Thursday, March 31, 2011

Educating Our Children is a Community Affair

This essay first appeared in the Los Angeles Sentinel

Written by Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte, on 03-25-2011 16:18

In what appears to have been a carefully orchestrated performance, the Board of Education voted last Tuesday, to give away seven of our schools (new and existing) to outside (private) charter agencies during its discussion of Public School Choice (PSC). The Board's action was appalling and its willingness to easily turn schools over to private operators, represents an ominous sign for the future of public school education.

The March 15 agenda included six additional schools, which were split between charter operators and district administrations. The three existing schools: Henry Clay, Horace Mann and John Muir Middle Schools, are located within Board District I and are represented by my office. Each of these schools had submitted plans, written by teachers and administrators, to maintain district control of their schools. Each plan was written with the full understanding of community demographics and psycho-social dynamics. Each plan included provisions for special needs students who require professional services that are best provided by a unified school district. Despite the best efforts of teachers with experience working in communities with social conditions that frighten some, the Board found it necessary to vote contrary to my wishes. In one case, they voted against the recommendations of the Superintendent, a professional educator, who is ultimately in charge of the district.

During the March 15 meeting, some of the Board members appeared to have met in advance to write and rehearse scripts. During the Board meeting, they recited lines, complete with accompanying emotions and phony smiles. I stated that I felt the Board majority was voting in lock-step with City Hall. One school, formerly known as South Region Elementary School #6, recently re-named after the late community activist, Juanita Tate, was given away to Aspire Public Schools - a move that has infuriated members of the local community as well as myself. Located on a soccer field previously owned by Tate, the school is scheduled to open in September. Imagine the horror now being felt by the community, including Tate's children, after the Board's unprecedented action to award a new, named school to a charter operator with no sense of the culture or history of Mrs. Tate's work in our community.

Another partner, MLA has been approved to "assist" John Muir. As the educational partner of several schools, including Manual Arts, in Board District 1, MLA has no magic panacea either. Despite being under an abbreviated union contract, teachers at Manual Arts have expressed a desire to get out of MLA.

In the case of Henry Clay, where the Superintendent had recommended a shared campus between the existing administration and Green Dot Public Schools, the Board voted to totally disregard the school-based plan and gave the school entirely to Green Dot. This unsound political move was unheard of and smacks of blatant discrimination. How dare they award another school in South Los Angeles to a partner with questionable results in our community? Despite reports to the contrary, Green Dot has had dismal results in our community with Academic Performance Index (API) scores. Several of their schools post scores well below the district's focus cut-off of 650. After Green Dot fired district teachers and weeded out students they did not wish to teach (including special education students), many of their 2010 API scores still leave little to be desired, including: Animo Locke #1, with an API of 563; Locke #2, 605; Locke #3, 495; Locke #4, 537; Locke Tech, 606; Animo Watts Charter, 547 and Animo Justice, 566. Clay has a score of 538. Why in the world does the School Board think Green Dot has a magic formula for Clay, given its history? The Board's policy says that charter operators must enhance the educational experience.

The March 15 Board action represents a regression in our community. The moves are in direct conflict with statements in the Board's motion of August 25, 2009, which created PSC. Parents and community members must join teachers and say "enough is enough!" With only one vote on a seven-member Board, I need the community's help. Together, we must work to stop the moving targets that allow our schools to become the focus of district give-aways. We must stop the appearance of conflicts of interest.

We must make the real community's presence felt at School Board meetings; not the community whose service is purchased for a bus ride, $5 T-shirt and sandwich. If more community members and organized parent groups become watchdogs, we may see the School Board follow their own motion and begin to place the interest of children above the political agendas of adults.

Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte represents Board District 1 on the Los Angeles Unified School District's Board of Education


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