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Day 83 Saturday, April 10, 2010: “Superman’s Song”

 

Today is Saturday, April 10, 2010 and I have 83 days left at the Mont. It’s kind of dark, which why I was listening to this song by the Crash Test Dummies; it was played in the movie pilot for “Due South” when Fraser sits alone in a diner, reading from his dead father’s journals. The rollercoaster continues, the guessing-game of “Who’s In? Who’s Out?” gets more intense. Some of those who talked a game of fighting back now seem to be bothered that we bring up the campaign, saying it is never to late to join or rejoin the fight. Snide comments in the face of sincerity about the good coming from our community walks tell enough. Others give looks of pity. “Why don’t they just give up? Curriculum is going to be scripted EVERYWHERE.” It makes you wonder: do you actually feel different when you sell your soul? Or do you just sell pieces of it? When does it become easy to do that? When do you realize there’s nothing left?

 

Yet we keep slugging away. Even when those of us pledging not to return stand up in the faculty meeting I would have sworn would never be held. It reminded me of the final scene in “Dead Poets Society,” standing on the desks, only not near those proportions. One of us should have said, “O Captain, My Captain,” or, at least, “I’m Spartacus.” “Nil desperandum,” wrote Horace. “Never say die,” eh?  Too many comic books, I guess—Wolverine and Green Arrow. You think that having a phoenix on my coat of arms in the Society for Creative Anachronism has anything to do with it?  By the way, in battles from medieval times to the days of early muskets, a forlorn hope was a band of soldiers or other combatants chosen to take the leading part in a military operation, such as an assault on a defended position, where the risk of casualties was high; pretty likely that most members of the forlorn hope would be killed or wounded,  some surviving long enough to seize a foothold that could be reinforced, or at least buy time for a second wave,  while the defenders were reloading or engaged in mopping up the remnants of the first wave. Maybe we’re a forlorn hope. I guess it would be safer to take a knee and bend your neck to receive a collar.

 

We were supposed to give up at that point. Someone told a friend who was not reapplying, “You’re just hurting yourself.” Getting sick, losing my voice and finding out I had to give a damned periodic assessment instead of teaching—one of those damned dipstick tests designed by a dipstick so somebody can be paid to deal with it by a district facing a budget deficit—does not make my day better. People stay out of the way of the growling bear. I don’t blame them. I tell myself that I want others to care as much as I do, then realize I sound like Rambo in “First Blood”: “All I want is for my country to love my as much as I love my country!” God help me, I just quoted a Sly Stallone movie, which shames me, and then I wonder if my attitude is unrealistic. Should other people want to save the Mont, save the Mont from having the SLCs gutted, save the Mont from scripted curriculum, save the school from the fate of being an RTI school—the slang for it being “Reining Teachers In,” surrender of the classroom to radio-carriers—where teachers are held accountable if less than 80% of the students they teach do well on the frequent assessments required. I wonder how much Judy Elliot is making off of having all the principals buy her book? Hey, guys, can you sell it back when the course is over?

 

Then it comes back to me. I don’t know if it came from talking about the periodic assessment with my students (both of the WWs and totalitarian governments, which for every student who has ever had me is their most memorable time in my class) and seeing their faces when I speak of my family history in that era and the fight against darkness that time represents to me. Maybe it was about hanging out with a few of my co-conspirators during lunch and my conference period and we look at the growing support for these underdogs—and the leadership students, some of whom were favorite kids when I had them. Or it might have been the meeting we held Wednesday after school, the same meeting we invited the naysayers to (no shows, on that count), that re-stoked the fire inside me. Or was it stumbling across “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley in a book I knocked off my desk at home; in spite of my American literature teacher at Pomona High, Mr. Richards, ranting about the poem, or that it was quoted as the last words of Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, the poems still speaks to me. Bloodied, but unbowed:

 

“Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

“In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

“Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

“It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.”


 

Maybe it was watching “Blade Runner” Thursday night, and hearing Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) say: “Quite an experience to live in fear, isn't it? That's what it is to be a slave.”

 

We still have plans. We still have plenty of arrows to shoot in the siege at the Mont. I wear my black shirt for Black Thursday and high-five in the hallways, even doing a passable parody of a useless radio-carrier who walks the halls and can’t actually deal with problems without feeling threatened. People are laughing again. I overhear someone say, “He’s back.” Yeah, guess it’s kind of like a Rocky movie—you can pretty much miss the first two-thirds of any Rocky movie and you get it the important stuff: training with dramatic music, then the Big Match.

 

 

I also have questions. Lots. Of. Questions.

 

I’m posting, along with my questions, a couple of documents someone found after a meeting held April 5th, I would presume based upon a date printed. One document is entitled “Fremont HS Organizational Structure.” It shows “5 Academies – 3 Grade 9 Centers – 1 Magnet”. On Track A will be “The Humanitas Academy of Visual and Performing Arts” (Isn’t LAEP going to take issue with the bastardization of that name?), consisting of 500 students, with the administrator and counselor named. Also on A-Track will be “The Academy of Environmental and Social Justice,” also with 500 students; there will also be a “9th Grade Center A,” serving the needs of 600 students with its single counselor. On Track be will be “The School of Communications, Media, and Technology” and “The School of Health, Science and Agriculture,” with 500 students each and one counselor each; there will also be a “9th Grade Center B” with its 600 students served by a single counselor. C-Track will have “The School of Law, Justice and Government,” at 500 students with a single counselor, and the “The Mathematics, Science and Technology Magnet” with 300 students, and overseen by our very own Kildare Salazar (“All right, all right, all right”) and a single counselor to deal with half the caseload of the counselor assigned to “9th Grade Center C”.

