Thursday, March 31, 2011


By Diana L. Chapman

Watching an avalanche of layoffs from teachers to janitors, incoming Los Angeles Unified School District John Deasy woke up on a Saturday morning and flatly realized there was no way his moral compass could accept thousands of dollars in a pay increase.


The move to delete the $55,000 increase when Deasy assumes the superintendent post was gratefully accepted by struggling Los Angeles Unified School Board Members last week who recently sent out another round of pink slips to 7,000 teachers and other employees and expect an even greater influx to come.

Instead, Deasy opted to remain at his current $275,000 salary as deputy superintendent when he takes the reins of the nation’s second largest school district.  He will replace outgoing Superintendent Ramon Cortines on April 15.

“It’s just been on my mind,” Deasy, 50, said for why he decided to take the decrease. “I figured it was the right thing to do.” Budget cuts are “emotional and terrible,” and are tearing up the precarious fabric of district morale.

Said School Board Member Richard Vladovic: "Dr. Deasy along with the rest of the Board of Education understand that this is a very difficult time for the District and he made an admirable step toward alleviating some  of these horrific budget cuts."

Readying to take up his post, Deasy, in a quick phone interview before marching off to yet another budget meeting, warned that students’ education across the state is becoming an endangered species and that communities need to pull together and “take back Sacramento.”

The decrease was one of the first independent streaks I’d witnessed in the fast-talking Deasy and I applaud him for his decision not to take the money, especially as a massive tsunami of layoffs  leaves some former LAUSD employees nearly destitute and without health benefits.

Had he taken the increase, it would seem rather medieval when whole families are financially paralyzed.

Instead, the former deputy director for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation recommends citizens start getting on the phone or writing their state representatives. Understand, he says, this is not an LAUSD problem but a state-wide disaster for education overall.

“Morale is fragile and low across the system,” Deasy explained of district employees.  “Kids’ education is really in peril. We’ve had budget cuts before, but nothing like this. We need to take back Sacramento.

“We don’t want new money. We want the pathetic level we had before.  Up and down the spine of the state, we are going to dismantle state public education. This is a willful act. We should be adding, not cutting anywhere. It’s in (Sacramento’s) hands now.”

State Governor Jerry Brown and the legislature were unable to reach an accord to put tax extensions on the June ballot this week, which some school officials believed would shore up some of the education's financial crises.

Some consider Deasy, who comes with a resume steeped in education, as an ally of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who attempted to take over the school district and has many allies on the school board.

But others see Deasy as man who will determine issues himself – and will show independent streaks. We will have to wait and see.

So far, I’m liking Deasy’s upfront attitude; He doesn’t appear to hold back what he truly thinks.

“We will do our best with the little resources we have,” Deasy explained, understanding that he was plunging into even darker times ahead for Los Angeles schools. “I will be overseeing a devastating reduction in force.”

 Deasy  held posts as superintendent of Prince George’s Public County Schools in Maryland and the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District before coming to Los Angeles Unified.  

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


And SP High Hosts a Blood Drive This Thursday  Open to Adults;  In April Recycle Your Electronic Waste Such as Computers, Television and Copy Machines at the Campus
Cooking Club

By Diana L. Chapman

The life of a popular, much attended after school cooking club at San Pedro High was propped up to for the remainder of the school year once the Coastal Neighborhood Council agreed this month to fund nearly $1,000 for food supplies.

Voting 9 to 1 with one abstention,  most of the council members agreed that the club was necessary for the school  – especially after a beloved culinary teacher, Sandy Wood, retired two years ago. Wood often had a waiting list of 500 students.

However, due to the economic crises and teacher layoffs, the position has not been permanently filled and is likely to remain that way, said Jeanette Stevens, school principal.

Supportive council members said they were encouraged about the club because it teaches math and science and prepares students for their futures.

Coastal Member Doug Epperhart said the funding was a fit.

“It's a pleasure to support this effort to get kids to realize they can prepare meals
that are good for them and enjoy food that doesn't come in a wrapper from some fast food place,” Epperhart said.

James Weston, who heads the cooking club, applauded the council’s move, calling it an action to improve youth's lifes. The students learn making the smallest items, such as eggs and biscuits, to full meals, such as teriyaki chicken.

“I was really pleased when the council not only approved the financing that will allow our after school club to continue, but voiced their overwhelming support for what we, and others like us, are doing,” he said. “Some members even offered to volunteer to come in and help teach cooking!

