Day 139 Saturday, February 13, 2010: "How Did the Principal Become My Adversary?" - Saving the Mont
Day 139  Saturday, February 13, 2010



An open letter to my principal, Mr. Balderas.


At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed.Frederick Douglass Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have the exact measure of the injustice and wrong which will be imposed on them.Frederick Douglass


No man can put a chain about the ankle of his fellow man without at last finding the other end fastened about his own neck.Frederick Douglass


Dear Mr. Balderas, 


You lost me today.  You lost me with the fear- based rhetoric in your interview with the Magnet Chronicles.  And it’s hard to lose me. Just ask some teachers who knew I supported the last principal when most others did not.   So I don’t say that lightly. Losing me is really hard to do- but you did it.   And this is actually hard for me to write because you were very compassionate and supportive when my father died, and I really appreciated that. It meant a lot to me.  It shows that you have empathy and understanding, which is why your words in the paper came as somewhat of a shock.


  I was shocked by the obvious disrespect you showed to veteran teachers in the interview as if we can just be replaced by new “people” without missing a beat.    I recognized your arguments immediately as fear –based rather than persuasive and inclusionary.  You see that’s what a good education does for you- it makes you a critical thinker. 



 Let me back up.  I think of a principal as someone who supports the profession of teaching instead of obstructing it, someone who supports good teaching instead of pointing out that one in a million case of the “charmer teacher” who fails 92% of their students;  someone who inspires using their background, experience and philosophy instead of doing the bidding of some higher up bureaucrats  for the district because maybe you have been promised something if you just tolerate Fremont for the next three years. 


You started off pretty strong. Many teachers felt you respected them more than the last principal and that is a positive thing.  But then Cortines showed up and made his big announcement. I think most teachers were still in your corner for the next few weeks, but then the shock wore off and the actual critical thinking began.  I know one question I had that I never asked you is, “What did you know and when did you know it?”  Did you always know from the day you set foot on this campus- a campus that obviously means quite a different thing to you than it does to me- that this would happen?


“The district is ready.”  Ready for what? Is this some kind of war? And I thought I was coming in to school everyday to  prepare young people for the future, not wage a battle against my own district - the district that until recently, I felt loyalty towards.


“They are going to announce more budget cuts…..So would you want to come back and work and reapply and try to get a job now that there are less jobs out there?”   But yet in the next breath you mention that there are “people”  (note you didn’t say teachers) from UCLA, Teach for America and Cal State Dominguez Hills ready to go! And the best part is those TFA “people” won’t have permanent status, too much life experience or opinions! That must be an administrator’s dream come true!  And better yet is their low price tag. Well then, if you’re all set and ready to go with these “people” why try to scare us teachers into reapplying with the budget argument?   Is it because you know that you might actually need some real educators to begin the school year?


Without uninvolved, overworked, working –class parents, you and district officials could not threaten a successful magnet program that sends the vast majority of its students to four– year colleges over the issue of one piece of “data”  – a word you seem fond of.  You seem very well educated. Certainly you know that judging students or teachers on one piece of data is neither reliable nor valid.  I know you learned that somewhere in your education.  So the question is, why are you pushing to close a magnet school based on one piece of data?  You know that normed- referenced tests will always put 50% of students below the average.  Pretty soon, every school will be a “failing school.” The difference is in other geographic areas, the parents would never allow bully and thug- like buearacrats to disrespect their schools or teachers.  They would be much more willing to challenge their authority.  It’s what you and the district have counted on would not happen here in south Los Angeles. You are counting on a passive populace.


I wonder if your child was attending a magnet school if you would feel good about some bureaucrats who have been out of the classroom for years shutting down the program based on a CST score.  “No” you would argue, look at all the other benefits the program has.   But somehow it is fine for other people’s children to lose opportunities, as long as they live in an urban area with lower income parents. 


Education is about relationships- relationships with students and staff- it’s what makes it worth it to actually show up here day after day.  And when all of a sudden you realize that certain people are no longer there- it leaves a hole- I can think of a few names right off the bat- they mean nothing to you but they do to me- Sharonne Wells,  Sarah Knoppe,  Jack Baroutjian, Roman del Rosario- when Fremont loses certain people, we also lose qualities that can’t always be replaced in the exact same way. Which is why losing a whole bunch of people like those above would be devastating.  Now of course you have those “people” waiting in the wings- I just hope they cherish the students I have seen make big strides in the same way I cherish them- but I doubt they will.  They will be too busy just trying to keep their heads above water their first year teaching- and where does that leave my students?  The learning curve at Fremont is at minimum 1 year- and that’s just to figure the place out. To become a truly competent teacher takes about five years. And you have no guarantee that the new “people” will even stick around that long.


Have you ever asked your self why teachers from high API schools like El Camino and LACES aren’t beating down the doors of Fremont to get a job here?  You know the answer to that. Because the same teachers you disrespect have one of the most difficult jobs in the world- and you refuse to acknowledge that with support mechanisms –instead you insist that any new “person” can do our job. 



I am the ultimate believer in redemption and I still hold out hope that instead of the corporatist “anyone can be replaced” mentality you are espousing,  that you will come to see that you are painting yourself into a corner when it comes to relationships with teachers and building a vision for the school. Even teachers rehired will be embittered and not likely to support a principal who denigrates a profession he himself came from.  But maybe you don’t care because you know that in most reconstitutions the majority of the staff won’t stay or won’t be rehired. 


Have you ever considered the fact that the district is using you as the fall guy for this disaster –that they are putting you between themselves and the angry mob because they don’t really have a plan?  Because those are the thoughts that came to my mind when I would ask Dr. McKenna a question and he would always try to refer me to you. I realized then that they want to call the shots but they don’t really want to be responsible for them.


Personally, I didn’t enter the education field to sell my soul or to sell out. I entered the field of education so I wouldn’t have to.  How about you? 


I’d like to believe that the words I read in the paper didn’t really come from you- that maybe you were just speaking something you were told to say- because somehow I can’t reconcile the principal who has always been respectful in person to the one who showed disrespect and arrogance toward my profession in the article.   I’ll give you and anyone a chance to make it right- everyone deserves that- no one is perfect. Fremont is a pressure cooker and we are all bound to react in ways that we often might not otherwise. I believe that if you change course and let Dr. McKenna and Mr. Cortines know that they are disrespecting this community and that the school belongs to everyone in the community and not to Mr. Cortines personally, then I think teachers could be back on board.


When I see you in the halls, I’ll still say hi and I’ll still talk to you because I want to believe that you are a better human being than the words you spoke in that article- but maybe you won’t want to talk to me- and that’s understandable.


But I will talk to you with the uneasy feeling of not really knowing where I or anyone else stand at a school we love.   Because I know you have the “confidential data” on me and that might tell a very different tale than the one my students might personally tell, but we know real, live breathing students don’t matter- only the data does. 


Some of my “data” says that I gave D’s and F’s to 44% of my students – a fact I was confronted with in my Stull meeting.  There’s just one little problem with that “data” – 1/3 of those F’s were students who haven’t shown for anywhere from 6 months ago to 3 months ago. One hadn’t shown since last year.


At least fortunately for me, my supervisor was unable to obtain my test scores from the 5 million dollar My Data system (I wonder how many teachers’ jobs could have been saved with 5 million dollars?) I say fortunately because even though I teach US History, every kid that was a 10+++ last year took the World History test (50% of my students), even though they sat in my US History class all year long.  Add to that the 25% transiency rate in the rest of the population of my students, and the kids who entered in the middle of the year to take the second half of US History without having taken.  the first part. Do you still think it is fair to judge me and other teachers on “the data?” 



 And that’s not to mention the numerous criminals who suddenly appeared at my classroom door within a span of two weeks this year, covered with gang tattoos and sporting attitudes with registration forms, no pens, no paper and no folders.  When I asked them what they had done to have been in jail, none could meet my eyes.  And after numerous attempts, I still can’t find out which ones have violent histories, something I and my students have a right to know. Suddenly, I totally understand why those teachers from LACES and El Camino High aren’t beating down our doors.


I attended the community meeting a couple of nights ago  – one that many teachers worked very hard to organize – and it was a resounding success. It was a success because the parents found their voice-because they realized that if this was an “affluent community”-as one parent put it- you and the district would never get away with this. And they realized that they are being taken for fools. As another parent put it- the district thinks parental involvement means to “sew, crochet and cook”- but not be heard.  It was a harsh assessment but quite on target.   I hope you find your real voice- the one that supports teachers and inspires students and supports and respects the community.  I still have faith that you will.


I really struggled with whether to publicly post this.  I thought it might just inflame things or make you feel cornered or defensive, but ultimately it was the complete tone – deaf nature of your attitude toward teaching and the teaching profession and the fact that you don’t understand the importance of having a large cadre of veteran educators at Fremont,  coupled with the fact that you are using fear to intimidate teachers that caused me to write this.


My job is difficult enough; I don’t need my own principal trying to scare me and intimidate me. 


You’re not supposed to be my enemy.  So why are you acting like one?


I wrote this letter out of love for Fremont High, my students, my colleagues and you Mr. Balderas, because I still believe that you can make a positive difference here.  The ruthless corporate downsizer role doesn’t really suit you very well.  Try the inspirational principal with vision who is willing to challenge the out of touch, local district bureaucrats.   I think that role would fit you a whole lot better.  What do you think?




Ms. Stam



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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.


    August 2010



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