Wednesday, August 22, 2007

High School Principal in L.A. Sparks Student, Staff Protests

Education Week

Published Online: August 20, 2007

Students rally outside of the Santee Education Complex in Los Angeles, Calif., on Aug. 7.
—Courtesy of The Association of Raza

By Linda Jacobson

A Los Angeles school with a reputation for violence is embroiled in another type of controversy—this time involving some of its teachers and highest-achieving students.

The storm erupted in mid-July when, according to students and teachers, Vincent Carbino, the principal of Santee Education Complex, dropped or changed numerous courses—including some Advance Placement offerings—in the middle of the semester, even though some students will need those classes in order to graduate.

Teachers allege that the principal cancelled the courses without warning in advance of a scheduled inspection required by state legislation known as the Williams settlement, because textbooks for the courses had never been ordered and teachers had not been trained.

Morale is now so bad that some teachers are considering filing a petition with the district’s board of education to convert to a charter school, said Jose Lara, a history teacher at Santee and a union representative for United Teachers Los Angeles, an affiliate of both the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers.

Tracy Mallozzi, a spokeswoman at Green Dot Public Schools, a Los Angeles-based charter schools organization, confirmed that preliminary conversations with Santee teachers have taken place.

Earlier this year, some teachers at Locke Senior High School, another low-performing high school in Los Angeles, signed petitions asking the school board to have Locke converted to a charter under Green Dot, which is opening small high schools in Watts, the neighborhood served by Locke. ("L.A. District Faces Mounting Pressure Over High Schools,", July 18, 2007.)

“If things don’t get better soon, many teachers are going to go that route,” said Mr. Lara. “It’s been a roller coaster ever since.”

A former police officer, Mr. Carbino was brought in a year after the school opened in 2005 to address safety concerns as well as academic performance. He refused to be interviewed for this article.

But Los Angeles Unified School District officials say they are trying to work with students and teachers to calm the situation. The district also denies charges that the number of AP courses at Santee has been reduced. Instead, they say that Mr. Carbino increased AP offerings from two last school year to 13 this year.

“It’s a fairly small group of teachers and students who are engaging in these protests,” said Hilda Ramirez, a spokeswoman for the 708,000-student district.

Troubled Campus

Santee opened two years ago under then-Superintendent Roy Romer and was supposed to be a symbol of educational renewal in a low-income community. Instead, the campus has been known for fighting, crime, and teacher turnover.

“It’s been a disaster from day one,” said Jordan Henry, an English teacher and a union official.

The latest controversy appears to stem from inspections required under the 2004 settlement that ended a lawsuit called Williams v. California, in which plaintiffs argued that many schools, particularly those in low-income neighborhoods, were lacking basic necessities such as textbooks, clean and safe facilities, and properly credentialed teachers. ("Improvements Seen to California Schools As Result of Williams Case Settlement," Aug. 13, 2007.)

The mandated inspections, conducted by county offices of education throughout the state, include a textbook audit to make sure students have the books they need.

Mr. Lara said no one was alerted to the course changes made in advance of the Williams inspections. Teachers found out, he said, when they logged on to their computers to take attendance and saw that the names of the courses they were teaching had changed. In some cases, AP courses were replaced with regular courses, he said.

Police escorted one teacher who complained about the unexpected changes from the building, according to Mr. Lara. Since then, dramatic photos and videos of students protesting in the auditorium and outside the building, chanting “Fire Carbino,” have shown up in local news reports and on Web sites. And this week, students and parents were planning a march through the neighborhood to voice their concerns.

“I’m not going to receive [AP] credit,” said 12th grader Araceli Aca, who says her AP English class was changed to a course called Writing Seminar. “My mom is really furious because she hasn’t been able to get any answers.”

District Response

The district denies claims that the number of AP courses at Santee has been reduced. In a written statement, Carmen Schroeder, the superintendent of Local District 5, which includes Santee and is located in South Los Angeles, said the principal added the writing courses to help students pass AP exams.

The school also is part of a new partnership with Los Angeles Trade Technical College and the University of California, Irvine that allows students to graduate with both a diploma and college credit, or even an associate’s degree. Ms. Schroeder called the arrangement “a wonderful opportunity for the South Los Angeles community that has traditionally had very little access—or financial means—to college.”