“In a time when a lot of elected officials are being criticized for not paying attention to the needs of the communities, Coastal San Pedro Neighborhood Council s stepped up and should be applauded for their vision towards our children’s future and the betterment of San Pedro.”

Even Los Angeles School Board Member Richard Vladovic’s chief-of-staff was happy that the council made the decision.

“I sincerely thank the Coastal San Pedro Neighborhood Council for their support in providing the students of San Pedro High School with the much needed and respected program,” David Kooper said.

Adults : Come on down.

San Pedro High school will host a blood drive from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday in which all those who donate blood will receive two free tickets to LA Galaxy games and be entered into a drawing for annual Disneyland passes.

To give blood, please register at and head to the high school’s auditorium. Walk-ins will be accepted. The school is located at 1001 15th Street.

Do you have old monitors, televisions, copiers, computers, cell phones, speakers and a variety of other electronic waste?

Then San Pedro High’s Global Environmental House/Earth Alert Academy wants you!

On April 9, such items can be recycled by dropping them off at the high school between the hours of 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the corner of Leland and 17th streets.

Proceeds from recycling will support the academy and its future. Other items that will be accepted included DVD or CDs, cameras, fax machines, pagers, radios, desktop computers, laptops, fans, printers, ram chips, memory, paper shredders, power supplies, car batteries and other electronic waste.

Monday, March 28, 2011

 San Pedro Resident Mitch Harmatz Writes His Fears About Education Becoming Privatized After His Wife Receives Her Pink Slip and Another Mother Gives Her Views on the Latest Round of 7,000 Layoffs in the Los Angeles Unified School District

Submitted By Mitch Harmatz
“…We cannot have a free society, unless we have an educated and literate public…”
     On March 13th, my wife, a fifth grade teacher at Park Western Elementary School, along with 12 other colleagues and thousands of other teachers in our community were fired.
     Contrary to what the gentleman my wife met one night at Starbucks believes, the teachers I know are dedicated, visionary, and committed to our children and our community.
     Maybe the union is not so well run, and yes the school district does waste money and just as likely the teachers do need a better PR firm but the reality is:  Education and the value of education starts with the household and is reflected in our society.
     Disneyland offers a free pass on your birthday.  They do not say Saturday or Sunday only or just on school holidays.  Disneyland does not offer a free pass for straight “A” students.  What does this teach our children?
     When a child cannot get to school because the parent, if there is a parent, cannot get up or is not around, the school is not allowed to add 10 points to that student’s score.  No, the teacher is graded as not adding value.
     The” billion dollar” privatization of public education is a march by a few to benefit those few.  When the march is no longer to provide quality affordable public education rather to generate “tools of securitization” known as student loans we as a community need to support our public schools, work together to improve our public education system, not make our teachers or immigration the scapegoats, and most important push back against the attempt to end public education.
     Every successful business person knows an educated community sustains our community. 
     Every successful business persons knows that diversity of ideas sustains the process of continual improvement.
     Support our public education system.  Call Sacramento and let them know we support public education.  Write to the state senate and assembly and tell them we support public education.  Call San Pedro High School, our high school, and ask what you can do. 
     By the way, the quote above; Governor-elect Ronald Reagan, January 11, 1967.
Mitch Harmatz, Owner Plaza Automotive Center & Park Plaza Shell on Western in San Pedro has a Bachelor of Science degree in Philosophy; UCLA
 And a Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts Degree from Cal State University Dominguez Hills

He is a San Pedro Resident with three children; one at  UC Santa Cruz (accepted for Fall 2010) and graduate of San Pedro High, Dodson Middle School;  a junior at San Pedro High School;  and a seventh grader at Dodson Middle School.  They all graduated from Park Western.
 Submitted by Rachel Fischer
The rules for teacher layoffs were never intended for the current situation. 
Who could have predicted such dire financial circumstances? The state’s rules 
that protect seniority don’t make sense at a local level. Forcing upwards of 40 
percent turnover at any school destroys  years of community and educational 
program building. 
In all of this, the question needs to be asked:  “What is best for the kids?” The adults can find other jobs, but the kids can’t just choose to go to school another year.  A 
lost year in a kid’s life can make all the difference.”

Friday, March 25, 2011

From Union Busting to Saying the LAUSD Board Has It Right, Readers Ponder the School Board’s Decision Last Week to Allow Charters to Take Over Operations of Seven Los Angeles Schools;

Also, a Mother Asks Readers to Lobby for Tax Extensions to Aid Education

By Diana L. Chapman

About a week back, I expressed my dread with the Los Angeles Unified School Board’s decision to hand over seven schools to outside bidders  last week – a move that makes me brutally concerned over what that does to the disintegrating morale of the district’s staff.

