Saturday, August 18, 2012


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San Fernando Valley is home to gold medal winner in all-girl international math competition

By Vanessa Romo |  KPCC

Vanessa Romo/KPCC  ::  Alicia Weng, of North Hollywood, competed in the girls-only international math competition — China’s 11th Annual Math Olympiad

Aug 16, 2012  ::  While U.S. athletes were in London parading their physical prowess, eight American "mathletes" were scoring medals at China’s Math Olympiad. One of them is a 16-year-old from North Hollywood High School, Alica Weng.

When I called to speak with Weng, who says she's incredibly jet-lagged from her flight home from China last night, I interrupted her in the middle of her leisure time, doing math.

"It was an inequality from a hand-out that I got at the camp."

Weng, who's starting her junior year, competed in the girls-only international math competition — China's 11th Annual Math Olympiad. It was held in Guangzhou, the country’s third-largest city.

It's a grueling two-day competition where teen math whizzes are supposed to answer eight proofs over 16 hours.

If you're saying to yourself, "Meh, that’s not that hard," feel free to take a stab at the test. You’ve been warned. KPCC is not responsible for any loss of self-esteem that may occur as a result of knowing a 16-year-old can solve these and you can't. 

On the second day of testing Weng says she felt pretty confident about her performance until she got to the very last question.

"That," she says, "took me about 2 and-a-half hours."

Even then, she still wasn’t able to solve it.

Talking with Weng about math — her obvious favorite academic subject — is unlike any math conversation I’ve ever had. She describes solutions to complex problems as "ugly" and "pretty."

An ugly solution is:  A long solution that takes a lot of computation. 

A pretty solution is: A clever solution that turns out to be really nice but hard to find. 

Who knew?

Weng answered seven of the eight questions correctly — enough to earn a gold medal for the U.S. Team, which brought home three gold (with one perfect score), four silver and one bronze medal.  

All in all, the competition drew 204 girls from 10 countries. As for bragging about rocking the Math Olympiad, that's not likely to happen. She says she doubts anyone at her school has ever heard about it.

But that doesn't matter, she says, giggling.

"It was the highlight of my summer."


Inglewood Unified school board brainstorms ideas to avoid bankruptcy

By Adolfo Guzman-Lopez

Grant Slater/KPCC  |  A student boards a bus maintained by the Inglewood Unified School District on February 28, 2012.

Aug 15, 2012  ::  Inglewood's school board met Wednesday afternoon to discuss ways to keep from running out of money, after taking steps last month to declare bankruptcy.

An exodus of students, deferred payments from the state and funding cuts have pushed Inglewood Unified’s budget $9 million into the red. Board member Trina Williams says a small increase in student enrollment this year will generate more money from the state, and the district has been appraising unused land.

"We got about six properties, land and building included. If we sold that I think we would be alright," Williams said.

One property, she said, is Center Park next to Worthington Elementary School. Another property under consideration is a strip of land behind Morningside High School. The City of Inglewood, Williams said, is interested in buying the properties.

Inglewood Teacher's Association president Peter Somberg isn’t opposed to the idea.

"They can only sell those properties once," Somberg said. "They still don’t deal with their structural deficit."

Somberg criticized recently approved administrator contracts and pay raises. He and members of the union that represent classified workers have criticized the school board's handling of the budget deficit in recent years.

Inglewood Unified's precarious financial situation has prompted the L.A. County Office of Education to appoint an overseer to monitor district spending.

Inglewood is the only district in the Southland to make moves toward bankruptcy.


Public school students enter classrooms with unequal instructional calendars

By Adolfo Guzman-Lopez | KPCC

President Obama Delivers Commencement Address At Joplin High School

Pool/Getty Images

Aug 14, 2012  ::  As the academic year begins, students in the Southland will attend public schools with significantly unequal instructional calendars.

Students in the Southland may have a hard time lining up summers with their friends, as schools begin the 2012 academic year with extremely lop-sided instructional calendars. The administrators of some districts have cut instructional days in the school year in order to close funding deficits.

In June, LAUSD’s school board cut five instructional days from the 180-day instructional year. Superintendent John Deasy alluded to this in a back-to-school assembly last week at Washington Preparatory High School.

"I am very aware of challenges we face and they’re daunting," he said. "They’re huge, scary and seemingly impossible."

But in spite of "seemingly impossible" challenges, he urged students, teachers and administrators to continue improvements among English learners — both in the high school exit exam and in mandatory state testing.

California State University Fullerton education researcher Mark Ellis says LAUSD is not alone.

"Some districts have looked at [cutting calendars] ... as a way to balance budgets and mitigate some of the cutbacks in funding that have been put on public education rather than cut salaries," Ellis says.

The Newport Mesa Unified School District laid off dozens of teachers a couple of years ago and borrowed from its reserves this year to protect the 180-day instructional calendar, says Superintendent Frederick Navarro.

"The most important work that takes place in the district is in the day-to-day teaching and learning," says Navarro. "Yes, you want to cut days and you want to reduce the teaching staff if at all possible."

Newport Mesa increased class sizes when it dismissed teachers, but its student-to-teacher ratio remains lower than the Orange County average.

Two years ago, Rowland Unified in the San Gabriel Valley cut two instructional days to compensate for lost support from the state.

"It was very, very painful the year that we had two less days of instruction," recalls Superintendent Maria Ott. "And we worked really, really hard to make additional reductions so that we wouldn’t have to do it again."

The district closed two schools the year after that to help close a budget gap, and borrowed millions of dollars from its reserve fund this year to protect its 180-day instructional calendar.

Cutting the school calendar or increasing class sizes to make up for funding cuts is choosing between two evils, says scholar Mark Ellis.

"I don’t think you can say which is worse," he says. "We’ve seen a step away from valuing public education for how important it is to our society. It’s happening not only in this state but across the country."

When it comes to other countries, the academic year typically lasts between 180 and 200 days (although Japan requires 240).

One upside to the calendar changes this academic year, Ellis says, is a general shift to an earlier start date. He says that’ll allow teachers and students more time to prepare for standardized tests in the spring.


Q and A with a Miramonte teacher

By Vanessa Romo

Miramonte Elementary School in Los Angel

Krista Kennell/AFP/Getty Images | Miramonte Elementary School in Los Angeles, California February 6, 2012.

Aug 14, 2012  ::  When Los Angeles Unified removed two teachers at Miramonte Elementary School amid accusations they'd molested children, the school district also removed the entire teaching and support staff from the campus. For many of them, Tuesday was the first day back in the classroom after six months of district-imposed exile, forbidden from student contact.

Andrea Shaffer and 75 of her colleagues were among them. For months they spent their workdays at a nearby high school passing the time in limbo as they waited to be cleared. On her first day back on the job, I asked Andrea a few questions.

What does it feel like to be back?

Shaffer: "Fabulous! I’ve been in this area for about 12 years. I know a lot of families, and so, I just feel like I’m back home. I started bringing a car-load of boxes last Wednseday. I’ve been working very hard to get books up on the shelf and things cleaned up and everything in order."

What was it like to sit in an empty school (Augusts F. Hawkins High School) month after month, with no student contact?

Shaffer: "It was trudging, it was boring, it was difficult. But thankfully, we got through it."

So, no hard feelings about the way things unfolded with the district last year?

Shaffer: "Sort of, but it doesn’t matter, you know? It’s done! We’re here and I’m just thrilled to be back."

In all, 42 teachers returned to Miramonte for the first day of school. About 10 others found jobs at one of the district’s 20 newly constructed schools - Lawrence Moore Elementary – about a half-mile from Miramonte.

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