Response to Letter by Dr. George McKenna III, dated February 25, 2010
This is Day 125 of my time left at Fremont. The majority of this was written on Day 127, Thursday night, when I first saw a “Correspondence to the Fremont Faculty” by Dr. George McKenna. I’m adding to it now because of events at the press conference yesterday, Day 126. Please understand that I do realize I have a certain knee-jerk reaction, an almost Pavlovian response for certain actions. I had never met the man or even realized I had laid eyes upon him until the January 26th faculty meeting (I admit I even was looking at the wrong person until Dr. McKenna started speaking—guess I was looking for an older Denzel Washington). I do remember one of the decent principals we had categorically refused to remain at the Mont when he learned that Dr. McKenna would be placed in charge of Learning District I (which, of course, got changed, as does any plan within LAUSD). I chalked that up to history between them. So I had very little to base my feelings upon. When he ridiculed the Fremont faculty, when he said that he had been in most of our rooms and seen little going on, which led to some backpedaling and fancy footwork (dancing?), that was when I made my own decision. I share this because I want you to look behind the words of this letter, and see my conclusions. I will not quote the entire letter, since you all received it via LAUSD email, nor will I post a copy, but he did send it to the 240 of us, so it is hardly a secret. There is a Norse proverb which reads, “A secret known to three is known to all.” I know there are some who will feel I am not needed to interpret the words of others (just flashed on Sigourney Weaver in “Galaxy Quest”: “I know it’s a stupid job to tell you what the computer just said, but it’s MY job!”), but please understand this is a process for me, in order to see the ideas more clearly.
In his introductory paragraph, Dr. McKenna writes, “As we continue the reform and improvement of Fremont High via the restructuring process, it is important that we maintain open lines of communication to ensure that all participants receive accurate and timely information…” My question would be why the district (or LD7 or the Fremont administration, whoever is responsible) chose to NOT have a parent/community meeting on February 11th on the very campus which serves this community? Nor have the powers-that-be scheduled a meeting at any other time in February. If the lines of communication are to be kept open, why is the Powerpoint the district put up NOT in Spanish? It’s at
if anybody wants to look at it and translate.
Under “Observations,” in Point 1, Dr. McKenna wrote: “The skepticism, emotions and concerns of existing staff … are understandable and even predictable. However having researched and experienced this process, it is an observable reality that a collective commitment to transformation of the part of existing staff is far more productive and effective that collaborative resistance to change. Many who choose not to participate are later disappointed with their decisions when the reform begins to manifest without their involvement. We can make this work,”
I am already disappointed. I was accused of either a lack of commitment or a lack of expertise in my profession of 27 years. I was told I had to ask for my job back, even though I have been accused of the failure to follow through on my duties, and even though I have never received a substandard evaluation (referred to as “Stull” in LAUSD terminology). How can we make this work, if you have accused me of not working in the first place?
In Point 2, Dr. McKenna writes: “All staff should carefully consider their individual options and outcomes … These are challenging times that require our awareness of the importance of producing measurable student achievement based primarily on standardized test scores. This is a non-negotiable reality as we are consistently judged by the outcomes, including considerations for “take overs,” school closings, defunding, loss of enrollment and jobs to non-public schools, legislation that allows parents to dis-enroll students from “unsuccessful” schools, and other extreme responses to low test scores and dissatisfied parents.
Sounds like I’d better change my mind or Fremont will be given away to a “charter”. But if I’m such a horrible teacher—and Dr. Cortines said, “No Excuses,”—why would I be wanted back?
Under “Procedural Realities,” under Point 1, Dr. McKenna writes of observation: “During the 2008-09 school year, the Superintendent personally visited Fremont High and expressed concerns regarding the continuing status as a Program Improvement (PI) school for several years, and indicated that in the absence of urgency to improve, Restructuring was a viable option.”