With 5,000 more layoff notices  issued last week alone – and more expected to rain down on LAUSD staffers – I couldn’t help but be wary of what ramifications this means to teachers and support staff already awash in massive tsunami of cuts – yes, where many of our kids go to school.

Despite that LAUSD Supt. Ramon Cortines, who will retire in April, approved most of his employees proposals to breath new life into 13 campuses, the board discarded many of his suggestions and handed over seven schools to charter operators. The move was made after the board approved an earlier policy of “public school choice.” This allows charters to bid some of LAUSD’S failing and newly constructed schools.

The action disappoints me, because I fear an inequitable form of education branching out amongst the charters and a head toward privatization of public education.

In the meantime, seven LAUSD schools are gone – and only time will tell if the charter is a better provider to students.

Readers immediately emailed me their views, which included one who argued the teachers can only blame themselves,to another calling it the avenue the board embraced a remedy to bust the union.

In one case, a reader said teachers need to look in their own direction.

“I hate to say it, but teachers have brought this upon themselves,” wrote Kim Stevens. “It is not a money issue (the charter teachers are paid the same), but it is a matter of work rules leading to inflexibility and waste. All the nominated schools were a failure under LAUSD operation. Principals had no control over unqualified, unwilling or failing teachers. No way to run a school.

“The UTLA has two choices. Act passively and try to keep what it has and see the jobs dwindle. Or act positively, go back to zero on work rules keeping the same pay, and try again under able management. You  cannot fire a bad teacher. But you can eliminate their job. That is not about wages.”

Martha McKenzie, a former LAUSD teacher for 36 years, argues there are no other motives than one – to break up the UTLA.

 “You know as well as I that they (the school board) has ulterior motives,” McKenizie wrote. “They are doing it for one reason-union busting!! They fail to see the LONG term results of their irresponsible actions!!! Shame on the School Board. (School Board Member Richard and former administrator) Vladovic receives his pension because of the union-UTLA. The administrators always fell in suit with the teachers’ bargaining issues. What a traitor!”

Calling it a “giveaway,” of schools, parent Teresa Feldman has other concerns that have nothing to do with the UTLA. She worries if whether the board’s move is  even legal when involving newly constructed schools.

“When the district first proposed allowing charters onto new campuses like Eli Broad’s school for performing arts downtown, I emailed (Superintendent Ramon Cortines) and voiced my concerns. I actually ended up getting a phone call from the man himself and we had a long conversation. At that time, he made it clear that he was not in lock-step with the Mayor, but somehow the district ended up with the “failing schools” giveaway anyway.

“Now that Cortines is leaving, he is showing his real disdain for this move toward privatization, and I applaud him for that. I do wish he or someone familiar with the law would look into whether or not giving away new schools is against the law. I voted for bond issues to build new LAUSD schools for underserved populations that were expecting overcrowding. Now the district has decided that they need to use those campuses to avoid being sued by charters for not providing them access to LAUSD campuses. This is not what I voted for, and unless the charter schools agree to have gifted education, special ed., integration, etc. I do not want charters to go in.

“My kids have friends who lost whole school years because the charters their parents placed them in turned out to be bogus. Others have moved to charters only to have them close up for various reasons. Some educators I know have seen former charter school students pushed back into their neighborhood schools because the children didn’t “fit in”…Someone in the know has to wage a legal battle over the use of these campuses for charters.”

The last writer echos my sentiments exactly. Let’s not give up on kids who don’t “fit in,” or have special needs beyond the scope of any given charter. All kids deserve a chance at a good education – and not all kids will be equal or receive that at charter schools.


Sumbitted by Dayna Wells

Let’s get the tax EXTENSION on the June ballot.

Please call your legislators today and ask them to let the people vote.

 As you no doubt are aware, Governor Jerry Brown inherited a $25 billion-plus deficit from Governor Schwarzenegger. Brown has proposed a budget that splits the difference to close the deficit -- one half budget cuts, and one half new revenues in the form of extending temporary tax increases passed two years ago. But a group of legislators are refusing to put the tax extensions on the ballot in June, calling instead for only cutting government services and programs -- even though cutting $25 billion would represent more than a quarter of the state’s budget.

This would be devastating to K-12 education, as reflected by local school districts current move to increase class sizes and layoff over thousands of teachers and health and human services personnel.

