Saturday, July 31, 2010

By Diana L. Chapman
Six small learning communities called “houses” and an entirely new schedule will welcome students this fall when they return to San Pedro High School – as part of a swath of changes the new principal hammered out with her staff.
The alterations are expected to potentially transform the beleaguered school – long layered with issues such as poor accreditation, entrenched staff, overcrowding  and low test scores – in a matter of a few years and help students forge closer relationships with their teachers and friends in their communities.
School officials also expect the changes to prep students for college and their futures.
Los Angeles School Board Member Richard Vladovic, who oversees the San Pedro 
community, said:  "I am thrilled that the San Pedro High School educational 
community came together and agreed upon a framework for student success.  
I have no doubt that great strides will be made at Pedro in the next few years.  
They have set a course for excellence and have a great Captain of the ship.”
In late spring, the school also received another year of accreditation, but will come under close scrutiny over the next several years due to its drop in test scores which prompted the Los Angeles Unified school board to place the campus under its controversial “public school choice,” opening it to being run by outside operators.
Upper LAUSD administrators have wholeheartedly endorsed the proposals pulled together by new principal Jeanette Stevens and her faculty, calling her a bright spot among school principals for her keen collaborative skills.
“Jeannette Stevens is an outstanding instructional leader,” said Mike Romero,
 the local superintendent of the region and Steven’s boss.  “The professional
 development focus is on teaching and learning the California Content Standards 
every day, in every classroom. 

“The San Pedro High School faculty has had an opportunity to express
concerns and different ways to approach the work.  Ms. Stevens has
listened with an empathetic ear and has made mid-course corrections.
However, she is fearless in moving ahead with implementing contiguous
space to solidify smaller learning communities and has demonstrated the
importance of modifying bell schedule to provide enhanced interventions.”

Stevens, 41, who was plucked from John Leichty Middle School in the Pico Union area, was selected for the post after the high school suffered a stormy sea of revolving-door-leadership prior to her arrival. In the past year, she has achieved popularity in the community by attending public meetings, making herself accessible and has received accolades from many, but not all teachers.
One teacher said she was excited after Steven’s arrival because it was the first time 
in years she had spotted school administrators walking around the school.
The accreditation committee also was pleased by the improvement it witnessed
 at its last review, Romero said. The staff had improved its vision – and did 
so quickly -- after offering more consistency among its different departments
 so that “SPHS students have a better understanding of course content and access 
to learning," Romero explained. 
Beside the most stringent staff planning to pull together six new small learning communities, they will physically be placed in “contiguous spaces,” Stevens said, meaning the student houses will be geographically in the same area – a decision to help ensure  students are on their instructors’ radar and not falling through the cracks.
Along with two existing magnets – the Police Academy and Marine Magnet, the six houses include:
·        PEDRO ACTION: Dedicated to public service, such as fire fighters, lawyers, public clerks and child care; the program will be housed in the main building directly off 14th Street.

·        CREATIVE EXPRESSIONS: Performing arts,  fine arts and visual arts, which will include drama, photography, advertising and journalism, will be located in the Industrial Arts buildings off Leland Avenue and adjacent to the auditorium.

·        COMMUNICATIONS: Devoted to film making, public relations and business relations, this learning community will be placed in the former English building in the center of the school behind the main office.

·        BUSINESS:  Studying accounting , advertising and how the world of business revolves around sociology and psychology. This community will be located in the lower floor of the Science Building near 17th Street.

·        GLOBAL ENVIRONMENTAL:  Studies extensively the operations of the Port of Los Angeles and other marine-related careers using ITEP, the International Trade Education Programs that connects the marine business to schools. This house will be located on the north side of the campus in bungalows.

·        PHYSICAL FITNESS:  Embraces programs around sports, recreation and health, including nutrition, sports therapy, nursing and the scientific study of the body. This program will be in the bungalows off 14th Street.

