Day 62 Saturday, May 1, 2010 “Little Lies”

 

Today is Saturday, May 01, 2010 and it is Day 62 of my time left at the Mont. We got to do a practice run on a conversation a group of teachers are going to have with Secretary Arne Duncan, set for a couple of weeks from now, so I’m wading through the writings of other ten or eleven teachers involved and whatever else seems to pop up out of my monitor. I did take a break with some folks and talked about rodeos, which led to the topic of rodeo clowns. When rodeo first began, the concept of clowns developed as a way to entertain spectators in between shows or events and to keep the children in the audience from becoming restless. We all know that the rodeo clown is not the real show. He’s a distraction, but not the main event, entertaining as he might be.

 

Speaking of entertainment, I have to thank Barbara and Terra for wading through the interview Dr. George McKenna III gave to Patt Morrison’s radio show. As usual, his interview is filled with teacher-bashing and distortions of the truth, such as the section on the reapplication process, as well as his continual self-congratulation over his successes:

1:22 pm, 4/26, “Patt Morrison Show,” KPCC 

Patt Morrison: “When schools simply can’t come up to snuff under NCLB, things have to change.  In this case, it’s something called, ‘reconstituting.’  That’s what’s happening at Fremont H.S.  Over the next weeks and months, we’ll be talking about it…what it means to the students, staff, leadership of that school.  Dr. George McKenna III is the superintendent for Local District 7, which includes JCFHS.”

Dr. George McKenna III: “Well, the technical term is restructuring…under NCLB guidelines, Bush admin, federal law…That says if a school has been underperforming for a number of years…Fremont has been based on student achievement outcomes…there are four options: close it, charterize, lengthen day and year, or restructure.  Restructuring means that all employees reapplies for their job.  The principal has already been reassigned since the beginning of the school year.  According to the Supt’s decision to utilize that part of the legislation…and that began when he announced it in December.

OLYNYK: Actually, Mr. Balderas was assigned to the Mont before July 1, but it was on that day he took up his duties. 

Patt: “So let’s look at those four things, one of which has to happen.  That was never a consideration, I would think?”

DGM3: “No, I don’t think anybody ever considered that.”

Patt: “What about making it a charter school?”

DGM3: “Well, then, you’ve given up.  You’re saying that a public school can’t do, that other people who have for-profit enterprises are better.  I believe that the alternative to public school is in some way is a danger.  On the other hand, if we won’t do it, then they should.  I don’t believe we can’t do it and shouldn’t do it.  I was a principal.  I was a principal at a school in this neighborhood that people didn’t believe could succeed…Crips was born there…after a while, there was a waiting list to get in…there were zero affluent children, just like Fremont HS.”

 OLYNYK: Here it comes again. Just like going to a Stones concert—nobody get out without hearing “Satisfaction”—or is this “Self-Satisfaction”?

Patt: “What about lengthening the school year?  This is something that a lot of educators have said, ‘This would really help academic performance’.” 

DGM3: “Sure, if the academic instructional program were different.  If you lengthen the same amount of mediocrity, you get the same amount of frustration.  There’s not evidence that says a longer day of ineffective instruction improves children’s behavior.  It may [be?] babysitting, containment.  That’s not something that says we’re gonna do better cause we do it longer.  We can be very satisfied at what we’re doing.  But, if we’re doing it wrong, being satisfied doesn’t mean we get a good outcome.  The data shows us that students were woefully underachieving, as far as student outcomes are concerned.  One example is one-third of students are English Learners, but only 8% get reclassified…that is brought from English Language classes into English…and the District’s average is 14%.  They have not made their annual yearly progress since the inception of NCLB, which is over a dozen years ago.  They only made their API only twice in the last ten years.  They made 8 points of growth last year.  The District’s average is 13.  We now have a 524 average at Fremont.  The District’s average is 694.  The state’s goal is 800.”

Patt: “So, if I could sum up the numbers from last year, fewer than 2% of Fremont students were proficient or better in math.  Fewer than 14% were proficient or better in English.” 

