Friday, February 19, 2010



Some facts about the move to keeping 6th graders at the elementary school campuses.

1) No places will be held for them in the magnet system (i.e. Dodson Magnet) as 7th graders should the parents decide to keep 6th graders on the elementary school campus.

2) Park Western will not be hosting a 6th grade program in 2010-2011.

3) Parents at 7th Street School and South Shores Magnet have petitioned the principals to consider hosting 6th grade classes on their campuses.

4) The teachers in the performing arts at Dodson ask the incoming 6th graders to make a 3-year commitment to their programs. There are no beginning classes in the performing arts generally offered to 7th and 8th graders. (A few older students are periodically allowed into the beginning classes or into the advanced classes at the discretion of the teacher.)

5) Beginning music classes at Dana usually have only 6th graders. For the student who has never played an instrument, this is where it can most easily begin.

6) The elementary school campuses will not require that PE be taught to 6th graders.

I have not yet heard what the curriculum will be for any of the 6th grade elementary school programs. Open Court is not something that is done at either Dana or Dodson. Will there be electives offered in the 6th grades at the elementary schools? Will there be funding for pre-algebra to be taught at the elementary schools? What will the class sizes be on the elementary schools? Will the 6th graders at these local elementary schools be cheated out of the education dollars that would be spent on them at Dana and Dodson?

Clearly, much has not yet been determined with these programs. It is my sincere hope that parents are able to get answers to these questions before deciding where to enroll their 6th grade students this fall.

--Rachel Fischer


The coach of the SPHS Academic Decathlon team, Mrs. Cathy Figueracion, asked me to convey both her and the SPHS Academic Decathlon team's thanks for our San Pedro Toastmasters members whose efforts helped the team in support of this year’s speech competition .

The team wishes to thank in particular, those Club 111 Toastmasters who participated: Joe Marino, Walt McHugh, Scott Carter, Jim Gioia, and Tom Butler. The SPHS team finished fourth in the LAUSD competition between 64 LAUSD high schools. The fourth place finish is the highest rank the team has placed and gives SPHS the opportunity to compete in the California State Academic Decathlon as a wild card team. Thanks again to Toastmasters and the SPHS AccaDecca for a job well done.

Tom Butler
Club 111 VP, Public Relations.

Bloch Field has launched its recruitment for baseball players from ages five to 15, but is also looking for teenagers 16 and over to put together a Colt team – especially for youth who want to continue playing, but might not have made their high school team.

To register, either stop off at the San Pedro YMCA at 301 Bandini Street or register at Bloch Field Feb. 20 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. 1500 S. Harbor Boulevard.

Costs are $65 per player and the program is sponsored by the San Pedro YMCA. Opening day is on Saturday April 10.

As always, volunteer coaches are needed. For more information, contact or call (310) 832-4211 ext. 2097.


Bloch Field will host one of the first mini-tournaments ever played in San Pedro where four elementary schools will vie against each other during a softball game on March 6.

John Delgado, who coordinates the programs at Bloch, wanted to bring more of the community together to have fun, enjoy the game and get kids from other schools to come together.
The four schools that will play against each other are: Barton Hill, Bandini Street, 15th Street and Cabrillo Avenue Elementary.

For more information, contact John Delgado at the above phone number or email address.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


By Diana L. Chapman

Teachers, parents and school officials balked over the past week calling the return of sixth grade students to many local elementaries an action that was not planned carefully and leaves many teachers and parents bewildered and confused.

Los Angeles School Board Member Richard Vladovic -- who always opposed sixth graders marching off to middle school – plans to launch a pilot program in the fall in which ten Harbor area schools, many in San Pedro, can convert to the configuration – if they desire.

Parents of the selected schools can still have the option to send their children to middle school.

While some parents bounced with joy about the news, critics called the move too quick and unorganized to usher in and understand all the consequences. With the district wilting under financial crises, it was unclear what it would mean for teachers’ jobs at either the elementary or middle school level. In addition, Seventh Street School elementary parents – who make a huge investment in their school on a daily basis -- said they were devastated to be left out.

“The majority of the parents just want that extra year for their child to mature,” said Jeannie De La Cruz, president of Seventh Street’s Parent Teacher Organization. “My son was 10 when he went to Dana (Middle School). He was so shy and timid. Parents have said if they don’t get this, they will take their child to a school where it does go to sixth grade.”

