Wednesday, September 30, 2009


By Diana L. Chapman

The Los Angeles school district last week placed San Pedro High School – my son’s campus -- on the list of 12 campuses that can now be taken over by outside operators for failure to improve.

Since Ryan goes there, I quickly assessed the real meaning, and as usual, it comes down to this: “It’s all politics ma’ dear.”

Putting that into perspective, I don’t believe for a second that San Pedro High School is one of the worst in the district. It’s not the best either and has definite issues, not all caused by the school. For example, its overcrowded (a problem the district created) and has more than ten percent of its students drop out (a problem society created.)

Some of the staff, however, have become entrenched and are not engaging their students. We are on the third principal in less than six years. An enthusiastic Jeanette Stevens – the new principal who accepted the post in August – had little idea that the school would be placed on the nicely-named: “focus list,” along with Gardena, Garfield, Maywood, Lincoln and Jefferson high schools.

The LAUSD school board, this fall, opened the door to allow non-profits to go after 12 underperforming schools – and 24 brand new schools – while competing against Los Angeles Unified’s own staff, a competition the board believes will prompt improvement amid its most ailing campuses.

Without using the words, the focus list seems like a hit list of campuses that failed its students with low test scores and more than 21 percent of its students unable to cope proficiently with English or math. That district’s action can possibly trigger a bidding process – so to speak -- for outside operators – charters and non-profits – to take a shot at running any of the schools on the list.

Stevens and her crews can also compete which is exactly what the principal plans to do – and win.

I have a theory about why this has happened to our school of 3,375 students. But first, let me start with Richard Wagoner, a caring, San Pedro High math teacher, who charges the district’s mathematical equation remains incorrect and that he was demoralized when his phone rang off the hook with friends “wanting to know how I could work at such a lousy school.”

He disputes, for instance, that while the API (Academic Performance Index) went down last year, the school has increased by 40 points the year prior and maintains overall one of the highest math scores in the district that can compete with other nearby district high schools, including Torrance.

 “Yet in interviews you continue to give the impression that we are a failure,”

Wagoner wrote LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines. “Whether this is by design,
statements out of context, or accident, the facts are so easily obtained and so
obviously opposed to this impression. Unfortunately, perception is reality, and you
are hurting us by continuing to spread this perception.”

Here’s what I think in a nutshell and I know not everyone will agree: San Pedro was classified this way to force the staff to work closer with the new principal – as relations between the staff and top executive year’s past were: frozen, locked up, stale-mated, going nowhere, burned up, lambasted.

The former principal, on his way out, left a scathing letter behind that the staff refused change. That may be so, and now the ball is in the hands of our new principal, who should I say has her hands full.

Whatever plan offered by outside agencies, Stevens and her crew will have to beat out other proposals that come forward – if any.

Cortines and the school board have the final say on who will run the school.

Stevens, known for remarkable team-building skills, nurturing of students, and bringing her staff together, crusades that she’s already has an excellent staff in place and that they are teaching. The students are willing to learn and what the school needs to discover is a fresh approach in the “the art of teaching.”

“Clearly, we’ve got to make it better for the kids and keep their interest,” she explained adding that “we are going to win that contract or whatever it is.”

Many things piled on top of each other making it difficult to manage San Pedro High. For example, it has about 1,375 students more than it was built to handle. The leadership became a revolving door and then came the real slam: the school received about a D rating during the accreditation process.

But Teresa Feldman, whose child attends Hollywood High School, said she sees the most recent action as a way for the district to transfer the blame.

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“I love how SP High School's administration is being put on notice to clean up their act, when the real problem stems from the District's policies that lead to serious overcrowding,” Feldman emailed.

“You can't cram all of these students onto campuses and expect anything but warehousing to take place. No adult would be able to function in the working world under these conditions, but the District assumes these children will not only function, but thrive. I hold out hope for the new principal in her endeavors, but overcrowding is a tough obstacle to overcome.”

She added that as soon as the district opened Bernstein High School near to Hollywood High – and 1,000 students transferred to the new school – Hollywood had the highest “jump in API scores in the district this year.”

I also had three emails – at least two anonymous -- suggesting San Pedro High dump the district and become a charter.

That did surprise me. Starting up a charter means a process. Teachers have to be re-interviewed to keep their jobs and the outside operator has to decide whether it wants to become an independent charter – one that operates under its own policies with its own school board – or a dependent charter.

