Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Rumors Abound that San Pedro High School Lost Its Accreditation; But Not So Fast School Officials Say; While Piles of Work Remain Necessary to Maintain the Rating in the Future, the Overcrowded High School Obtained a Two Year Reprieve and Has A Miraculous Chance of Recovery in the Next Year

At Its First Parent Meeting Tuesday, School Officials Listened and Did Not Dispute a Flood of Criticism Mothers and Fathers Released About Teachers Who Failed to Return Phone Calls, Deadwood on the Staff List and a Litany of Other Woes; Despite Some Ugly Words; Parents Appeared Eager to Help Cure the Ills

By Diana L. Chapman

Despite a litany of criticisms about San Pedro High School, school officials bucked up and listened at its first parent meeting regarding the possibility—but not probability—that the overcrowded campus could lose its accreditation.

Without accreditation, student transcripts would not be honored at colleges and universities.

The meeting launches a series of forums about the issue.

The rating becomes a must for all high schools – and colleges. If the school loses this status, universities could refuse to admit the school’s students, said Linda Del Cueto, who oversees 95 schools in Region 8 , including San Pedro, for Los Angeles Unified.

In its opening series of meetings and forums, parents unloaded shovelsful of issues with the school, from teachers failing to return phone calls or emails and worse – failing to teach.

Faced with the anger, Del Cueto encouraged parents to call her directly. She reaffirmed that staff and parents need to work together to ensure San Pedro High School’s future. Failing to return phone calls, she said, is unacceptable.

The good news, she explained: The school did not lose its accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. The bad news: The reviewers said the school failed to improve in the areas of student engagement, academic rigor and applying state standards.

“We can do great things if we pull together,” Del Cueto told more than 50 parents attending the meeting at the school. “Parents, teachers, administration and the staff must come together on the progress report.

“It’s all of us together.”

The school has until June 2010 to prove it has made the improvements.

Before she was able to present the favorable findings of the assessment team, parents complained profusely about the fact that 48 percent of the students don’t graduate and a myriad other frustrations.

“It’s not a student problem,” one father argued. “Let’s talk about resistance. It seems to me this school needs to make some drastic changes. It’s a systemic problem.”

Troubling figures were tossed out at the meeting, such as 70 percent of the students have either D’s or F’s in a core class.

Another parent revealed: “We have a lot of deadwood on the faculty, and there’s a lot of teachers who don’t teach. I could tell stories for hours.”

“We don’t get calls back and my daughter learned nothing, absolutely nothing, in geometry,” complained a mother, herself an educator – who contended her daughter, a gifted student, received a D, which limits her college choices.

Tammy Wood, a parent who struggled, often alone, to improve the school, pleaded with other parents to become more involved and visit the parent center for information and the advocacy they need.

“I’ve been at this for six years, and we need more parents,” said Wood of her struggle to make San Pedro High an exemplary school. “I’ve been a lone voice.”

Should the school lose its accreditation – which rarely happens in a school district where campuses are given multiple chances to make good on the issues – the entire faculty can be replaced, and the decision-making authority is taken over by another agency.

While a series of troubles were discovered at the school site, the accreditation agency explained there are some favorable attributes, such as strong community relations and the relative safety of the campus.

One concern that surfaced repeatedly is that students don’t feel the campus staff respects them. The school was designed for 2,000 students. Current enrollment is 3,150.

At one point, enrollment was 3,500, but many students enrolled at other schools such as the Port of Los Angeles charter school and the Harbor Teachers Preparation Academy. By the end of the meeting, the participants’ once-contentious demeanor showed a sense of humor.

Principal Bob DiPietro told me afterward he was actually pleased by the parents’ anger, because it showed they were concerned about their children’s welfare.

“It’s difficult to listen, and it’s all stuff I’ve heard before,” he said. “But then I think: ‘Hey, these are taxpayers, and the most important thing in the world is that they’re concerned about their children.’ ”

For more information, visit San Pedro High’s website: http://www.sanpedrohs.org.

Education Humor for the Day: Overhearing a phone conversation her 8th grade son was having, Linda Del Cueto – in charge of a giant cluster of 95 LAUSD schools – eavesdropped while he told a friend he couldn’t talk to his parents because “They aren’t too bright.” His father is an LAUSD high school principal.