Some sixth grade teachers at the two middle schools will be relocated to elementary campuses, school officials said.

David Kooper, Vladovic’s chief of staff, explained that as an educator for 40 years, Vladovic believed sixth graders were to young to be shunted off to middle campuses– and placed it high on his list of change along with taking students off year-round schools.

School officials, Kooper said, did not conduct this in secrecy.

“Decisions are complicated and some of these schools are not

ideal locations for k-6 because of their dependence
on… bungalows, lack of auxiliary space, and
the Dodson Magnet has no guarantee policy from the magnet

office,” Kooper explained. “This is difficult and an
important decision to make and I am glad it is happening at
the school level rather than a mandate.”
About 19 South Los Angeles elementary campuses have no choice

but to go with the new configuration due to overcrowding
at their feeder schools, he said.

While some accused the district of not consulting with teachers – and either principal at the two local intermediate campuses – Dodson and Dana Middle schools – district officials said all principals were notified early on about the upcoming possibility, said Shannon Lee, who heads intermediate schools for the region where the pilot was launched.

“ They knew pretty quickly,” Lee said. “I made the calls. They were brought to the table, but they didn’t have all the information yet.” As far as sixth grade teachers fearing for jobs, she added, it all comes down to seniority and not the configuration.

The district undertook a survey and called elementary school principals throughout the region asking if they were interested in becoming a k-6 program and if they had enough space.

Those that responded with interest, and had room, were included in the pilot program to begin in the fall -- once their School Site Council approves it.

The ten schools that were targeted for the pilot are: Crestwood , White Point, Bandini, Barton Hill, Taper, Leland, Park Western – all in San Pedro – and 156 Street in Gardena, Annalee in Carson and Van Deene Avenue in the Harbor Gateway.

Still, some teachers and parents claim middle school principals and teachers were not consulted enough and that sixth grade teachers at both Dana and Dodson could lose their jobs. They also argued that keeping children at the lower-tiered schools overly coddles students and doesn’t allow them to grow.

Seventh Street parents, however, are still fighting to become part of the plan.

“We are a California Distinguished school,” contended De La Cruz, the school’s PTO president, who added that the parents would give up their Parent Center just to keep their children one more year at Seventh Street. “We have great test scores. We have a lot of parents involved. We’ve earned it.”

Despite that, the principal and other school officials were not encouraging. Should Seventh Street join in the pilot now, it would deplete the numbers at Dana and make it difficult for the intermediate campus to run any sixth grade program.

As it is, Dana will drop to about 330 sixth graders and Dodson to around 270, about half the numbers that existed before, Lee said. The principals at both schools have been invited to go to the elementary campuses and explain their program.

That’s “public school choice,”Kooper added

The selected ten schools include: Crestwood , White Point, Bandini, Barton Hill, Taper, Leland, Park Western – all in San Pedro – and 156 Street in Gardena, Annalee in Carson and Van Deene Avenue in the Harbor Gateway.

Even though ten schools have been targeted, they can still opt out of the programs, said Mike Romero, who supervises elementary schools in District Eight, which stretches throughout the Harbor area and includes Lomita, Gardena, and South Los Angeles.

More will be known by the end of the week, he added, once all the school site councils have voted on the plan.

“You understand that this is a pilot program,” Romero explained. “We wanted to start on a small basis and process it…We just couldn’t have all the elementary schools in Local District Eight,” change all at once.

While some Seventh Street teachers and parents desperately want to be included, South Shores Elementary instructors seemed to turn back the tide when parents were initially excited about the possibility – even though it was not one of the ten targeted schools.

“As a parent of a 4th and a 5th grade student, I would not like to see South

Shores go k-6,” said one parent, who asked to remain anonymous. “The first I heard of it, I was excited and all for it.

“After looking at the plan, (which was pretty much up in the air) I don't think it would be a good idea. Of course our family would love one more year but it wouldn't be the same environment as it has been. There would be overcrowding, traffic overflow and the auditorium hardly has room for families as of now…

“I would like to see my son enjoy his last year at South Shores, cherish his good memories, take all his good experiences, and move on to Jr. High school.”

