Today is Thursday, December 9, 2010 (still feels like Wednesday, because I’m not really sleeping) and Day 164 PF. That’s Post Fremont for the uninitiated. One year ago today, the faculty and staff of John C. Fremont High School, located in the Florence area of South Central Los Angeles, exactly two miles east of the flashpoint for the famed L.A. Riots, were called into the auditorium and were told by the Superintendent for the Los Angeles Unified School District, Ramon Cortines, that Fremont High was to undergo reconstitution. There were also thinly veiled accusations that teachers were responsible for the mismanagement of money, including QIEA funding, as if the disappearance of an administrator who had been in charge of budgets had nothing to do with the issue.
One year ago. This first part is a recap.
I remember Dan Crook and I were sitting together on the southern side of the hall, eyeing the armed school police officers. It had all the feel of a coup, especially with the officers with their guns in evidence and being stationed very strategically around the room.
I remember watching the principal watching the Superintendent, being puzzled at his lack of expression. Maybe a better way to phrase it was the lack of surprise. I had thought I was getting along with him. Until that moment. Until the moment I asked about transferring and his response came out very clipped, very curt. I guess at that point I did not want to believe he knew about this, but hindsight is, unfortunately, a lot better than real-time vision.
It also proved to be one Hell of a lot better than foresight, for the foresight that would have spotted his place in this would have sounded like paranoia, and I haven’t wanted to live in a Machiavellian world. Unfortunately, when you learn that this was done when our firebrand of a UTLA South Area leader, Mat Taylor, was informed when he was at a meeting and a mere twenty minutes before the announcement and that our UTLA President, A.J. Duffy, knew a week before but did not tell us, and that this “coincided” with the visit of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, a huge proponent of reconstitution, to nearby Samuel Gompers Middle School, well, perhaps a little paranoia might be justified.
What followed was what I like to call the Great Fremont Rebellion. I did make plenty of jokes about the Rebel Alliance and a number of us (Barbara Stam and Gary Page were two stalwarts, as well as I) attempted to chronicle what was happening at http://savefremont.org; that site expired in late June. I managed to save my posts; they are over at “Saving the Mont” at http://savingfremont.weebly.com, while my current stuff is at http://rememberfremont.webs.com. It is my hope that Barbara finishes resurrecting her posts and does something similar over at http://fremontwatch.wordpress.com/. I also wish Gary would do the same… or at least get in touch.
There’s a lot of people I wish would get in touch, but with the Fremont Diaspora (Susan McLeary or Mickey Thibeault coined the expression for the scattering of the Mont staff), we may have moved on. Some of us bombard each other with quips and quotes on Facebook; others shun all contact, perhaps with intent of shoving away painful memories; for others, it may just have been a job. I can only speak for myself (there’s a memory from some favorite movie or TV show of a character with a bit of a brogue saying, “I’m up here speakin’ for meself.” Wish I could see the face of the character, in order to quote him decently. We all ought to know how I am about quotes by now…)
We also had tension in the ranks. Some chose to stay, to reapply, and there were arguments about that, about the reasons or justifications. We all have our opinions. Someone who reapplied said to someone who chose not to, “You’re only hurting yourself.” Little did she realize she would not be rehired. Some who reapplied were snapped up, others rejected out of hand. Those of us who chose not to reapply faced trying to scale McKenna’s Wall, the zone in LD7 where he reigns like some petulant tin-plated swaggering wannabe god, while also attempting to break through without any letters of recommendation or reference.
Many of us did escape at last. Some of the fits, like mine, are happy ones; others, sadly, are not. I’m sure we’re all adjusting to the new places.
So much for the past.
But yesterday a friend invited me over. She told me how relaxed I was, as did another friend told me on Saturday, “You’re so laid-back, so mellow. The new place fits you.” Never in my life have I ever been described as “mellow,” but I have heard “laid-back,” just not for a long time. Never “mellow.”
Curiously, they both asked, “Why are you still blogging? It’s not bad, but why?” Both of them.
Because the fight’s not over.
Because at Samuel Gompers Middle School, faculty have been told by Dr. George McKenna III of the joys and responsibilities of “white board configuration”, even though they have no working copiers and there are broken windows (last I heard) .
Because at David Starr Jordan High School in Watts, Superintendent Ramon C. Cortines told the faculty and staff they faced reconstitution, going charter, writing their own plan or joining PLAS, the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools (the Mayor’s playground); later this was amended, according to Dr. George McKenna III, who wants so badly for his made-for-TV movie to rank as highly as “Stand and Deliver” about the life of Jaime Escalante (much of which was filmed not at Garfield, but at Roosevelt, heh) to two choices: write a plan in a month (submitted last week) or face reconstitution. Last week, by the way, Dr. McKenna admitted that Fremont, whose scores were going up, was “restructured” anyway, which cripples the credibility of the restructuring process.
Because Fremont, which many of us refer to as the Mont, had, in July, the 240 positions collapsed into 219 positions, according to Principal Rafael Balderas, but to fill many of the positions, over forty people BRAND NEW to teaching joined the faculty, as did over thirty substitutes; many teachers were also asked to teach auxiliary classes. The Mont may have a fresh coat of paint, but it continues to bleed teachers.
Because Norte Vista High School in the Alvord District in Riverside was reconstituted.
Because Value Added Assessment came into our lives and took the life of Miramonte Elementary School teacher Rigoberto Ruelas.
Because Secretary of Education Arne Duncan chose to speak at a dozen of us from Teachers’ Letters to Obama, which now numbers some 3100 members, called up Anthony Cody and Marsha Ratzel afterwards to do damage control, promise further dialog—never to speak with us again.
Because Davis Guggenheim’s “Waiting For Superman” hold such sway in the minds of the public, with Oprah embracing Davis Guggenheim, Michelle Rhee and Arne Duncan as “heroes.”
Because Huntington Park High School faces further division into more Small Schhols, in spite of the faculty vote (95%) to remain a comprehensive high school, a topic we at Roosevelt are achingly familiar with. Monday night I learned that Huntington Park High School put together a website: https://savehphs.wordpress.com/. This will be doubtless used to rally the troops and to get the word out as this new LAUSD reform travesty unfolds.In reading the postings on the site, there are at present six letters of intent which have been submitted for Huntington Park and are posted at http://publicschoolchoice.lausd.net/Public_School_Choice_2.5 but actually do look remarkably similar, as Acting UTLA Chapter Chair Phil Keller wrote in his December 6th post.
Because PLAS, which actively discourages cooperation between Small Schools, may not even be having deans at Roosevelt next year, the burden falling on the shoulders of the teachers. Interesting that the public has been taught to see teachers as a bunch of slackers who have been feeding at the public trough for decades, that we are not doing our jobs, AND YET we are now expected to volunteer for additional duties, such as having, by implication, a teacher or teachers acting as deans or tech gurus or plant managers to keep the infrastructure intact.
Because PLAS, which actively discourages cooperation between Small Schools on even the simplest of matters, something which the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation were once proponents of, but no longer, which took forty administrators to New York to tour NYC’s “success stories” (but won’t tell us how much they spent) is now touting the creation of a “zone of choice” between the seven Small Schools at the Roosevelt Complex (interesting, isn’t it, that where there was once one principal, there are now eight; are they all drawing the salary of a true principal?), the two at the Mendez Learning Center and the Santee Learning Center. Will the choice be retroactive regarding all students currently enrolled in the high schools, or will be restricted to the incoming 9th Graders? Since education is based upon establishing relationships between students and teachers, and there is much talk about the establishment of cultures (wouldn’t that also be
based upon a series of relationships, or is that the anthropologist in me questioning too loudly?), would this not disrupt that process?
So, the war widened, the number of fronts increased. Fremont became the LAUSD equivalent of Vichy France. There are those who reapplied with the intent of embracing the new regime; some have been rewarded, others cast aside, the conditions they agreed to be rehired under changed without their consent. Hopefully other schools will learn from the mistakes that were made at the Mont. We did indeed make some.
The biggest mistake was that we did not hang together. When the going got tough, some chose to join those who were hurting the school with this ill-conceived “reform”, either with coordinatorships or coaching positions in mind, others because they thought they could act as some sort of resistance, still others because they felt they couldn’t get jobs anyplace else, or because they couldn’t leave the kids.
I could say something about each of those stances, those choices, but I will ask this: for those who remained, have you truly been able to temper this “reform” for the benefit of the students? Have you been able to redirect the avalanche? Periodic assessments aside, are the grades improving? Do the kids have faith in what you do?
More than half of us are gone, finding new homes. Some have landed at Jordan and are experiencing déjà vu, for they are seeing the situation all over again; they were even warned by Superintendent Cortines, “Don’t fight me on this like the teachers at Fremont.” Hopefully, they will do precisely that, and maintain the solid ranks we were not able to at the Mont. Hopefully, the 95% of the faculty at Huntington Park which voted for a comprehensive high school will remain together, standing shoulder to shoulder and be able to bring about true reform. Hopefully, those in the PLAS schools will be able to do the same.
As to those of us who left… well, it might be just because I’m showing “Henry V” to my kids today, or it might be because I am always moved to tears when I read it, hear it, or say it, but I think this one fits us, especially today: “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers…”