DGM3: “That is correct.  There are five categories: Advanced, Proficient, Basic, Below Basic, and Far Below Basic.  Over 80% of the children at Fremont are Below Basic and Far Below Basic.”

Patt: “Wow.  So the decision was made at the District level to restructure.”

DGM3: “That is correct.” 

Patt: “What does that mean in a practical sense?” 

DGM3: “Well, logistically, it means that every employee, and they’ve been told many times, in writing and verbally, since December.  We put a target date on it…simply says ‘I would like to return to Fremont.’  Nobody would lose their job.  But, if you chose not to reapply, you would be relocated.  Every teacher, every classified person who has a job, was guaranteed employment, but not location- you would be reassigned somewhere else.  So they were never given dismissal notices.  They were never told that they didn’t have a job.”

Patt: “So the word, ‘fired,’ was not used?” 

DGM3: “It was never used.  It’s been used in the media.  It’s been used by some of them.  We’ve been fired.  Why are you firing us?  That is not true.  We never fired anyone.  So the fact is that everyone had the opportunity to reapply.  And then, that process, including, sitting before a panel of interviewees.  And the interview panels- there were multiple panels- consisted of students, parents, and community members and alumni.  So this is the first time in the history of the District that parents, students, and community people- stakeholders of this community- get to sit and ask ‘Why do you want to work in this school?’”

OLYNYK:  My question is, who is the Doc referring to when he says “them”? And, has been pointed out, scripted interviews, and one parent on the interview committee who was encountered during the community walk on April 25 stated to those on the walk that she did not even turn in some of her interview notes to the principal. Wow. Talk about the purpose of the interviews being transparent!

Patt: “Essentially a job interview?”   

DGM3: “It is correct.  By the most important stakeholders- the students, themselves.  Especially in the high school, they are sophisticated enough to make some decisions that are good for them.  Unfortunately, many of the teachers chose not to reapply.  They were encouraged not to reapply by their organization.”

OLYNYK:  Which organization? Isn’t an interview on what is supposed to be about reality supposed to at least convey it? How about some detail? Wait, we’ve been asking for that all along.

So are parents and community members.

And I have spoken with students who are uncomfortable with the process, spoken with students who are continually summoned from class, losing class time. I student used to speak about the process and now denies involvement and looks uncomfortable. Transparent? About as transparent as the student conducting the interview who was known to ditch that particular teacher’s class and then sit on the interview panel.

Patt: “They had to reapply by the middle of March.  How many teachers who work at Fremont did reapply for their jobs?  What was the percentage?”

DGM3: “Um, over 60% did reapply.  Many threatened and said, we’re not, none of us, going to reapply.  We’ll bind together.  They’re still demonstrating this weekend.  We have a flyer here that says they’re going to walk through the community.  They do something every week that says we’re not going to do this.  So, instead of collaborating, and we’ve written to them and asked them to collaborate.  They said, ‘We will resist.’  But it’s not on behalf of the students.  I think it’s a self-interest.  I think it’s unfortunate, ‘cause there are many good teachers.”

 OLYNYK: As Ms. Stam pointed out, the vast majority of the parents and community members had no idea—until we came along—about reconstitution.  What is the reason the information for the purported, vague plan is on line in a Powerpoint that is English-only?



I’m glad somebody else noticed the change in the numbers of those who reapplied. The top estimate I was fed was 80%.  Still, down to “um, over 60%.” I think we can all interpret that answer. You know the rule for how to convince people with numbers: on a resume, less than a year equals one year, fractions are rounded up. Follow the rest of the progression.

Patt: “Have the decisions been made yet about which teachers will be welcome back?” 

DGM3: “Not yet.  We’re still completing the interview process now.  We will let them know, probably after we finish the testing of students.  We don’t want that to interfere with the testing process.”

OLYNYK: The test dates move back and forth on the published calendars, like those time-lapse pictures of Jupiter. The staff was to be notified May 21, then May 24. The all-important CSTs had been moved back so they would be completed May 20, then moved back on the latest calendar to begin May 17. Did you guys even invest in a ouija board to figure out the schedule or are you still shaking a Magic 8-Ball over there. “Outlook hazy.”