Both Dr. Cortines and Dr. McKenna claim to have visited most of the classrooms at Fremont. I never even saw either of these gentlemen on my floor, and I ALWAYS teach with my door open—I have nothing to hide. Nor has any member of a WASC team been in my room since 2002, nor spoken to me. Did the Superintendent offer assistance to Mr. Higgins since he was having such difficulty and failed to improve Fremont in the five years he was there? After all, an administrator evaluating a struggling teacher is supposed to offer support, make suggestions, check for improvement—or are the rules different here?
Did Dr. Cortines ever meet with the SLC lead teachers as a group and ask, “What do you need”? Did he ever meet with individual SLCs? Did he ever meet with each department, since these tests which damn us are done by subject matter? Did he ever meet with the Special Education teachers and aides as a group just to see how their jobs work? Did he ever sit in on a leadership class or just show up and watch an advisory class? Did he ever come here on a parent conference night or attend an event put on by the music department or the drama department (I’m sure Ms. Scatolini is in the wings ready to correct me…)? Did Dr. McKenna do any of those things?
In Point 2, Dr. McKenna justifies the actions: “The decision to Restructure has been made and will be implemented based on Federal law (NCLB) and existing guidelines related to persistent underachievement of students as measured by available data.”
In Point 3, he re-states a deadline: “Current teachers who wish to be considered for assignment to the ‘New Fremont’ MUST apply no later than March 16, 2010. Failure to apply will automatically exclude teachers from consideration.”
In Point 4, Dr. McKenna writes: “Teachers who apply for transfers may also apply for reassignment to Fremont and participate in the Restructuring process. The reapplication process is confidential.”
So, if I’m getting this right, I can sign a petition to be liked by a bunch of “trouble-makers,” then break my word and reapply in secret? And that is the kind of moral behavior that is wanted as a role model to students?
In Point 5, Dr. McKenna states: “Teachers who are not selected, apply for transfer or do not apply for reassignment to Fremont, will be reassigned by the LAUSD Human Resources department based on existing vacancies throughout the district including middle schools and non-multi-track schools which will limit the opportunities for intercession employment and additional income as in year round schools. Selection at a new school is also dependent on a successful interview with the Principal of the school.”
So failure to reapply means financial punishment. And even though there have been RIF notices and continue to be threats of budget shortfalls and additional RIFs, we’ve just been told to fear for our jobs.
In Point 6, Dr. McKenna writes: “Teachers will not be assigned to other schools in groups or “teams,” as each assignment will be made on an individual basis within existing guidelines.”
This would make sense. After all, those same teachers who are being told to reapply DID create a “culture of failure” at Fremont, so to scatter them throughout the district would be wise—if that were the real reason.
In Point 7, Dr. McKenna addresses school site seniority: “School site seniority status will not accompany teachers who are reassigned or transfer to other schools, which may affect requests to teach preferred classes at a new school.”
Again, there is the fear factor. You might not get to teach what you want. But if we are the ones responsible for the culture of failure—as Dr. Cortines accused us December 9th—then why should we get to teach what we want? And if we stay at Fremont, we’ll get rewarded with those classes? Does that make sense? Besides, the curriculum in the 9th grade will be scripted anyway, “spam in a can,” to quote “The Right Stuff.”
In Point 8, he writes of district seniority: “District seniority status of teachers will not be affected by the restructuring process, and seniority will not be a factor in the reassignment to other schools. Teachers will only be assigned to schools where vacancies exist and seniority will not enable teachers to displace other teachers in existing positions or be reassigned to a school of their preference.”
So, again, there is the threat—you might not be able to get a job, even with the hiring freeze.
In Point 9, Dr. McKenna offers the UCTP money we stopped receiving last year: “All teachers who remain or are newly hired at Fremont will participate in the Urban Classroom Teacher Program (UCTP) and receive stipends of $1,020 [his underlining, not mine] per semester for additional duties of 2.5 hours per week to be performed as outlined in the negotiated official guidelines and in mutual agreement with the Principal. At this time, Fremont High is the only LAUSD school designated as a UCTP school for the 2010-11 school year.”
