Thursday, February 04, 2010


By Diana L. Chapman

Classes were in session at Dana Middle School in San Pedro. The main hallway sat long, empty and quiet – except for one thing. There, standing outside a classroom door, was a little guy, named David, all of 11-years-old and just beginning at the middle school.

Popping out of a classroom and surprised to spot David hanging out in the hallway, I asked: “What are you doing here?”

“Waiting for my next class to start,” David stated shyly, shifting his backpack uncomfortably between his feet.

“But class isn’t for another twenty minutes. Where were you before this?” I prodded. He was scared.

“P.E. I was sitting on the bench,” he explained, “so I left so I wouldn’t be late for my next class.” That was the beginning of David’s career at middle school. He was shy, behind in reading, an absolutely wonderful kid, but not quite prepared for the big-world campus of some 1,800 plus students.

For all the David’s in the world – for which there are thousands– I can actually applaud LAUSD for launching a pilot program beginning this fall that will allow hundreds of children the choice to remain in the sixth grade at ten local elementary schools; Another 19 in South Los Angeles will -- on a mandatory basis -- adopt the same program in the fall due to severe overcrowding issues at its feeder schools.

For years now, typically sixth graders are shunted off to large, intimidating campuses that are often overcrowded, difficult to fit into socially, harder academically and come with a pile of negatives they might not have dealt with in the first tier of their education, such as drugs, alcohol and bullying.

Los Angeles School Board Member Richard Vladovic, an educator for 40 years, had long wanted to change this “from the moment he arrived on the board,” and it became his second priority, said David Kooper, his chief of staff. Vladovic’s first mission was to get students off a year round calendar system that was not nearly as effective in educating as the traditional fall to spring school calendar.

“By 2012, the schools he represents will be off of the multi-track calendar,” Kooper said. “Now is the time to make the push for K-6.”

If the proposal for the ten local schools meets with parental approval – which I suspect it easily will – the program begins in the fall. It must also pass muster with school site councils. Schools were selected partly if they had enough space to accommodate the additional students.

I want the parents to have a major voice in the education their children receive,” Vladovic said in a statement. “This decision will be made at the school level. I insisted on a parent component with this pilot. Parents need to be engaged and play a major role in their child’s education. This entire process needs to be parent driven and parent supported. I have always believed in an equal partnership with parents.”

Ever since 1985 – when Vladovic served as a principal at Locke High School -- and watched the newly designed configuration of sixth through ninth grade, he believed it wasn’t healthy for the students.

“As you know, I sponsored the ‘Small School Resolution’ which aims at personalizing schools and providing more individual attention to students, he said. “This is a continuation of that philosophy. This is a partnership with parents, community, and staff and it is aligned with our call for quality school site personnel.”

LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines encouraged the action adding: “"I am very

supportive of local communities coming together and talking about important
instructional issues like grade configuration. This is a great way to involve parents,
teachers and administrators in important conversations about student achievement.”
The action, Kooper explained, was in no way meant to attack the operations of middle

schools – just the size of the campuses.

All of the elementaries included in the pilot are under Vladovic’s jurisdiction, which stretches from San Pedro and Wilmington through Carson, Lomita the Harbor Gateway and includes parts of Gardena and South Los Angeles.

The ten campuses targeted for the pilot in the Harbor area with their principal’s blessings 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.

Along with those schools, the nineteen elementary schools in South Los Angeles will become mandatory in the fall due to severe overcrowding at the middle school complex that feeds into Fremont High School. Those campuses include: 61st, 66th, 68th, 75th, 92nd, 93rd,96th ,99th, Florence, Graham, Holmes, Lillian, Manchester, Parmelee, Russell, South Park, McKinley, Miller and Miramonte.

Parents will have the choice to send their children on to their middle schools or retain them at their current campus.

Over the years as a volunteer – I watched parents including myself -- fitfully turn over their youngsters starting at age 11 to gigantic, public middle schools.