Patt: “There are a number of schools in LAUSD that have a lot of English as second language students, that have a lot of poor students, whose numbers look better than Fremont’s.  What do you think is happening here?”

DGM3: “There are too many variables to tell you what we know is happening.  We know we can’t allow it to continue.  And so, by restructuring it, we also ask teachers to commit to some things.  Some of the things we’re asking them to commit to, if you come back to Fremont, are as follows- a few: give homework, grade it, and return it.”

Patt: “That wasn’t happening?” 

DGM3: “No, not in every class.  Parents didn’t know where the homework was.  We’re now going to have a homework schedule- specific subjects on specific days.  Lesson planning- the teachers actually plan a lesson, instead of implement it as it goes.  Monitor student attendance so that there’s no such thing as multiple absences and the parents don’t know.  Implement standards-based instruction so that teachers teach to the standards.  Many teachers are not doing that.  They’re just teaching what they’re comfortable with, and they’re not on the standards that California requires.  Have an Advisory period where you personalize the environment with the students.  Communicate with the parents regularly.  One of my expressions is have a zero tolerance for drop-outs.  Don’t let them drop out.  If they’re not there for several days, call.  If you have thirty on the roll, and only 19 show up, 11 are not there on a regular basis, so you can’t say you have an overcrowded class.”

 OLYNYK: Is this based upon Dr. George McKenna III’s frequent visits to all of our classes—you know, like the claim he made at the January faculty meeting with was shot down in flames? Is this based upon the examination of our Stulls which any competent administrator would keep on file? Would not our Stulls reflect whether or not the standards are being addressed?

Anybody remember this from January 26th? If not see Day 156 “Just Because It Doesn’t Make Sense Doesn’t Mean It’s Not Logical”: “’You say you know about the standards, but I don’t see them, and I’ve been in a lot of your classrooms.’ This was met with uproar, then finally a show of hands of half-a-dozen teachers who actually had been visited by Dr. McKenna; his explanation was something along the lines of the other teachers were off-track or suchlike.”

Walk into MY class, Dr. McKenna, and take a look around—just like Dr. Cortines appeared in my third period on April 16 (which was his first and only time, by the way, and I did not jump up and suddenly “start teaching”—I continued to help students understand the Wilfred Owen poem, “Dulce Et Decorum Est” and its place as a primary source in the study of World War I). MY month-long unit is laid out on one wall—DAY BY DAY, HOMEWORK INCLUDED. On the opposite wall the entire unit is laid out graphically. On the front board is the daily agenda, covering each item the student should have in their notebook (see the sideboard reference IN CAPITAL LETTERS—for your edification, of course—did you institute any of that at the success story you trot out whenever you get the chance?), as well as any primary sources they are going to be exposed to AND HOMEWORK IN THE ASSIGNED TEXTBOOK. Guess what, the Standards are up—all over the room: in the students notebooks (the detailed ones for each unit), both side boards, a poster, the front board—and they get used.

Did Dr. McKenna miss all the freakin’ PDs where all we did for years was unpack the standards? Did he not get it when we have actually had heated debates in Social Studies department meetings over which standards to bundle together and how in order to cover them—and which standards are the most-frequently addressed in the CST? And which standards will get double-duty between 10th-grade World History and 11th-grade U.S. History, so vertical planning took place?

As to assignment of homework, does someone who holds a doctorate and brandishes his successes in educational reform truly believe that I should assign homework one night per week? Is not homework supposed to supplement and reinforce the lessons covered on that day? Are you suggesting that it would be more effective to lump together a week’s worth of assignments into a single night rather than reinforce what was taught while the lesson was freshest? Or should I reinforce a week’s worth of learning with an hour of homework and pronounce that adequate? Would YOU think that was good enough? Or are you assuming that we are all lazy and like that teacher in “The Breakfast Club,” who got into teaching so he could have summers off? While I’m certainly no Doctor and am not up on the latest research, even I can see that makes no sense, is not logical.

“Just because it doesn’t make sense doesn’t mean it’s not logical,” eh?

Patt: “Let me ask, just for a moment, these sound like common sense, how you run your classroom issues, not quality of pedagogy or curriculum issues.” 

