Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte, LAUSD Board of EducationInsults School Progress
For some time, I have watched in horror as the Los Angeles Board of Education, of which I am a member, has chipped away at the backbone of our school district. At each Board meeting (and probably in-between), deals appear to be made to tear schools away from their existing faculty and administrators and award them to charter operators, some with less than commendable track records in our community. In many cases, the Board's action does not reflect the "re-form" they so frequently and fluidly promise. Instead, a type of "de-form" appears to be in play, making our system distorted, damaged and disfigured. If left unchecked, this type of "de-formity," will leave our students ill prepared for employment or higher education, resulting in a negative economic impact on our community.
The most recent and clearly the most outrageous example of this School Board-imposed "de-formity," occurred in March, when, over my objections, as well as the Superintendent's recommendations, the Board voted to award the administration of Clay Middle School to Green Dot. Clay, located within my Board District, has been in operation for more than 50 years however, the school is on the verge of loosing its legacy. The Board, in their arrogance, plans to remove Clay's name from the school and promote the Green Dot name. While Clay's Academic Performance Index (API) score of 537 reflects a clear need for improvement, their principal of less than two years, has led the school to tremendous gains and has implemented new academic programs. Green Dot, on the other hand, has NO history of working with middle school-aged children. And, to make matters worse, Green Dot's scores are no better than Clay's. Of their 13 schools operated within LAUSD, eight have scores of less than 650, which means that only five have API scores above the district's focus for re-vamping. Their schools with low API scores include the five Locke High Schools. These schools have been in Green Dot's hands long enough for them to have made substantial growth especially since they have significantly smaller student bodies than Clay. Locke's 2010 scores of 563, 605, 495, 537 and 606, do not warrant the reward of another school in which to implement educational strategies that have not resulted in overwhelming success.
The parents of Clay do not want Green Dot to run the school, nor do most of the teachers. Despite the fact that Green Dot did not even submit a proposal to administer Clay, the School Board handed the school to them on a silver platter. This deal was obviously orchestrated in advance in what appears to be political payback for my failure to support the Mayor's highly publicized and heavily bankrolled education take-over agenda. This is an all-out attempt to dismantle Board District 1.
Despite the political maneuvers, I will continue to call attention to these Board actions. In the case of Clay, I have raised several issues, including : 1) Why is Clay, a school, which appears to be on the mend, now being given to a charter operator whose API scores are poor; 2)Will Clay's goal become a downward negative rather than the goal of reaching 800 or higher? 3) What will happen to the kids enrolled in special education classes when they are turned over to a charter inexperienced in dealing with that population. 4) Why was input of parents with enrolled students discouraged in favor of orchestrated groups of non-enrolled ones? 5) How did a small dissident group of faculty members become so influential in the future of Clay?
As stakeholders--parents, educators, elected officials, churches, business owners and community members--equally responsible for improving the academic performance of students within our reach, we have to investigate decisions made about our community without our input and strategically respond to plans that undermine our voice. With that in mind, community members have been coming forward to share their issues about Clay. And, as a result, Congresswoman Maxine Waters recently hosted a community meeting to hear concerns about the take-over (take-down) process. At that meeting, parents decided to visit neighborhood residents to share information about Clay. While the circle of information is getting wider and the movement continues to gain momentum, we must push forward until our collective voice causes those who cast dispersion upon our schools without benefit of firsthand knowledge, to take an unbiased, apolitical look at our schools. Our schools must be viewed in the context of their histories, background and lack of district resources and support. We must all ask the School Board majority why it does not demand that charters illustrate their ability get better results than current school administration. If true reform is desired (and not "de-form"), then school officials and outside interests must solicit the input of legitimate community stakeholders and at the same time, respect the knowledge, skills and abilities of professional educators who know how to implement educational strategies that will make steady, incremental gains.
Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte represents District 1 on the LAUSD Board of Education.