By Thomas Himes, Los Angeles Daily News | http://bit.ly/1pJXFpv
Walter Reed Middle School will open on Tuesday with students attending six periods instead of seven, and some parents are unhappy about the change. Andy Holzman Staff Photographer
Posted: 08/09/14, 6:48 PM PDT :: As leaders of the teachers union push Los Angeles Unified for more control over the number of classes instructors must teach each year, parents of students at one middle school say efforts by educators to execute similar cuts have left some kids without access to arts and other electives — the very classes that helped transform the once downtrodden campus into a desirable one.
Over the last decade, Walter Reed Middle School revived its image and popularity with programs in music, humanities, culinary arts, technology and environmental sciences.
Now, parents argue, those courses and the school’s vitality are being jeopardized by plans to cut the number of classes each teacher handles.
“I think the most upsetting thing is the teachers’ union forced this through,” parent Julie Houlihan said. “I felt like they’re employees of the school district. I think it’s an abuse of power.”
After a two-year battle with teachers and their union, retiring Principal Donna Tobin agreed to cut the school day from seven periods to six longer ones when the 2014-15 year begins on Tuesday.
The decision will leave some students with one elective, while others enrolled in remedial courses or the English-learner program won’t be afforded an opportunity to take a subject that interests them — unless, they can find their way to school an hour early for gym class.
About 150 of the school’s 1,700 or so students can arrive at 7 a.m. for a “zero period” in physical education. But parent Nina Golden said finding a car pool that early for her son was proving impossible, also noting her worry about the additional hour of sleep he would lose.
Golden’s soon-to-be eighth-grader wound up dropping one of his favorite classes, jazz, because there wasn’t room in his schedule to take it along with its prerequisite, band. “As much as he desperately wants to be in jazz, we just can’t make it work,” she said.
Golden and Houlihan ran for the school’s new advisory committee, the Shared Decision Making Council, in order to have a say in the matter. Instead, they said, union leaders and the now exited principal pushed through the six-period day just before the end of the school year and after teachers stalled the council’s inaugural meeting for months.
Most schools in Los Angeles Unified already operate on a six-period schedule — five classes and a one-period break for teachers.
Managing six classes of between 35 and 43 students, United Teachers Los Angeles representative Bruce Williams said, is detrimental to students and teachers alike, adding that helming even the standard five classes of that size is “excessive.
Walter Reed faculty voted to reduce class load twice in the last two years. While administrators denied the move to cut classes after the teachers’ initial vote in 2012, another attempt was made in November, Williams said.
The second election set a deadline for the bell schedule — which signals the start and end of periods — to be cut back, and it was approved by 76 percent of Walter Reed’s teachers. A provision in UTLA’s contract, Williams said, guarantees teachers a say in bell schedules.
But after Reed’s administrators declined to honor the contract, saying the decision was theirs to make, Williams said UTLA stepped in, filing an informal “intervention” that led to an April meeting, in which the two sides agreed to reduce classes to six per day.
“Changing the bell schedule has often been brought up by administrators as if it’s the magic bullet for solving education problems,” UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl has said. “I’ve been in situations where changing the bell schedule has dramatically affected, in a negative way, the instructional program, so the experts in the classroom have to be part of any decision made in that regard.”
Teachers across the district are also concerned about the official start of the Common Core — the initiative to implement nationwide standards in core subjects — Williams said. “It’s not so much with its philosophy but with the way it’s being implemented — the tests are not ready for it, and the tests are how it’s measured.”
At Reed, teachers said reducing the number of classes and making periods longer would let them better transition students to the Common Core.
“The decision to change from seven to six periods a day was not made lightly, and it takes into account the more rigorous academic challenges facing teachers and students under the new Common Core curriculum,” school board member Tamar Galatzan wrote in response to a parent email, adding that neither the school board nor LAUSD’s higher-ups have the power to reverse the decision at Reed.
Sigrid Matthews said she’s taken her son out of upcoming eighth grade at Reed and found a new school, because he wouldn’t have been able to attend both the culinary academy and participate in band.
“He wasn’t going to be able to get any music, so it didn’t seem like it was worth staying at that point,” said Matthews, who has another son starting seventh grade at Reed.
But Reed’s incoming principal, Jeanne Gamba, said she’s convinced the school will adapt to the new schedule and still provide kids the opportunity to partake in the subjects they enjoy. In her first week on the job this summer, she added, parents had already begun contacting her with ideas for after-school enrichment programs.
I was PTA President there for 3 years …and the parents working with the faculty and administration worked together as a team to create Reed’s seven period day. And contrary to what Ms. Galatzan says about the Board of Ed having no say – it took direct intervention by the Board of Ed – and the vote of four board members - to support Reed’s seven period schedule.
That was then, this is now. But at that time Reed was as exceptional school with a vibrant, diverse student body. I don’t doubt that it still is. Reed is not – nor was it then – some mythic white middle class valley suburban bastion of affluence. It is a working class predominantly-Latino Title One school with English Language Learners and Special Ed and Free Lunch and poverty and all the rest. Is Reed unique? Sure it is! It’s different from all other schools just like every other school is/can be/should be. Ain’t no cookie cutters generating schools out there!
Walter Reed was a California Distinguished School – and the only middle school in the nation that offered Advanced Placement Physics Classes-- in addition to consistently having the best instrumental and choral music program in the District and a Drill Team that regularly beat high school programs in very intense statewide competitions. The seven period day allowed all students to take one elective class – to be in a class they wanted to be in – whether Band or Chorus or Drama or Spanish or Drill Team or AP Physics; whether they were Honors Students or ELL students or just plain middle schoolers coming to school because they had to. All of those elective programs were teacher and community initiatives that succeeded because of teacher, parent, student and community support …plus the support of administrators downtown who recognized and honored true success - rather than numbers on a spreadsheet that earn the superintendent a performance bonus or an attaboy in DC.