Tuesday, November 30, 2010
LAUSD FINANCIAL FUTURE FAIRLY GRIM; SUPERINTENDENT RELEASES LETTER THAT DOESN'T PAINT A PRETTY PICTURE
November 18, 2010
Los Angeles Unified School Superintendent sent this letter out to his staff. I decided it was just best to print all of it. If you have any comments, please email me at email@example.com. Sorry, but it doesn't seem like anything is getting better any time soon. This means we all must think out of the box on how to educate our students with -- a lot less. Diana
To All Employees
Re: Budget Realities
As truly harsh as this year has been, we balanced the 2010-2011 budget with negotiated give-backs and agreed-upon lay offs. The reality is that 2011-2012 will be an even more difficult year. I have already planned to use the Federal Education Jobs Bill funds, $103 million, to save more than 2,000 jobs beginning July next year. Here are the budget realities we currently face:
· Current Deficit for 2011-2012: Even with the inclusion of this Jobs Bill funding we are still facing an
ongoing deficit of $142 million (based on current projections). To place this in context, this $142 million operating deficit represents a loss of over 3,300 jobs without ongoing furlough days-negotiable with all of our bargaining units-and spending cuts.
· Loss of Federal Stimulus Funding: By the end of this year we will have spent the remaining Federal
Stimulus funds (Title I and IDEA ARRA federal funds) that have been supporting at least 12,000 jobs (3,900 with Individuals with Disabilities Education Act; 3,200 with Title 1; and 5,200 with State Fiscal Stabilization Fund) over the last two years. Almost all of these jobs are at school sites. These funds are gone at the end of this year and there is no replacement funding.
· State’s Budget Crisis: Mid-November, the Legislative Analyst Office (LAO) released a report projecting
a two-year $25 billion cumulative State deficit, including a projected $6 billion deficit for this year. Given the State’s financial situation, it is likely we will face more cuts in addition to those outlined above. We are also more vulnerable to mid-year cuts due to the already announced suspension of Proposition 98.
Our daunting challenge: we have no choice but to continue to reduce ongoing costs to get through this crisis. In the face of clear indications of a continued bleak budget picture, to use the one-time Federal Education Jobs Bill funds in the current year would be grossly irresponsible. We are attempting to bring stability in these turbulent times. If we don’t use these dollars in 2011-2012 to preserve jobs, then our problem becomes worse, not better.
Ramon C. Cortines
C: Members, Board of Education
Friday, November 26, 2010
|Famed Artist Maynard Dixon's Men of the Red Earth, worth an estimated $2 million owned by the Los Angeles Unified School District|
|Leslie Fischer views some of the collection she's in charge of.|
|LAUSD curator Leslie Fischer puts together a collection of items used to teach LAUSD students about the history of their predecessors.|
|Roman coin discovered in the collection along with the Greek Vase below.|
LOS ANGELES UNIFIED SITS ON DONATED ART WORKS WORTH MILLIONS; SOME ARE IN SCHOOLS GOING UNNOTICED, OTHERS ARE LOCKED UP IN A CLIMATE CONTROLLED DOWNTOWN SCHOOL POLICE BUILDING;
ONE PERSON’S MISSION : TO MAKE THE COLLECTION WORKABLE FOR EDUCATION AND TO BRING IT TO THE PUBLIC EYE
By Diana L. Chapman
Several years ago, Leslie Fischer was sent downtown Los Angeles to clear out a small, locked space laced in mystery.
The curator opened the door and peered inside, spotting scores of items bundled in newspapers. What she was about to discover shocked her.
As she unfolded the bundles, out popped one antiquity after another, 300 in all;
Relics such as Roman coins, Greek vases, Etruscan figurines, Egyptian scarabs.
Those were just some of the gems. They all belonged to the Los Angeles Unified
“It was really flooring,” said Fischer of the antiquities find during an interview at
one school that has a vault to secure its paintings. “I wasn’t even aware of the
scope of what they had. The storage was so inappropriate. It was surprising. How
did the district get this and why is it here?”