So our principles can be bought off for $1020 per semester (before taxes), as Fremont will miraculously be the only school where UCTP will be available. But a month ago, Dr. McKenna said that UCTP (we call it E.I.S.—I don’t know why…) might only possibly be available. If we are such losers, isn’t that throwing good money after bad? And isn’t there a “budget shortfall” predicted? How does that make sense?
In Point 10, we are reminded Fremont is a PI school: “The continued PI status of Fremont makes it vulnerable to being identified as a ‘FocusSchool’ that could be open to bid for governance by outside providers including Charter Schools. This will result in significant changes including the possible reassignment of existing staff without consideration of the existing employee/district contract. The decision to restructure now prevents the ‘take over’ by other entities.”
So this is being done to save us from Charter Schools?
Under “Long Range Goals and Considerations” in Point 1, he writes: “The entire Fremont Family of Schools i.e. 3 feeder middle schools and 19 elementary schools will be Reconfigured to 7/8 grade and K-6 models… with middle schools designed to focus on literacy and math skills that will improve the readiness of students who enter 9th grade in future years. Fremont will convert to a traditional calendar in September 2013, in conjunction with the opening of a new high school nearby.
So, 2010-2013 have been written off, academically-speaking? And only one high school? Two are being built nearby. Has one already been given away to an outside provider? The staff at Fremont had also been told repeatedly that the schools would be complete by 2011. Which date is real?
In Point 2, Dr, McKenna states: “Principal leadership is a key to effective school reform and improved student achievement, however Fremont has not enjoyed consistent lleadership in the past decade… Research and experience indicates that meaningful reform takes 3 to 5 years to realize results.”
Actually it has been 16 years, not a decade, but the last principal was here 5 years—and for two of those years he had an equal partner. Also, since the research indicates meaningful reform takes 3-5 years to realize results, does that mean the students who are currently at the New Fremont will never see the results? What does Dr. McKenna want to tell the parents of those students?
In Point 3, Dr. McKenna writes: “The intent of Restructuring is not to remove faculty and staff members, but to define the terms under which we will all work in a “Restructured New Fremont” and enable all existing staff to participate in the planning process and make individual choices. Guidelines have been previously distributed identifying specific focus areas and activities that be expected of all staff effective July 1, 2010. The Principal has also recently distributed an internal instructional plan that was developed utilizing a process in which teachers were invited and had an opportunity to participate.”
If the intent is not to remove faculty and staff members, why tell them, as Dr, Cortines did, that they are responsible for a “culture of failure—“NO EXCUSES” AND THAT Dr. McKenna labeled the staff the “villains” in the January faculty meeting? How does the “internal plan” relate to what was on the Powerpoint about the New Fremont?
In Point 4, Dr. McKenna offers: “Existing faculty members who are committed to the Fremont students, have a unique and unprecedented opportunity to engage in a collaborative effort with existing collegues to redesign and implement a model urban high school program. Revitalization is best accomplished by experienced staff, but will be achieved only with a strong and unified effort toward the ultimate student goal-Student Achievement.”
Since the plan for the New Fremont is already up on-line—sans teacher input—why speak of a unique and unprecedented opportunity or of collaborative efforts? How many of the parents were actually invited and were able to attend on short notice? How many were actually able to participate?
In Point 5, Dr. McKenna writes of the allies of Fremont: “Expanded partnerships with outside providers will be incorporated to provide additional support for teachers, students and families. Collaborations are being planned with Pearson Foundation, Los Angeles Educational Partnership (LAEP), UCLA Center X, McGraw Hill and others.”
The Fremont teachers had already been working on a plan to collaborate with LAEP, had already been working with UCLA Center X, when those collaborations—which had involved extensive work and building of relationships—had been scuttled on December 9th by Dr. Cortines.
In Point 6, he writes: “A ‘New Fremont’ will be aligned to identify and enforce commitments from students, parents and staff that will change the culture of the school by holding all participants and stakeholders accountable.”
There had already been significant strides in those areas. What will LAUSD do? What will District 7 do? What will Dr. George McKenna III and Dr. Cortines do?
“LAUSD’s Fremont High Moves to Restructure” on “The Patt Morrison Show” KPCC
Pictures also appeared at: