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Educators, community leaders and parents take charge to save African American students
By Kenneth Miller Assistant to Executive Editor
Los Angeles Unified School District board president Monica Garcia was on the hot seat at the second in a series of public forums hosted by local organizations Community Call to Action & Accountability and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Los Angeles at Bethel AME Church this week.
Garcia, just 20 months into her job as board president, took a stand from her seat and delivered a series of lobs and volleys at the LAUSD while addressing the inadequacies that plague the second largest school district in the nation, with close to one million students.
“This is a school district that went from seventh in spending to 47th in spending and large over crowded year-around schools are getting worse not better,” Garcia bellowed to the audience of less than 50 individuals.
While small in number the forum packed a heavy punch in its quest to bring about solutions that will increase educational opportunities for African American students from grades kindergarten through 12th grade.
Garcia, who is just the third Latino hired in 155 years on the board, is no stranger to many of the concerns affecting Blacks and other minority students, having been raised and educated in the bowels of East Los Angeles.
However, while she managed to survive the culture and the education system by attending and graduating from University of California, Berkley, she insisted that those same standards that were implemented 25 years ago just would not work for students today.
“Seventy-seven percent of the children today are from low income families and success for some is at the expense of the majority,” she said.
Garcia said that,”As an organization the LAUSD has fallen short,” and then blasted the situation as “educational malpractice.” “This is a crisis,” she stated.
She was not alone in her assessment of the LAUSD, which has come under a siege of criticism in recent months from not just parents and community leaders, but Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
Villaraigosa’s zeal and pledge to overhaul the LAUSD led him to form a school partnership program in which he appointed former San Diego school reformer Angela Bass to oversee a half dozen of the lowest performing schools.
On this chilly night, Bass was just in attendance as a concerned observer, but also found her opinion requested on the panel by moderator Eric Lee, SCLC-LA president.
“We say a lot of things, but don’t mean what we say,” said Bass.
She quickly pointed two schools that she oversees such as Markham and Gompers in South Los Angeles which not only lack an adequate supply of pencils and learning instruments, but the teachers who are often hired during a probationary period transfer out after just two years.
Bass challenged that, the curriculum is not rigorous enough in math science and social studies.”
She said at one school the kids asked questions and then at another the kids were told what to do.
Another participant of the panel was Carson Mayor Pro Tem Mike Gipson, but on this night he was a concerned parent and representing United Teachers Los Angeles as a staff member of the powerful teachers union.
Davis told of his high achieving son who attends an LAUSD school in Carson, but is disturbed because his son does not meet the criteria to be bused to one of the district’s excellent magnet schools.
Howard Ranson, an adult school teacher for the LAUSD has been one of the district’s shining stars. Ranson graduates 90 percent of his students and instead of addressing the abundance of shortcomings the district has, he desires to find a way to make his students achieve at a higher rate.
Ranson is the exception and not the norm for the LAUSD, which will be hit with even more severe budget cuts that will surely add to their woes.
Lee equated the issue of education with the issue of civil rights years ago.
“We must break the cycle of poverty and crime.”
Lee contends that one of the primary major concerns is that schools in urban communities are underfunded and are assigned teachers with less experience than schools in suburban communities and beach city schools.
How schools allocate the financial resources that are afforded them was also at issue. Should schools in high gang infested regions be allowed to spend more on safety than educational supplies?
He shared a personal experience that while visiting Crenshaw High School and then taking a visit to Pacific Palisades High School, Palisades had new computers, while Crenshaw was in a holding pattern on receiving books.
It is a dilemma that has no clear cut answers, but as he suggested, his organization’s goal is to first educate (the community about the concerns), organize (then to do something about them), mobilize (community leaders and organizations as a show of force) and agitate (the infrastructure of LAUSD) to change it.