Teachers, health and human services workers and people who want to support these services need to call their state legislators over the next couple of days and urge them to put the tax extensions on the ballot in June. Let the people vote!

Please contact your legislators. Tell them to let the people vote on whether or not to extend the taxes. It is impossible to overstate the importance of concerted phone calling –These calls CAN make a difference!!!

Thank you for your consideration.  Please call you representative below today:

 State Assembly Members
Jeff Gorell, District 37, 916-319-2037
Cameron Smyth, District 38, 916-319-2038
Felipe Fuentes, District 39, 916-319-2039
 Bob Blumenfield, District 40, 916-319-2040
Julia Brownley, District 41, 916-319-2041
Mike Feuer, District 42, 916-319-2042
 Mike Gatto, District 43, 916-319-2043
 Anthony Portantino, District 44, 916-319-2044
 Gil Cedillo, District 45, 916-319-2045
John Perez, District 46, 916-319-2046
 Holly Mitchell, District 47, 916-319-2047
 Mike Davis, District 48, 916-319-2048
 Mike Eng, District 49, 916-319-2049
 Ricardo Lara, District 50, 916-319-2050
 Steve Bradford, District 51, 916-319-2051
 Isadore Hall III, District 52, 916-319-2052
 Betsy Butler, District 53, 916-319-2053
 Bonnie Lowenthal, District 54, 916-319-2054
 Warren Furutani, District 55, 916-319-2055
 Charles Calderon, District 58, 916-319-2058
 State Senate Members
 Sharon Runner, District 17, 916-651-4017
Alex Padilla, District 20, 916-651-4020
 Carol Liu, District 21, 916-651-4021
 Kevin de León, District 22, 916-651-4022
 Fran Pavley, District 23, 916-651-4023
Ed Hernandez, District 24, 916-651-4024
 Rod Wright, District 25, 916-651-4025
 Current Price, Jr., District 26, 916-651-4026
 Alan Lowenthal, District 27, 916-651-4027
Ted Lieu, District 28, 916-651-4028
 Bob Huff, District 29, 916-651-4029
 Ron Calderon, District 30, 916-651-4030



Tuesday, March 22, 2011


Thursday, March 17, 2011


By Diana L. Chapman

With the Los Angeles Unified School board lopping off more schools and handing seven public campuses over to charters on Tuesday, one can’t help but wonder what that spells out to teachers and parents.

The fact is this: as a parent, it terrifies me and reminds me it’s a sad day in L.A. I can only imagine how it feels to teachers, like another knife in the back.  Morale at LA Unified remains sober, gray and grim.

Amid horrendous budget cuts and another round of 5,000 pink slips going out to teachers and staff, the board showed it further couldn’t depend on its own employees and tapped outside operators for seven of 13 campuses placed under the “public school choice” option, meaning they were open to outside bidders.

Tuesday’s vote seems to reflect that board members have no faith in its own employees – going against the grain in many cases of their once highly-prized, outgoing Superintendent, Ramon Cortines, who recommend most of the schools be taken over by a new branch of LAUSD employees who competed with charters in the bidding process. Cortines leaves in April and will be replaced by John Deasy.

Only Board Member Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte dissented the choice, who wondered why no one was listening to Cortines.

I wonder too.

My fear about going charter-happy (besides not keeping our own teachers)  is that we might cut off the limbs of our right and access to free public education for our children.  That is something to fear.

While thus far, LA Unified has only ushered charters in that are non-profit, lines can easily become blurred, especially as another movement  runs afoot across the nation to have charters run schools for profit, as Danny Weil, author of Charter School Movement, notes.

“LA Unified is headed for privatization and the best place to see this plan is New Orleans,” Weil e-mailed. “This is the plan put forth by Paul Hill and I cover this in my book on charters. Detroit is going this way, New Jersey, Ohio, all of Michigan and many more. Public education, its workers and its missions are now being decimated…”

Yes, every day I watch our schools be decimated, especially as the board continually takes out the chain-saw and buzzes away at staff morale. With so many in the district laid off – and thousands more to come – it seems only right to heavily consider Cortines suggestions.

Instead, the board dismissed much of his advice and once again showed its alignment with Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who has desperately tried to take over the district, and at last, it seems he’s done so.

Since the mayor’s city slips everyday closer to the edge of bankruptcy, I wish he’d just stay focused in his own yard. Instead, he seems to be telling the board what to do and his key ally, board president Monica Garcia, takes his cues.

The board did, however, allow the district to maintain a secondary new campus,  which cost about $181 million to build in Long Beach on the border of Carson, to remain within its realm.

The UTLA, the teacher’s union, released this angry statement, about Tuesday’s decision:

“Today, politics won over pedagogy,” the statement said. “The parents’ voice has been silenced and the true agenda of the School Board majority has been exposed. The School Board majority clearly was doing the bidding of the mayor and his billionaire allies who want to privatize public education.”

Tuesday, among some of the decisions, the board awarded Clay Middle School in Athens to Green Dot charters and Echo Park Elementary to Camino Nuevo charters, both against Cortines wishes.

I asked Board Member, Richard Vladovic who oversees the Harbor area and portions of South Los Angeles, why he made such a decision.

“I made the decisions I made because I believe that the groups I selected offered the kids the best opportunity to be successful, both internally and externally,” he said.  “I do this work for kids. We need to give them every opportunity to be successful and provide every bit of support that we can in order to make it happen.

“Yesterday’s decisions will alter the path for generations to come, both positively and negatively. I do not take the decisions lightly and the only special interests I take into consideration is kids. If I made a mistake yesterday, I made it on behalf of the kids.”

About 20,000 students, according to the Los Angeles Times, will now have their education turned over to charters.

Here’s another issue we need to fear. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. We are allowing the district to balloon even ridiculously bigger than it already is by awarding so many charters to take over Los Angeles schools. Those campuses will be harder to watch over, like an octopus with thousands of tentacles floating in every direction.

Already we know this: just like Los  Angeles Unified schools, charters can be good or bad. Case in point recently were Crescendo Charters, which achieved grand ratings and top test scores, making it one of the most sought after charters to attend.

It turned out to be one of those too good to be true cases.

Then Crescendo Director John Allen allegedly told his principals to open the standardized tests and have his teachers teach the answers on the test. The schools were caught only because several teachers blew the whistle.

While the board voted to close those schools – depending on whether the leadership staff involved is fired – it begs the question about what the hundreds of other campuses are doing.

Since the district has already shown how difficult it can be to manage its own campuses, how will it be able to give over site to charters, who already don’t have as stiff state regulations as regular public schools.

The answer is: it can’t.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Maryam Yazdi, 11, writes down rules for fairies and is working on a book.
An 11-Year-Old Writing Student Details Rules for the World of Fairies and Los Angeles Police Department Officials Break Bread with San Pedro High School Academy Cadets After a Cadet Wrote She Still Feared Talking to Police

Rules for the Fairy World

Dear Readers:
In the Seven Golden Secrets to Writing class, three of my students are already writing books, ages 9 to 12! They  show me their work and I can’t help but be happy. Here’s the truth why so many students enjoy this class. It’s likely the first time anyone has said: “Let’s just create.”

The time for kids to tickle and spark their imaginations is now! They enjoy it – and secretly are learning to write better all the time – without what they might consider drudgery.

When Maryam Yazdi, 11, wrote this little booklet laying down rules for the fairy world, I just cracked up. How do they get these zany ideas?  It’s easy. They’re allowed to play in the world of writing – oh, and in the world of fairies too. That’s the real secret – Diana

A Real Secret
By Maryam Yazdi

Ssshhh! If I tell you a secret, you wouldn’t tell anyone would you?

No, you wouldn’t. Have you ever been told fairies are just an old myth, a legend maybe even a fairy tale? Well, it’s ridiculous to believe such things. Fairies are REAL, and I can prove it too.

Now, listen. Fairies have a few rules:
       1) Fairies may never show their TRUE existence to humans.
  2) There may never be any human blood in fairy ancestry.
3)    Fairies may never take up a human religion.

If a fairy breaks these rules, they are turned to fairy marble.
If you’re wondering, yes, there are famous fairies throughout human history. Gandhi, Elizabeth Taylor, Taylor Lautner, and so on. They all used their fairy magic to become great people.

Here is a list of fairy magic:
1) Fairies have heavenly beauty.
2) Fairies can shape shift.
3) Fairies can charm people beyond human imagination.
4) Fairies can mind read.
5) Fairies can levitate themselves and other objects.
6) Fairies can make things appear and disappear.
7) Fairies can transform other objects.

Also, about turning fairies to stone, they create a diversion so people think the fairy is dead when really what happened is that the fairy spirit is encased in stone and added to the fairy museum. 

For more information on the Seven Golden Secrets to Writing Workshops, email Diana at
Cadets meet LAPD officials to help them feel more comfortable when talking to police. Officer Cynthia Deinstein (far left) runs the academy and LAPD Deputy Chief Pat Gannon, top left in uniform. Far right, Lt. David McGill
Los Angeles Police Officials Breakfasted With San Pedro High Academy Cadets Last Friday to Talk About Their Futures  After an Academy Cadet Wrote She Was Scared to Talk to Officers

Los Angeles police officials breakfasted with the San Pedro High police academy cadets last week after a student wrote in a school essay that even though she was in the program, she was still scared to talk to officers.

That fear led to an agreement between the academy and LAPD Deputy Chief Gannon, who oversees the southern region of Los Angeles, to hold a breakfast with himself, other officers and several cadets. The breakfast was hoped to ease any tensions cadets might have – and give those who are going on with enforcement – a chance to peer into their futures.

Gannon approved the event  and attended with about six officers. Students later told Cynthia Deinstein, the LAPD officer in charge of the academy, that they were surprised a top commander would take the time out to visit with them.

“The cadets were so impressed with the breakfast,” Deinstein said. “Their faces alone I will never forget. The fact that a deputy chief would take time out to socialize and get to know some young cadets that he may never see again…well it’s someone like that that makes me know I made the right decision to join the LAPD.

“I tell these cadets that people are concerned about wanting them to be successful and then to be actually able to back that up with a morning like we had of LAPD officials sharing and caring, that was worth more than any time ever in a classroom lesson I have given. It’s moments like these that tells me, as an officer, and them as cadets that the department really believes in youth programs.”

Cadets also met Lt. David McGill, who is in charge of detectives in the Harbor Area. He counseled a handful of cadets during the event that if they do become officers, “a fun” job, to keep their lives balanced, not take their work home and keep exercising and have a variety of hobbies.

“My job is not my life,” said McGill told some of the cadets. “You have to keep your life balanced.”

The breakfast ended with McGill offering the cadets to come visit  the Harbor Area station to see how his detectives work.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011


Dear Readers: This story came to my attention from one of my favorite readers. He asked me to reprint it and I did so because everything the author says here is the truth. Our teachers struggle everyday. They struggle because our expectations of them are unbelievably high. We don’t just expect them to teach. We expect them to cure society’s ills – and become a student’s mom, father, uncle, aunt. We expect them to do this for next-to-nothing in pay and we expect them to run many other programs beyond the classroom – such as harvest festivals, after school clubs and scores of other projects.

The other thing we forget – and the reason I don’t ever want to be a teacher – is the sea of sadness they walk through in their classrooms every day. It’s almost better not to know that this student is dying, this one’s brother has been fatally shot and this kid – well, this child is raising his siblings because his parents are drug addicts. Some teachers harden themselves to this and try not to know. Other teachers go home and cry. How can we expect any teacher to possibly fix society’s overall trouble?s

As Mindy Sloan, Ph.D, says – who is author of Say It Now Thank You to A Teacher – we all need to understand that they can’t.

By Mindy Sloan

The personal cost of teaching may be becoming too high. In my 10 years as a teacher of teachers, more and more of my students are reporting headaches, sleepless nights, irritated stomachs, chronic illness and even cancer. As someone who cares about children, and sees the necessity of having healthy teachers to support them, I can’t help but feel compelled to understand why teachers are getting sick.

Here are the reasons I have identified thus far:

Unrealistic expectations.
One reason may be that we place unrealistic expectations on teachers. Classrooms are a place in which every societal challenge presents itself. If a community is impoverished, violent or drug infested, it is expressed through the children in the classroom. It is society’s expectation that the teacher in the classroom must be prepared to remediate any societal problem we present, and teach each child to read at the same time.

Changing requirements.

The requirements to keep a teaching credential keep changing. As the needs of California’s children change, the training required to teach changes as well. For example, you may be a special-education teacher who has been effectively teaching children with autism for 20 years, but unless you go back to school
and earn the new Added Authorization, Autism Spectrum Disorders, mortgage foreclosures, violence in our streets, child abuse articles
last summer, “Grading the Teachers: Valued-Added Analysis.” New
York City Schools has followed suit, releasing ratings of 12,000 teachers. In both cases, each individual teacher was ranked based on the performance of the students in his/her classroom. While some ineffective teachers may be identified using this approach, there is no distinction between ineffectiveness and those competent teachers who are willing to take on the most challenging learners. Indeed, the message of the approach is clear. If you care about all learners, even those who have the most challenges, you will be identified as a bad teacher. For those who choose the profession because they love children and teaching, such a label is devastating.

Lack of support systems.