DGM3: “Well, standards-based instruction has everything to do with pedagogy.  Accept professional development and implement it.  Don’t just suffer through it.  But, these things were not occurring.  We have only 85% attendance.  If you have only 85% of attendance at a school when the goal is 95% and above, you have a large number of days that the students are not in school.  If you only have 85% attendance, you have something like 25 days that you’re not in school.  We’re already a 3-Track school, which is an embarrassment, I think.  It’s an obstacle that never should have been there.”

OLYNYK: In case you haven’t been paying attention, we have paid attention to the PDs. If you haven’t noticed, please see the above tirade regarding Social Studies as to standards-based instruction.

As to the attendance issue, in Day 168, “Somebody Had To Say It”: “Superintendent Cortines defined the culture of failure as years of low test scores, of poor attendance rates—he states the average student misses 25 days of school per year; that tallies somewhat with the figures I’ve kept—on the average, my 10th grade students miss 14 days per 74 days of an 81-day semester. Somehow we are responsible for that absenteeism, according the superintendent, NO EXCUSES, and that we are to go out into the streets to find our lost children.

When am I going to do this?  I have 178 10th grade students in my five periods of World History (more than the number of days I have left at Fremont), plus another 25 in my advisory period, half of whom wander in twenty minutes late in a 28-minute period. Exactly when am I supposed to track them down?  And how am I supposed to achieve this educational search and rescue?”

When the student being absent shows up on ISIS (even revealing which period the student is missing) and we have large groups of students who go to both lunches (thought they were supposed to wear their IDs?)—I know, I have 4th period conference and so I see them—and who go hang out in PE—why is that the teacher’s responsibility to hunt them down?

Remember this from Day 69 “Don’t Look Back”: “Discontent is being voiced. When teachers and counselors have to take it upon themselves to go “clean up Dodge City” and go out to the P.E. area—and administrators find amusement in it, there is a problem. It shows a lack of initiative and responsibility on the part of the administrative team to go clean up an area where most of the students ditch on campus. When you find humor in it for several days straight, it shows a lack of respect for the staff that had to go out and do SEJ (somebody else’s job). Do you think you are going to keep a staff when you do that?”

Patt: “Why is it an embarrassment to the school district?”

DGM3: “It’s an embarrassment to believe that we could fabricate the concept that you’re better off with multi tracks.  We did that for years.  This District did that.  I’ve been condemnative of my own District for many years.  I was a principal here.  I worked here for 28 years before I left and went elsewhere.  There was no advantage to that, but that was a class and race issue, where people chose to move away from this community, went to the Valley.  We used to, we sent students there voluntarily.  The growth was in this neighborhood, but rather than build buildings, we stacked them up.  We packed them in.  We told them they were better off with multi tracks.  Belmont, whatever, with 6,000 students in one school.  We finally got around to building.  And now, because there’re some new schools now, there are new high schools being built, we will also go to a single track in about two more years.  But along with Fremont, you need to know that the pedagogy also includes reconfiguring the feeder middle schools to grades 7 and 8, which feed into Fremont.  Because a high school cannot exist in isolation or succeed in isolation unless the middle schools send them more appropriately prepared students.  I accept that.  Also, the elementary schools will go K-6.  This is what the parents want.”

Patt: My guest is…DGM3… “the New Fremont is the goal of the ‘reconstituting’ with perhaps different teachers and different emphasis on how classrooms are to be run. What is your mission statement for the New Fremont?”

DGM3:... “Every child will be college-ready and career-prepared.  And all students will be prepared for college.  Example…” 

Patt: “Does every student have to go to college?”