A dependent charter keeps LAUSD as its school board and also continues the staff benefits.

When my husband heard the news about San Pedro, let’s say he wasn’t thrilled. I, on the other hand, have faith in the new principal and still believe this most recent action was done for one reason -- to give the district a way to break the ongoing stalemate.

Only time will tell us who gets to say checkmate.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009



Mr. Cortines:

I am disappointed that in the press and in interviews you give the
false impression that San Pedro High School is one of the most
under performing schools in LD8 or LAUSD. Just this morning people
called me after watching the morning news with a quote from you
stating -- or insinuating -- such, wanting to know how I could work at
such a "lousy" school.

For your background information, year after year, San Pedro High
School has led Local District 8 in API and AYP. This year, due in
large part to decisions made by your own administrators, our API went
down, but this is after a more than FOURTY POINT INCREASE last year.
Further, our API places us within the top 15 of high schools in the
entire district. A quick glance shows that in the last decade we have
had huge increases in scores, and we dominate LD8 and much of the
district in math scores overall; scores in Algebra 2 and higher place
us among such high-achieving schools and districts as Palos Verdes,
Torrance, Redondo and Mira Costa. San Pedro High also tends to have
one of the higher first-time pass rates for the high school exit exam
in the entire district. San Pedro High is also a school where numerous
teachers send our own children to be educated. We are not a failure by
any stretch of the imagination.

Yet in interviews you continue to give the impression that we are a
failure. Whether this is by design, statements out of context, or
accident, the facts are so easily obtained and so obviously opposed
to this impression. Unfortunately, perception is reality, and you are
hurting us by continuing to spread this perception.

Can you please correct the perception that you created by (1) placing
one of your top schools on a list known in the news as "the failing
schools" list and (2) your statements in the press by making clear
that San Pedro High is not one of the most under performing schools in
either LAUSD or LD8, but that you hope to help take us to greater
heights? On behalf of the staff, students, parents and administration,
It would be most appreciated.

And if you are in town, please stop by and say hello. I would love to
show you some of the great things we do.


Richard Wagoner
Math Teacher
Commissioner, California Curriculum Commission

Saturday, September 26, 2009

New San Pedro High Principal Taken a Bit Off-Guard By Los Angeles Unified’s Announcement that Her School Will Have To Compete With a New Plan or the Campus Could Be Doled Out to a Charter; Her Staff Readies for the Challenge

They’ll Win, She Contends

By Diana L. Chapman

Having just started this past August, the new San Pedro High School Principal, Jeanette Stevens, was packed a punch Friday when the school district announced that the overcrowded campus could be targeted for take-over by outside agencies.

“I had a little bit of an inkling, but I was still surprised,” Stevens said calling from Field of Dreams where she was watching her children play soccer on Saturday morning. “I mean this is San Pedro. I didn’t think we’d be on the list. We are not the lowest performing school in the district.”

Stevens, a San Pedro resident, has two children at Park Western Avenue Elementary School.

Surprised as she was, Stevens – hand-picked for the post due to her steady leadership skills, fostering fresh approaches and team building – accepted the decision as a challenge to her and her staff – one they were prepared to meet head-on.

Reached mid-morning, the principal, who came as the third top gun of the ailing school in less than four years, said she decided to turn this into “a positive” even though the “focus list” names the 12 schools – which also included Gardena High-- as failing to meet several district standards.

On Friday, Stevens and the staff scrambled to get out a letter in 6th period to parents so they wouldn’t panic. Despite all the hurried attempts, not all parents received the letter. The school has about 3,375 students.

“The superintendent has assured us that the process of being identified as a focus school 

is about providing our school with the appropriate supports to continue to develop
and implement plans that meet the needs of our students,” Stevens wrote to parents.
“We know these supports will also go hand in hand with the accreditation process
with the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.”

Staff members and the principal have worked to improve its chances to renew its accreditation and will continue to work toward that goal. But Stevens added that she viewed the additional support as help rather than interference.

“We have to believe as a teacher’s community that the superintendent is going to help us,” Stevens explained. “It’s great to have a second set of hands and eyes so we can really target our corrective actions. That’s a map to success.”

The standards, which determined which campuses were identified, included: lack of improvement over a three-year period, failure to raise the API (Academic Performance Index) or having less than 21 percent of its students proficient in English or math.

