Saturday, January 08, 2011

 What parents might want to know…A School Officials Response Tomorrow
By Diana L. Chapman
We had a pleasant vacation, warm and toasty, surrounded by the moss-green hills in the Napa Valley where we celebrated Christmas with our entire family for the first time in more than a decade.
That’s why there were no postings on theunderdogforkidsblog for so long. We were mesmerized with the wine valley and a reunion where all three sisters for once were home for Christmas with our mom – including all the grand kids. It was  nothing more than a miracle.
Looking forward to 2011, we braced to leap in the New Year with a sparkle of happiness. When we got home, instead, we got this letter:
“This is to notify you that your child has been reported to the Pupil Services and Attendance Supervisor as a truant from school as required by the provisions of Section 48260 of the California Education Code after having been absent from school without valid excuse 3 or more days or tardy for more than 30 minutes without a valid excuse of any combination thereof on the following dates….”
A variety of punishments can happen including prosecution of the pupil “under Education Code Section 48264” and/or subject to suspension of driver’s license and so on.
The letter was signed by our wonderful San Pedro High School principal – Jeanette Stevens, who I respect greatly for her abilities to collaborate that’s slowly turning around San Pedro High School, a campus coping with severe overcrowding and poor test scores.
However, I need not say this:
 It’s  not what you want to come home too after a warm and toasty holiday; And I want to point out that while LAUSD is finally cracking down on truancy – which is a good thing, good students can still find themselves in trouble. It doesn’t matter that your kid has fairly decent grades – and is pulling his weight. What matters now is ADA – average daily attendance, which pays the school district roughly $30 a day per student – and test scores.
Student absentees have been ongoing for decades, but it took a $1.1 billion deficit over the several years to slap the district in the face and say – aha! It’s costing us money if students aren’t here.
By gosh, we should go after our truants! (It makes you wonder why this didn’t happen years ago.)
So I have to put this into perspective, we are absolutely at fault partly for this. We forgot to write letters excusing Ryan when he was absent – all of which were legitimate.  But being spoiled, we are used to receiving phone calls telling us what we’ve forgotten.
This year, we didn’t receive one call. Instead, we got the letter, which prompted many more concerns.
The reason I’m writing this is pure and simple. Parents need to understand that when school starts on Aug. 15 this coming year – there may be no easy out for vacations or any other situation we manifest (unless life threatening). The school board pulled the early school year on us suddenly – with only one Los Angeles School Board Member, Richard Vladovic, covering the Harbor area and parts of central Los Angeles, saying it was too sudden for families who had already paid for vacations expecting school to start. School doesn’t typically start until Sept.5.
The board voted 6-1 recently to make it sooner, with all sorts of what I consider shabby reasons, but to sum it up easily,  it’s mostly about test scores. The sooner they get kids back to school, the better their test scores might be. Of course, this was not backed with any data from LA Unified. It was decided on data from other districts. Now many families and teachers are stuck with some difficult choices.
Some people I know get excited, thinking students will actually receive more time to study so we can compete on the global level from an educational point of view. We are failing miserably in education compared to other countries such as China and Singapore.
But that our students will be getting more educational hours is not the case. Kids will end school earlier, June 1 – rather than about three weeks later.
With the new changes, I’ve heard from many parents who have already spent their vacation money. They are going to skip the first two weeks of school. As they see it, they have little choice.
One family I know goes to Yosemite every August – and has already paid – to have their large family reunion. Their children will not return to school Aug. 15. And who can blame them?
Fortunately, I believe we can fix this “truancy” situation with our son, Ryan, 16, a junior, because we failed to write letters to excuse him for his absences – in which he was truly sick. Ryan copes with asthma, serious allergies and other health issues. But it was, frankly, bizarre that his report card only reflected this – he’s had no tardies and only three absences if we can read his report card correctly. We could have corrected this easily had we heard  before the letter went out.
Furthermore, the report cards that come home are barely legible. Has anyone noticed that? Ryan has tried to decipher them for us – but even with his better eyes – he can’t always tell what they say, the ink is so murky, flooded and drowned in gray. The ink bleeds so terribly, in fact, you can barely read the grades.
“I can’t read it either, Mom,” Ryan says with resignation.
I’ve covered LAUSD
And this recent decision to return students Aug. 15 told me this: LAUSD doesn’t care one bit about what its families think. I’m frustrated that even while we have an incredible principal at San Pedro High – much to our benefit – the school she came from John H. Liecthy Middle School, was flourishing under her tenure.  Since her departure, it has fallen behind miserably, beleaguered by layoffs of the many young teachers there.
It’s not as though principal Stevens could have changed anything. It was going to happen even with her there. The layoffs were inevitable and became part of a lawsuit.
But what’s happening now is the school board  – despite its discussions about parent engagement – shows me they really don’t care about what parents think – or students for that matter. In fact, I wonder if they care about anything involving families.
Perhaps they  care about the average daily attendance and the test scores, but any smart educator worth a bit of goods would realize quickly what I’ve learned in such a short period of time. Students, who have so much to offer, are virtually ignored by the system every single day. I know – because as a volunteer – I’ve been able to turn many around with such little effort. The middle-of-the-rung-kids, the students who need just an ever-so-slight push to make it, are bypassed every day.
And it didn’t include the kid’s test scores. What it included was their personal situations – what they were coping with in their daily lives. Just an ever so slight push of support changed the lives of those kids with backing from the Boys and Girls Club and – they are now in university and still sending me letters.
But those same students – who would so easily bring up the test scores with a bit of help – are often just another blip in the chart or “a flea on a wall,” as one student described it.
Here’s what I have to say to LAUSD board members. Do what you say you are going to do. You say you want parent support and input; then support us. Other than Vladovic, the rest of you are shameful. It’s not that changing the return date to school Aug. 15 is the worst idea in the world. What is problematic, is the board’s complete disrespect, to not even allow parents the time to give their input before reaching such a decision and the time to change their calendars.
It makes me believe that down the road – we will not be included in even more pressing issues.
What you are also wrong about is not gathering the data within the district first, and then persuading us this is a good idea. I worry. I worry a lot that there is such a chasm between families and the school board that it’s no longer worth the battle to decide whether our child should stay in an LAUSD school.
This is ironic as I believe it can all work, always have.  In the past, our son received a great education in LAUSD. But with the combination of layoffs, furloughs, and this last school board movement – a decision that is just ludicrous to me because it’s not accommodating anyone or anything but test scores and didn’t take an ounce of parent input – shows me more than ever that the board could care less with what we think.
Well some parents have told me it’s not a big enough issue to split hairs over, to me it’s a much bigger to-do than one would think. It reflects the future. It reflects that the board has few concerns as to what should happen with families, and that they are too concerned with test scores. What I suspect, over the next few years, they will lose the kids that actually bring test scores up.
 The only person currently worth voting for is Valdovic, who I know won’t be so charmed by this column, because he believes LAUSD still has value. While I never thought I’d say this, I’m really not sure anymore. Every time I walk onto the campus, more layoffs have occurred. Staff that were once the glue of the school have vanished. Librarians jobs are shot. People that worked in San Pedro have to drive to the valley to maintain a job for three hours a day, and vice versa. Next year, according to our new California Gov. Jerry Brown, education is only going to get worse and face more cuts.
Ouch. Be braced.
When we came home, our son, a junior at San Pedro High, asked if he could take a test that would allow him to leave the school district early and start community college if he passes.
We said adamantly: why not?