But Mr. Lara argues that students at the school—which has three academic calendars, or tracks—don’t have equal access to AP courses. Most of the new AP courses, he said, are available only to those on the A track, which most closely follows a traditional school calendar. The students that started school July 2, before the changes were made, are on the B track.

A chart he has compiled shows that 35 classes, primarily English classes, have been changed, and more than 850 students have been affected.

In spite of the latest controversy, Ms. Schroeder expressed support for Mr. Carbino.

“I believe that everyone at Santee has the same goal: providing students with a rigorous and relevant education that will prepare them for college and careers,” her statement said.

Ms. Ramirez, the district spokeswoman, also said the principal has worked with students on conflict resolution and peer-to-peer counseling. And a profile of the principal published last year in the Los Angeles Times discussed his determination to keep the school from being taken over by the state because of low test scores.

But A.J. Duffy, UTLA’s president, said he doesn’t blame Santee’s staff for talking to charter school operators about leaving the district.

“Do I want that? No. Do I understand? Yes,” he said, adding strong words for Los Angeles Unified Superintendent David Brewer III. “If he doesn’t remove and fire [Carbino], he’s going to have another Green Dot school, and he’s going to be superintendent of nothing.”

►This has all the outward appearance of business as unusual in LAUSD: A three way adult tug of war between the District, The Teachers' Union, and principals and The Principals' Union – with the specter of Green Dot thrown in as a boogie man!

When push comes to shove, kids and parents get pushed and shoved!

Santee High School is the pointy end of the stick of school reform in LAUSD; what is trying to be accomplished is neither easy nor easy to accept ...especially to those invested in the status quo.

The partnership he envisions with Trade Tech to produce high school graduates with two years of college under their belts is a paradigm shift in public education in LA — success is not guaranteed - but we need to both wish him luck and give him and his students space!

The lyrics to "The Times, They Are a Changin' " are apropos as many verses as one would care to apply.

4LAKids asked Principal Carbino and Principals' Union Executive Director Dan Basalone to comment on the EdWeek article; Basalone warned, "Don't believe all that you read......".

Carbino supplied the following letter sent to all Santee parents last August 4th in English and Spanish - "for insight" :

Los Angeles Unified School District

Local District 5

Santee Educational Complex

1921 Maple Avenue

Los Angeles, California 90011-1036

Telephone (213) 763-1000 Fax (213) 742-9883

David L Brewer III

Superintendent of Schools

Carmen N. Schroeder

Superintendent, Local District 5

Vince Carbino



August 4, 2007

Dear Santee Parents

We are currently finalizing a grant with Trade Tech College to offer AS and AA degree programs to our students, as early as the 9th grade. These classes and programs would be offered to the students without cost, and through the grant textbooks would be purchased entirely or at a significantly reduced rate for the students. The class schedules would accommodate our schedule, so that students could access the program. The classes would be offered while students are on and off track. The goal of the program is that our students would have the opportunity to complete their two year college degree while also completing their high school diploma classes, and transfer to colleges or universities as juniors.

This program will not replace our AP program, but add to our “Multiple Pathways for Student Success,” that is an ingredient of high performing schools. Due to the many of scheduling issues that face our students, it is imperative that we have more than one college program on our campus. We know through experience that some high qualified students can not access AP classes due to other class requirements, sports involvement, work or other family obligations. We also know that some students will not be able to access the AS or AA program with Trade Tech due to the same issues. But we hope through having both options, we can serve the needs of the students wishing this preparation.

Lastly we should be very proud of our AP program. We have grown from two (2) classes to thirteen (13) in a period of one year. We have increased our student enrollment significantly. We have also developed “AP pipeline classes” in the 9th and 10th grades to support student access and readiness for AP classes in the 11th and 12th grade. We have also developed a writing class for students as they start their selected AP sequence to assist with writing development that has been a historical barrier for many of our AP students’ success. We also altered the scheduling of the AP classes to Mester 2, 3 and 4 of a students schedule to maximize preparation to the AP exam date. We offer AP training to ALL teachers during their off track time as what several off track teachers are during currently.

We are very proud of the multiple programs we have started to allow your child to succeed, and be ready for post secondary education and careers that await them. Through community partnerships such as Trade Tech, we hope that this allows all students to experience the best education possible.

Should you have any questions, please call me at 323-321-2439


Vince Carbino


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