Parents are right to be concerned – especially if they have no time to become involved. Middle schools are a place that can make or break a kid. The campuses are often overcrowded. Some students are just too young coming out of sheltered environments and are influenced by older peers.

They also switch from one teacher all day to having sometimes as many as five teachers a day in 50 minute slots where it’s hard to bond with friends, much less connect to a teacher. Instructors , on average, might teach 150 kids in a single day leaving them little time to get to know more than a handful of students personally.

In my book, there simply is just not enough adults to go around at most middle schools to help guide children, who now might be coping with social ineptness, academic hardship and an inability to ask teachers for help. Schools at this age level should never have grown so large in the first place. It’s unfair as a child develops to be swamped with so much change at once.

For the most part, middle schools turn off the tap as far as fun and nurturing and kids are pushed through the chute like they are cattle -- with little personalization.

Allowing them one more year of maturity before that happens is not a solution to the struggles of a middle school child. It is, however, a respite that gives them a better chance to survive an onslaught of change.


Anonymous said...

Thank you Dr. V!!!My children are staying at Park Western

Anonymous said...

However, as great as parents may think this is, there has been little to no thought about the 6th grade teachers at Dana and Dodson who would be displaced. I am glad that the parents are happy about people losing their jobs. Dana is a great middle school that has started to come around recently. They have a 6th grade Pre-Algebra program (which Dodson does not, and it will not be offered at the elementary school level), an award winning band (sorry kids if you choose elementary school that means no electives) and more years of the dreadful Open Court which does not teach effective comprehension or literacy.

When I went to Dana, yeah there were the tough losers there who were burn outs and such, but I did just fine. The teachers care about the students, and many are younger and teach with a passion. Personally, I hope the plan fails for the teachers sake. The 6th graders need to learn to grow up slowly, and containing them at an elementary school only makes them more babied over time.

Anonymous said...

anonymous 2 is sour grapes. this is about kids not adults. Those adults will continue to have a job with the district as the daily breeze article points out. This isn't about dana not being a good school. Dana's pre algebra program is amazing. Dodson is good as well. This is about a small environment for kids to learn in.

Anonymous said...

To anonymous 3: I am not being sour grapes. Most of the dynamic teachers at Dana are located in their 6th grade program. Claire Anton is a wonderful teacher and the Honors line is as good as any other school. Matt Spelman is a great science teacher and dedicated to his craft. Both are personable teachers. I have had relatives in both of their classes and they run a great program. (Claire Anton in Honors Science and Matt Spelman teaches the regular track) What people do not realize is that HALF of the 6th grade staff will be asked to leave. This is a very poorly thought out plan and has many loopholes. Will the displaced teachers be GUARANTEED jobs at these elementary schools or will teachers displaced at the elementary schools have priority on their matrix for positions? Will displaced teachers be allowed to bump lower seniority teachers at the elementary schools. This is a plan that was developed in under a month to appease the people that live in the White Point area since their enrollment s dwindling. (Vladovic was already on thin ice with people due to the new High School debacle). How come the principal of Dana was not interviewed or asked for comment on the issue? How come Dana was not allowed to present their side of the story and present to the parents like all of the elementary schools were allowed to do? How come the Dana staff were the LAST to know? Yes Dana is large and LAUSD has neglected the South Bay for over 20 years. This is why San Pedro needs to form its own district.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 2: You are right, how dare Dr. V try to build a school to reduce overcrowding at San Pedro High School. How dare he want to give parents what they have been asking for since the move to 6th grade to begin with. I am guessing anonymous 2 is a teacher at dana not a parent of an elementary school child.

Anonymous said...

To the last anonymous person:
Yes, I am a teacher at Dana. That is not a negative. I am against the secrecy that Vladovic and the staff of all the elementary school went about this. There was no input from the middle school. Many of us want what is best for the children. Now the elementary schools are going to use this as a way to keep their staff since their enrollment is going down. I would not have a problem with the idea if it is well thought out, and they worked with the staff. This plan has many holes, and no one, not a single reporter or parent has asked to hear the view of the middle school teachers or the principal at Dana or Dodson. That is why there is the anger, not that there is a change. However, I cannot trust Vladovic since he is just becoming a common politician een though he said he never would. Kleiner would have been 10 times better.

