David Doye (far left), who gave an impassioned speech to Fremont High stakeholders, is pictured with godson, Dimitri Herron, Dimitri's friend Tina Harris and the Coalition's Tonna Onyendu. (Photo by Olu Alemoru)
By OLU ALEMORU, Staff Writer | Los Angeles Wave
June 24 -- Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Ramon Cortines this week threw his support behind community-backed reforms to enhance a plan to restructure South Los Angeles’ chronically underperforming Fremont High School.
Cortines addressed a packed room of Fremont students and parents Monday at the headquarters of the Community Coalition, where they, along with community activists, presented him with a reform program aimed at closing the achievement gap, improving test scores and cutting the area’s high dropout rates.
The meeting was called in the wake of Cortines’ December announcement that called for radical changes to improve the school’s academic performance.
These proposed changes included establishing smaller, academic learning programs similar to successful programs at Locke High School, but the plan also controversially called for the entire teaching staff to re-apply for their jobs.
In recent years, Fremont — which along with Locke was ranked two of the lowest-performing schools in the LAUSD before Locke was turned around — has been at the center of the public school education crisis in the massive school district.
While designed to hold a mere 1,500 students, Fremont’s 4,500 students are crammed into its classrooms where in 2007/08 only 45 tested proficient and two tested advanced in math within a pool over 3,500. In addition, less than 500 students graduated out of a freshman class of 2,000, with the remainder classified as unaccounted for.
Meanwhile, the coalition has been working behind the scenes with students and parents over the last few months to help reduce the dropout rate and boost academic achievement and success.
The recommendations they presented to Cortines include establishing an on-campus comprehensive mental wellness center, a career health academy and a targeted drop out intervention and prevention program.
“The answer is emphatically, yes,” said Cortines in his address to the audience. “This is all in line with what we want to do and takes it up a notch. That means in these economic times we will have to find some money, but with the community and the school district coming together, Fremont will look very different a year from now.”
He added: “Dropouts don’t just start at Fremont. I’ve visited all the schools that feed into Fremont, I’ve talked to faculty members and parents and sent letters to all of the [local] elementary schools. [The problem] starts in preschool and kindergarten.”
Cortines also heard from Fremont students, parents, community activists and coalition staff, who will be working with district officials to try and make the proposals a reality.
“I’m here to talk about the comprehensive wellness program at Fremont,” said 17-year-old student leader Paolo Lopez. “Why is it important? I have ups and downs with my mom and we argue. It impacts me and I carry it with me throughout the day. I know a lot of kids argue with their parents in Beverly Hills, but they don’t have to worry about losing their home or whether they have enough food to eat.
“And when we get to school we’re expected to pretend none of it ever happened, that everything is okay. But because of a lack of support students start ditching classes, turning to drugs and gangs or become sexually active at a young age.”
David Doye, an ex-convict, who currently has a godson at Freemont and a goddaughter starting there this fall, made an emotional speech to the crowd.
“I still have problems with my reading and vocabulary,” he said. “I dropped out of school to take care of my brothers and sisters and no one cared or invested the time in me to find out why. Now I live a less than perfect life to say the least … jobs are hard to come by when you have a record.
“That’s why I’m standing here in support today. I don’t want the same for my god children and I want to make sure all our children succeed. We can save the dolphins, why can’t we save our own kids.”
Dimitri Herron, Doye’s 17-year-old godson, agreed. “It was really good of him [Cortines] to agree to our demands,” he said, “so we can go to work on the next stage and increase our graduation rates.”