Both magnet programs will be located in bungalows near the Parent Center on the corner of 15th Street and Leland Avenue.
Stevens made it clear that forming the houses into a contiguous space, while imperative for the bonding and prepping students for college and their futures – was both tedious and arduous task for her staff. The staff, however, agreed to the changes  and made preparations for moving at the end of  June to “increase and improve the learning environment for their students.”
Moving into contiguous space was a challenging decision for our staff,” Stevens said. “Many staff members had been in their rooms over a decade. Hallway relationships had been formed, lesson plans passed along in hallways, lunch clubs established and even exercise partnerships created.

“Teachers boxed, carried, rolled, pushed, and juggled all of their belongings to their new rooms at the end of June. We already see teachers creating new connections and making use of the common spaces that are readily available for the students they will have in common this fall.”

Along with those changes, comes a block schedule. School will starts at 8:06 am Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. on Fridays. Every day, students will get out at 3:08.
Most classes will be taught in three 100 block minutes a day, ending with a 7th period. Friday’s, however, will include all seven periods for 38 minutes.
On Monday and Wednesday, periods 1,3,5,7 will meet. On Tuesday and Thursday, 2,4,6 and 7th period will meet.
Other changes include:
·        The ability for parents to access their children’s grades online at anytime
·        Rebuilding the defunct drama program by hiring former Dana Middle School drama teacher, Tami Marino, who will hold auditions Aug. 17 in Room 253 at  10 a.m.
·        Future meetings with parents to determine how they can help San Pedro High.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Dear Readers:
 In the Seven Golden Secrets to Writing Class at the Corner Store, students from ages six to 15 are allowed to percolate their creativity and let it flow out into stories. The class goal is to allow children a chance to become comfortable with writing and to enjoy it! Diana
Jello's Lesson
By Sophia Perez, 10

One typical ocean day, "Jello" the jellyfish was gliding through the crystal-clear waters. Everyone called her Jello, but her real name was Jellica. She even took the name Jello as an insult!!!  But she was too nervous to tell them that, because she didn't want to hurt their feelings.
The next day, at boating school, Sandy the Sea-slug, Ursula the Octopus, and Anne the Anemone passed by Jellica and said "Hi, Jello!"
     "What kind of insult was that?!!" Jellica burst out.
Anne, the smallest of all, stepped forward and spoke up in her squeaky voice, "We didn't know you took that as an insult; why didn't you just tell us?"

         "I didn't want to hurt your feelings," said Jellica.
"You wouldn't hurt us," said Ursula.
        "Then why do you call me Jello?" she asked.
        "Because you're a jellyfish," said Sandy.
                    "And because Jello is delicious," said Ursula.
                  "Oh yeah," said Jellica. "Then prove it," she said
                  "OK I will," said Ursula.

              Ursula stuck a slimy tentacle out of the water and frightened a human eating Jello on a rock along the shore.  The human dropped it, and Ursula scooped up a small blob of it and gave it to Jellica to eat.
                  "It's delicious!!!" shouted Jellica.

                 "I told you!" said Ursula.

                  They called Jellica Jello, forever after. And she didn’t even mind. In fact, she  smiled when they called her that.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


By Diana L. Chapman

Caught by surprise that he was about to be promoted as the southern regional superintendent for Los Angeles schools, Michael Romero said he humbly accepted the new job in June assuming one of the top administrative posts in LAUSD.

He will oversee large portions of South Los Angeles, called District Eight, which includes a giant chunk of the Harbor area and a region that houses 95 schools.

Romero was originally slated to take over as the superintendent of instruction for kindergarten through eighth grade when the 22-year LAUSD veteran said he received a call from Los Angeles Unified School Superintendent Ramon Cortines asking him to visit.

“I wasn’t sure what it was about,” Romero explained during an interview. “When I sat there, it was a bit of surprise when (the superintendent) said: “I’m assigning you as the Local District Eight Superintendent.

“I said:’ “I’m honored to continue supporting the families of District Eight (where he currently worked).’”

The Harbor City resident replaces Linda Del Cueto, who headed the region which stretches from northern Los Angeles above Gardena and stems all the way south to the cliffs of San Pedro; it encompasses Wilmington, Carson, Rancho Palos Verdes, Harbor City and Lomita.