Now, when my children are old enough I want them to go to a good elementary school. That will either be South Shores or White Point. However, I do realize the fact they needs to move on and not be bound to a small school and have opportunities so I would send them to Dana and be active in their education and schooling. Many parents are, and their children turn into wonderful students, and become very responsible. From a psychological standpoint, I feel that keeping them at the elementary school is babying them and hindering their development. This whole plan is based on a SINGLE research article that is over three years old. I tell you, this plan is flawed.

Anonymous said...

to last anonymous, isn't the point of this that it would be your ability to make that selection for your child rather than having no option at all? You are making the point that it is a parents choice, not a district mandate, that tells you what is best for your child.

Anonymous said...

Last anonymous,

I agree it should be the parents choice and am not denying that. However, why not include the middle school in on the discussions. All of the teachers at Dana found out mostly from the Daily Breeze article. We were never told! That is very deceptive on the elementary schools behalf. Dana has a very strong Honors program and is the only school in the area to offer a 6th grade pre- algebra class. Also, the band at Dana is one of the best around, and that include high school bands as well. The teachers in 6th grade are very passionate about their students and their teaching. These are the younger teachers and the ones who would be lost.

When Dana made the last jump about 10 years ago and went 6-8, it was a year long process and included people for an easy transition. The mood around Dana is that now all of the EL students. discipline problems, and special education students would be shipped off to Dana leaving the elementary schools with only their "cream of the crop" students". There is no guarantee for jobs of the displaced 6th grade teachers for these 6th grade jobs at the elementary schools, and Vladovic nor any of the principals have come to talk to Dana about the issue. This plan was made available long before to the parents, and Dana never fairly got to present its side. The staff at this point is very against this idea due to the feeling that we have been duped and deceived.

Anonymous said...

As a LAUSD educator AND the parent of a fifth grader, I understand both sides of the dilemma.

I most definitely understand the position of the teachers at Dana and Dodson who do not want to lose staff. We lost some of our best at the elementary level last year with the class size increases, and it was heartbreaking for all concerned. This change means more children at the elementary schools and fewer at the middle schools (at least for next year). Personnel will shift accordingly. Many elementary school teachers were forced into middle school this year because there were no spots for them. Now the shoe is on the other foot. Last year, displaced elementary teachers went reluctantly to their new assignments at middle school, but they went without making a federal case about it.

As a parent, I would rather have my child continue at the elementary level for sixth grade. I think my child will survive without having an elective next year, and I welcome the opportunity for one more year on a smaller campus. Elementary schools who are taking on sixth grade will implement departmentalization so that the children are prepared for the routine and workload in middle school. To that end, the middle school teachers who will be displaced would be an asset to any elementary school that is taking on sixth grade.

I personally do not feel that this was a conspiracy, or that anyone was duped. Yes, it was done without much warning, but the process remains the same as for any major change at a school. The School Site Council must vote to approve the reconfiguration.

For the sake of everyone concerned, I hope that this change can take place smoothly and in a dignified way.

Anonymous said...

I am a parent at an elementary school I believe dr vladovic and his staff are trying to look good for re election next year. I am all for sixth grade at elementary schools, but he did not think out the entire process. What about the children who want to go to dodson magnet? They are not guaranteed a spot by staying at their elementary school, so those parents can't take the chance that they will have to mainstream their child. No one did give thought that most of the schools in san Pedro are trying this out and maybe we should of mandated it for san Pedro because of this seventh grade mess. It is a great plan, with lots of flaws. Our district 8 superintendent Linda del cuerto and mike romero should of thought this through so that when it was presented to the parents, it would not come off as such a negative thing. Our children are our number one priority and our future, and in a town with a very over crowded high school and only two public middle schools, they need to relieve
some of the overcrowding. This can be done , but lausd is not the most helpful district .