DGM3: No!  They’re prepared.  The choice should be theirs.  For example, 2,000 students every year enter Fremont.  Less than 400 graduate.  Every year.  But that’s been the norm.  And it’s been the norm for so long, it looks normal.  And it’s an abomination.  But we’ve been in that condition so long, it no longer looks like a problem.  It’s the circumstances to which we’ve adjusted.  But the challenges are the adults.  It’s an adult issue.  It’s the parents and us.  We have a responsibility from 8 to 3.  We have not fully accepted that responsibility.  Many reasons are because many of the faculty and the administration have never seen excellence in this neighborhood.  And because they’ve never seen it, they think what they’re doing is excellent.  And they’re accepting these outcomes for this community, which now is another form of ‘ism,’ it’s a class issue.  It’s a race issue.  It’s an economic issue.  It’s okay for these people.  These people in this community ought not to succeed.  As a simple example, and this is personal for me…The movie [about him- bwahaha] was made for the wrong reasons.  When a movie is made, it suggests that it’s a surprising event, that it’s not supposed to work.  Otherwise, why would the media record it?”

Patt: “What was it called?”

DGM3: “It was called ‘The George McKenna Story’.”

Patt: “Gee, I think I’ve heard of him.  He’s sitting right across from me.”   

DGM3: “You’re right, but Denzel Washington was the actor.  And he got paid a whole lot more to pretend to be me than I ever got.  The premise is that WashingtonHigh School, where the Crips gang was started in 1969, just up the street there, was not supposed to work.  But when it did, instead of being celebratory when it works, which it’s supposed to do, we should be outraged when it doesn’t.  The Superintendent has now expressed his intent.  He said, there’s no sense of urgency, let’s restructure.  Instead of saying, ‘Let’s gather together to do this,’ some say, ‘Let’s resist’.”

Patt: “After the ‘New Fremont,’…how different the classes are going to be…are you getting more money to make these changes?  Can class size be smaller?  Will extracurricular activities enter into that?”

DGM3: “Class size, I believe that won’t have a lot to do with it.  We know there is no formula to tell us the optimal class size.  Class size- for some teachers 35 is fine.  For others, 3 is too many.  And I’m not necessarily talking about Fremont teachers, I’m talking about all people who are in this profession.  There are some magnificent teachers and some that struggle and some that shouldn’t be in the profession at all.  But no, uh, there will be an additional stipend for what we call UCTP.  So, for additional duties, like tutoring after school and making parent phone calls, we will be paying a stipend per semester…teachers make in other schools.”

Patt: “$1,020 per semester?” 

DGM3: “That is correct.  That’s part of the plan.  But that’s small.  The structure is in the regular school days.  From 8am to 3pm, what do we do?  That’s the core.  Not the after school programs.  The after school programs with the same children, maybe they should just come after school and not come from 8 to 3 (chuckles).  But there’s no guarantee that that will work unless we have the right staff.  Who teaches our children is as important as what we teach them.” 

Patt: “So how different will a classroom be in the ‘New Fremont.’?”

DGM3: “Well, hopefully, we would teach from bell to bell.  It would be project based learning.  Students would be engaged at all times.  Students would be in attendance.  You wouldn’t have a lot of absenteeism.  We would be teaching to the standards, on grade level.  9th grade work would look like 9th grade work, etc. along the way.  That students would be prepared and ready when they came to class.  They’d be engaged.  We’d have less confusion in the school, less acts of violence, less truancy, less graffiti.”

Patt: “And you’re doing all of this with no more money?” 

DGM3: “You don’t need money to do that.  You just need committed people.  I mean, if you gave us more money, if you tripled our salaries tomorrow, you wouldn’t triple student achievement outcomes.  I don’t need more money, I just need committed people.  And sadly, some of the commitment was to resist as opposed to collaborate.  They see some enemy somewhere.  And if they see me, as the administrator, as an enemy, that’s certainly justifies being a victim.”

 OLYNYK: No more money? That sounds familiar. See Day 168 “Somebody Had To Say It”: “We were told that “Fremont” misspent the vast amounts of money that comes to the school, that he did not know how it was misspent (yeah, right), but the implication is there that we did it. Yeah, that’s why I spend $35/month on paper, buy my own pens, pencils and whiteboard markers and even have to lock up the overhead projector because adult school and Saturday school steals my stuff (We won’t discuss how much I’ve spent on armor and costumes and music for use with my lessons…).  I don’t like being called a thief, especially when I see fellow teachers spending their own money to make copies and suchlike in their classes, when so many of us DONATE time—before school, after school, weekends (I’m at school 5:30 every damned morning and usually leave sometime around 4:30, and am damned lucky if I can go the faculty cafeteria to forage and even damned luckier if I find food there). Hey, wasn’t an audit being conducted around the time of the bombshell being dropped on Fremont? Interesting timing, that, eh? (Since we’re talking money, hey, anybody remember when we became a “Digital High School” and we had 5 computers in every class, 4 for student use?)