Sixth grade teachers, fearing for their jobs during a reign of layoffs and the sizing down of many departments, left several anonymous postings on the stating that both Dana and Dodson Middle Schools have programs that the sixth graders would not receive – such as joining an award-winning band at Dana and other electives.

They also fumed that staff instructors had no voice in the planning. As the debate rages – with many unanswered questions according to all sides – one parent asked that no matter the emotions “for the sake of everyone concerned, I hope this change can take placed smoothly in a dignified way.”

Friday, February 12, 2010


By Diana L. Chapman

The other night, an acquaintance moaned about the struggles of running an after school program at a Los Angeles Unified High School.

The problem wasn’t with the San Pedro High students he prepped for an upcoming academic decathlon on a volunteer basis. In fact, the kids blew Tom Butler away with their speech abilities; they climbed far beyond his expectations.

Shortly before the decathlon, Butler was stunned when two of his students were yanked from the team due to a little known policy that basically halts students in middle school and up --who average below a C -- from participating in field trips, after school programs and any other extracurricular activity.

This policy reminds me of the Berlin Wall; the time for it to come down – was yesterday.

As the school board marches forward with a revolutionary change in the district – beckoning charter schools to bid on 24 brand new campuses because they might educate better than some in-house officials – I am branding this policy with a big red X to remind the board this too should fall under the new revolution.

Instead of acting as an incentive, for many students this is just another nasty reality nail pummeled into their educational coffin for these reasons:

--The school district has 718,000 students, nearly two-thirds of whom qualify for partial or fully subsidized lunches, a way that marks out the poverty level of many LAUSD students. On top of this, hundreds of our students come from broken homes, live in criminal-ridden neighborhoods, have gangsters, drug addicts or alcoholics for parents, and more issues than most of us will have in a lifetime. Telling kids like that they can’t attend an after school program – the very thing that might change their lives around – makes no sense whatsoever.

In case school officials have missed it, this policy obviously isn’t working since we have a near 50 percent dropout rate and an average SAT scores of 450 in both English and Math.

Here are the reasons I opposed the policy the way its written now:

· --Teachers frequently say that field trips can make remarkable changes in students, who still have yet to find their niche or their interests. It gives teachers another tool to reach kids who are going nowhere quickly and often goes something like this: Johnny’s science brain – which has slept at the wheel for the past eight years – suddenly came out of its slumber on an expedition at sea to study fish and other sea life. This happens routinely on outings – and that’s why teachers will often like to take those sleepy heads on projects outside of school.

· --In my years of volunteering at schools, the one word I’ve heard repeated over and over again from many students is that they are “worthless.” It doesn’t make them feel any better about themselves to be banned from field trips, after school programs or other activities – and believe me – this doesn’t go unnoticed by their peers – who understand perfectly why a student is not allowed to attend. Yikes! Just add another nail hammered in, because now the student is embarrassed, humiliated and starts to see no reason to go to school.

· --After school programs can be just like field trips. They help a child explore areas in school that they might not take otherwise – such as dancing, sports, art and music – when its offered. One non-profit apparently helps students study for the written portion of the driving test after school. For the same reason as field trips, we should not ban this completely to students with poor grades.

I have come to see this black-and-white rule – which needs to transform right now – as much more painful, harmful and humiliating than the incentive it was meant to be. It reminds me once again that huge pieces remain missing from the giant tapestry that educates a kid; words such as inspiration, nuturing and creativity have fallen by the wayside and been replaced with the mighty all test scores.

Test scores are the monitor for intelligence, but wasn’t it Albert Einstein who flunked math! ?

Instead of honing in on students strengths, we – the adults -- are not letting them forget their weaknesses – and in fact – air them out on the clothesline by punishing them further. For students whose confidence already is fragile, school just provides them with one more dead end.

If our job means helping kids find themselves, then let’s figure out where their talent is and direct them using carrots from after school programs as incentives.

Take for instance, this kid:

Ramon, (whose name has been changed) was a middle school student who had tremendous athletic abilities, was a leader among his peers and was on the border of becoming either the athlete he could have become or a gang member. His grades were poor and many of his family members were in gangs. Due to the C policy, Ramon was not allowed to participate in the very thing that may have saved him – sports.

And he definitely had something worth saving. Other students liked him immensely. He was hilarious and if you were a friend, he’d save you from just about anything. One day, he spotted some students bullying a special education student around and was so outraged, he had to be forced to sit down to stop him from intervening.

The point is this: we should have used incentives for Ramon, such as allowing him to practice after school with the team – but not allowing him to play without bringing his grades up. After awhile, it got to the point for Ramon there was just nothing left for him at school. Last I heard, he dropped out and joined a hard-core gang.

I can’t help but think he won’t make it past 18.

There are many Ramons and I’ve met them over the years. But even worse, are the middle of the road students who seem to believe they have no value – the boy who saw his best friend shot by gang members in front of him, the teen whose stepfather told him he was “worthless,” so he believed it, the girl that considered school her savior because her homelife came with parents on meth.

These are the same students – I watched turn their lives around over night with a bit of help from programs such as the Boys and Girls Club College Bound program.

These are the same students who don’t need to be punished any further. They already have been numerous times.

So I’m asking LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines and the school board to allow administrators, teachers and coaches -- as a team to keep this on the up and up especially when it comes to sports – to use the very activities they’ve banned – as incentives to keep kids in school, keep their minds ticking and encourage them to bring their grades -- “a hybrid,” or a compromise as one school official noted.

Yep, it’s a bit more work, but it will be worth it.

I know every kid has a talent. Teachers know this too. So don’t take their tools away that just might be the key to unlock a kid’s heart.

As far as the decathlon, Butler said they lost the first event (winning later), but he was more dismayed the district missed the point. The students probably learned more studying for the decathlon than in the classroom.

I can’t sum it up better than my friend, a former culinary teacher at San Pedro High who wrote about a student she calls Hector who was big, bored, uninterested in football and gangs, had poor grades and was just trying to get by. He lived in the projects and no one in his family had a high school degree.

Within a few weeks of her cooking class – in his senior year – Hector at last came to life.

When the stovetop turned on “Hector was hooked…He could not get enough, ” she said.

“He filled out an application, wrote an essay, got letters of recommendation and was accepted into a cooking competition!” Sandy Wood wrote. “He stayed after school almost every day for weeks to practice. He won a scholarship to a culinary school in New England! …He called me after a week or so and said, “There are no Mexicans here!” I told him,: “There are now!

“I have seen many Hectors, and Lisas, and Matthews, and Jennifers. I have seen the fire move from the stovetop into their hearts.”

So we don’t lose these students, let’s keep the fires going and the stovetops burning – instead of stamping them out. Let’s revise that C policy now.

Monday, February 08, 2010


Dear Readers:

When former San Pedro High teacher, Sandy Wood, read this story during an event where she won an award, I begged her to send it to me. Sandy retired last year, leaving behind unfortunately an empty kitchen at the school where thousands of kids poured through her room. She often had hundreds of students on the waiting list to get into her classes.

While she changed the name of this student, I believed it was too important for more of us to hear and didn't want to let it slide by. It took me awhile to get her to submit it.

Here it is:

By Sandy Wood

Hector was pretty much a typical San Pedro kid. He grew up not in, but near “The Projects.” He was the oldest of several children. He was the first in his family to have the chance of graduating from high school. And his grades were not good.

Hector was big. The football team would have probably liked to have him on the team, but his grades would not have allowed that and besides, he was not interested. He looked like he could have headed toward the gangs, but he wasn’t interested in that either. In fact, he wasn’t interested in much.
When he came into my class as a senior, he was just looking at getting by, getting through. But then we started to cook.

And Hector was hooked. He now had a reason to come to school and a reason to do well. He could not get enough. He filled out an application, wrote an essay, got letters of recommendation and was accepted into a cooking competition!

He stayed after school almost every day for weeks to practice. He won a scholarship to a culinary school in New England! But leaving San Pedro was not something his family had ever considered. We talked and talked. After working for a year to earn living expenses, Hector got on a plane for the first time and headed to the other side of the country. He called me after a week or so and said, “There are no Mexicans here!” I told him, “There are now!”

Hector graduated from culinary school. He did well.

I have seen many Hectors, and Lisas, and Matthews, and Jennifers. I have seen the fire move from the stovetop into their hearts. That’s why I teach.