Bottom Line By BETTY PLEASANT, Contributing Editor, Los Angeles Wave |http://bit.ly/qD5dH4
July 6, 2011 - There was a time when teachers and the public school system were next to God and the church in the population’s admiration and enjoyed the unwavering support of parents and the childless alike. But not anymore. And certainly not in South Los Angeles where the public school system is coming under fire like it’s public enemy number one.
Cases in point: The Los Angeles Unified School District Board’s high-handed turn-over of the public Henry Clay Middle School to the Green Dot education company last Friday, coupled with what the community views as another atrocity — the removal Tuesday of the principal of the brand new, 10-month-old and highly ballyhooed Barack Obama Global Preparation Academy.
What the school board did to Clay had already aroused so much antipathy among South L.A. residents that they organized to fight the school board, but the inner-city’s response to the school district’s action in regard to the Obama Academy has, as they say, gone viral.
It seems that the Southland’s educational power brokers — John Deasy, the new LAUSD superintendent, and George McKenna, the Local District 7 superintendent — decided last week to, first, fire Veronique Wills as principal of Obama, but later chose to transfer her to the continuation school at Fremont High School, to which she reported Tuesday. Wills’ removal, for reasons the district would only tell me is “a personnel matter,” has enraged the school’s parents, teachers and community volunteers who have worked closely with Wills since the school opened in September, and they’ve been meeting and planning protests since the Fourth of July.
A middle school, the Obama Academy, located on the corner of 46th Street and Western Avenue, was hailed as a wonderful thing when it opened last Sept. 13 with 1,300 students. It was billed as a site that would relieve the overcrowding at Foshay, Mann and Muir middle schools and provide a new age student-centered, college preparatory and career readiness curriculum emphasizing math, science, technology, world languages, diplomacy and the social and economic systems of other nations. Oh, everybody just loved it: the educators, the politicians, the parents. So, what went wrong during the academy’s 10-month existence?
According to the teachers and the parents — everything, from day one.
“The Obama Academy was under-resourced all year long,” declared Kokayi Kwa Jitahidi of the MA’AT Institute for Community Change, a group which has worked closely with the school. “All this school ever got from the school district were a lot of fancy words and ideas and nothing to bring them about. They were operating on a shoe-string budget and had to cut staff to get the place open.
“We volunteered to help keep the school clean because they didn’t even have enough janitors. Ms. Wills worked very hard to bring the basic resources to the school which the district did not provide. And even if she did have the resources, she would have needed more than 10 months to make a school work,” Jitahidi said.
One of the leaders of the protesting Obama teachers said: “The school opened in September and we didn’t even get textbooks in the classrooms until November. And when the district finally gave us some, they came without codes and we — the teachers, staff and volunteers — had to code every single textbook by hand before the students could use them.”
Another teacher complained that while the school opened in September, it received no Title I money until January or February; that despite its 1,300 student enrollment, it was given no campus aides, had only two office technicians and a plant management staff of five people, including only two custodians.
“If we wanted a clean classroom, we had to clean it ourselves — and we did,” the teacher said. “We had parents and community people who would help us sometimes, but it was a hard year and we had a difficult time getting our school going because we never received what we needed to operate.
“But Ms. Wills was our leader and she worked tirelessly against formidable challenges. In fact, Ms. Wills, acknowledging the importance of constant parental interaction, often stayed at the school late — until 6 and 7 p.m. — to accommodate working parents who wanted to confer about their children,” the teacher said.
Another Obama teacher is quite depressed over the turn of events. “We worked hard developing the plan for this school and the district didn’t support us in carrying it. I don’t think I want to be a teacher anymore,” she said.
Many of the teachers speak of a meeting McKenna had with the Obama faculty two weeks ago at which Julie Elliot, an LAUSD associate superintendent, apologized to the faculty for the problems the staff had during its first year and pointedly apologized for the district’s failure to provide the necessary resources when the school opened.
She said the district will make sure nothing like that ever happens to a new school again. Elliot is also reported to have told the 30 or so teachers present at the meeting that she found no fault with the academy and that no “corrections” would be dispensed.
“Imagine our shock to learn after Elliot’s speech that Ms. Wills — our principal, our leader — was being fired,” another teacher said. “They just keep playing us and blaming us. What do they want us to do? I believe we were set up to fail,” she added.
McKenna did not return my calls for an interview; Deasy was out of town, and LAUSD board member Marguerite LaMotte said: “While I’ve heard a great deal about this matter this week, I do not know the facts surrounding it. I have to investigate and ask questions of both sides to determine what has been done and why and whether it was fair to the people involved and in the best interest of the school.”
As far as Jitahidi is concerned, everything about this stinks. “Nobody knows anything, yet inner-city schools and their personnel are under assault. We’re all scratching our heads about this. Decisions are being made by unknown people for hidden reasons without input from the people. Coupled with Clay, this business at Obama is part of a continuing pattern of disrespect by the school district that targets and adversely impacts Black schools,” Jitahidi concluded.
smf: Is it just me…, or does this look and smell and walk like what happened at Central HS#9 – The Visual and Performing Arts High School (now Cortines High School) at exactly this time last year? | http://bit.ly/pjGrlI
Hopefully at Obama Prep it won’t turn out that the ‘personnel matter’ was initiated by a letter to the superintendent written by the spouse of the incoming principal!