“Michael Romero is the ideal leader to oversee Local District 8,” Cortines said. “First, he is an exceptional educator from this community, he believes in this community, and he has set high expectations for the students, teachers, administrators and staff at all of his schools.

“And lastly, Mr. Romero’s positive relationship with members of the local communities and individual cities that are served by Local District 8 will go a long way towards ensuring his success, as well as the academic success of his students.”

Already visiting schools – in particular San Pedro High during the summer – Romero said he’s now working across the board to raise students understanding in math from as young as pre-kindergarten to their senior years --in Algebra in particular.

Due to the low proficiency in an area that should have scored much higher, Romero said he spent a good portion of his time this summer at San Pedro High where only 13 percent of the students currently are proficient in math.

The struggling school, expected to gain enormous ground under the supervision of new and popular principal, Jeanette Stevens, suffered from overcrowding, entrenched teachers, revolving top leadership, low test scores and a poor accreditation rating that forced the campus into “the public school choice,” option.

This meant outside operators could pursue the campus, including charter agencies. Although none applied, the school has already showed signs of significant turnaround and received another year in accreditation until spring 2011.

Under Steven’s leadership, Romero said, he’s fully confident the school will improve dramatically and added he’s so impressed with Steven’s collaborative skills that he will seek out future principals with her abilities.

“They are on the right path,” Romero explained of San Pedro High, “and I am confident about her work with the teachers and administrators. The public school choice provided them options to reflect on what they were all about. What Jeanette does well is that she has positive, constructive conversations (with her staff). We all need to grow in our practices and it’s done in a constructive manner.”

Three of Romero’s top priorities include:

· Math: All his schools will review how they teach math and go far beyond offering programs to students. He expects that math teachers not just present the material, but now break it down and put it to practical use having students divide into small groups and discussing what they’ve learned. In addition, teachers are expected to promote how these equations can be applied in the real world, not just the classroom.

· Truancies: Schools will be asked to focus on students who are missing several months of school and become more aggressive at contacting parents, making home visits and encouraging parents to reduce the number of days a student misses. Once a student is gone for more than ten days, the schools “procedures and routines,” will now include successfully interacting with families to bring children back. When he did this as a principal, he said, absences went down dramatically. “It’s not a real scientific thing,” he explained. “Every school should do this,” adding it provides the student with much more instructional input and increases the students chances to learn.

· Suspensions: Romero wants to reduce the number of suspensions and plans to have district officials work with school campuses on finding ways to reinforce positive behavior in an effort to reduce the number of students removed from schools. Again, taking students out of school mars their learning capabilities dramatically, he said.

Over the next several years, Romero will also oversee the building of the controversial High School 15 – an annex of San Pedro High School at Angel’s Gate – which is slated to open in 2012, along with the openings of several new facilities: Carson High School to open in 2011, Harry Bridges Span School in Wilmington -- a kindergarten through eighth grade program scheduled for completion in 2012 -- and the $20 million building of the first permanent Harbor Teacher’s Prep School, which is now on bungalows at Harbor Community College. It will remain there as a new facility.

Romero came to the superintendent post with a wealth of experience, starting out as a teacher at Ninth Street Elementary. Beginning in 1988, he taught third through 6th grade for nearly five years. After that, he moved into several administrative jobs before becoming a principal at Fletcher Drive Elementary in 1999 and Gardena Elementary in 2001.

In 2005, he took a leap into administering all of LAUSD’s reading programs – before becoming a support services director in 2006 for District Eight.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Kristin above veiled with a friend and her drawing of a camel during her visit in Morocco.



By Diana L. Chapman

She’s worked her way around the marriage proposals, ignored the grabs and accepted the “male-dominated” society she currently lives in.

She doesn’t wear veils since she is not Muslim, fearing it would insult residents of her hosting country; And she tries to steer clear of thinking like a Long Beach coastal gal -- and a bit more – while like a Moroccan.

Not always an easy approach for a single, young westernized woman, who has discovered a large part of her plans to study Arabic wound up being more about learning to live within someone else’s’ culture and attempting to think like them.

Getting a grip on the cat calls, the proposals and men following her wasn’t easy, but it came with the territory. As an American, she stood out and she knew it.