Another standard – used only for the high schools – was whether the dropout rate was higher than ten percent.

Called the “Public School Choice,” the identification of those schools along with 24 brand new schools in the district opens the doors to outside agencies to bid to operate the campus – a first in Los Angeles school district history and possibly a revolutionary pathway to reform the cumbersome district that handles 700 plus schools. LAUSD will have to compete to maintain the named campuses against charters or other organizations that might come up with a better proposal for operations.

“I just think we have to come up with the best plan and we are going to win that contract, or whatever it is,” Stevens responded assuredly. “Clearly, we’ve got to make it better for the kids and keep their interest.”

San Pedro High –faced with overcrowding, inconsistent leadership and staff entrenchment -- received what many education officials considered about a D performance and was given two-years to clean up its act to renew its accreditation.

The staff, she said, has worked consistently with her to discover different ways to improve the school, including researching “the art of learning” with various educators and asking the local community to step forward, from parents to local organizations.

Stevens already has toured the Boys and Girls Club and plans to fashion a relationship with the club – and other organizations – to aid in ensuring the performance levels are going up. The Boys and Girls Club has successfully launched a College Bound program, which offers intense training for their members to get into universities.

“There are just a lot of things on the table,” Stevens said. “We are waiting for more information. That’s when I will be really able to steer us in the right direction.”

In the short period since Stevens arrived, she has concluded that the students “are amazing,” the staff works diligently to educate the children and that the sports program continues its excellence. Now, the campus needs to go beyond that.

“These are our kids,” she said. “Let’s love them and nurture them like they are our own."

Friday, September 25, 2009



“A school of dolphins is what we are. We can swim very far. In leaps and bounds we make our way, closer to our goal each day.” -- School Motto

By Diana L. Chapman

Point Fermin Elementary School was dolphin-leaping happy Friday when officials unveiled its new status as the first elementary campus to obtain marine magnet standing in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

The school will now be called the Point Fermin Marine Science Magnet and may set the pace for forming magnets that link directly to local middle and high schools.

The celebration attracted a lot of big fish, including Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Los Angeles schools superintendent, Ramon Cortines, School Board member Richard Vladovic and Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal.

With students singing dolphin songs and the mayor saying; “I love dolphins!” students and parents alike beamed with pleasure at the new status – even though it’s been three-years in the making under the direction of Principal Bonnie Taft.

The mayor reveled in the sea marine theme saying it was logical to open the magnet in San Pedro since so “many here live by the sea.”

Regional School Superintendent, Linda Del Cueto, told the students: “I am so proud of you and every single person here today. If I could go back in time to elementary school, I’d want to be right here by the sea.”

Villaraigosa wasn’t the only one celebrating. Board Member Vladovic expressed extreme pleasure with this decision, because now three schools in San Pedro can connect as a marine magnet. San Pedro High School already has such a program in place and Dana Middle School officials, he said, are working on a plan to bring in such a magnet.

This aids the district, he explained, to unify and streamline schools, no matter the age level.

“I love what I call a focus and this brings a true focus to San Pedro,” he marveled. “Then if Dana develops this, it will stream line students all the way through. I like a thematic approach.”

State Assemblywoman, Bonnie Lowenthal, a former Long Beach Unified School Board member, applauded the move – saying when the Long Beach district produced similar schools, the results were outstanding.

“I anticipate there’s going to be a lot more energy,” she explained. “This is quite a parallel (to Long Beach) and it probably will become one of the best facilities in the area.”

No one, however, could be more delighted than the kids with the mayor tossing accolades at them, and Cortines perched on his knee so he could speak directly to the students who were sitting on the ground.

Students performed dolphin dances and sang ocean-related songs. Two students interviewed explained they loved the school and that their interest in learning increased dramatically once the school started under taking more marine related programs. The programs were fresh and exciting, they said, and kept them involved in the learning process.

“I like the ocean,” revealed Oz Ybarra, a 9-uear-old 4th grader. “We walk to many places and go to the aquarium and the Marine Mammal Care Center, a lot of places other schools don’t get to go to. There’s a whole bunch of new stuff…and we like to learn about saving the ocean.”

Student Payton Dooley, 9, said: “It’s pretty cool and we are getting computers!”

Even marine related museums officials were on hand to celebrate. The Cabrillo Marine Aquarium director, Mike Schaadt, attended the meeting along with Marifrances Trivelli, director of the Los Angeles Maritime Museum.

Thrilled with the change-over, Schaadt said it gives him a new crew of students to prepare for marine science that will put them far ahead of the game in saving oceans.

There are so many ocean related issues that people must address to keep the ocean a healthy place for animals, plants and people who live in and around it,” he said. “Marvelous programs like the Point Fermin Elementary Marine Science Magnet will interweave ocean issues throughout the curriculum of these young students. These students will have a great head start in learning to be wise stewards of the ocean.”

Only one person seemed to have mixed feelings. Parent Teacher Organization President, Amy Williams, who helped steer the school toward becoming a magnet, said her emotions are mixed because the school has yet to receive additional funding it was promised.

“We have yet to see any money for it and we’re still waiting. But, I will say, I’ve learned more going on these field trips then in my entire 15 years of education.”


By Diana L. Chapman

Los Angeles unified school officials identified twelve ill-performing campuses Friday – including Gardena and San Pedro High Schools – and 24 brand new campuses that can possibly be turned over to non-profit organizations or charters.

If Los Angeles school officials fail to present a plan that can compete with other interested organizations, it’s possible LAUSD staff could lose the campuses to other operators.

The move comes after the Los Angeles school board voted to approve “public school choice” that places its schools –either new or underperforming – in a competitive process with other interested organizations.

Linda Del Cueto, district superintendent for the region where Gardena and San Pedro fall,  saw this as an excellent challenge to her staff: “Plan writing for Public School choice will be a complex, intense process. Local District 8 is up for this 
challenge!” she emailed.

In essence, the actoin means all thirty-six schools can go out to bid to operators beside LAUSD. LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines will determine which plan best suits the campus and will take his suggestions to the school board.

The information, released late Friday afternoon, determined which schools continued to fail and had not met several standards. This included:

· a zero or negative increase in student Academic Index Performance (API),

· a less than 21 percent proficiency in students in English or math

· failure to improve status over three year period.

In addition, San Pedro and Gardena campuses were both included because they have a higher than 10 percent dropout rate, according to documents Cortines released Friday.

School Board Member Richard Vladovic, whose area includes both Gardena and San Pedro high schools, said he was disappointed that two campuses in his region made the “focus list.”

He added, however, that he has great faith in the new LAUSD San Pedro High principal, Jeanette Stevens, and that the “well-defined” community of San Pedro will be able to save its school as a regular, publicly operated Los Angeles campus.

“I don’t believe San Pedro will go charter,” Vladovic explained, contending that the community and faculty will have to pull itself together to keep such an action from happening.

“I’m hoping it will bring everyone together and I believe the community will step up.”

As far as Gardena High School, the struggle might be greater to continue as an LAUSD school, due to the fact that the student population comes from all over the region.

Four other high school campuses were on the list, including Gardena, Maywood, Lincoln and Jefferson. Carver, Burbank and San Fernando Middle Schools were tallied as poor performers, along with three elementary campuses: Hyde Park, Griffith Joyner and Hillcrest.

Parties interested in operating the campuses, either new or poor performing schools, must submit a finalized application by January 8th.

Schools within this list – new or underperforming – must include parents and students as part of their focus groups to come up with a plan.

“I do not support the concept of handing over schools to outside providers or hostile takeovers – our students need collaborative partnerships in order to be successful,” Cortines wrote the school board. “If an organization has an innovative strategy and a proven track record, it should bring the plan to the table for all of us to learn from it and then I can decide which organization has the capacity to implement it most effectively.

“We have many successes and challenges in our district, and there are plenty of opportunities for us to work together. The artificial walls between union and

management, district and charter, etc. need to be torn down.”

San Pedro High’s principal could not be reached for comment.

David Kooper, chief-of-staff for Richard Vladovic, who lives in San Pedro, explained San Pedro now will be forced to come up with a plan at the troubled-plagued campus, which has faced overcrowding, inconsistent leadership and more recently, a poor accreditation rating.

“It just means that they need to submit a plan they believe will be

successful and that plan or any others will be recommended by the Superintendent for the board to vote on it,” Kooper explained.“It is difficult to say what this means until I know who else, if anybody ,is competing against San Pedro High School and whether or not the Superintendent believes that the school is committed and able to reform the issues that is plaguing it.”