 

We all realize that 9th and 10th grades are the critical years for dropping out of school. Why would anyone decrease counseling services to students by upping the caseloads the SLC counselors have from 400 students to 500 in the “Academies”, which supplant the SLCs? Are not some students going to be “left behind” in our “race to the top”? Should we just abandon the slow ones who can’t keep up with the race, move them out of Fremont before year’s end so that they won’t affect our graduation rate? Or maybe before CSTs so the scores go up?

 

Now what about the freshmen? One counselor for SIX HUNDRED STUDENTS who have come from middle school, have never been held accountable for their grades which is why 50% of my students are 9+’s—oops, the new Eduspeak refers to them as 9Rs, sorry must write a note to myself, find a way to remember… 9Rs, like “Niners,” yeah, that’ll do it… And now they’’ be given even less attention by a counselor, not because the counselors are lazy or incompetent. Just look at the numbers. You all know the bigger your classes, the more difficult to reach the kids. I remember after Columbine, an ex-girlfriend ranted at me, saying that “Our Schools” can’t prevent something like this from happening. “Do you know if any of your students is troubled?” she asked in an accusatorial tone. “I try. I talk to my kids, but no, I can’t know all of them.” And I was dealing with about only 200.

 

So my example might be extreme, but how many of you have a student who has basically a three-day-work-week. Students with poor attendance? Now make us an RTI school. How many of those SIX HUNDRED STUDENTS are we going to lose along the way? Will Dr. Cortines stage another of his media-engorged door-to-door campaigns to get kids back in school? A quick media-covered fix?

 

 

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The Other document is entitled “New Fremont High School Timelines.” According to it, on April 8th, articulation occurred with Bethune, Drew and Edison, and this week B and C-Track 9th grade students will be programmed into their Centers. Those becoming 10th, 11th and 12th graders will have to select their Academies by May 15th. Coincidentally, since non-returning staff will be notified on May 21 (at least according to the timeline they are supposed to be, even the ones who reapplied but didn’t make the cut), I find it interesting that ONLY AT FREMONT have the CSTs been moved to have the final day of CST testing be on May 20th, the day before. Do the Starch Mafia at D7 think we are really going to mess with the CSTs? Why would we want to? It would benefit the New Fremont (which is a term I believe is not allowed to be used because we—oops, it—will still have the same code and address) to have the scores be really crappy, proving we suck as teachers. Yeah, Doc, we never saw that coming… Have fun with the New Fremont, or whatever you’re going to call it.

 

By the way, here’s how little time you have to build the New Fremont:

 

On June 1, 36 days before Tracks B and C begin class, selected staff will be notified of their assignments. On June 28-July 2, there will be PD from 8:00-3:00 to get ready to deal with the new Academies (except Magnet, of course—no, wait a minute… Magnet’s 9th graders are no longer in Magnet, but in the “9th Grade Center C” and a bunch of the Magnet teachers will be gone, as will a bunch of the seniors who are getting out to go to other Magnets; there is an opportunity for a quick line about polarities, but my laughter is more along the lines of gallows humor today). By the way, there’ll be a new schedule, right? Prepare a school to be ready for a new schedule in 83 days? I believe research shows that JUST to make a major schedule change requires at least a year of preparation—if those behind the reconstitution (which WAS the word used by Dr. Cortines on December 9th and never formally rescinded) really do plan this to improve student achievement. Those who remain at the Mont will have 35 hours of training, a crash course, to make this work.

 

I just had a thought. You might recall I mentioned a member of the Starch Mafia, one of the “empty suits” who told us that this was the type of change Fremont needed, because he worked with us for years and never really made any progress? How is that change going to take place in 35 hours?

 

And I thought I was doing a countdown.  Looks like LAUSD is, also.

 

This week, educators who are on the “Teachers’ Letters to Obama” through Anthony Cody on Facebook will be engaging in a conversation with Arne Duncan. Those of you interested in following that ought to go check out Anthony’s blogsite. (By the way, Anthony, thanks for reaching out to us, and holding my shield.) Fremont ought to be represented. Will some of you speak up?

 

We also have a major school board meeting on Tuesday, the ominously numbered 13th. The Committee to Save Fremont will still be slugging away.

 

And in two weeks, our own indomitable Terra Bennett, will be pushing for a larger Community Walk on April 24/25. We’re hoping for assistance from some other schools.

 

Nil desperandum. Or, to quote “Babylon 5”

"What is there left for Narn if all of creation falls around us? There's nothing. No hope, no dream, no future, no life. Unless we turn from the cycle of death toward something greater. If we are a dying people, then let us die with honor, by helping the others as no-one else can."
"I can't understand."
"Because you have let them distract you. Blind you with hate. You cannot see the battle for what it is. We are fighting to save one another, we must realize we are not alone. We rise and fall together. And some of us must be sacrificed if all are to be saved. Because, if we fail in this, then none of us will be saved. And the Narn will be only a memory."


Narn Image and G'Kar, Dust to Dust

 

Have a good weekend.

 

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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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