Thursday, August 25, 2011


by Howard Blume | LA Times/LA Now |

August 25, 2011 | 10:02 am - The message delivered by L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy was the main focus of attention Wednesday in an annual address at Hollywood High School, but a pair of students captured the imagination of an auditorium packed with campus principals, other managers, officials, parents and guests.

First there was recent Millikan Middle School graduate Kian Farahbakhshian, 13, who gave the pledge of allegiance after first being acknowledged for making the highest score possible on the Advanced Placement biology exam, which high schoolers typically take to be eligible for college credit. He also aced a college-entrance exam.

Kian exemplified the high-achieving students that attend and depend on the public schools in L.A. Unified, the state’s largest school system.

Demitrius Furlow, 33, represented the huge numbers of struggling students that the school system is hoping to reach sooner and more effectively. Furlow listed six district schools he attended, without ever earning a diploma. About half of district students don’t graduate on track after four years of high school. Furlow hadn’t managed it after 14 years.

“I took a journey into darkness,” Furlow told the audience, “making one mistake after another.”

He recounted going through the “entire criminal justice system.”

As a young adult, serving a jail term, he met a fellow prisoner serving two consecutive life sentences and was overwhelmed by the man’s regret and despair.

“It was too late for him, but not for me,” Furlow said.

He reenrolled after getting out of jail, but left school again to support his family, working in construction and other jobs.

Still, “I knew that I had to go back to school and obtain my high school diploma,” he said. “I had to do this for myself, but also for my family.”

When he tried again at the Abram Friedman Occupational Center, he was “welcomed with open arms.”

He soon passed the required high school exit exam and pulled together the necessary course credits as well to graduate.

“I was so full of joy and excitement,” Furlow said. “Now I could take the next step toward furthering my education.”

He added: “My trials and tribulations are now experience that shapes my hindsight … It’s what I use now for foresight.”

“It’s never too late,” he said. “Education is our only hope.”

He’s enrolling his two sons, ages 4 and 5, in a district school this fall.

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