualized Education Program plan that lays out district services.

Just as many felt bullied by school staff.  That's when Jackie Smith-Conkleton steps in: she is a bully buffer.

She’s a surrogate parent, someone who pushes for special education services when a student doesn’t have parents or the district can’t find them.

Smith-Conkleton said it’s vital to have someone “loud” at the table advocating for students.

“They just assume they can’t do, but how can you say a person can’t do if they don’t have the opportunity?” Smith-Conkleton asks.

Smith-Conkleton teamed up with Osborne to help fight for Passion's services, demanding a new power chair and a communication device that can travel home with her.

“You need someone so you don’t think you're nuts,” Osborne said. Having Smith-Conkleton helps her communicate to the IEP team about Passion's cognitive goals, such as placing ideas in sequence and recognizing her last name, she said.

As Passion nears her 18th birthday, Smith-Conkleton worries that without more help from her school, she will never learn to communicate.

“We are tired of fighting for things they should automatically see that they need,” Smith-Conkleton said. “But we cannot give up.


by Vanessa Romo, LA School Report |

  • also see: ANOTHER SUPERINTENDENT, ANOTHER REORGANIZATION can't tell the players without another Org Chart! |

LAUSD organizational flow chartPosted on December 18, 2014 3:18 pm  ::  John Deasy was often described by critics as an autocrat in how he ran the district. Nine senior aides reported to him directly.

That was nothing. In the two months since taking over, his replacement, Ramon Cortines, has doubled the number of LA Unified officials under his direct supervision. He has 18 aides reporting to him directly.

The change came early this month when the district circulated a new organizational chart of top district management. In another realignment, Cortines continued the expansion of some departments while eliminating others.

Taken together, the changes throw into relief the differences in management styles between the two men: Where Deasy had a handful of people delivering information from the bottom up, Cortines prefers a more hands-on approach with direct contact.

In a letter to the board that accompanied the new organizational charter, Cortines offered no specifics as to why he was making so many changes, other than to say they would “continue the trajectory of stability and calmness that our schools and support staff depend on.”

The most notable changes within the top tier, which took effect on Dec. 1, affect Matt Hill and Donna Muncey.  Hill’s job as Chief Strategy Officer has already undergone some alterations under Cortines, after the resignation of the district’s Chief Information Officer, Ron Chandler. A month ago, Hill was asked to share oversight of MISIS, but he has since been pulled off of that project to oversee the Information Technology Department.

Aside from his experience with the district in managing the development and troubled rollout of MISIS, it is unclear what experience Hill has in running an IT department. Prior to his career in education, Hill worked in Black & Decker’s business development group. He’s also been a strategy consultant in the financial services industry.

Muncey’s name has been wiped from the organizational chart altogether. She was one of the handful of people who’d reported directly to Deasy as the district’s Chief of Intensive Support and Intervention. But Cortines has discontinued that department, and most of the functions handled by Muncey’s office have been taken over by the Office of Curriculum, Instruction and School Support lead by Ruth Perez, who has become Muncey’s boss.

Just one month ago, Diane Pappas reported to work as an attorney at the General Counsel’s office. Now, she’s leading the MISIS recovery effort.

Thelma Melendez de Santa Ana has gotten a huge promotion and a heaping of responsibilities. Melendez started her career with the district as Mayor Eric Garcetti’s education advisor but was quickly relieved of her ties to City Hall and was given a position as second-in-command for Beyond the Bell, a division that oversees after-school programs.

After remaining under the radar for the past nine months, Melendez is taking over the newly formed office of the Chief Executive Officer, Educational Services. Melendez will be in charge of food services, transportation services, procurement services (formerly under the Facilities Division), school operations, student health and human services, adult education, and Beyond the Bell. Michael Romero will serve as Melendez’s Executive Officer.

In a letter to the school board dated Dec 4, Cortines explained that Melendez’s new department “has absorbed some of the functions of the former Office of the Chief Operating Officer, which has been discontinued after the retirement of Enrique Boull’t.”

Thomas Waldman is back at the Communications and Media Relations Office to co-lead the department with Lydia Ramos. In August, Waldman was given a newly created post as Executive Director of Board Communications, now he and Ramos will serve the board of education and the Office of the Superintendent together.

The three branches of the Educational Service Centers (ESCs) — Instruction, Operations, and Parent Engagement — will report to the ESC Superintendents. “It is my belief that you cannot separate instruction form the environment in which students learn and educators teach,” Cortines wrote.

More changes are still to come. Cortines told the board members “will receive organization charts for the direct report to the Superintendent by the end of January 2015.


"Most troubling, though, is that the school's proposed plan was almost entirely deficient."  -  Washington State Charter School Commission

Seattle charter school placed on probation

By DONNA GORDON BLANKINSHIP , The Associated Press for KIRO-TV |

9:39 a.m. Thursday, Dec. 18, 2014 | OLYMPIA, Wash.  :: Washington's first charter school has been placed on probation for not meeting all the requirements of its charter.

The Washington State Charter School Commission informed First Place Scholars in Seattle of a list of requirements it must fulfill. Problems identified at the school included not keeping the commission informed of school board actions, not properly providing special education and not giving proof that every staff member had completed a criminal background check.

Commission staff told school leaders they will be making frequent visits to First Place to make sure they are in compliance.

The commission is in charge of approving and overseeing most of the state's charter schools. It has approved seven other charter schools, with six scheduled to open in fall 2015.

Spokane Public Schools, which can authorize charter schools, has approved two more schools scheduled to open in 2015.

Commission executive director Joshua Halsey said at a meeting on Thursday that the decision to put First Place on probation is step three in the commission's due process procedure.

The school will remain on probation until it fulfills all the requirements of the commission's corrective action plan, which will continue at least until the first month of the next school year.

"I'm hopeful that First Place will fulfill their obligations," Halsey said, after reporting on a meeting with school leaders earlier in the week.

Halsey described the action plan as being focused on moving forward.

In a letter dated Tuesday to the school, the commission outlined the problems with the school's response to its concerns.

"Most troubling, though, is that the school's proposed plan was almost entirely deficient," the letter states.

The school did not address the commission's findings, there were inaccuracies in the school's proposal and the plan did not offer details about how the corrective action would be accomplished, according to the letter.

Voters in 2012 passed a charter school law focused on meeting the needs of at-risk children, with very specific requirements for proposals that get a charter.

First Place was the first charter to open in Washington in part because it wasn't starting from scratch. It had long been a private elementary school, founded initially to serve homeless students.

Becoming a charter is helping it expand from about 45 students to up to 100 children, who are dealing with all kinds of issues, not just homelessness.

Thursday, December 18, 2014


"There must be some way out of here" said the joker to the thief
"There's too much confusion", I can't get no relief.” 
                                                          - Bob Dylan:  All Along the Watchtower

By Caitlin Emma from Politico Morning Education |


Dec 18, 2014  ::  WILL LAUSD GET A BREAK? The Education Department said this week [] that states applying for waiver renewals can ask for a year-long pause in school accountability measures while deploying new tests. But that flexibility doesn't apply to one superintendent who wants it: Ramon Cortines of Los Angeles Unified School District. LAUSD is asking state officials for permission [ ] to exclude student test scores from school performance ratings for the coming year while students and teachers get used to new Common Core exams taken online. That would mean a pause in federal accountability reporting, too. LAUSD is part of the California CORE, a coalition of districts that received waivers from parts of No Child Left Behind. But the pause offered by the Education Department this week only applies to states. Typically, when districts are seeking added flexibility, the state has to clear it with the feds for them.

- California just went through a giant accountability pause. Last year, the Education Department granted the Golden State a reprieve while millions of students piloted the new Smarter Balanced exam. This spring, the state is supposed to roll out the test for real, which could prove problematic for LAUSD. The CORE districts could ask for their own accountability pause by proposing an amendment to their waivers, which expire at the end of this school year. But they already have some improvements to make if they want to keep the flexibility. The Education Department placed [ ] the districts on high-risk status in September while they struggled to finalize plans for a new school improvement system and guidance for new teacher-evaluation systems.

- 'In my opinion, Los Angeles should not get this same kind of flexibility as other waiver states,' said Anne Hyslop, senior policy analyst at Bellwether Education Partners. 'Given the freeze last year and the fact that the CORE waiver is now on high-risk because of their barely-developed school accountability system, I don't think Los Angeles' idea holds water or merits approval." But Fordham Institute President Michael Petrilli said LAUSD's request is "totally common sense." For example, some states are delaying the use of student test scores in teacher evaluations while deploying new exams. "Just as teachers should be 'held harmless' for the first year of the new tests (at least), so too for schools," he said.

- The Education Department also told states renewing their waivers that they can ask for $1 million a year for up to four years if they participate in an evaluation of what has worked with waiver implementation. The department's guidance suggests that even states receiving a three-year renewal could ask for a fourth year down the road, stretching their waiver into 2018-19 'if a funded evaluation would benefit from an additional year of implementation.