Friday, October 09, 2009



Random Thoughts By Diana L. Chapman CityWatch Vol 7 Issue 83

Oct 6, 2009 -- The word failure rattles everyone’s bones. So when Los Angeles Unified School District placed our San Pedro High campus ... along with twelve other “underperforming”  schools... on a so called “focus” list, a math teacher bubbled with anger.

As I told you last week, this San Pedro High teacher –  who one student defined as an instructor who went out of his way to help his kids -- challenged the LAUSD school superintendent that the campus was not at the bottom of the barrel -- in fact not even close. Despite that, San Pedro High along with Gardena High, and several other schools were put on “a focus list” which now opens the doors for outside operators, such as charters and non-profits, to bid to run those schools while competing with the district.

Too many of us here in San Pedro, the so-called focus list spelled out failure – and some parents, teachers and staff took it personally.

“Can you please correct the perception that you created by (1) placing one of your top schools on a list known in the news as "the failing schools" list and (2) your statements in the press by making clear that San Pedro High is not one of the most underperforming schools in either LAUSD or LD8, but that you hope to help take us to greater heights?” Richard Wagoner wrote to Cortines. “On behalf of the staff, students, parents and administration. It would be most appreciated.”

”And,” he wrote, “if you are in town, please stop by and say hello. I would love to show you some of the great things we do.”

As far as I know, Cortines has not made an appearance at San Pedro High School … and perhaps he should. But he did surprise some of us with a quick response to the Wagoner letter.

The district, he explained, will offer further support to improve the schools on the list, so they can compete against outside operators.

In addition, Cortines and the school board make the final decisions on who runs any of those ailing schools … or the 24 new schools included in the “public school choice.”

Cortines responded to Wagoner:

“Recent events and misperceptions regarding our announcement of “Focus Schools” have caused me to clarify my position in promoting and providing an enhanced learning environment for a number of our schools,” Cortines responded. 

“Let me assure you that in my public correspondence and media interviews regarding this subject I have always stated that the purpose of this process is about providing our schools with the appropriate support to develop and implement plans that meet the needs of our students.   At no time did I disparage San Pedro High School or any other school listed as part of our “Focus Schools.”

”Furthermore,” Cortines continued, “I’d like to reiterate that being classified as a “Focus School” should not be viewed as a negative term. Instead, I want us to work together to identify strategies that can help our schools overcome the challenges that they are facing. It will take all of us working together to help our students reach their highest potential.”

The superintendent also clarified that San Pedro – or any of the high schools on the list, which also included, Maywood, Lincoln, Garfield and Jefferson, as well as three elementary and three middle school campuses were not necessarily failing, but not improving quickly enough.

I wrote last week that it all smacked of politics to me. San Pedro High has had severe overcrowding issues, inconsistent leadership over the past several years, and the former principal, Bob DiPietro, charged that the staff resisted change before he left after a two year stint.

The new principal, Jeanette Stevens, however, who stepped into the post in August, has vowed with her “excellent” staff and students to revamp and overhaul teaching strategies so they can beat all – if any competition that comes aboard. It seems to me the recent action involving the Harbor area school may just be a way to force the staff to work with the new head administrator.

Stevens, a San Pedro resident whose daughters attend LAUSD’s Park Western Avenue Elementary School, has far greater personal reason to improve the overcrowded ailing campus than her predecessors. She wants her children to attend there.

“San Pedro High School is engaging in a process to write a plan that will be successful for students, parents and teachers,” e-mailed Stevens, noted for her networking abilities to bring groups together. “We are committed to hearing community input, concerns and ideas that will continue to enable all students to be college prepared and career ready.

Stevens plans to meet with the community at 6 p.m. Monday (October 19)  at San Pedro High School's Auditorium.

In the meantime, district officials said all 12 of the campuses that were targeted with the “Public School Choice,” which allows outsiders to compete for the schools will receive additional support  from the district.

Linda Del Cueto, the superintendent of  Region Eight, which includes San Pedro and Gardena high schools, explained that district staff members will come in to help guide the development of a new plan, facilitate focus groups and ensure that all “the stakeholders are involved.”

“We will  work closely with the schools throughout the duration of the plan writing and implementation,” she e-mailed.

Students and parents across the board at all the focus schools probably feel as though they are left in limbo. Actually they are, as no one knows what the future holds for these schools.

Outside organizations … such as Green Dot Charters may or may not … offer to take them over in this revolutionary change in the school district’s history that allows other entities to step up and attempt to takeover these public schools.

But personally, at this moment, I’m glad one courageous math teacher demanded clarification from the superintendent. We needed that.

(Diana L. Chapman was a journalist for 15 years with the Daily Breeze and the San Diego Union. She can be reached at visit her blog: )   ◘

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