Fischer – whose very part-time LAUSD curator job always hangs by a thread
in these severe economic times – is the only person in the entire district who
holds the golden key to Los Angeles Unified’s 100,000 piece art and artifact
kingdom. She’s on a new mission to bring the obscure collection out to the public
eye and to form several educational partnerships.
The collection boasts phenomenal pieces such as oil paintings from famous artist
Maynard Dixon and rare books as the 1602 edition of “Works of Our Ancient and
Learned English Poet, Geoffrey Chaucer.”
In addition, the works include thousands of oil paintings, murals, text book
collections, aged-video equipment, administrative reports, paintings from the
Depression era, 34,000 black-and-white negatives and scores of other items that
reflect the district’s history.
After the antiquities find, Fischer immediately cataloged the precious pieces. Her
job shape shifts itself every few years depending on the needs of the district -- an
agency that faces a $1.1 billion deficit over the next three years. Although debate has
arisen in the past about selling some of the works, school officials balk at that -- es-
pecially involving the scores of paintings donated by the student body going back
nearly a century ago.
The ownership of those paintings, they said, belong to the student body and
cannot be sold. District owned works, however, can be.
In 2008, the curator, whose now nine-hour a week job is paid through a mix of grants and the district’s art budget, was able to obtain grants to appraise about 60 percent of the most valuable pieces. The estimates ranged anywhere from $9 to $13 million. Remaining pieces have not yet appraised for financial reasons, but are not considered to have as much monetary significance.
LAUSD’s most valuable painting -- Artist Dixon’s Men of the Red Earth– is currently on loan to the Autry National Center -- where it was restored for free as part of the agreement reached with the curator – one of the many partnerships Fischer has forged. The painting -- worth $2 million – is the highest priced treasure in collection and is considered one of the artist’s greatest works, the curator explained.
But other famed artists works landed a home with the district as well, including
Edgar Payne, Dana Bartlett, Orrin White and Maurice Braun – known for their l
andscapes using a style called California Plein-Air.
Calling up their names on the internet shows a fair amount of traffic to sell and buy the artist’s works . While many of the paintings remain today up on the walls at school campuses across the district, at least now most have been accounted for due to Fischer’s efforts.
Nine years ago, when there was no curator, no one in the district was overseeing
the massive treasures trove except for in a piecemeal fashion. Many pieces were
scattered across the district, gathering dust in one building or another or remained
up at schools where few knew their stories, their value – or who even the artists were.
What was so unsettling about this was the possibility that many works might get
tossed due to school staff’s lack of knowledge as to the stature of such pieces. In
addition, poor storage meant the art work could be marred or destroyed.
As an advocate of keeping the “historical collection” intact, Fischer’s first job was to
“define the scope,” of what the district had amassed. Once that was done,
school officials wanted the works, a vast amount stored in one building, to be moved
to make way for a new school.
That’s how a large part of the compilation wound up on a climate-controlled floor
of the downtown LAUSD school police building, another one of curator’s suggestions
for security reasons.
While Fischer, a USC fine arts graduate, continues to build partnerships to pay for
costly restoration and to bring much of the unseen works to light through education,
the task is painstakingly arduous, especially with a job that has been whittled down
from 25 hours to nine hours a week.
While some members of the student body desire to keep the works, others wonder why the schools haven’t sold them off.
Often many paintings hang forlornly on school campuses – seeming to go unnoticed.
Few teachers, principals and students are typically aware of their value, who painted them or even the history of how they wound up in the school in the first place.
One principal was surprised when he learned he had a valuable painting at his school.
Another school official thought the paintings were slowly getting damaged on school walls just by the lack of care they receive and that some should be removed to make way for contemporary works.
She’d like, the principal added, something more modern to fit with her current student body.
Ironically, when the artistic gifts – donated by the student body -- started rolling into schools nearly a century ago, district officials – who are meant to educate students – never knew what the reality would mean.
It forced LAUSD to take on another significant post – that of a museum curator and one that’s a complete necessity to prevent the works from being destroyed, trashed or both.
Without Fischer aboard, the 300 antiquities in the closet might have wasted away for many more years -- if they were ever found. That’s what she fears could happen to other treasures within the district’s realm not brought to her attention and suspects some works in the past were possibly tossed.
Therefore, when she receives random calls about pieces from principals or teachers, she gets out her sleuthing skills and visits the site as soon as possible just in case she might add, yet another treasure to this remarkable, little-known collection.
For instance, once a principal called about a pioneer relief on his campus. Soon after Fischer arrived, she discovered the relief was done by prominent English-American sculpture, Bryant Baker, recognized for his works on pioneer women.
The curator’s job then becomes teaching teachers at the school how to integrate the Baker’s work into the state’s standard curriculum, she explained.
Despite Fischer’s momentous work to partner and use the art as part of education, the truth remains that as far as public viewing, little has been done thus far. For one, it would take the work of several more people, she acknowledges.
“It’s baby steps,” she said. “I don’t have a conservation budget and it’s a monumental task.”
Even with Fischer on board, LAUSD school board members – both past and present – seem to have little awareness of what they sit atop of even in these uncertain economic times.
“I’m really uneducated in this area,” said one school official, who asked not to be named.
To spell out just what currently exists just within the antiquities realm, imagine coins with the engraved heads of Roman emperors, some of Caesar Trajan, vases once carried by Etruscan pedestrians or Mesopotamian tablets over 4,000-years-old.
At least 150 coins made of copper, bronze, silver and gold were discovered.
Other finds: 3,000-year-old Egyptian scarab figures along with,2,000-year-old Roman terracotta lamps. While some pieces were worth only $35; others were valued at hundreds more. Some of the Greek vases, for example, range around $35,000 a piece. And at least two gold coins were appraised at $10,000 a piece.
Other famed artist’s within the district’s realm include some Salvador Dali reliefs and a Tom Tyrone Comfort mural. Comfort painted an eight-panel mural at San Pedro High School during the New Deal Era launched by President Franklin Roosevelt to put citizens back to work during the Great Depression. Comfort was one of many artists who did public art work projects under the WPA (Works Project Administration).
Anything done by WPA cannot be sold as it belongs to the federal government, Fischer said.
Much of the distinctive treasure trove began in 1919 when a graduating class in Gardena High School established a tradition to interview local artists around Los Angeles county – most not famous at the time – and purchase a selection as a gift to the school. The students did fundraisers to buy the paintings for their campus and Gardena High School is noted for buying Dixon’s Men of the Red Earth.
“That tradition spread to other campuses that emulated this,” Fischer said. “By the 1940s they actually used the art work in their curriculum. They would go visit living artists. There would be in seminars and they’d study and analyze the available paintings and actually make the purchase,” who added it must have been like heaven to be in that program.
It became a common routine at other high schools especially in the Harbor area, she explained, and didn’t stop until about 1956. After that, a few pieces trickled in. Many LAUSD schools also have famous WPA (Work Projects Administration) murals, including Dana Middle School in San Pedro.
At a time where plant managers, teachers and librarians have been laid off, one wonders why it’s so imperative to keep the collection whole – and not break it up and allow the selling of particular pieces under Fischer’s guidance.
But the LAUSD Arts Education Branch defended keeping the collection intact.
“We are trying to maintain the integrity,” said Luiz Sampaio, a visual art specialist for the district who oversees Fischer. “We are trying to make it accessible while maintaining the physical integrity of the art work. We maintain our commitment. It’s a historical collection.”
Former Los Angeles School Board Member Mike Lansing – who once held Board Member Richard Vladovic’s seat that includes the Harbor Area – said at this point, with the financial disarray of the district, he would want to at least call for a presentation to the school board.
He would not say whether he’d break up the collection.
“I’d at least like to see what exists and have a staff report on what opportunities, if any, are possible,” Lansing said.
After being asked about the collection, LAUSD School Board Member Richard Vladovic says he plans to request that a report be made to the board, but adds that much of the work is owned by the student body, not the district.
However, as for district owned works, he’d like to see what could be sold or what partnerships could be reached.
“I would love to see the items on display in a museum or a traveling show,” Vladovic said. “If we can’t display or show their magnificence properly then we need to find a way to do so or sell them off to those that appreciate and will protect it. This art should be seen and appreciated by as many people as possible.”
Fischer, who has worked diligently to make the collection more accessible, does not want to see it broken up.
“This collection is unique to LAUSD. How do you put a value on that?” Fischer added.
Some of the programs the curator has done, for example, is filling a steamer trunk with district memorabilia that travels from school to school so students can witness what types of clothes, books and other items students used years ago.
But Fischer is most proud of her decision to pull together lessons for students using the antiquities that are not of the highest value. When requested, she packs them up and brings them to schools to show third-through-eighth grade students where they can be hands on with ancient times. College students come to help her teach so the LAUSD students can handle Roman coins, Etruscan safety pens, tablets and vases.
“They tell the most extraordinary story,” the curator marveled.
However, to bring such pieces to schools, Fischer must attend, to keep the pieces secure. Despite limited time to do such work, Fischer has established several partnerships and received several grants.
--UCLA and USC graduate students studying the district art works and aiding to conserve them. Restoration costs can be exorbitant, Fischer said.
--The Getty Museum in Malibu, which usually carries the elite of Roman days, worked together with Fischer to select artifacts to use in the classroom. “It’s a good marriage,” Fischer said.
--Hosting programs by either attending events to talk about LAUSD’s rare gems or gives tours to groups, such as the Los Angeles Historical Society.
As for the odd antiquities find, Fischer later learned that most were donated to Venice High School Principal Edward Clark by the now defunct-Classical League of Downtown LA in 1932.
For 45 years, Clark proudly used them to teach his students – before they were later packed up and stuffed into a closest in a school building downtown.
Fortunately, with the arrival of Fischer, the antiquities were resurrected. Otherwise, they might have remained lost forever – stored away in some forgotten closet.
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
HAPPY THANKSGIVING!!! FOUR GOBBLING STORIES FROM THE SEVEN GOLDEN SECRETS TO WRITING CLASS
On Wednesday, some of the students in the Seven Golden Secrets to Writing class insisted on writing turkey day stories – some from the point of view of the turkey! For your extreme entertainment, take a break on Thanksgiving and learn what a turkey feels like….
By Sean Rosenfeld, 8
Once upon a time, it was Thanksgiving afternoon. There was a hunter out and a turkey. The turkey was crossing the road and the hunter was going to a peaceful picnic, but he had a gun.
So anyway, the turkey was crossing the road and the hunter just turned a corner and didn’t see the turkey. But if he did, he would have hunted it. Thankfully, the turkey was able to cross the road. So you know how I told you the hunter had a gun? Well, he really did. The turkey was minding his own business when he ran into the picnic. The hunter said: “Good afternoon.” And then he looked back and thought: “Wait. That was a turkey.”
The turkey was on the ground laughing hysterically. The hunter had a grumpy look on his face. The turkey stopped laughing, looked at the hunter and screamed: “Ahhhhhhhhh!!!”
Pause right there. So you know how I told you it was Thanksgiving and well, the hunter decided he was looking for a turkey. Click, click, sounded the gun.
“Get ready to die,” the hunter told the turkey.
The turkey was so scared he charged at the hunter and the hunter fell off a cliff. Goodbye hunter.
The Thanksgiving Ghost
I stared at my insides on the cutting board. How could they kill me for Thanksgiving?!? Why couldn’t they buy some tofu turkey? I sunk into the pot of water where I was being soaked after being salted.
I turned myself into a gas and sunk through the tiny crack between the top and pot. As soon as I located the knobs that control the stove, I got a running start to push the knob off. As I got closer and closer to the knob, I put my wings out in front of me and pushed.
Unfortunately, since I’m a ghost, my wings flew right through the knobs. Then I went racing toward the microwave yelling “ahhhhhh!” I was suddenly in the microwave sitting on top of some leftovers from last night. Corn and steak. Vurrrrummmmm, whirled the microwave.
Oh well, I guess I can never save myself. I poofed out of the kitchen and back to turkey heaven.
By Veronica Gray, 12
Bang. The door closed. The farmer came out with his ax. All of the turkeys ran. I just stood there wondering why all of my family members ran away. My friend Melissa ran to me pulling my wing.
“Come on he will catch you,” she said.
“Catch me doing what? I felt very stupid after I asked that question.
“He will catch you, kill you and eat you for Thanksgiving,” she explained.
“That’s horrible!” I exclaimed. “We should start a union,” I stomped my right set of talons.
“A union against what? The farmer would just shoot us.” She hit my head.
Farmer Trevor walked by and all he heard were two turkeys going: “Gobble. Gobble.”
I marched to the other turkeys.
“Aren’t you tired of that!? I can’t believe that the farmer thinks that he can waltz right in here and snatch a turkey to eat. One of us!”
The other turkeys gobbled in agreement.
“So I propose to run away before he goes on the killing,” I added in my best leader voice.
We marched to the end of the farm only to find a gate.
“Dang-it!” I yelled. We treaded on the perimeter of the gate only to find that we were closed inside the farm.
“Well,” I put my wing on the turkey behind me. “May the best turkey live!”
I ran to hide from Farmer Trevor’s ax, leaving my union behind.
The Cat Who Hated Christmas, But Loves Thanksgiving
By Marina DuVernet, 9
One soggy Christmas, a cat sat inside a nice and hot house under the Christmas tree. That cat’s name was Frisky. Frisky hated Christmas.
First, he hated it because it was freezing. Second, he hated it because he was hungry. Third, he was hungry because his dumb owners always fed him only Uncle Bill’s cookies. Uncle Bill was a horrible chef.
What Frisky does love is Thanksgiving. Frisky can imagine nice, juicy turkey, bright red raspberries and his favorite cold milk. Wait…unless Uncle Bill cooks it. Well, after all, he did wind up cooking Thanksgiving dinner.
I guess Frisky likes Easter.
Saturday, November 20, 2010
A 9-year-old Spins a Fish Tale at a Seven Golden Secrets to Writing Class
Dear Readers: I will be posting stories by young writers in the Seven Golden Secrets to Writing class given at the Corner Store every Wednesday. If you are interested in having your child, age 6 to 12, enrolled, please email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Students are encouraged to learn to love writing and work on pieces during each session. If you have children of older ages that need help in this craft, please contact me as well. Diana
Mr. Harbor Seal, the Crown and the Goldfish
By Kealan, 9
Once there was a harbor seal and she was looking for a golden seashell.
But before I go into that, even though she’s called Mr. Harbor Seal, she’s actually a girl. So let’s go back to the story.
Mr. Harbor Seal was looking about everywhere for a golden, Pacific seashell. She looked under a rock, in the tide-pools and even in the chilling, blue ocean. But she didn’t find one.
Then one day, she saw something gold. It was so beautiful that she thought it was the shell. So she ran, or should I say flopped, over there. She spotted a crown, but it was no ordinary crown. It was a golden princesses' crown. Mr. Harbor Seal went to show her friend, Goldy.
Goldy was an expert on gold stuff. So he said: “This is a golden crown! Let’s share the crown,” Goldy said.
“Sure,” said Mr. Harbor Seal. So they ended up rich and best friends forever. That’s the happy story.
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
A PORT OF LOS ANGELES CHARTER HIGH SCHOOL TEACHER AND HER STUDENTS PLANT A SEED AND BUILD A BRIDGE WITH THE RANCHO SAN PEDRO HOUSING DEVELOPMENT PROVIDING PUMPKINS, POMEGRANATES AND PROMISES
|Pumpkins that were collected|
|Port of Los Angeles Charter High School teacher Rachel Bruhnke talks with her students.|
|Rancho San Pedro Housing residents gladly accept the gifts from Port of Los Angeles Charter students.|
|Students Alexandra DeSanto, 15,Valeria Morales, 16, Ana Elizabeth, 15,and Leslie Acosta, 14, show off the pomegranates they collected.|
By Diana L. Chapman
Nothing seemed like a sweeter Thanksgiving gift.
On a clear cool day Tuesday afternoon, a Port of Los Angeles Charter High School Spanish teacher and about a half-dozen of her students presented gifts to residents at the Rancho Palos Verdes Housing Development – gifts of treasures they grew on their own – pumpkins, squash and pomegranates.
While it might not seem like much, the residents who received them lined up for the harvest excited to eat foods they could not afford. In a moving speech, teacher Rachel Bruhnke said this is “just the beginning” to partner and feed more residents of the low-income development.
“It started with a seed,” Bruhnke said, while surrounded by students, residents and other teachers who volunteered to help while scores of pumpkins and other produce lined the table. “The million dollar question is how much did we invest? We only invested $3. From a little bit can come a lot.”
Residents at the housing development said they were thrilled with the treats that could feed up to thirty families – pound upon pound of pumpkins -- and grateful to Bruhnke and her students, who started to grow the vegetation in the summer at the Los Angeles School District’s Science Center in San Pedro.
The students planted, seeded, weeded and watched as the pumpkins and squash flourished. And Tuesday, they could see their efforts come full circle when they harvested the vegetables and pomegranates and brought them to the residential community.
“It’s really, really awesome,” said Valeria Morales, 16, of Wilmington, who worked the garden plot this summer with her cousin, Ana Elizabeth, 15. “I’ve seen people struggle and it’s really good to help.”
“We started coming and we planted pumpkins from scratch,” Elizabeth said. “We started getting excited and we could see: “Oh, my gosh: It’s happening!”
The fruits of the students’ labors were revealed Tuesday as the elderly, parents with young toddlers and handicapped residents lined up for the gifts. Earlier in the day, residents had used a megaphone to inform people of the incoming food.
By 1:30 p.m., they started lining up and waited patiently for the produce to be handed out.
“It’s wonderful, it’s just wonderful,” said Veronica Menoza, president of the residents’ board association. “Just knowing that we are going to get a pumpkin, a lot of us can’t afford this. Knowing that someone cares is important.”
“I feel really happy,” said Sandra Rivas, the board’s secretary. “I’m going to cook this (the pumpkin) with water and brown sugar and honey. The smaller ones we do with milk and cinnamon. We cut them into little chunks. Everybody is happy they came.”
Yesterday’s harvest was at the behest of Bruhnke, whose environmental engineering class started to tend to their own plot in the community garden. The Spanish teacher recruited the school’s custodian, Digna Gonzalez, who had become a certified master gardener through USC, to help with the cause.
Gonzalez readily did so, she said in Spanish, because for the first ten years she lived here others donated to her through community gardens when she had little money. Now, she added through a translator, she can return the favor and complete “my share of promises.”
Bruhnke also recruited fellow Spanish teachers, Lizbeth Mo Lina and Irene Atristain to come load vegetables into the cars and drive the food over.
To have grown produce to feed others, students said, was an amazing educational experience.
“I feel it’s an accomplishment,” said Dennis Lewis, a 16-year-old 11th grader from Harbor City. “It was just great. I’d never planted a field of pumpkins.”
Student Leslie Acosta, 15, a sophomore couldn’t say enough about the many lessons she learned.
“It’s been a good experience as a teenager to harvest these plants,” Acosta said. “It’s a lot of hard work and we have to think about where these foods come from. It also shows how much we have and how much we should be grateful for.”
In a relatively short time, a bunch of teenagers, a teacher and a custodian filled a lot of faces with smiles and gratitude for something so simple as growing pumpkins. While many San Pedro residents are fearful of the housing units, this group plans to continue to forge a bridge with the residents there.
Bruhnke told them all she did this for herself, for her community and her 6-year-old daughter, Alma and received a round of applause.
On this day, it seemed like the true spirit of Thanksgiving had landed here at this place and at this time, one that would continue for many falls to come.
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
WHY I’M CONCERNED ABOUT LAUSD’S PROPOSAL TO BEGIN SCHOOL THIS COMING YEAR ON AUG. 16 FOR ALL ITS CAMPUSES
By Diana L. Chapman
Having Los Angeles Unified kids throw on their backpacks to return to campus in mid-August instead of playing all summer long until twilight hours bothers me greatly – but not for the reasons you’d suspect.
Yes, my initial shock about possibly starting school Aug. 16 this coming year seemed definitely a threat to a long tradition for students not on a year round track that allows them to play often until eight in the evening on blazing summer days.
Play time, many studies show, is as necessary for a child’s development and health as breathing, drinking water and learning in the classroom. Kids need it all.
While I believe students should be out playing instead of studying during the summer, that’s probably an “old school,” attitude. Perhaps it’s time to change the calendar around. But there some underlying quirky pests that are eating at me.
It starts with the biggest reason this is being considered -- to improve test scores. We spend an immeasurable amount of time worrying about the test scores while the kids at large are already living in a tsunami of changes.
While Los Angeles Unified scrambles to stay afloat in these dire economic times – kids are already encounteringa sea of transitions at their schools with cutbacks, staff disappearing that they’ll never see again, faces that they’ve seen for years, suddenly vanished, such as librarians, clerks and sometimes, even teachers.
I talked to several administrators why this proposal makes sense to them. They all had good arguments. June is a dead time of the year because testing takes place in May and by the time the kids and teachers are done, both groups are exhausted. June becomes a swath of waste.
Also, many high schools want this so their students can have the semester end before winter break and finals come before their vacation.
Makes sense too.
But what I see vanishing on the horizon – and this is so sad – are the times that instructors spent figuring out the true skills and talents of their students. In the past, teachers were the lifeline for kids that perhaps don’t have the highest test scores – or even the best grades – but still have gifts and abilities for other areas that are highly unlikely to show up in the rigors of testing.
Perhaps a student’s skills are superior in art; or they are superb writers who fail in tests. Once, teachers had time to look at a child as a whole. Now, we are looking at child in pieces – and not just pieces – but in numbers. What numbers can you give me lately? Is that what we want the kids to hear?
I’ve witnessed young students wet their pants during test days and others determine they are stupid because of test scores when we all know that there are ways to excel beyond those measurements.
Children don’t need to know they’re as valuable as their test scores are; And yet, that’s what we – the adults – are teaching them every day. Not only that, we are pounding it into their heads with a hammer. When teachers are stressed over test scores, another thing happens; kids become stressed too.
My second issue with this entire calendar change -- which would end school June 1 -- is that right now – because the district is facing a $3 billion dollar deficit over the next three years – a tidal waves of cuts have drowned schools with layoffs and staff changes. Clerks students have known for years are gone, same with many librarians.
Every time I walk into a school, another series of cuts have been made, the clerical glue that often holds schools together have slipped away. For instance, the other day I walked into San Pedro High’s main office, and where there was once three to five clerks, now often there is one, two at most.
Our students have become guinea pigs of change and to add another new drill at this moment seems inappropriate.
This proposal remains at the moment in collective bargaining and the outcome is uncertain.
“Interesting idea... but why make it a surprise? Why not plan in a year out, so early planners for big summer trips aren't surprised?” asked elementary teacher, Cathy Skubik. “As it stands now, the district and my union will go back and forth, and we may know when we are working at some point before the summer, after we have made plans... and summer programs at local places need to know this too... now!
“I wonder what it would take for our district to work through a big change in a timely manner?
Even though 17 schools have gone on the new calendar, we still don’t have the data to support whether this aids students. The data will come in, school officials say, at the end of this first semester –and when tests scores are taken in May.
Linda Del Cueto, in charge of area of what the district calls Region 1, has 14 of those schools – most of them high schools. The only complaint she’s received so far are from parents who have students in elementary, middle and high school who want their children going to school on the same calendar so they can have family vacation.
“My high schools are really happy with it,” Del Cueto said. “It’s so good for the kids. But we can’t look at all the data until the test scores come in.”
Grades at the end of the semester, she added, will give school officials a glimpse at how the new calendar is working.
So here is my suggestion:
Before we make another dramatic change in the lives of our students, we need to give parents and teachers plenty of notice. We must first find out the facts at what the data will reveal before we take another giant gamble and hope it works.
I admire many of the administrators I talked to. They truly believe this is a good change for kids. But I doth protest as I’m really tired of repeatedly telling kids over and over again this one lesson they must be learning everyday:
You are what your test scores are.
How terribly unfortunate for children who give us so much more than a bunch of numbers every day.