Alive Surfing said...

This is a GREAT blog post. I am concerned about how difficult it is just to take a "personal" day or "week" off of school for my kids. My 7th grader is planning on going with my husband down to Mexico near Easter break to help out at our friend's orphanage. But the trip does not coincide with the LAUSD break, so I'm not sure how this is going to work. My son is a straight A student, and I'm sure his teachers will be fine with his absence, but what do we do about the government mandate on absences? Basically to avoid him being truant, we have to lie and say he was sick?????? I won't lie, so if we have to, we will pull him out and homeschool him for the rest of the year.
Same goes for next August. If it is really an issue for him to miss the beginning of the school year (which is likely), we will keep homeschooling him until we are ready for him to start back up again in 8th grade. Fortunately, the public school HAS to take him. But if he was at a magnet school, he'd lose his spot and we'd have a problem.
In all honesty, I'd love to homeschool him like I am doing with my 2nd grader now, but he's a social butterfly and would really miss his friends too much at this age.
So as long as we aren't at a magnet school, I guess we're good to homeschool and re-enter public school when we are ready. I imagine there will be many other people doing the same, who don't really feel like torturing their kids with school in mid-August and missed family vacations.

Cathy Skubik said...

The early start calendar is tough, but after the pain of this year, I look forward to family vacations in June, a much better month to travel than July or August. Change is hard, but it isn't that hard! I say this with my fingers crossed that the YMCA moves camp to June...

And, Diana, I have to be honest... as a teacher, I appreciate it when my students are in school, everyday. I also appreciate it when parents send in notes explaining an absence, so I don't have to spend hours on the phone tracking that info down... really... just send a note!!!!

And if a parent finds they are taking their child out for more than three unexcused days a year, in a year that has plenty of breaks, they might need to rethink that. Just sayin'...

Pedro Teacher said...

As a teacher at a local school, I can tell you that the district really only cares about the money. They have long past the time of when they would think about student success. If they did, they would do the only logical thing, which is break up the district.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this very helpful post. I have been wondering what "research" the LAUSD has been relying upon that would convince them to start the school year early. The most rigorous research I could find (by Dr. Gene Glass of Arizona State University) shows that changes in the calendar year do not result in better student achievement. Has the LAUSD actually made the research that has guided their decision public? It sure is depressing when the phrase "research shows" is thrown out and all recipients of the phrase and decisions made because of it are kept blind to that very research. My family can handle the new school year - but there's a lot more mosquitoes where we vacation in June than there are in August!

Pedro Teacher said...

I would be surprised if they did any research. They tend to say they do this, but it turns out that the research is done by someone else, and then they do not fully follow through. For example, the 6th grade move from middle school to the elementary. This was done by Vladovic so the elementary principals can save jobs of their teachers. This was done behind the backs of the the middle school teachers and with little or no input from them. They did this and forced it upon the middle school teachers with strong arm tactics. (from what I heard Del Cueto and Vladovic went to the middle schools and said this is what we are doing, you will like it, and you will not argue. If you do not we will make it difficult for you- I heard this from a neighbor who is close to the situation and teaches at Dodson). Now, only one of the schools is really doing decent with this plan (Barton Hill) and the others are saying why did we go back to this. I think it is time for the parents in San Pedro rise up and be heard so San Pedro can have its own school district.