“The harassment is hard to explain,” emailed Kristin Colazas Delfs, who announced to her parents a year ago that she was headed for Morocco alone to study Arabic and had found a small school there she could afford to attend in the country’s capital, Rabat. “It seems terrible from a Western perspective that I've dealt with that at the age of 19, but by Middle Eastern standards that treatment is sort of mild. It has never gotten violent, and I really do believe that it has more to do with me not being Moroccan than anything else.

“…Usually a "la shukran" (no thank you) is enough, but if not I just leave the situation. I've only been stuck once or twice; I was in a cab once when the cab driver kept trying to hold my hand, asking me to marry him, and took me the long way home. It's times like those when I'm glad I speak some Arabic, glad I know Rabat, and glad I'm not just a tourist.”

Her fascination with languages started when she was young and also being a product of two parents who left their own country to study Spanish in Mexico and became fluent speakers. But Kristin found her four years in Spanish classes frustrating, especially as they were taught in English, and “I never really felt a connection.”

North Africa and the Middle East fascinated her, however, especially after reading books like A Thousand Splendid Suns, Reading Lolita in Tehran and The Saffron Kitchen. Having earned a year’s worth of college credits through AP classes in high school, Kristin forged ahead at Long Beach State University and saved all year long working weekends at the Long Beach Aquarium and becoming a crew-leader for the U.S. Census to pay for her upcoming trip.

Knowing her parents would be nervous about her traveling anywhere in some of the nations that were facing war or other disruptions, Kristin, said: “I tried to chose one that was somewhat less turbulent and narrowed my search down to Morocco, Jordan and Syria.”

Discovering a small language institute called Qalam wa Lawh in Rabat would cost her less than three months of Arabic schooling in San Bernardino, she settled on Morocco.

Going abroad made her parents nervous, she admitted, but she didn’t want to be deterred from her goal.

Her father, Zan Colazas, the former principal of Seventh Street Elementary School, agreed having his daughter go to North Africa alone made him fret.

“I was a little apprehensive of course with all the things going on in North Africa,” he said. “But I have a lot of trust in her. She’s mature beyond her years and has a good head on her shoulders.

“Sometimes, you have to let them go into adulthood.”

Not that it was easy. Even Kristin, feeling somewhat strained with intensive study of Arabic for eight hours each day for two months. She found herself ready to cut back her schooling by a month and will extend her travels to Casablanca, Marrakech and Greece.

She wouldn’t change what she’s learned in Morocco for all the tea in North Africa, she exclaims.

“Through my reading and research I have discovered that both the East and
the West have their own traditions and an intense sense of pride and
individuality,” she wrote. “It’s their pride and commitment to tradition and values
that keeps them from understanding one another. Each is set in their own ways,
and neither is willing to change those ways for the other.

“Growing up in America, I always only understood things from the Western perspective. I wanted to understand the other side, and I knew that the best way to do that was to learn the language, communicate with the people of the region, and try to interact with them on a level that we could both understand.”

For the most part, she found the people loving and friendly and she made plenty of friends. She followed a dress code wearing no shorts and making sure her shirts were at least elbow length or long sleeved and that her skirts were knee length.

Moroccan women, she said, could get away with wearing less attire, but they didn’t stand out like a young, visiting American woman who had no “fathers or brothers nearby to protect their honor.” Because the city is filled with politicians, ambassadors and business professionals, she said, “not veiling” was much easier than if she was visiting smaller villages.

In the states, she studied Modern Standard Arabic. She explains, however, it is not a spoken language and is typically used in university settings and in writing. Arabic is broken down into different dialects, which also differs from country to country. Egyptian Arabic is the mostly widely used and understood. In the future, she hopes to pursue a Master's degree in Middle Eastern Study and head into international development.

She attempted to learn the Moroccan dialect, which residents found amusing.

“ Moroccans generally laugh when I try to speak their dialect, but they always smile, tell me welcome and shake my hand--- men and women alike,” she said.
“There is nothing else like speaking to them in their own language and being able to communicate clearly with the people of this country. They are some of the nicest people I have met in my life.”

For more about Kristin’s adventures, visit her blog at: