Monday, November 30, 2009

Call to Action: HALF OF ELEMENTARY MUSIC TEACHING POSITIONS TO BE ELIMINATED NEXT YEAR/THE REST THE YEAR AFTER THAT - Meeting at the new high school for the arts Tuesday evening

Steve Venz writes

  • 83 music teaching positions (50% of LAUSD elementary music teachers) will be  eliminated in the  2010-2011 school year due to the budget crisis.
  • The LAUSD budget for the following year 2011-2012 will eliminate the remaining 50% of elementary music teachers.
  • ALL music and arts students and teachers will all be affected directly or indirectly by this new development.
  • Those teachers who have been teaching for 1 to 4 years will be among
    the first to be laid-off, no matter where they may be currently teaching. 
  • All teacher lay-offs are based on seniority within the school district. 
    • For example, if an elementary music teacher's position is eliminated, that music teacher may take the place of a middle or high school music teacher, if she/he has been teaching in LAUSD longer than the middle or high school music teacher.  

I hope you will be able to attend the plan-of-action meeting at the new
arts high school on December 1st, 6:30 pm.


Working Title: Central High School #9

450 N. Grand Avenue @  Cesar Chavez (Sunset) Blvd


6:30 PM    |    map+directions

The purpose of this meeting is to coordinate efforts to preserve these
music  jobs within LAUSD and stop this destructive  trend.  We need to take
action in order to change the current budget for the 2010-2011 school year.
Superintendent Cortines will be present, so this will be our chance to
demonstrate that there is support and demand for arts education
throughout LAUSD.  

Given the devastating results of these cuts, we also recommend that you
bring at least one active parent and/or arts colleague with you.

Hope to see you there.
Best wishes,
Steve Venz
Vice President, California Music Educators Association


Smarts Logo

from the California State PTA SMARTS Newsletter for Novemeber: pass it on! your children getting enough arts?

Americans for the Arts, a national nonprofit that works to advance the arts in this country, tells us that arts are enriched with the stuff children need to succeed. Just as children need to have good nutrition on a daily basis, they also need daily servings of the arts. Studies have shown that involvement in the arts helps children increase test scores and promotes academic achievement in all subject areas.

Here are 10 Simple Ways that you can add more arts to your children's days, courtesy of the Americans for the Arts.

Ten Simple Ways Parents Can Get More Art in Their Kids’ Lives
  1. Enjoy the arts together. Sing, play music, read a book, dance, or draw with your child at home.
  2. Encourage your child to participate in the arts and celebrate their participation in or out of school.
  3. Explore your community’s library and read “the classics” together—from Mother Goose to Walt Whitman.
  4. Read your local newspaper to find out about attending local arts events like museum exhibits, local plays, festivals, or outdoor concerts.
  5. Tell your child’s teacher, principal, and school leadership that the arts are vital to your child’s success and an important part of a quality education. Find out if your school has sufficient resources for arts education, including qualified teachers and materials. If not, offer to help.
  6. Contact your local arts organizations to inquire about the arts education programs they offer either during school hours or after school. Volunteer to donate time, supplies, or help with their advocacy efforts and connect these services to your child’s school.
  7. Attend a school board or PTA meeting and voice your support for the arts to show them you care and make sure the arts are adequately funded as part of the core curriculum in the school budget.
  8. Explore your child’s dream to sing, to dance, to draw, to act—and encourage them to become the best they can be through the arts.
  9. Be an arts supporter!  Contact your elected officials—lawmakers and school board members—to ask them for more arts education funding from the local, state, and federal levels. Visit our Online Resource Center.
  10. Sign up to become an activist on the Americans for the Arts website, just a click away! Through our e-activist list, you will get news updates and alerts about arts education. Visit our E-Advocacy Center.

To view the Ten Simple Ways in Spanish, visit 10 Formas Sencillas.

Online Learning Community

The Choral Arts Society of Washington has launched an online expansion of its K-12 music education program, the FREE Choral Arts

Online Learning Community. The Community is free to any teacher or learner who wishes to join and has lesson plans, study guides, and other resources.


Coastal Art & Poetry Contest 

The California Coastal Commission sponsors a Coastal Art & Poetry Contest each year for students in kindergarten through 12th grades.  Entries must be postmarked by January 30, 2010.  More information and entry forms can be found




The Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21) is an advocacy organization that focuses on infusing 21st century skills into education.  The P21 has created a Skills Map which is designed to communicate the great potential of the arts for helping students meet the challenges of our century.  You can add your comment to the Art Skills Map to help illustrate why the arts are an essential part of a balanced education. Comments must be submitted by December 11, 2009. 

Visit the map and add your comments.

   Visit the page.

LEARNING CURVE: They’re growing rapidly, but are charter schools really the key to the future of education?

  • Charter schools hold promise, but they're no magic bullet

LA Times editorial

The Obama administration may be over-relying on them as a means of remedying the nation's educational mediocrity.

November 30, 2009 -- Charter schools are on the cusp of national stardom. After gaining increased acceptance in the last decade, they now are central to school reform under the Obama administration, which wants states to remove any limits on their growth.

Charter schools are publicly funded but operate free of many state and school district regulations. The idea behind their creation was to empower schools to make their own hiring and curriculum decisions in exchange for guarantees in their contracts -- or charters -- to deliver high scholastic achievement in a certain amount of time or risk closure. The schools were intended to model innovations that might be replicated on a grand scale and to eliminate cumbersome labor contracts that work against better education. They would give disadvantaged students their first real alternative to violence-prone, low-performing public schools and create pressure for those schools to bring about quicker, more dramatic reform lest they lose enrollment.

After a decade of rapid growth, charters have begun delivering on some of these promises. They were among the first smaller, more personal schools; "smaller" has become a rallying cry among urban school districts. Families in low-income areas flocked to the new schools, where expectations were higher and children felt safer. Some have delivered impressive test scores.

All of these accomplishments have been particularly noticeable in Los Angeles Unified, where reform in the traditional public school system has come slower than in other large urban districts, and where charters have been a lifeline for students trapped in schools with high dropout rates and miserable achievement levels. That's why this page has supported the growth of the charter movement in L.A., as well as a new district initiative that will open perhaps 250 schools to outside management, including charter operators. Drastic change is needed, and the record of several local charter organizations, such as Green Dot Public Schools and the Alliance for College-Ready Public Schools, at least offers hope for better management.

Less clear, though, is whether charter schools offer real, long-term solutions to fixing public education in America, or whether the Obama administration should be relying on them so heavily as a means of turning around the nation's record of academic mediocrity. Studies of charter schools have been mixed; some researchers give higher marks to charters, others to public schools. One of the most recent and most comprehensive longitudinal studies, released by Stanford University in June, found that charter schools were uneven. More than a third perform worse than nearby public schools, and about half do about as well as public schools, the study found. Only 17% provide students with a "superior educational opportunity."

Built-in advantages

Clearly, it's difficult to generalize about charter schools. By their very nature as independently run schools, they vary widely in their programs and goals. But they're all supposed to do a good job of educating students -- in most cases, a better job than surrounding schools.

That's especially true considering that, at least theoretically, charter schools have a built-in advantage. In California, most charter schools fill their seats through lotteries, to give all students an equal chance and to prevent the schools from enrolling only the most promising students. It's a fair system, but it skews enrollment because the lotteries attract motivated, involved families. In addition, charter schools can require extra responsibilities for students and parents, such as volunteering time on campus, and can close enrollment when they are full. They also have more authority to expel students who do not meet their standards for behavior. Families that are unable or unwilling to invest that much in their children's education will end up at public schools, which have to accept all students within their boundaries.

Middle schools operated by the respected Knowledge Is Power Program, for example, run a highly regimented program during their 9.5-hour school days and longer school year. KIPP schools dramatically outperform public middle schools that enroll students of similar demographics, and that's due in large part to the extra instructional time and the intensive teacher training the charter chain invests in. But KIPP also draws the parents and students who are willing to accept regimentation, high expectations and long hours; its formula might be less successful at public schools, where many families might be less enthusiastic about its methods. In addition, the KIPP program spends significantly more per student than the public school system does, relying on private contributions to make up the difference. Its educational model couldn't be expanded to all of the state's middle schoolers even if every preteen yearned for it.

Another unknown is the extent to which charter schools serve as models or competitors and encourage positive change at public schools. Along with the trend toward smaller schools, the success of charters has prodded several school districts, including L.A. Unified, to start "pilot schools" -- schools that stay within the district but have more autonomy and accountability.

At the same time, now that the number of charter schools is reaching critical mass, they are having a disproportionate negative impact on funding for public schools. Through the lottery system, charters enroll students from various schools and grades. Most of the state funding for those students follows them to their new schools. The public schools they leave receive less money, but their operating costs don't necessarily go down. Giving one student the opportunity to attend a charter should not mean leaving another with fewer resources.

Showing the way at Locke

That's why Green Dot's takeover of Locke High School last year was a pioneering step for charter schools, in terms of both leveling the playing field with public schools and minimizing the disruption caused by student transfers.

Under its agreement with L.A. Unified, Green Dot agreed to enroll all students within Locke's attendance boundaries. That meant taking the gang members, the teenagers who rebelled against the uniforms and hundreds more students than it had room for. It also meant taking less money from other public schools in the area. But Green Dot's goal is different from that of many charter operators. Its management isn't looking to supplant public schools, but rather to push L.A. Unified into following its blueprint for educating disadvantaged children: small schools with a high emphasis on safety that give teachers a stronger role in decision-making but require more flexible contracts. Green Dot also spends the same amount per student on day-to-day operations as L.A. Unified.

At the end of the year, Locke's test scores were at the same bottom level the school has long been known for -- in marked contrast to achievement at other Green Dot schools that drew students through lotteries and were able to control their size. But Locke did become safer and more orderly, with lower truancy rates and higher student retention. Students almost universally praised their new teachers. In theory, such changes should lead over time to better learning -- and test scores -- for all students in the neighborhood, not just those whose parents took the initiative to sign them up for a lottery.

Still, it's puzzling that Green Dot has announced that founder Steve Barr is "taking on a leadership role in the national dialogue on education reform" and drafting a plan for state and national educational policy based on the Green Dot experience. The charter operator might well prove to have valuable lessons for real-world public education, but we won't know unless and until Locke's academic achievement improves.