There is no argument that the focus of our educational system should be on children, first and foremost. Caring for our children, however, means we must do what we can to give them the kind of adults they need to succeed. Some of these adults must be teachers, teachers who are not only academically prepared, but teachers who are emotionally and physically healthy as well. Thus far, teacher preparation programs focus on academic knowledge and skills. There is little to no mention of self-care or preparing for the emotional realities of working in today’s schools.

Likewise, district funding does not include teacher support groupsor
systems to facilitate emotional health in current teachers. It should stand to reason that teachers who struggle with their own emotional and physical health cannot provide the kinds of environments students need to succeed. Indeed, one may consider that it is the emotionally unhealthy teacher who can be the most damaging to children.

In my experience, teachers internalize. They do not tend to complain and are not particularly good at advocating for themselves. They tend to put their own needs on the back burner, considering others first. The importance of healthy and effective teachers cannot be overly stated. As a group, they see every child. They impact every child. If we want to
support our children, we must support their teachers.

Sloan is director of accreditation and associate professor of special education at Brandman Univeristy, part of the Chapman University System. She is the author of “Say It Now: Thank You to a Teacher.” Her e-mail address is

Monday, March 07, 2011

A Brilliant 17-Year-Old Student With Tourette’s Learns How to Live With His Diagnosis and Make the Grade Anyway; He’s Looking at Schools Like Brown University

Dear Readers:

I just can’t resist a story like this. This is a student who is going to make it despite the issues he’s faced. Success stories like this make me so happy and thrilled to know that our future will be better, because a teen already navigated a difficult syndrome and still faced the world head on. I applaud Oliver for forging ahead despite Tourette's and getting top grades at his school. He was recently accepted to California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo and San Diego State University and is waiting responses from other universities. Here is an essay he wrote revealing what it’s like to have Tourette’s– Diana

By Oliver Hegge

My childhood was the same as any other kid’s in elementary school. I had friends that I played many sports with such as baseball, soccer, and basketball, and found a love of reading by delving into the depths of books like The Hardy Boys and Harry Potter.
In 5th grade, I started to have what I thought were bad habits. For some reason that I couldn’t fathom, I would get urges to shake my head or make soft noises. These bad habits would come one at a time and would eventually fade away, so I never thought much of them.

Sixth grade is when things escalated. These bad habits started to come with other ones, and before long, I found myself constantly twitching and making noises. While it was hard enough adjusting to life in middle school, I had the added discomfort of not knowing what was going on with my body. It was extremely embarrassing when I would catch people staring at me. I felt ashamed that I could not control my body.
In 7th grade, I finally found out what was wrong. I had a disorder called Tourette’s Syndrome, and my bad habits were called tics. During this time, I participated in a research study at the University of California, Los Angeles. The study helped me to understand and cope with having the disorder by supplying me with strategies called competing responses. The program helped me to deal with Tourette’s without the use of drugs.

Having Tourette’s Syndrome has impacted me tremendously in my life. It has molded me into a person with many sides to my personality. No matter what I do, I always make sure that I do my best because I don’t want people to judge me by my appearance. I want them to know me not as the, “weird kid who twitches and makes weird noises,” but as someone who is reliable, intelligent, and considerate.

I reserve my judgments about people until I have a conversation with them. All too often I am reminded of the ugly fact that most people develop ideas about people that can be untrue. Close friends have told me that the first time they met me they thought I was on drugs. I keep these experiences fresh in my memory because they remind me not to judge others.

Tourette’s Syndrome has often posed a challenge to learning. There are times where my attention is divided between dealing with my tics and paying attention in class. I have however, succeeded in getting straight A’s all throughout high school because of my aptitude for learning and willingness to work. It is through determination that I have been able to keep my studies up and become respected by my teachers and peers.

Tourette’s Syndrome is the biggest challenge in my life. I can’t choose to stop twitching like I can choose to turn off a light. I can’t run away from it or try to ignore it. It is always there, no matter how badly I might want it to disappear. Yet this burden has given me a perspective on life that few can boast of having. I understand that one has to take the initiative in life if one wants to truly live.

I could easily live a sheltered life, choosing not to participate in social events and shrinking away from forming meaningful relationships with others. Instead, I refuse to allow Tourette’s to control my life and relationships. Tourette’s has motivated me to be outgoing and to take leadership roles. I am the president of the Knights and Knightettes, which is an elite student organization dedicated to serving my high school. I took this leadership role to prove to myself that Tourette’s cannot hold me back from contributing to society in a positive way.

The greatest lesson that I took from the UCLA study is: I may have Tourette’s, but Tourette’s doesn’t have me.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

By Diana L. Chapman
The Los Angeles Unified School Board, which has frustrated me for years with its alignment to the city’s mayor and it’s decisions to open up our schools to charters, has finally gained ground with me after doing the right thing. It agreed to close all six of Crescendo’s cheating charter schools last week.
This time, nope, it wasn’t the kids cheating. More scary: It was the adults.
School Board Member Richard Vladovic said there was no room for cheating anywhere or at anytime and last Tuesday – in a 6-0 vote -- approved the shuttering of the campuses along with five other board members.
 “I believe Crescendo had undermined the fabric of public schools and I will never support them unless all the participants are immediately fired and across the board and ethics training commences with the remaining staff,”  Vladovic e-mailed me,  one of the many reasons I will vote for him Tuesday on March 8. “What message are we sending these kids when we teach them it’s ok to cheat? One of these Crescendo schools is my school and I will not stand for it. Thank you for these whistle blowers who reported this heinous ethical breach. The message that was sent by this ethical breach is that we don’t have faith in our children…”
The Los Angeles Times, which broke the story, reported last week that then founder, John Allen, allegedly encouraged principals to provide the exact questions that would be given on state standardized tests and teach them directly to its students – which might have been missed had not some courageous teachers blown the whistle.

Crescendo’s high-end reputation scaled the ranks of amongst charters – especially due to its high test scores. But now everything is questionable. If cheating happened in 2009, we don’t know when it started. This instance alone has  poisoned all the good work Crescendo might have done, because no one knows for sure exactly how and when it all began.
But it did start – and it cannot be accepted despite a school administrator’s recommendation that Crescendo had done enough to clean up its act. LAUSD top administrator, Parker Hudnut, who oversees charter schools, recommended to the board last Tuesday that they extend the contract of two schools for five more years. Those included Crescendo Charter Academy in Gardena and Crescendo Conservatory in Hawthorne.
Hudnut seemed satisfied that suspending the principals for ten days and demoting the founder was enough cleanup for the six charters, that run in Los Angeles, Gardena and Hawthorne.
Thank goodness that morning, someone had some coffee percolating in their brains, including Vladovic who oversees the Harbor area and southern portions of Los Angeles.
Vladovic and I don’t see eye-to-eye on many issues. For instance, I don’t like our schools being shoved off for Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s non-profit to run. It’s grating that a mayor who can barely run the city believes he should run schools.
But here’s one thing Vladovic and I agree on completely. It’s absolutely repugnant to teach students not to cheat and threaten them with suspension and failures when you have adults around cheating!
  “I want to be very clear in my words,” Vladovic said. “If you cheat, you are history! I do not support anyone that went along with this blatant cheating and I do not support Mr. Allen (the director) or any of the principals who went along with the plan to cheat on the test, and more importantly cheat our children. Cheating will not be tolerated.”
Had the school board not taken such a stance, it would set a dangerous precedent that charters and LAUSD schools alike could cheat – and only receive a slap in the hand. If it had not taken such stiff measures, clearly it would open up the doors widely to allow such behavior.
School Board Member Marguerite LaMotte, who abstained Tuesday, did so in part  because she was concerned what would happen with the students at Crescendo’s charters. There is cause for concern. Where will they go?
Incoming Los Angeles School Board Supt. John Deasy was directed to find out what happened with those involved in the matter for the board to consider what will happen next.  Here are my suggestions to the board:
--Making sure that all the principals and director are fired for this breach. Not one of those principals should be staying on board – and the founder must go. By now, many of the students know what happened. As I’ve said before, students absorb what they see and the message they receive must be right: Cheating is not OK.
--Form a committee that must include the whistle blowing teachers, parents, LAUSD officials, and scandal-free administrators on how to reform Crescendo Charters if possible and to form an entirely new board to oversee the schools. It’s current board members allowed this cheating under their noses. Provide a new plan to the LA Unified school board for consideration. If enough steps have been taken to truly clean these charters up, then consider a one year extension/probationary contract for each school. From then on, its contract would have to be renewed yearly for each school.
-- Should no reform package come to fruition, LAUSD school officials must help parents find new campuses for their children. The students, after all, should not be punished. They weren’t the ones that cheated.
--To prevent further cheating incidents, clarify to teachers – public or charter --that they will be applauded for calling in information such as this. For all we know, this type of deception could be ongoing blatantly throughout schools. To curb it, provide school officials and teachers with information on where to call and report it.
Only is this way, can Crescendo gain any secure footing again and only in this way, should it.