Thursday, September 24, 2009


OP-ED By Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte in the LA Daily News

Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte is a member of the Los Angeles Board of Education :: 4LAKids missed this Op-Ed when it first ran …but a friend brought it to my easily distracted attention, thank you!.

9/11/2009 -- AS we begin a new school year this week, I want to encourage my colleagues on the Board of Education and everyone else in our community interested in the fate of public education to pause and reflect on the true mission of the school district - providing educational opportunities for children.

This is a mission achieved through instruction. Not construction, not real estate transactions, not purchasing, not transportation, not accounts payable, not bond offerings, not food services, but instruction.

Considering all of the salesmen, lobbyists, politicians, contractors, lawyers, and special interest representatives that show up at my door, it is hard to remember the true mission much less focus on it. But we must. The children of our community are depending on us to serve them and do a good job.

The noninstructional activities the school district finds itself involved in are important, but meant to support instruction and the mission of the school district. Billions of dollars are spent each year to support the good work that needs to go on in the classroom.

Only half of the employees of the district are teachers, but both the money spent and all of the employees are meant to support the mission of providing an education to the children of our community.

Without argument, the school district could do better in the area of instruction. What to do differently is the perennial question, but I believe the district needs to look no further for the answer than down the hall. A successful model for achieving a goal declared by many to be impossible can be found in the school district's very successful construction program.

Nearly 20 years ago, my predecessors on the Board of Education, with laserlike focus, decided to prove to the public that children and families would be better off, and learn more, if they had the choice to attend a neighborhood school on the traditional school calendar.

To accomplish this goal, school district officials knew they would have to convince the public of the need to develop a school facilities program and hire accomplished professionals. Funding was important, but the key to success has been the extraordinary detail of the planning and implementation of the construction program.

That same comprehensive approach must be applied to the instructional program. The steps to build or modernize a school are contained in a multipage flow chart with hundreds of boxes anticipating every step and contingency in construction. Boxes are used for the steps taken to identify the area of our community that needs a school to ensuring that every fire extinguisher is in place and operational before the first student arrives. A hallmark of the school facilities construction program is the step-by-step, no-excuses discipline applied to the task. This may explain why so many of those involved are former military officers.

The school district and the school board need to apply the same laser-beam focus to student instruction with the same intensity and attention to details to accomplish our true mission. We need to plan out the educational path of every child from before they begin school in our pre-K classes to his or her selection of a post high school graduation opportunity.

We must plan for every contingency and add a box to our instruction flow chart when something unexpected comes up so it is never unexpected again. We must prove we can apply lessons learned, replicate success and eliminate the ineffective.

Concentrating on instruction and academic achievement takes at least as much discipline as building a school. School district officials need to look past the distractions thrown at us like cartoon brickbats by those who hide behind the skirts of reform but appear to want to destroy public education.

The public schools, from pre-K through college, are the great equalizer in our country. They are what allow the most recent immigrant, the child from a group home, the paraplegic, and the legacy child at Phillips Andover Academy to all have a chance to attend Harvard University or a public college.

Public schools accept all comers, and work and work and work with children who want an education but have no one to advocate for them.

We learn over and over that not every child can depend on a parent to keep them safe or ensure they apply to the best possible school. If we were to create an instructional path to success for every child, every child could be nurtured and protected within our education system so those without could fare as well as those holding a silver spoon.

For those who want to minimize the achievements of the school district, they need to reflect upon what the school district can do when it has the support of the community. The successful construction program is matched by many other great achievements, such as the outstanding LAUSD magnet program.

We need to do better for more. And we can if we dedicate as many resources and as much energy to the academic achievement of children as we have to building schools.

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