That's not to diminish the credit Barr deserves for his efforts to improve education under the same conditions public schools face, and we're glad that L.A. Unified is planning to replicate that model in the 250 schools under the new initiative. Organizations that apply to run schools would have to agree to give preference to students within each school's attendance boundaries, which would require a waiver from the state's lottery rule. Another promising sign: L.A. Unified will favor the applications of charter operators with stronger records of achievement.

In setting out goals for states that want to apply for more than $4 billion in new federal education grants, the U.S. Department of Education has called for one important change on charters. In addition to requiring states to take down barriers to new charter schools, it wants to see their plans for shutting down ineffective ones. But, while seeking to boost charter schools throughout the nation, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has not addressed other key issues: modifying enrollment practices to level the playing field between charters and public schools; ensuring that students at public schools don't lose out when new charter schools open; and determining whether innovations can be usefully replicated elsewhere.

Charter schools have played an important role in reform, and the best of them have transformed the educational futures of their students. But so far they have not proved a panacea for what ails public education.


By Sandy Banks | LA Times columnist

Cal State protests

Students and faculty protest outside the Cal State trustees' meeting in Long Beach, seeking to end the continual "academic restructuring" that comes with budget cuts. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times / November 18, 2009)

November 29, 2009 -- If you're the parent of a child aiming to attend a California State University campus next fall, you might want to give him or her a nudge this morning. Today is the deadline for Cal State applications, and overloaded admissions officers are expecting a last-minute flood.

In years past, the deadline was a flexible one, in keeping with the state's mission to allow all eligible students to enroll in one of the campuses, considered the middle rung between community colleges and our flagship UC system.

But this year, admission requirements are tightening. Cuts in state funding have forced the Cal State system to reduce enrollment over the next two years by 40,000. That means some campuses will turn away all but the most accomplished students. Others will favor applicants choosing underenrolled majors, or limit admission to local residents.

Those students who do get in will pay more in fees and have fewer choices. Many will have to scramble for classes, search for jobs to cope with higher expenses, learn to take notes sitting cross-legged on classroom floors and shout to be heard in jammed lecture halls.

And all of them will learn real-life lessons in the new economics of a tarnished Golden State, where my generation is reneging on its promise.


We've been paying lots of attention to the plight of the cash-strapped University of California system, where unprecedented fee increases threaten to make it more expensive to attend UCLA than a private school like Stanford, where financial aid packages are now tailored to accommodate middle-class students.

But the diminution of the Cal State system is just as profound as it absorbs a $500 million funding cut. A story Sunday by Times reporter Carla Rivera outlined the challenges campuses face: faculty cuts, temporary shutdowns, entire majors on the chopping block.

It looks even worse from where I sit, as the mother of both a Cal State freshman who can't get a class in her major and a community college student trying to transfer who wonders now if her 3.5 GPA will be good enough for what were considered "safety" schools a few years back.

How, they wonder, could things have changed so fast?

At freshman orientation last summer, San Francisco State looked like so much fun. So did Cal State Northridge and Chico and Humboldt and Sonoma. Now every student we know at those schools spent Thanksgiving vacation sharing stories of struggle.

The dance major can't get a dance class at San Francisco State; they're reserved for upperclassmen who need the credits for graduation. No drama class, no piano . . . all filled or canceled. "If you can't practice your art, you lose your edge," she said. She couldn't help but envy her drama club buddy, who went east to a private school and has been in two drama productions already.

The psychology major can't even sign up for her basic freshman requirements at Chico. By the time her assigned registration spot came around, "everything was gone. I sat over the computer for two hours," she said, "then just broke down crying."

And my daughter is torn between disappointment because the creative writing class she needs was canceled and pity for her overworked professors, who apologize for not knowing the students better and for giving multiple-choice instead of essay exams.

"It's sad," my daughter said. "They hate to turn anybody away because there are no other options. . . . The students are crying, trying to crash the classes." Every class she's in has more students than seats. You get there early or find a seat on the floor.

Yet, listening to them talk, I get the sense that my daughter and her friends are learning something important, even if it's not on the syllabus and not what I imagined her learning in college.

They see the angst of their professors. Some are so resentful, their venom over pay cuts poisons their lessons. Others are so sympathetic, they overload their classes.

"They're frantic about it," my daughter said. "They know they don't have time to teach us everything we're supposed to learn, but they can't take it out on us, because they know we're suffering."


I can't help but feel like I've let my daughter down, as I try to help her make sense of her plight.

"I don't get why they picked higher education to cut," she said. In a budget of billions, "couldn't they find something else? Did they just, like, look at the things they could pick to get out of the recession and think cutting higher education made sense somehow?"

I do my best George Skelton impression -- explaining about falling revenues, spending mandates, our state's screwy budgeting system. But I am the "they," like everyone else. Saying our hands are tied feels to me like an admission of failure, and sounds to my daughter like a cop-out.

I can't help thinking of the protest sign I saw a student carrying at a demonstration at UCLA -- We don't cut prisons. Why do we cut education?

We're measuring our savings in dollars and cents: salary cuts and furlough days, admission caps and canceled classes. But there's a cost that's harder to calculate, one we'll wind up paying down the line.

Academics decry the cuts, touting the Cal State system's value to our economy, its "importance in producing our workforce," as one think-tank leader said in Sunday's story.

But it's more than that. This workforce-producing institution is not like an assembly line. And students are not just cogs in some grand economic design. They're our children . . . bright, hard-working, with big dreams and a road map to success that we have drummed into them since they were small.

Now, as they scramble from class to class, begging professors to let them in; break down crying after hours hunched over the computer, when every class they sign up for says 'already filled'; let their love of music fade when the department is cut because the school can't afford it. . . what message do they take from that?

SINGLE-SEX MIDDLE SCHOOL AIMS TO DIVIDE AND CONQUER: At Young Oak Kim Academy, students focus on science, math and technology in mixed-grade, single-gender classes. Teachers are still tweaking their methods to better reach each group.

By Amina Khan  | LA Times

Single-sex classes

Young Oak Kim Academy teacher Amber Green shows a group of sixth- and seventh-graders how to graph drawings of themselves using a photo booth program. Proponents of single-sex education argue that girls learn better through collaborative projects, while boys need more structure. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times / November 23, 2009)

November 29, 2009 -- Eleven weeks after opening, Los Angeles Unified's newest middle school still gleams. Science classrooms sport chemical eyewashes and emergency showers. Teachers deliver lessons in surround-sound with hands-free microphones. Kids play basketball on rooftop courts.

Yet what stands out most about Young Oak Kim Academy is that it is the district's only single-sex middle school. Classes are either all male or all female.

During "biology Jeopardy," the girls stood on tiptoe, quivering hands stretched to the ceiling, as science teacher Amber Green called out categories -- organelles for 200, types of cells for 500. For their four-person "edible cell" group projects, students pulled out their building materials -- licorice, jelly beans and other candies -- and after a brief buzz of consultation, each member heads to a computer or the supply closet to complete her assigned task.

In the next class, Green had the boys display their answers on whiteboards, but the noise level crescendoed, punctuated by students yelling "Shut up!" One boy danced down the aisle. When directed to start on their cell projects, some groups argued over their tasks, unaware the roles had already been assigned. Many had not brought materials for the project.

"Boys are impulsive," said science teacher Shambo Lerer. "Their hands go straight up. They ask questions like, 'What happens if a planet explodes?' "

Girls thrive in the collaborative atmosphere, Green said, while "the boys require a lot of classroom management."

"It's a learning curve, for us as well as them," she said.

The federal No Child Left Behind Act in 2002 affirmed the legality of single-sex instruction,said Leonard Sax of the National Assn. for Single Sex Public Education. Since then, the number of public schools nationwide with single-sex classrooms has shot up from 11 to 540.

David Brewer, L.A. Unified's former superintendent, pushed the idea of a single-sex school in the nation's second largest school system. Brewer expressed concern that young boys, particularly blacks and Latinos, were falling through the cracks in public education.

But single-sex schools face criticism from such groups as the National Organization for Women and the American Civil Liberties Union, which recently filed a lawsuit against schools in Kentucky and Louisiana.

"We're very disturbed that school districts across the country are embracing the idea that boys and girls are so different that teachers need to treat them differently," said Emily Martin, deputy director of the ACLU Women's Rights Project. "Not only is that bad science, it really reduces opportunities that individual boys and individual girls will have in that class."

Sax said his group shares the ACLU's concerns. Without proper training, he said, "teachers start teaching algebra to girls with shopping analogies, and algebra to boys with sports analogies, and that reinforces stereotypes."

Edward Colacion, Kim Academy's principal and a former science teacher, said he signed on to build a school that prepares students for science, technology, engineering and math careers, not just a single-sex school.

Intended to relieve overcrowding at Berendo and Virgil middle schools, Kim has a diverse student body; the majority of its 760 pupils are Latino, but they are joined by Asians, Muslims and African Americans. Many of them could become the first in their families to attend college.

The academy aims for a holistic learning experience. All students attend an "advisory" class, a sort of homeroom, with the same teacher for all three years. While segregated by gender, each class is a mix of sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders.

In the advisory class, students are encouraged to discuss their feelings -- unfamiliar ground for many young boys, whose "pack mentality" stamps emotion as a sign of weakness, Lerer said.

Breaking that culture has proven more difficult than expected, Lerer said. So the teachers took a different approach: staging a boys' intramural basketball tournament, grading them on teamwork and sportsmanship.

"Boys just need a purpose," said Christopher Norris, counselor and dean of the boys school. "If we could solve this -- how to manage all this adolescent male testosterone and support them on an emotional level -- then the academics will come."

While the school separates students along gender lines, teachers integrate them based on ability. The academy doesn't have an honors track, which Colacion called "just one way to measure kids' intelligences."

Instead, teachers focus on project-based learning, where students are assigned roles in a team, and graded based on the final product. Higher-performing students may feel like they're picking up their peers' slack, Colacion said, but unlike traditional lecture-based instruction, the system trains them to delegate tasks and hold teammates accountable.

"I love it," said Annie Clarke, who enrolled her son and daughter at Kim Academy. "The education is great, they pay attention to the kids here."

Seventh-grader Eric Alejo expressed irritation with the noise level in his classes. "We don't have a lot of time to finish our stuff," he said.

Aside from the dress code -- no skinny jeans, no colored undershirts -- sixth-grader Zaira Lemoli had no complaints. "It's cool, because you can pay attention more to the teachers without boys."


from The Week – Dec 4, 2009

A New York City high school teacher is suing the city’s Board of Education, claiming she injured her head after slipping on free condoms the school had handed out to students. School officials are responsible, Karen Hollander alleges, because “they caused, allowed, and permitted condoms to be distributed, many of which were opened during the school lunch period and thrown on the floor.”

smf: This IS a real story!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

LOS ANGELES TEACHERS SQUEEZED TO MAKE UP FOR BUDGET SHORTFALLS: The money is there ... but the rich won't pay

By: David Feldman | PSL Web

The author is a teacher in Los Angeles.

Student raises hand in the classroom

Friday, November 27, 2009  -- it is hardly news that workers and their families are bearing the brunt of the economic crisis across the country. Los Angeles is among the thousands of cities where public education has taken severe blows.

Ramon Cortines, the superintendent of Los Angeles Unified School District, announced on Nov. 12 that the district is facing close to a $500 million deficit for the 2010-2011 school year. LAUSD is the second largest school district in the country.

According to the Nov. 14 issue of the Los Angeles Times, teachers are expected to endure a 12 percent pay cut next year along with four unpaid furlough days to close the budget gap. When the pay cut and the furlough days are added together, Los Angeles teachers could conceivably see a 15 percent cut.

Cortines is threatening to lay off up to 8,500 workers if United Teachers Los Angeles does not accept the draconian budget cuts.  Two units of Service Employees International Union Local 99 representing cafeteria workers, bus drivers and other employees have agreed to the four furlough days for this school year. (LA Times, Nov. 24)

This is especially distressing since SEIU represents some of the most exploited and underpaid workers in LAUSD. Five hundred custodial positions have already been cut this year. LAUSD is the biggest employer in Los Angeles.

All of this on the heels of the 2008-2009 school year, in which LAUSD eliminated 2,000 teachers, 400 counselors and 2,800 other workers. (Los Angeles Daily News, Nov. 13)

The Los Angeles school board has agreed to $1.6 billion of additional cuts over the next three years. If no agreement is reached, Cortines has warned that LAUSD will start laying off workers July 1 of next year. (Los Angeles Times, Nov. 13)

In a letter to the presidents of all district unions, Cortines threatened that if all eight unions representing LAUSD workers did not accept the concessions by Dec. 8, 14,000 district employees will receive layoff notices. In other words, one in five district workers could be given pink slips.

Budget crisis only a pretext for union busting

The deadline is a shameless union-busting move by the district. Instead of engaging in negotiations, which LAUSD must do by contract, Cortines announced the planned cuts to workers unilaterally to the media. The district wants to paint teachers as greedy and influence public opinion with the full knowledge that both of the city’s newspapers, the Los Angeles Times and The Daily News are vociferously anti-union.

In return, UTLA is demanding that the notoriously bureaucratic LAUSD open up its books, and be fully transparent about its finances. The union is also demanding that the immense bureaucracy, including the eight mini-districts that govern the 700-square-mile district be slashed and that the money be used in the classroom where it belongs.

On top of mandated tests imposed by the hated No Child Left Behind Act and the federal and state governments, LAUSD spends additional money on needless and expensive “periodic assessment tests” and wasteful and substantial preparation materials that do nothing to improve the quality of education. Instead of the endless squander of resources, LAUSD should join with the unions to demand that the state and federal governments provide funds that can guarantee free, quality education that does not come at the expense of educators.

Much could be done on the state level. If the corporate tax rate was raised to its 1981 level, California could raise $8.4 billion. Teachers are under attack for budget shortfalls, yet California remains the only state out of all 21 oil-producing states that does not have an oil severance tax. A 10 percent tax on the richest 1 percent of Californians would raise another $6 billion.

States are taking advantage of the Obama administration’s “Race to the Top” program to implement anti-union education reforms such as charter schools and so-called “merit pay.” The program promises a share of the total $4.35 billion allocated to those states that implement the most thorough reforms; many of those states castigating their educators and students by gutting their public education will still get nothing.

In comparison, the U.S. federal budget allocates $651 billion for military spending. Including supplemental spending for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the military budget tops $1 trillion. (New York Times, Feb. 4, 2008)

Last year’s criminal bailout of the banks was advertised at $700 million to the public, but since then the government has offered outright handouts or guarantees to banks and corporations that bring the total figure to around $10 trillion.

The plight of teachers, school employees and working-class students is not exclusive to Los Angeles. Teachers as far as New Orleans and Washington, D.C., are fighting against privatization and union busting.

In a system bent on profiteering, be it through imperialist war or government bailouts, public education is viewed as expendable. Public education runs contrary to the maximization of profits. Under capitalism, it will always be under attack.

We must go to workers and denounce the cuts that amount to war on their interests. A strong union movement supported by workers and students is needed to combat the extremely regressive agenda being supported by capitalist politicians and those who fund them. The priority of unions should be on actions and mass demonstrations. As educators and students our power is not based on our financial resources, but in our numbers and our ability to fight back.

●● smf's 2¢: The premise of this article is correct – though 4LAKids would argue that it is the Students and by extension their Parents and not the Workers of LAUSD that are bearing the brunt of the calamity.

Though LAUSD is the biggest employer in Los Angeles, the District is not primarily an employer that secondarily educates children – it is primarily an educator of children that secondarily employs worker-educators.

Union busting must be looked at by a component of the powers-that-want-to-be as a desirable outcome, but the truth is that UTLA weakened its position in previous alignments and entanglements..

But if we look beyond the Red and the Pink to the Oil Severance Tax, the major advantage held by mega-business  (energy, big retail, major real estate, big agra) under Prop 13 - and the so called Car Tax (which has cost State $6 billion a year in lost revenue for the entire Schwarzenegger administration |$6 billion per year for 6 years= $36 billion) we might realiize that our friends to the left are onto something.

INNOCENTS BETRAYED | DAE’VON BAILEY: Abuse begets abuse in a family's brutal legacy

A long history of dysfunctional parenting put a 6-year-old boy in the murderous path of a man his siblings called The Maniac.

July 27, 2009 |  4:35 pm

The Homicide Report: The Times chronicles L.A. County homicide victims

Green Meadows: Dae'von Bailey, 6

6a00d8341c630a53ef0115713cc14c970cDae'von Bailey, a 6-year-old black child, died July 23. Dae'von was found in the 800 block of East 87th Place in Green Meadows.

His injuries suggested blows or other trauma over an extended period of time, said Lt. Vincent Neglia of the Los Angeles Police Department's Abused Child Section. Police are searching for the boy's stepfather, Marcas Fisher, 36, as a "person of interest" in the case.

Dae'von's death appears to fit a pattern in which children have been killed after their cases had come to the attention of county child welfare officials.


Johnetta Harrison

Johnetta Harrison, the sister of Dae'von Bailey, holds a portrait of Tylette Davis and her children. Johnetta is at the back on the left. Dae'von, who was beaten to death last July, leans on his mother's shoulder at right. (Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times / November 16, 2009)


Graphic: The family's chronology Graphic: The family's chronology

PHOTOS: Innocents betrayed PHOTOS: Innocents betrayed

Innocents Betrayed: A Times Investigation Innocents Betrayed: A Times Investigation

By Hector Becerra | LA Times

November 29, 2009 -- “Sit down, Johnetta," Frances Hill told her 14-year-old cousin.

Hours earlier, police and a social worker had come knocking in the darkness, with news that stunned the South Los Angeles woman.

Now Hill had to tell the girl: Her little brother, the 6-year-old she had fed, bathed and babied as if he were her child, was dead. The killer was her mother's ex-boyfriend, a convicted rapist with a long rap sheet.

Johnetta Harrison burst into tears.

"What's wrong with my momma?" Hill, 65, remembers the child asking that morning in July. "She knew how he was and she sent my sister and my brother with him. What's wrong with my momma?"

It was a question with no simple answer.

Tylette Davis had given birth to six children by age 23 and parceled them out to friends and relatives, including the ex-boyfriend. His name is Marcas Fisher, but Davis' children said he went by a nickname: The Maniac.

Over the span of a decade, social workers repeatedly looked into allegations that Tylette's children were mistreated or neglected, including that Johnetta suffered for years with open sores from an untreated skin disorder, internal records show. Most of the complaints were not substantiated.

Twice, 6-year-old Dae'von Bailey told school officials that Fisher had struck him. Both times, social workers investigated but left the boy with Fisher. When he beat Dae'von to death, Johnetta's youngest sister, then 5, watched from a corner, unable to move or muster a scream. Fisher pleaded guilty to the boy's murder.

For all of the flaws and missed opportunities that Dae'von's case exposes on the government's part, it also highlights the formidable problems of families steeped in generations of dysfunctional parenting. For them, abuse and neglect are a brutal legacy, not easily broken by the occasional intervention of social workers or well-meaning relatives.

"Abuse can certainly happen in any family, but it can become ingrained as a dynamic when each generation 'teaches' it to the next," said Trish Ploehn, director of Los Angeles County's Department of Children and Family Services, who declined to comment specifically on Dae'von's case.

"Unless there's a willingness to examine these dysfunctional behaviors, they are likely to repeat themselves and cause further harm."

In Tylette Davis' case, her own mistreatment as a girl seemed to have foretold her children's.

A harsh world

Twenty-four years ago, when Tylette was about 5, her family lived in a rough Long Beach neighborhood. Her mother, Linda Dotson-Davis, had just given birth to her seventh child, her fifth with husband Freddie Davis.

As Linda recalls it, the baby had been rejecting milk and was malnourished. "I heard a faint cry in the night and I touched my baby and he felt like rubber," Linda, 55, said. "I knew something was seriously wrong."

The infant, Keyonte, was hospitalized, and before long, social workers, and then police, were knocking at the family's door. Another son, Freddie Jr., was so tiny at about age 2 that he appeared to be 10 months old, the authorities found. They also reported a foul odor, a lack of electricity and refrigerators and cabinets infested with roaches and spiders, said a person familiar with the case file who requested anonymity because its contents are confidential.

Linda and Freddie Davis Sr. were charged with "willful cruelty to children," a misdemeanor that was later dismissed.

Child welfare authorities placed all seven children in protective custody for about a month before releasing them to other relatives, the couple said.

Linda said the family was harassed. One social worker "came out and talked to me like I had a tail behind me, she said. "I went off on that woman. I took it offensive. I cursed her out. I called her an old dilapidated bitch."

The Davises were ordered to undergo drug tests and counseling and to take parenting classes, Linda said. About a year later, the children returned home to new beds in their rooms and fresh clothes in the closet, she said: "It was a joyous time."

Over the years, the family moved around, staying with relatives, bouncing from motel to motel. Freddie Sr. said a sister, Dorothy Davis, helped him find an apartment in Long Beach where he could do repairs in lieu of paying rent.

In the early 1990s, when Tylette was about 12, she and a sister moved in with Dorothy, also living in Long Beach.

"I just didn't want to live with my parents," Tylette said recently, declining to elaborate.

"Tylette was very quiet," recalled Dorothy, now 61. "I think all the lights and the gas constantly being cut off in the house, the poverty, life with her momma and daddy -- she went through a lot."

Her niece could be "a very compassionate person, very sweet," Dorothy said, but she was easily manipulated. Soon Tylette began to run off with boys, and Dorothy decided it was too much. She returned Tylette and her sister to their parents.

By age 13, Tylette was pregnant. In April 1995, she gave birth to her first child, Johnetta.

'Out there with boys'

Over the next eight years, Tylette had five more children.

"She was just out there with boys, thinking she was in love," said her mother, Linda, who had her first child at 17.

In the 11th grade, Tylette dropped out of school. Living on welfare payments for her children, she'd sometimes spend weekends partying, family members said.

"We allow that," her mother said. "She needed her leisure time."

In 1998 and 1999, the child welfare agency looked into whether Linda and Freddie were mistreating Tylette, then about 17, according to an internal report prepared in August after Dae'von's death. Someone had alleged that her parents abused crack cocaine and alcohol and provided an "unkempt home."

"They never proved we did drugs," said Freddie Sr., now 59. "They didn't prove nothing."

Soon Tylette's own parenting came under scrutiny, according to the report last August. Year after year, calls to the child welfare agency alleged that their house was infested with drugs and lacked running water; that the children were "filthy and hungry," begged neighbors for food, did not go to school and played outside, unsupervised, into the night.

Seven times, beginning in 1999, social workers investigated whether Johnetta had uncontrolled eczema. "It burns!" one caller said she heard the girl crying at night.

But of 12 complaints in 10 years, just two were substantiated: one in 2001 that Tylette had left her 1-year-old alone on a hospital gurney after he accidentally drank lighter fluid, and another in 2006 that Johnetta had "open sores and blisters" all over -- seven years after the first eczema complaint.

Johnetta told a social worker in 2001 that her grandparents sometimes hit her with a belt. She repeated that complaint after Dae'von's death, when her youngest sister also said her grandfather would "whoop everybody." But the August report suggests that for the most part, everyone in the family denied to social workers that anyone was mistreated.

"My mom would tell us to lie," Johnetta said, because Tylette was afraid the children would be taken away.

With immunization records current and no bruises apparent, the August report suggests, social workers were willing to give Tylette second and third chances. In 1999, one gave the mother "an opportunity" to clean the home so that, upon the worker's return, it "appeared appropriate." In 2005, another gave Tylette another "opportunity" to enroll her children in school and make medical appointments.

In Johnetta's case, one worker wrote, Tylette was "doing what she could" for her.

"However, restraints brought on by simple economics pose substantial limitations on the family's ability to control both the longevity and severity of Johnetta's medical condition."

Johnetta's fear

Quiet but well-spoken at 14, Johnetta describes an itinerant life filled with chores and suffering.

It was often her job to clean the bathroom and help bathe Linda, who has diabetes and later used a wheelchair. She gave Linda daily insulin shots, worrying constantly that she'd hurt the older woman.

She often washed, dressed and fed her youngest siblings, Johnetta said, including Dae'von.

"I thought he was a good boy," she said. "I didn't like that people were always hitting on him. I thought he should feel like he had a home and somebody to love him."

Johnetta said she also loved her mother -- but feared her. Late one night, she said, Tylette lost her temper when she refused to get up from bed to clean up after a little sister who vomited.

"I didn't want to do it, so she hit me up in my head." Johnetta later told a social worker that her mother "would be constantly drunk" and that her boyfriend, Fisher, frequently struck her brothers, according to the August report. "He would hit Dae Dae all over the body."

After her family moved briefly to Las Vegas with Fisher, Johnetta said, he "whooped" one of her brothers because he'd wet his bed.

"When I went in there to wash my hands, he was peeing blood," she said in an interview. "I went upstairs and told my momma and she went in there and seen it, and that was when she told Maniac, 'Don't ever put your hands on my kids.' But he was still doing it."

There were good times too, Johnetta said, beaming as she recalled them. Her Uncle Katari, 30, a security guard and the only one in the family with a regular job, would get the boys haircuts or take the kids to Knott's Berry Farm.

Hill, Linda's first cousin, bought church clothes for the children, lent money to Linda and Freddie and sometimes paid Freddie to work around her Watts home.

Touched particularly by Johnetta and Dae'von, she'd take the boy shoe shopping and buy the girl oatmeal baths for her skin.

In late 2005, Johnetta's family moved to a home on Loness Avenue near Compton. The next February their lives took a dramatic turn: Tylette's younger brothers were shot by a Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy who confronted them as they walked home from a liquor store, after a customer reported seeing them with a gun. Freddie Jr. had been carrying a sawed-off shotgun and Keyonte a handgun -- for protection, family members said.

Freddie Jr. died the next day of gunshot wounds to the back.

The family sued the county and, in August, a jury awarded the Davises $2.6 million -- a judgment they are waiting to collect. Everyone mourned her uncle's death, Johnetta said, but Tylette could not stop crying. Freddie Sr. noticed another change in Tylette.

"Well, I have always been drinking a little bit," he testified at the trial, "but right now I got a daughter, she has turned into an alcoholic."

'I had to call'

Linda had a stroke and a mild heart attack after the shooting.

Dorothy Davis, who visited the home to help care for her, said Tylette seemed to be in bed all the time, and the children often missed school.

"Johnetta looked like an old lady. She cleaned around the house more than all of them. . . . Everyone called her names."

In May 2006, a cousin of Linda's saw Johnetta walk out of a kiddie pool, scratching and bleeding from her eczema. Mary Smith, 74, said her brother yelled for somebody to get some lotion but no one budged.

"I knew I was going to call [the county] when I saw Johnetta," she said. "I had to call."

After finding a pattern of mistreatment in the home -- only the second such conclusion in a dozen investigations -- county authorities checked for the next year to see that the children went to school and that their mother received Family Preservation services, including classes on parenting. If Tylette found a new place to live, the child welfare agency would help cover move-in costs, according to the August report -- but she never did.

In spring 2008, after an argument with Linda and Freddie Davis, Hill decided she'd had enough. "Johnetta was on the couch bleeding, and I just told her, 'Come on, Johnetta, let's go. You're staying with me.' "

Hill said Linda turned to Tylette and said, "You're going to let her take your baby like that?" Tylette said, "Yeah."

Hill had planned to take in Dae'von because she thought he was treated roughly. But then she saw Johnetta, barely over 4 feet tall, the backs of her knees so scabbed she could hardly walk.

"I thought she needed me more," she said.

Hill was already caring for a husband in a wheelchair. She had survived cancer and the murder of a son. She also knew the academic challenges facing Johnetta, who read at about a second-grade level.

But Hill had some advantages, too: a sense of humor and dogged resourcefulness. She found Johnetta a dermatologist and arranged for tutoring. She set boundaries, identifying "gang houses" to avoid. She grounded Johnetta for letting a friend pierce her lip and for not listening to teachers.

"Your problem is you're a follower," Hill said as Johnetta sat nearby. "She loves her momma. She'd go with her momma right now if her momma said, 'Let's go.' "

"I said I love my mother," Johnetta retorted. As for going back, "I never said that."

Home 'not suitable'

Last December, after another visit by social workers, Tylette sent most of her other children to live with others.

She later told social workers she had decided her parents' home was "not suitable for anyone." Most of the fathers' homes were not an option -- two of the four were in prison for murder -- but her ex-boyfriend Fisher was willing to take the two youngest, Dae'von and his little sister. He was the girl's father, not the boy's.

In March, the siblings entered pre-kindergarten at Lakewood's Riley Elementary School, teacher Majella Maas said. They clung to her like "extra appendages" -- especially Dae'von.

In 28 years of teaching, Maas said, she had never known a boy as hungry for affection.

He'd snuggle up to her in class and sit on her lap, or throw his arms around her. He knew how to tie his shoes but would undo his laces so she'd redo them. During recess, he stayed at her side.

"Being with an adult was more important for him than playing," she said. "He didn't need to talk. He just wanted to be close."

In late April, the boy arrived at school with a bloody, swollen nose. The school called the county, but without the correct address, it took social workers about two weeks to find Fisher. The boy said Fisher hit him; the man said it was an accident. The evidence was deemed inconclusive.

According to the August report, the social worker "ensured the child was seen by a doctor and a safety plan was signed, indicating that no one is to hit the children."

A month later, on June 3, Maas called the county, this time because Dae'von said that Fisher had hit him in the stomach.

After the boy and his sister provided inconsistent accounts, no bruises were found on Dae'von and Fisher denied the allegations, they were declared "unfounded."

On July 23 police found Dae'von's body inside a house on 87th Place in South Los Angeles. His little sister had seen him tied up in the hallway, crying, as Fisher beat him, according to her account in county records.

Later, she said, Fisher put Dae'von in the shower and told him to "wake up," before dragging him to the bedroom. Her father told her to "go take a nap like Dae Dae," the girl said.

Fisher fled and was captured in Las Vegas a month later. With his guilty plea on Nov. 19, he became the third father of Tylette's children to be incarcerated for murder.

"I never thought that he would do something like that to my son," Tylette said a week after the slaying. "I was going through things and I thought that leaving him with Marcas was the best thing to do. But apparently not."

After Dae'von's death, the county expressed a certainty about Tylette's parenting that hadn't been there before.

"Mother has not taken any responsibility for her role nor has she been able to display any insight into the issues that plague this family," the August report said. "It is in the best interest of these children to remain . . . with relatives permanently."

Hill became Johnetta's permanent guardian on Sept. 24. Two of the children, now 12 and 10, are staying with a paternal grandmother. And the youngest girl, now 6, and her 9-year-old brother are with their great aunt Dorothy -- some 15 years after Tylette left her care.

Hers is a spacious home with manicured lawns and flower beds on half an acre in Hesperia. Upon arrival in August, the girl marveled at its pristine furniture and glass cabinets.

One night, Dorothy let her sleep in a room with her brother, each in a twin bed. She peered in and noticed that the girl's bed was empty.

"She was in the bed with her brother, wrapped up in his arms," Dorothy said.

The girl has had flashbacks and once screamed in a department store after seeing a small boy sleeping in a shopping cart. "He's dead!" she cried.

She's doing better now, though Dorothy said she worries about the boy, who is angry and has been fighting with classmates.

"Those children are out of that nasty house," Dorothy said. Now "God be in control. It's time for the curse to be broken."

Missing Dae'von

Last month, Tylette was arrested in a Compton apartment after attacking her current boyfriend with a knife. She later pleaded guilty to injuring the man and was sentenced to five years' probation and 90 days in an alcohol treatment center.

Freddie Sr. wept in court, relieved that the penalty wasn't more severe.

Linda began making plans: Once the $2.6-million judgment comes through, she said, "we'll be able to buy a five-, six-bedroom house so all my grandkids could be under one roof, and Tylette can get custody of her children again."

In her cousin's living room in Watts, Johnetta said she had hope that her mother could fix her life, maybe get her other children back.

But she said she's staying with Hill.

She only wishes Dae'von could be with her.

"I used to say to myself, 'Well, when I get grown up, I'ma take Dae Dae and have him live with me.' Him and my little sister."

Times staff writer Kim Christensen contributed to this report.

RETIRED LOS ANGELES TEACHER KEEPS AT IT. FOR FREE: The district balked at first, but now Bruce Kravets is back in the classroom at Palms Middle School doing what he loves.


by Steve Lopez | LA Times columnist

November 29, 2009 -- Five mornings a week, Bruce Kravets, 66, puts on a coat and tie, straps on his helmet and bikes to work at Palms Middle School on L.A.'s Westside, where he teaches math. For free.

Last June, after 42 years of teaching, Kravets retired. He'd put so much money into his retirement fund over the decades, his monthly compensation if he stepped down would be greater than his regular pay. But that didn't mean he was ready to abandon teaching. His plan was to stay on and teach for no salary, because he couldn't think of anything more fun or rewarding than teaching algebra, geometry, logic and stage craft.

A no-brainer, right? Kravets is, by all accounts, a truly gifted teacher, and in a district with a budget crisis, here was a guy who said, "Keep your money, I'll do it gratis."

Ahhh, but this is LAUSD, and for months after he announced his plan, it was looking as if Kravets would be told thanks, but no thanks. At one point over the summer, I was told by a Los Angeles Unified administrator that Palms would lose funding if Kravets taught class, because the daily attendance of his students wouldn't be counted if he was an unpaid teacher.

It looked bad for Kravets, so a bittersweet retirement party was thrown for him at the end of the school year. Among those in attendance were students from all the way back to the 1960s. That's the kind of teacher Kravets is, the type you remember the rest of your life.

When LAUSD Supt. Ray Cortines caught wind of what was happening, he wasn't happy. He told his staff to iron out the paperwork and get Kravets back in the classroom.

Finally, toward the end of August, Kravets was officially invited back. When I dropped in on him one day last week to see what the magic is all about, it seemed to me that he may be good for another 42 years. Kravets, who had only two sick days in four decades, told me he's having as much fun now as ever.

In his seventh-grade algebra class, a student raised her hand and said she had forgotten her textbook.

"How would you feel if your book came to school without you?" asked Kravets.

A parent had told me Kravets has an "absent-minded professor style," and I think I know what he meant, although Kravets is anything but absent-minded. A better way to put it is that he seems oblivious to the world at large. Kravets dwells unself-consciously in his own horn-rimmed universe of equations filled with Xs and Ys, his hair curled by the heat of his passion for problem-solving.

Principal Bonnie Murrow said Kravets brings this total commitment to school each day, gladly working with students on his lunch break or after school if they need help or just want to hang out.

David Feigin, who had Mr. Kravets for math in the 1960s and has remained close to him since, recalls playing problem-solving games with the teacher after school. Sometimes Kravets would take students out for pizza and have them measure the diameter of the pie and run an equation to determine the best bargain -- small, medium or large.

Feigin took to writing "B.K. reports" to update fellow students on lunch hour gatherings or field trips. At the retirement party in June, Feigin scribbled a note on the teacher's blackboard, and it's still there.

"After 40 years, B.K. finally retired. But, he won't go away. Oh, the horror. If he comes to your class asking, 'Can I teach?' let him in, and pretend to listen."

There is no pretending, though.

Students last week sat transfixed as Kravets scribbled on an overhead projector that y = mx15, and 5x + 2y = 10, as he helped his class compute the distance in kilometers that sound waves travel through water.

There was no fidgeting, giggling or texting. Kravets would call on a student and ask him or her to state aloud how to solve a problem, and he would stick with that student until there was complete understanding. He told me he's always taught by the Socratic method, believing that the process is as important as the right answer.

I expected students to wilt under that pressure, but no one did. They were unself-conscious and understood that Kravets would not embarrass them in the process of teaching them. It helps, Kravets later told me, that all his classes are for gifted students, which he called a dream situation for any teacher.

At one point, Kravets and a student both struggled with an equation until the student pointed out that Kravets had graphed it incorrectly.

"When you're correcting me, it means I'm teaching you," he said.

Kravets had students write an equation in notation function to determine how much a dolphin eats in a day. It looked like this: y = 0.05x, with X as the dolphin's weight of 460 pounds.

It took a few minutes, but the student Kravets called on came up with 23 pounds of food daily.

"You might want to think about that," Kravets said, "before you buy a dolphin."

On his lunch break, Kravets ate with fellow teachers George Weston, Larry Rubin and Leonel Lopez, who talked him up. Lopez said it was "a great inspiration" to see so many of Kravets' students show up at his retirement party.

Another teacher, Michael Schneider, had a sheet of math problems and asked Kravets if he wouldn't mind offering a bit of advice on one of those classic junior high problems. If two guys dig holes at different rates of speed, how quickly would they dig one hole working together?

Schneider knew both the formula and the answer, but he asked the veteran Kravets for some guidance on the best teaching approach. Kravets pulled out a pencil and quickly scribbled some notations. Schneider was grateful for the help; Kravets was happy to oblige.

Before he went off to his next class, I asked Kravets if his wife, a part-time teacher, wanted him to truly retire so they could spend more time together.

No way, he said.

"She wants me out of the house."

Back in the classroom, students Jeffrey Guo, Lisa Sobajian and Lisa Takahashi said Kravets is tough in a good way and that once you get used to his quirks and passions, you appreciate him all the more.

I asked Guo if he ever squirms, though, when Kravets calls on him.

"No," he said.

Why not?

"Because I know the answers."

Friday, November 27, 2009

L.A. UNIFIED SCHOOL CHOICES ARE A CONFUSING MAZE: Fairs and websites try to help parents, but deciphering magnets, points and charters within the district isn't easy.


By Howard Blume | L.A. Times

November 27, 2009 -- Pamela Krys, who moved to Woodland Hills a year ago, made a confession during a school fair this month at Sutter Middle School in Canoga Park.

"I don't understand the points," she said, referring to one aspect of the application process for magnet programs. "They don't do points in Florida."

Understanding the points system is just one of the complications surrounding school choice in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Although its "choices" website is improving, the school system provides no central location -- online or off -- to help parents manage all their options if they don't want their children to attend their neighborhood school.

Separate programs have different application forms, processes and deadlines. Nor does the district supply some key information, such as student test scores for most magnets. Budget cuts led to the cancellation of districtwide magnet fairs, although some regional administrators have staged smaller events.

The district's "choices" application brochure offers bare-bones magnet descriptions. It does, for example, classify a magnet as a police academy or a math-science-technology program but doesn't go into detail. It also includes how many students applied last year, along with the number of openings this year.

At the Venice High foreign language magnet, for example, 230 students applied last year and there are 145 openings this year.

Such figures offer imperfect insight in part because the openings and applications counts are not broken down by grade. There's also the factor of a student's race, because the magnet program, which began in the 1970s, remains an effort to promote voluntary integration.

The Venice magnet, like most, has a target enrollment of 30% white and 70% nonwhite. Based on recent history, white applicants for ninth grade are virtual shoo-ins because relatively few white families sign up, said magnet coordinator Darcey Wark.

Nonwhite students are likely to need about 12 "points" to avoid the waiting list, she added.

Points are collected several ways. If a family's neighborhood school is overcrowded, for example, the student gets four points. If that school serves an enrollment that is predominantly low-income minority, the student gets another four points. Applying to a magnet and not getting in earns four rejection points, which can be saved from year to year.

Some parents apply to overcrowded magnets hoping to get edged out, so they can accumulate rejection points for the future. (These points are lost when a student gets into a magnet and declines to attend.)

Families typically select a program with little knowledge about its performance. That's because many magnets are not stand-alone campuses, so student test scores are folded into those of the host school, even though the district has the data to break them out separately.

The Venice magnet does that on its own, proud to show off its proficiency rates of about 77% in English and 66% in math, which puts it firmly in the upper rank of high school programs, Wark said.

Magnet aspirants who end up on waiting lists need to line up other options but shouldn't necessarily give up. The Venice program typically offers admission to all wait-listed applicants before summer's end, she added.

Other than magnets, the application form in the choices brochure gives families the option to be bused out of overcrowded schools or to leave schools that have persistently failed to meet federal test-score targets. More than 300 of these "failing" schools are listed in the brochure, which also can be found at www.echoices.lausd .net.

The application brochure, due Dec. 18, is mailed to parents whose children are enrolled in traditional or magnet schools. Others, including those at charters, can obtain the applications from public libraries and traditional schools.

Charters are independently managed and free from some restrictions that govern traditional schools. The best place to find them is on a locater map on the website of the California Charter Schools Assn. In the choices brochure, charters are mentioned but specific schools are not listed.

Every charter school has its own application process and its own timetable for a lottery if too many students apply.

At the Sutter fair, district magnet coordinator Sara Lasnover said the complexities of the magnet system relate to its history as an integration program. She tried to explain the points system to parents and also gave out her phone number: (213) 241-4177.

Parent Krissie Flemming is leaning toward either Hale Middle School in Woodland Hills or the nearby Woodland Hills Academy. Many such neighborhood schools have accelerated programs, called schools for advanced studies, for high-achieving students like her fifth-grader Hunter, although they can vary widely in academic rigor.

Especially with overall enrollment down, schools are eager to open up available seats to willing students; that process will occur in April or May.

Parent Lisa Polydoros wasn't sure how charter schools work -- and no charter representative was on hand to clarify the matter.

"I've been in the system all my life," she said, "and it's still confusing."

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


By thomas d. elias | op ed in the Palo Alto Daily News

11/24/2009 10:39:24 PM PST - The University of California now says it will ask state legislators for $913 million more next year than it received in this year's budget. The California State University system will ask for an increase of $884 million.

These requests come as public college and university tuition and other fees are climbing to levels that will soon approach those of top private campuses. What's more, despite the universities' requests, any likelihood of higher education getting more money next year seems like a pipe dream when estimates of next year's state budget deficit range from $7 billion to $24 billion, figures so daunting they helped spur the resignation of the state's finance director, who admits he considered ways to put California into bankruptcy last spring.

Meanwhile, enrollments are being cut, class sizes are rising, availability of small sections where students can get detailed instruction from graduate students on concepts discussed in large lecture classes are dwindling and community college enrollment is up, while successful transfers from them to four-year campuses are down to only about 40 percent.

Taken together, this sad picture translates into a serious truncation of the California dream.

Public higher education has always been a huge part of that dream, the vehicle of upward mobility for millions of enterprising students over the last century and the engine at the heart of almost all this state's many successes.

When the State Water Project pioneered the transportation of huge amounts of water over high mountains, UC-trained engineers did most of the conceptual work and drew the bulk of the plans. While big Silicon Valley successes like Hewlett-Packard and Google were founded by products of the private Stanford University, they could not have gotten far without thousands of talented programmers and engineers turned out by UC and Cal State schools — including the current chairman of Google. When California developed into the world's agricultural leader, it was in large part sparked by graduates of UC-Berkeley, UC-Davis, UC-Riverside and several Cal State campuses.

The list could go on and on.

All this is seriously threatened now by a trend in Sacramento toward cutting higher education first. Things are so bad that more money is now spent on state prisons than state universities, a startling turnabout from the decades when the UC and Cal State systems pioneered making quality education available and affordable to every qualified person.

One example of the consequences is what's happening at San Jose State University, where 2,500 fewer students will be enrolled next fall than entered this September, when the school already cut 3,000 slots. San Jose State will accept all qualified students from surrounding Santa Clara County, but will limit entry by non-area residents and toughen standards for admission to popular majors like engineering, business and nursing.

"We're downsizing," campus President Jon Whitmore told a reporter, "so if there is a smaller group of students and a smaller group of employees, we are still providing a quality education."

With the same sort of thing happening across the state, fewer qualified workers will be available to major industries. CSU plans to downsize by 40,000 students statewide, enough promising young people to fill a small city. True, there will still be more than 400,000 students on CSU campuses, but fewer university graduates will be able to start their own businesses. Meanwhile, the University of California plans to cut about 2,500 students, leaving it with just over 100,000 total slots. These numbers spell shrinkage for the California dream.

This impending tragedy could be avoided, of course, if attitudes were different in state government. Providing an additional $2 billion to the universities would end all these cuts and restore most classes and student slots. That would cost an average of $52 per year — a dollar a week — per Californian.

California voters repeatedly show in local elections they are willing to pay far more than that in parcel taxes, city sales taxes and other levies when they can see the benefits that money will provide. But statewide politicians have never even tried to make a case for higher education. It's far easier to cut and slash and raise tuition and fees and drive the state's once-proud university systems into something less than world-class stature, allowing them to contribute even less to the state's future.

So attitudes — and maybe a lot of politicians — need to change if the education component so vital to the California dream is to be revitalized. For Californians have shown time and again they are willing to pay when convinced their money is needed and won't be wasted.

Which means money isn't the only thing lacking in these days of fiscal and budgetary crisis. There's a lack of leadership with vision for this state's future.

Thomas D. Elias is a syndicated columnist who writes about state issues. E-mail him at

BRIEFLY: Texas’ Catch 22, Cal’s universities hard(er) to get into, Schools wait for H1N1 vaccine, Class size up, Feds may penalize budget cuts, Empty seats hit budgets

from various newsfeeds

Texas school districts are feeling impact of statewide budget crisis

Difficult economic times have forced two Texas school districts to halt construction of new schools because although they have the funds to build the schools, they do not have the money to operate them. Despite a small infusion of stimulus money, state funding for education stands frozen at the level it was three years ago, and officials say they do not anticipate much more in the near future. Houston Chronicle (11/25)

California’s Public Universities: Harder To Get Into


Gaining admission to California’s public universities is becoming more difficult. Not only are the University of California (UC) and the California State University (CSU) increasing student fees in response to state budget cuts, they are also reducing enrollment. The decisions to cut enrollments come at a time when applications to the UC and CSU are [...]

Schools could wait until January for H1N1 vaccine

School district health administrators from throughout the county learned last week that H1N1 vaccine for general student populations is not expected to be available until early January, the San Joaquin County Office of Education reported Monday.

Despite state subsidies, class sizes begin to rise again in California schools

Most of California's largest school districts are increasing class sizes in kindergarten through third grade, eroding the most expensive education reform in the state's history.

Column: Feds could penalize budget cuts for education

How much spending is cut for K-12 schools and higher education next year may be determined not in Sacramento but in Washington, D.C. – and perhaps by the White House.

Empty seats shrink school revenues

More kids are staying home sick from school this year, and local districts could face financial pain if the trend continues.

MARKHAM MIDDLE SCHOOL ISN’T WORKING: The problem-plagued Watts school needs teachers, but state regulations and contract rules are preventing officials from hiring educators who want the jobs …+ smf’s 2¢

LA Times Editorial

November 25, 2009 -- Even in these difficult times, many teachers would rather remain jobless than work at Markham Middle School. The school is located in a crime-plagued Watts neighborhood that encompasses the Jordan Downs and Nickerson Gardens housing projects and their rival gangs. Its test scores are among the lowest in Los Angeles, and during the 2006-07 academic year, more than 500 students were suspended, at least half of those for "attempted physical harm," including 19 assaults on staff members. Its reputation was further tarnished after an assistant principal, Steve Thomas Rooney, was arrested on charges of molesting students. He was sentenced in September to eight years in prison.

As a result of its unpopularity, Markham has six teacher openings in a year when hundreds of L.A. Unified School District teachers have lost their jobs. The school's leaders know of qualified teachers outside the district who would love to work there, but cannot hire them because of state regulations and contract rules that govern layoffs and rehirings according to seniority.

Instead, while Markham goes through the byzantine hiring process laid out in the L.A. Unified teachers contract, those classes are being taught by substitutes who rotate every month. That means students not only have under-qualified teachers, but enjoy no continuity of instruction. They're already on their fourth teacher of the year in those classes.

Taken over last year by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, Markham hired mostly new, idealistic teachers. But when California's budget crisis forced mass layoffs at L.A. Unified, the school, with one of the lowest-seniority faculties, lost close to half of its teachers. Under contract rules, Markham had to rehire for its vacant spots from pools of laid-off district teachers who had the most seniority. But after all the openings were filled last summer, several teachers changed their minds.

The school then had to go through the process all over again, hiring from new pools of teachers with successively less seniority. It made its latest round of offers two weeks ago -- and again, teachers who had accepted changed their minds. The school could hire long-term substitutes regardless of seniority, but of the relative few with the credentials Markham needs, none have accepted its offers.

Though various improvements have been made at Markham under the mayor's partnership, its already miserable score on the state's Academic Performance Index slipped another 10 points last year. But all efforts to turn around Markham or any other low-performing school are doomed if the state, the district and we as a society accept the idea of denying students qualified, coherent instruction even when teachers who want to help them are close at hand.

●●smf's 2¢ + a million dollars worth from the Times’ archives:  Compare and contrast this editorial with this article: SECURE IN THEIR STUDIES: An anti-violence effort at Markham Middle has opened a new chapter for the Watts school's students.

In the interim a number of things have happened:

  • The economy and the budget cuts …these effect socioeconomically challenged communities  disproportionately but they apply to all schools in the district, including charters and schools run by outside operators.
  • The mayor's partnership (PLAS) took over Markham. The new management and/or the fear of new management triggered an exodus of staff and management from Markham through transfers, reassignments and early retirement. The PLAS hired the staff it hired.
  • The City Attorney/LAUSD partnership at Markham described in the article expired and was not renewed. This had to have been a conscious decision by the City Attorney’s Office, PLAS.and LAUSD.
  • The City Attorney Partnership model has been replicated at other LAUSD middle schools – but it is doubtful with the change at the top in the City Attorney’s office that that office’s commitment remains the same. Absent that this becomes another pilot program that worked but was not implemented. In the end it was not the infusion of money from the City Attorneys office or outside partners in this program that made the difference for the bright shining moment – it was the hard work invested by hard workers.


The Jewish Journal

By Rachel Heller | The Jewish Journal

Emerson Middle School principal Kathy Gonnella (wearing scarf), Rabbi Dara Frimmer (back, second from right) and congregants from Temple Isaiah meet with fifth-grade families at Brockton Avenue Elementary School.  Photo by Barry E. Levine
Emerson Middle School principal Kathy Gonnella (wearing scarf), Rabbi Dara Frimmer (back, second from right) and congregants from Temple Isaiah meet with fifth-grade families at Brockton Avenue Elementary School. Photo by Barry E. Levine

November 25, 2009 -- When Robyn Ritter Simon first checked out Canfield Avenue Elementary School for her sons in 1995, she didn’t like what she saw.

Test scores weren’t stellar. The school grounds needed improvement. And in the heavily Jewish Pico-Robertson area of West Los Angeles, where the public school is located, hardly any Jewish families were sending their kids. Ritter Simon’s eldest son would have been one of few white children — and even fewer Jewish children — in his class.

But while other mothers in her Beverlywood neighborhood were budgeting for private school, Ritter Simon and a group of friends went to work fixing up the school and wooing local families back to the campus. Over a nearly 10-year period, the “Beverlywood Moms” stumped for the school at neighborhood gatherings, organized house meetings and successfully recruited hundreds of local Jewish families back to Canfield. Today, the school her peers once shunned is “an anchor of the neighborhood,” Ritter Simon said, and that enthusiasm has caught on elsewhere.

“We really galvanized parents about public education, which ended up improving elementary schools throughout the Westside,” she said.

Now the group’s model for revitalizing Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) schools is graduating from elementary school to that place that still causes many Jewish parents to bite their nails in anxiety: middle school. And, for the first time, some major Jewish institutions are joining the effort.

Through a community organizing program, congregants of Temple Isaiah are mobilizing to kick up support for Emerson Middle School, one local intermediate school that serves a wide swath of West Los Angeles. Temple Isaiah activists are waging a two-pronged campaign — urging local Jewish families to look past the rumors and give the school a chance, and working to activate non-Jewish parents at Emerson’s feeder elementary schools so they’ll stay involved when their kids get to middle school.

To be sure, many Jewish families, including most Orthodox families, don’t send their children to local schools, choosing instead to enroll them in private day schools emphasizing Judaic studies from childhood through high school. But not all the effort from the Jewish community is about enrolling in a particular school, rather the focus is on getting involved in offering support. To that end, for example, the congregation at IKAR, which includes residents from throughout the city, is about to embark on an effort to bolster a public school in a struggling neighborhood that is not in their facility’s immediate neighborhood but is in great need of assistance.

If concerned parents of all ethnic and religious backgrounds work together, these congregations believe, they can help strengthen public education for children everywhere.

The timing is right, too. In a struggling economy with private school tuition rates climbing out of reach, more Jewish families are looking at their neighborhood schools. And they want to be assured the schools are good.

But this time of uncertainty also offers a chance to return to the core Jewish value of tikkun olam (repairing the world): Choosing public school, some say, is simply the “right” thing to do. In her Yom Kippur sermon in September, Temple Isaiah’s Rabbi Dara Frimmer made the case:

“The prophet Jeremiah said, ‘Seek the well-being of the city in which you dwell ... for in its peace you shall find peace,’” Frimmer said. “The well-being of the city in which we dwell depends on a strong, public education for all children. It’s about the future of Los Angeles.”

Building Relationships

At 4:45 p.m. on a drizzly October evening, about 40 parents of fifth-graders gather at the low-slung kiddie tables dotting Brockton Avenue Elementary School’s library. Principal Kim Lattimore opens the yearly parent meeting with a welcoming speech, also translated into Spanish, then she introduces a guest — Emerson principal Kathy Gonnella, who will have most Brockton graduates at her school next year.

Scattered among the crowd is a handful of elementary school parents from across town, Temple Isaiah congregants whose children are also zoned to go to Emerson in a few years. One of them, Jeremy Bollinger, introduces himself, saying he plans to send his two daughters to Emerson when they graduate from Westwood Charter Elementary School.

“I’m excited to come and meet you, because we all share the same interest in making Emerson a great school for our kids,” he says.

It’s a conversation many Brockton parents — who are predominantly Latino — would later say they’d never had before.

Starting dialogues like this is a fundamental part of Temple Isaiah’s approach. By building relationships among community groups that have a stake in the school, activists believe, they can create a network of involved parents who will advocate for higher-quality education all the way up through the system.

These relationships are key according to One LA-IAF, the community organizing agency Temple Isaiah partnered with in 2007 to get the ball rolling on this initiative. One LA works with congregations of all faiths, as well as nonprofits and unions, to help create momentum for tackling social issues such as housing, labor and health care. Other member synagogues include Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills, Temple Israel of Hollywood and Wilshire Boulevard Temple.

When the 1,100-family Temple Isaiah first began work with One LA, organizers held a series of meetings to pinpoint civic concerns members wanted to address. Public education was a recurring answer and, more specifically, Emerson.

Parents told stories of paying top dollar for a home in the pricey Westwood area to be near a “good” elementary school, then by middle school getting scared off by Emerson’s reputation and scrambling to budget for private school anyway. Older congregants talked about using up the inheritance they had hoped to leave their children to help finance grandchildren’s private school tuition — to avoid the local middle school.

“We heard from parents who felt completely disconnected from the values they were brought up with and the ones they wanted to express — about equity and democracy and making friends in the neighborhood and letting their kids grow up with a realistic view of Los Angeles. They had abandoned all of that because they just couldn’t make the choice to go to the local school,” Frimmer said. “We need to start talking out loud about public education and why we’re not going. People are broken and stressed out and feeling compromised morally. People don’t feel empowered — they feel helpless.”

Synagogue members started by reaching out to Emerson principal Gonnella last year and touring the campus to understand what the school had to offer and what its needs were. Then they came back and held meetings, inviting other congregants to voice their concerns in a public forum.

The outreach was a boon to Gonnella, who had made wooing neighborhood families back to the school a priority in her first three years as principal.

“It was so heartwarming to hear a rabbi from our neighborhood say, ‘We want to help you get the local community back,’ and that we share a vision of having Emerson be the school of choice for Westwood families,” Gonnella said.

Members of IKAR hope their own outreach to a Los Angeles public school will be met with such enthusiasm as they get ready to start a similar school-improvement campaign.

Last year, the 400-member-unit congregation began a community organizing program that also turned up public education as a top concern. The group is still deciding on a specific focus — since the IKAR community is so spread out, there isn’t a central school of relevance to all members, so they’re instead looking at schools in the low-income south-central part of the city.

Participants want to take a “holistic approach,” viewing the school as a vehicle through which to strengthen an entire community, said IKAR member Matty Sterenchock, co-chair of the education initiative. That means taking into account where kids go after school, whether the neighborhood is safe for children and what services are already in place to aid local families. So far, members are talking about mentoring students, holding after-school workshops and coordinating adult literacy programs to get the whole community engaged.

But the ultimate goal in these efforts is not for a handful of Jewish activists (Temple Isaiah’s contingent includes about 50 active congregants; IKAR’s includes about 30) to bring about change on their own — they want parents of all backgrounds, including the neighborhood parents, to partner to improve local schools.

Temple Isaiah members are taking that message on the road, visiting principals and parent groups at Emerson’s feeder elementary schools including Westwood Charter, Brockton and Castle Heights, to encourage activism to begin early.

“They will have this culture of taking not just an interest, but ownership in their schools,” said synagogue member Bollinger, who has become the resident Emerson liaison at Westwood Charter. “When parents are involved in a school, it shows kids that school is really important. Kids achieve at a higher level when they believe that, teachers are more accountable, and, as a whole, it really lifts up the performance of a school.”

Language barriers come into play as well — at Brockton, for instance, the population is 77 percent Latino, and some parents shy away from participating in the school because they don’t speak English. Immigrant parents often feel intimidated by the school system and that they don’t have a right to get involved, said Sister Maribeth Larkin, Temple Isaiah’s One LA organizer. So when synagogue members show up to their school and say they want to work together, it’s an empowering statement. Throwing money at a school will buy kids a new playground; inviting parents into the school will ensure generations of families care enough to maintain it.

Urban Myths

One part of the problem keeping Jewish families away may be schools’ outdated reputations.

Of Emerson, Bollinger said, “We heard horrible things — that there were gangs, there was bullying, that it wasn’t a safe place and the scores were so bad you couldn’t get a good education. I wrote the school off, and immediately thought, ‘OK, we have to start saving for private school.’”

For a lot of families, the story stops there. But Bollinger and his wife talked to parents of Emerson students and went to meetings in support of the school. “We found that all of those rumors were false, and the people who were spreading them were people who had never stepped onto the campus,” he said.

At 10 a.m. on a recent morning, there were no signs of gangs roaming the school grounds — a spread of beige and salmon stucco buildings that sits behind the Mormon temple on Santa Monica Boulevard near Beverly Glen Boulevard. Inside, the halls are clean and students dressed in blue and white garb — the school’s dress code — wave hello and say “Good morning, Ms. Gonnella” as the principal walks by. Late morning, Gonnella makes her way to a busy pedestrian intersection outside and oversees student traffic. As kids stream past, she calls out orders to lower a sweatshirt hood, spit out gum, tie shoelaces, button a too-revealing shirt.

The facility needs a grass field (gym is currently held on a blacktop area) and $50,000 to replace the aging computers in the computer lab, but overall the campus is well-kept and bright, with the hedges trimmed and flower pots lining outdoor walkways.

Emerson didn’t always have an image problem. Opened in 1935, the neighborhood school changed when LAUSD closed several nearby middle schools in the 1970s and ’80s, and students from poorer neighborhoods had to be bused in. This prompted heavy “neighborhood flight,” Gonnella said, to private schools or, through permitting, to the Beverly Hills school district. Emerson’s white student population languished from the mid-’80s until Gonnella was charged with bringing it back up.

In the last three years, the school’s white enrollment jumped from 10 percent to about 17 percent, and parent involvement has increased “tenfold,” Gonnella said. Emerson’s Academic Performance Index (API) scores have been rising, too — to 709 this year, up from 701 last year and 689 in 2007. Emerson is still considered a “failing school” according to the controversial federal No Child Left Behind Act, but teachers are adjusting instruction to cater to struggling students, she said. And, with just under 1,000 children, the school is small by LAUSD standards.

Many families don’t take the time to find out about Emerson’s plusses, Temple Isaiah parents say — they either go private, try to get their children permitted into the neighboring Paul Revere Middle School five miles away, or ply the magnet program’s arcane points system to secure a quality public education they fear the local school can’t offer.

“It’s sometimes painfully slow to change the entire thought process of a community,” said Ritter Simon, the Canfield Elementary mother. “Parents talk to other parents and take their recommendations. As long as we have parents saying, ‘Don’t go there — don’t even go and look,’ it builds a climate of people just staying away.”

There are about as many Jewish school-age kids in L.A. public schools as private schools, according to the Bureau of Jewish Education (BJE) in Los Angeles. Out of about 52,000 Jewish children in grades K-12, around 20,000 attend Jewish and secular private schools, said BJE director of day school operations Miriam Prum Hess. The rest, Hess guesses, must be in public schools.

Ritter Simon thinks more families would choose public schools if they took the time to see what they have to offer.

“There are a lot of outstanding teachers and administrators and parents that are doing phenomenal work in making schools successful, and they don’t get enough attention,” she said. “All you hear about are the problems and the horror stories — not enough textbooks, not enough seats. But you don’t hear about the teacher that stays after school every day and works with the kids to make sure they get it.”

Since becoming Emerson’s principal, Gonnella has held outreach meetings and monthly chats she dubs “Croissants and Conversation With Kathy” — anything she can think of to dispel the longtime “urban myths” that poison local white and Jewish parents’ interest in the middle school. She’d rather they work through their concerns by becoming active parents at Emerson.

“A lot of parents feel that they don’t have the experience or the skill set to get involved in the school, so they just stay away,” she said. “I want to take away that fear and let them know that they are wanted and appreciated and respected, and they can then become an integral part of not only their student’s education, but the whole educational process.”

Work in Progress

The fruits of that strategy can be seen at elementary schools across the Westside, where Jews have for years been at the forefront of efforts to bring middle-class families back to the public school system. Involved parents are holding house meetings and starting conversations with friends, hoping to recruit families back to their neighborhood schools in a bid to strengthen public education for the broader community.

Canfield Elementary has been the most visible success story, with the vocal — and mostly Jewish — Beverlywood Moms group starting work in the mid-’90s to turn the school around. Starting when their sons were just months old, Ritter Simon and three friends recruited a swath of local families back to the school, helped raise needed funds and refurbished school grounds even before any of their children set foot on the campus.

Going to public school wasn’t a financial necessity for them, said Ritter Simon, a longtime community activist who has run for Los Angeles City Council twice. The mothers wanted to go on principle. “We didn’t feel like we took leftovers,” she said. “We chose public school. For a lot of families, it’s not because of money — it’s because they believe in what they’re doing.”

Local families have returned in recent years to nearby Castle Heights and Fairburn Elementary schools too. In the early 2000s, Fairburn catered mostly to students coming in on permits from other areas, recalled former two-term LAUSD school board member Marlene Canter. By the time Canter left office last year, the school had attracted so many neighborhood kids that there were no longer spots for kids on permits, she said.

“We started to invite parents to the schools and in the area now, eight years later, all my elementary schools are filled to the brim with parents, and their scores are much higher,” said Canter, who served as school board president from 2005 to 2007 and called on families to support their local schools during her tenure.

That primary school energy is already starting to spill over to Emerson. As a result of outreach, led in part by Temple Isaiah parents, 33 Westwood Charter graduates started at Emerson this fall — more than double the number from last year, according to administrators.

But the influx of middle-class families has drawbacks, too. Schools that receive Title I funding — federal funds for low-income students — find their revenue streams shrinking as the number of students for those programs falls.

Three years ago, 71 percent of students at Emerson qualified under Title I, meaning they are eligible for free or reduced-price meals. Last year, 56 percent qualified. That means the school received only $600 per qualifying student, down from $900 when the school was over the 65 percent mark. Over the last three years, Gonnella said, Emerson took a $200,000 hit.

Compounded by recent district budget cuts, she said, the revenue drop is hurting everything from extra security at the school to library supplies and field trips.

“That is going to have to be made up by the local families,” Gonnella said.

Jewish Values Breed Activism

Fortunately, Jews have a lengthy résumé in grass-roots organizing that they can leverage to benefit schools in need.

“Jews are an important political force, especially in West Los Angeles,” said author and columnist Bill Boyarsky, who writes for The Jewish Journal and the local blogs Truthdig and L.A. Observed. “They have a long tradition and continue to be politically active, and have vast knowledge of how to campaign to get things done. They know how to put pressure on the school board members and the principals to improve things.”

As LAUSD schools scramble to fill budget gaps caused by education spending cuts, active parents can pick up the slack, Boyarsky said, using their organizing savvy to raise the funds needed to salvage at-risk programs.

And in the Jewish community, that kind of action is more than just a noble goal — it’s a moral imperative.

“As Jews, we are taught the importance of being responsible for not just our children, but for the world’s children,” said Gonnella, who grew up attending Wilshire Boulevard Temple. “Jews have an obligation to be a voice. When inequities occur, when needs are apparent at the school, it’s a plus to have more parents who have knowledge of how to work systems, who aren’t afraid to make demands that are reasonable but need to be made. When they speak out, it benefits all the students at the school.”

The pursuit of social justice is enshrined in the Torah, part of a seemingly contradictory set of commandments that calls on Jews to remain separate as a people through unique customs but also to champion the strength of the wider community. “We have to figure out a way to balance preserving not only ourselves but also the city, and looking out for not just our best interests but everyone’s best interests,” Rabbi Frimmer said.

For Temple Isaiah member Janet Hirsch, who sends her two children to Emerson, that balance can be achieved when more Jewish parents abandon the notion that their kids would be “guinea pigs” in Los Angeles’ much-maligned schools, and start thinking about how supporting public education can boost the entire city.

“A lot of people are prepared to risk their kid until fifth grade, but then they go private,” Hirsch said. That kind of “my kid only” mentality, she said, perpetuates the problem.

Frimmer wants to see more families having that conversation out loud.

Supporting the local school is an appealing notion, most agree, but some parents say they just aren’t ready yet.

With two children at Castle Heights Elementary, Elissa Thompson said she wants to stick with public education for her kids’ intermediate school years, but the local Palms Middle School is “not where I’d want it to be.”

Palms, with about 1,800 students and a 2009 API score of 840, is generally seen as a good school.

But, Thompson said, the family is prepared to move as far as Calabasas or Orange County to be near a higher-performing school district.

“The process of picking a school for your child is very personal,” Thompson said. “A lot of parents feel differently, but I’m just not there yet.”

‘Escape’ to Charter Island

Charters and magnet schools have long been bright spots of Jewish enrollment in the public school landscape. Westwood Charter — a prized fixture of the heavily Jewish Westwood community — and magnet programs such as Millikan Middle School’s performing arts magnet and Hamilton High School’s humanities magnet have typically drawn a large Jewish student population.

There’s support at the Jewish institutional level, too. In 2007, the Skirball Foundation partnered with a Los Angeles-based charter school organization to open Jack H. Skirball Middle School in the Watts area. Uri Herscher, CEO and president of the Skirball Cultural Center in West L.A., said the move honors the memory of Jack H. Skirball, an ordained rabbi and film producer whose advocacy for education led him to help found the Los Angeles campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.

The school brings a “positive energy” to its Watts neighborhood, said principal Joy May-Harris. The school’s API score is almost 200 points higher than other neighborhood schools, and its college-prep curriculum pushes kids to achieve more, she said.

Jack Skirball called public education “the anchor of democracy,” Herscher said after the school’s official naming ceremony on Oct. 28. Funding the school also reflected the Jewish value of giving back to the community, he added.

That was Matt Albert’s motivation for last year’s opening of New Los Angeles Charter School, a middle school that serves the Carthay neighborhood and boasts a social justice-themed curriculum heavy on community service work.

A former Milken Community High School educator, Albert said he’s seeing a rise in students coming to the charter school from private Jewish day schools. Much of it, he believes, is because fewer Jewish families are able to afford tuition for a K-12 Jewish education.

“Middle-class Jews are getting priced out of being Jewish,” Albert said. “I don’t believe the current system of Jewish education is sustainable. There are fewer people who can actually afford it as we go from generation to generation. At a certain point, the system of grandparents helping pay for tuition will dry up.”

For a lot of families, charters and magnets are seen as a “safe” entry point into a system some still harbor misgivings about. The motivation in these cases often isn’t to support public schools, said former LAUSD board member David Tokofsky; it’s to escape from them.

Smaller schools and learning communities are often a vehicle for parents to “gate off” from the system and protect the interests of their own child, Tokofsky said — to board a life raft to escape what is often seen as a sinking ship.

“Jews have cherished the ideal of equality, so it’s that much more tragic that in the politics of today, we’re not speaking a language of inclusion,” he said.

Albert understands some of the concern. Charter schools are more intimate, with as few as 200 students compared to 2,000 at some LAUSD middle schools. Teachers know the kids better, and class sizes are smaller. Parents feel less like their children could be “lost in the system.” Ideally, he said, families should be able to trust that their local school can provide a quality experience — whether it’s charter or not — but that’s not always the case.

Many parents also view LAUSD gifted and talented programs the same way. Honors programs, which conspicuously favor white students, are often seen as safer “islands” within district schools, some said.

Caucasian students only make up 8.8 percent of the LAUSD population, which is 73 percent Latino and 10.7 percent African American. Yet 24.7 percent of Caucasian students are in gifted programs, compared with only 6.6 percent of Latino students and 5.7 percent of African American students, according to the California Department of Education.

“It’s seen as a safe stepping stone,” said Hirsch, the Emerson parent, whose children are in the school’s honors track. “For a lot of parents, to go into that program kind of makes it OK to choose Emerson. If you were not identified as gifted for that program, your kid went to Paul Revere [Middle School].”

The issue raises tough questions about race and class that many find difficult to face, parents said.

“There are people who think, ‘The school is too black, the school is too Mexican,’ and all of a sudden you see a lot of ugly things about people,” Ritter Simon said. “Prejudice still exists. For a lot of people, that’s a very uncomfortable zone.”

Hard Work Ahead

Community leaders agree it would take years of hard work to bring Jewish families, en masse, back to the system. Parents would have to abandon fears and biases to embrace a vision of what public education in Los Angeles could be if everyone collectively rolled up their sleeves and committed to turning mediocre schools around.

“It’ll take a lot of determination and a lot of principals like Kathy and rabbis like Rabbi Frimmer all over the city,” Boyarsky said. “It’s like organizing a political campaign. You have to go door-to-door, block by block to convince people.”

But observers say the kind of grass-roots programs taking place at Temple Isaiah and IKAR are on the right track.

Faith organizations can be a powerful arm of support for public schools, Emerson’s Gonnella said — they can reach out to parents who might otherwise be too intimidated by the system to voice their desires and provide guidance on how to get involved. A handful of public school activists at a church or synagogue can also help shift the opinions of the broader religious community. “Just being here sends an incredible message to other parents: ‘Hey, if it’s good enough for their kids, maybe my kid will go there too,’” she said.

Former school board member Canter called Temple Isaiah’s support for Emerson “amazing.”

“The way they stepped up to the plate, they can be a role model for what other faith institutions can do in the community,” she said. “People should follow their lead — the schools are there to meet everyone’s needs, and we should all be working toward that.”

Schools could do their part to appeal more to Jewish families by tweaking their curricula to spotlight ancient civilizations studies and promote social justice themes in the classroom, Tokofsky said. New L.A. Charter, for instance, engages kids in community service activities, such as reading to elementary school kids through The Jewish Federation’s KOREH L.A. literacy program, learning about the environment through Heal the Bay, and collecting food for SOVA food bank.

In the meantime, Frimmer is trying to stay realistic about the time it will take to reform the system — and Jews’ perceptions of it.

“I’m not looking for an overnight revolution,” she said. “My hope is that people build relationships and do the work necessary to transform public education; that this wouldn’t be a top-down revolution or a one-time, inspirational renaissance that a year later people fall away from. Hopefully this will activate these congregants’ Jewish identity as well as their sense of civic responsibility and in five or 10 years we’ll be amazed at how much more certain we feel about our ability to make change — not only in our lives, but in our whole neighborhood.”

For those still on the fence, Castle Heights Elementary mother Elan Levey offers concise encouragement: “If everyone went to public school, it would be everything we’d want it to be.”

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