“Why not find out who signed off on how the money was spent? Someone had to sign off, and that someone had a supervisor who had to approve it.  Blame them, not the ones spending their own dwindling money while looking at a 12% pay cut and investing their time. Stop implying that we are thieves feeding at the public trough, when it is others stealing from the future—our students.”

You might also look at Day 99 “Money”: “In early December, there was supposed to be an independent audit of Fremont High School, actually Stage One. Stage Two was supposed to roll out in mid-February. However, the person working with the budget went away in November… moving on to bigger and better things? (I remembered seeing this person around that date at 5:30 a.m., which was pretty unusual) Did the desktop computer that was carried out of an office move on, as well?

“Then December 9th came—in the middle of the week the independent audit was supposed to be going on. We were told that “Fremont” misspent the vast amounts of money that comes to the school. Superintendent Cortines, late of Scholastic Books, which sells a load of materials to LAUSD (but there is no conflict of interest) said that that he did not know how it was misspent, but the implication was we did it.. And what with the frenzy over the “reconstitution” under NCLB (which LAUSD is not following legally)—or is that “restructuring”?—the entire matter of the audit disappeared off the radar faster than me after a bad date.”


And now the New Fremont is up for a huge grant—the money problems and audit forgotten. Fremont will be awash in money next year—as long as half of us are gone. Will merit pay ensue? Teach only to the test and get a bonus of, let’s say, $5000 if your kids show improvement and if the attendance rate improves and the grades in classes improve? Does anyone else see the problem I’m looking at?

And yet we still don’t hear about the money and the audit, the results of which were supposed to have been revealed TWO MONTHS AGO?

Patt: “How are the parents and the students handling this, because you develop relationships with your teachers over a period of years.  Parents do, students do.” 

DGM3: “I can tell you that, despite some statements to the contrary, not one parent has told me, either in writing, personally, in meetings, personally, that we’re doing the wrong thing.  As a matter of fact, they’re celebrating.  I hold a monthly meeting, every month with representatives from all the schools in this district including Fremont…it’s called the parent community advisory council.  There’s bilingual council, there’s all kinds of people, over 100 people in it, over 200 people.  They’ve been apprised of it every month, and in some meetings, and they’re all supportive.  Other groups are saying, we have parents that don’t like it.  Well, they’re trying to keep the parents confused.   Some parents are being confused, they’re being told they should be voting on this.  This is not a choice process.  It’s not like the schools we were bidding on.  You don’t have a choice in this matter.  This is the Superintendent’s decision, and the Board members concurred with him.  There was some resistance, and we understand that.  There is always the politics of education, along with the pedagogy and the finances.”

OLYNYK: Then why do we keep finding parents in our community walks who were not informed? Or are they just the ignorant ones? Or just not worth of being addressed by the District? Why do I find almost none of my students have received any information from LAUSD on these huge changes? Why, Dr. McKenna, why?

Patt: Supt outro… “FHS, which is being restructured under NCLB in the LAUSD.  We’ll be spending a lot of time in the weeks to come, talking to all the stakeholders at Fremont about what’s going on at the school, and we’ll hear more from Superintendent McKenna.”

You all will be hearing from me. Keep fighting, eh?

 

Day 62 Saturday, May 1, 2010: “Little Lies”

Transcript of the interview with Dr. George McKenna III on April 26, 2010 on “The Patt Morrison Show” KPCC

http://www.scpr.org/programs/patt-morrison/2010/04/26/fremont-high/

 

 
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    Chuck Olynyk is a Social Studies teacher who saw the effects of reconstitution upon John C. Fremont High in Los Angeles. These are reposting of his original blogs from the Save Fremont website.

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