In the spirit of Top Ten (or “Top Five”) lists, I’ve decided to take a route that I haven’t seen done before….ladies and gentlemen, I present the first annual Top Five LAUSD stories of the year! For those of you who aren’t bored by this post already, feel free to walk down memory lane this past year and revisit with me those moments from 2007 when I got a sense of the true caliber of the district that I find myself immersed in!
#5. United Teachers Los Angeles (“The Union”) settles for a 6% salary increase after President A.J. Duffy demands nothing short of 14%…oh, wait, now 9%…[January 2007]
Flashback to November 2006. The Union is in contract negotiations, and our Union President A.J. Duffy, a short, but fiery man with a penchant for rhetoric actually visits our school, Cochran, to drum up support for a potential strike! Claiming that enough is enough, he blatantly proclaims that we will strike we are not offered anything less than a 14% salary increase. Apparently, his long-term memory cells must have failed not a month later, when the new figure “written in stone” was 9%. And once on a roll like that, why quit? The final figure that was settled on this January was a 6% salary increase (which wasn’t truly even a 6% increase, see LAUSD Logic by my colleague Mr. Jacob). Here’s to you, AJ, for your nothing but superior leadership and verbal consistency this year! I know the district will listen even harder to us in the future because of all that ground we stood this year!
#4. Educational maverick Steve Barr’s Green Dot charter school system successfully takes over Locke High School, one of the most troubled schools in LAUSD as well as the nation. [May 2007]
In the community of private schools run with public money (“charter schools”), Steve Barr’s Green Dot public schools are some of the most successful and have been set up to run in some of the most challenging communities. However, up to this point, the Green Dot model has only been tested with small schools, attended by fairly self-motivated students, and equally self-motivated parents. Hoping to show that the Green Dot model will work equally well with a gargantuan, overcrowded, low-income, low-functioning, and low-performing school. Mr. Barr successfully convinced a majority of teachers, parents, and many community members as well to secede from LAUSD and join his charter school movement. In a highly contentious vote, the LAUSD board approved this conversion to take place beginning in 2008-2009. I hope, for the sake of all involved, that this bold move actually works as it might provide some ideas as how to reform similar schools in similar situations. Plus, my roommate (who currently is a physics teacher at a Green Dot school downtown) will find even more reason to keep bugging me about applying to be a teacher there. NPR recently ran two stories, one here, and another here.
#3. LAUSD spends $350,000 not on building new schools, not on hiring new teachers, not even on raising test scores, but on consulting contracts to clean up the district’s image [November 2007].
Yes, that’s right, Superintendent David Brewer decides that the real reason LAUSD is an underperforming district is because it has a negative image from a public relations standpoint. Now, I’ve only taken a basic logic class in college, but it seems to me that maybe, just maybe, he’s gotten it reversed. If Superintendent Brewer is trying to find creative ways to put $350,000 to good use, I could potentially offer several suggestions, including maybe hiring 7 new teachers for Cochran Middle School so that we could have semi-reasonable class sizes. Maybe using the money attract some new teachers to the profession. Or maybe even hire a few more security personnel. But oh no, that would be too simple, and it just wouldn’t do to leave the public image of LAUSD in such a sorry state. Goodness, why even bother thinking that this money might be spent on something as practical as…
#2. Fixing, re-fixing, un-re-fixing, and then finally re-un-re-fixing the LAUSD payroll snafu [January-December 2007].
LAUSD is brilliant (….actually serious on this one). Beginning in January of 2007, they decide to pay teachersonce per month, rather than every four weeks. I was actually excited about this one! For once, the district actually implementing a policy that is helpful for teachers. I’ll actually be able to correlate my income with my expenses on the same frequency. However, this is where “brilliance” turns into utter ineptitude. It was only January and the fun was about to begin. At the beginning of February, we noticed that teachers were being paid incorrectly, some up to double or triple their salaries and some in the neighborhood of a tenth of their salaries. I even heard of a teacher that got a check for $0.12 on February payday. Apparently, I had been overpaid $450, which I now owed the district. Not happy. Immediately the Union was up in arms and the district was backpedaling. Anyway, the district quickly and correctly realized that it had to make sure teachers were getting correct current paychecks before they could fix previous ones and for the next several months attempted several tired efforts at fixing the new system. Finally, in June, when they had got it just about working right, they send out letters to everybody saying how much they now owe the district, our Personal-Payroll-Histories or some such name like that. Unfortunately, these PPHs had just as many errors as did the documents they sought to remedy that the district eventually scrapped that. Finally, in November, after 10 months of flubbing around, LAUSD finally gets their heads on squarely, fixes the payroll system, forgives everybody up to $250 net and then gives some clear answers as what should happen next. Eventually, this got to the point where I was sick of hearing about it from everyone from the LA Times to the Daily News to NPR to LA Weekly to blogs to the television stations! Honestly, I look back at this whole situation and while it’s funny to laugh at the district’s ineptitude, it’s nothing short of horrific to realize all this time, money, and effort spent toward fixing this system when it could have been spent helping kids learn!!!!!!
#1. The Mayor and the Superintendent get in on the reform boat [November 2007].
Not to be outdone by hotshot Steve Barr’s Green Dot reform package, both Superintendent Brewer and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa have just recently jumped onto the reform wagon. After an unsuccessful attempt at a coup of the entire district, Antonio has settled on leading 3 “clusters” of schools (3 high schools and their feeder middle and elementary schools) into the future. Meanwhile, Superintendant Brewer has just released his plan to radically reform the 34 lowest performing middle and high schools in the district. My school, Cochran Middle School, is one of the named 34 so it will be very interesting to see if this new plan actually does the things it needs to do (reduce my class size down from 30-35 to 25, and actually hold kids back who don’t meet grade promotion requirements….after all, why try if you can fail ALL your classes and still move on to the next grade) and not be just another document filled with district rhetoric and fluff to make it sound like we’re progressing. What matters is kids, and this is what it seems we keep forgetting about time after time!
Anyway, that pretty much recaps the year 2007 (actually, it doesn’t even come close to recapping the entire year, but hey, it sounds cool)! Thanks for those of you who’ve read this far! You each have earned 1000 points and a gold star!