Day 156  Wednesday, January 27, 2010:

“Just Because It Doesn’t Make Sense Doesn’t Mean It’s Not Logical.”


I’ve got 156 days to go until the “New Fremont” is unveiled.


Sometimes you don’t see an overall plan. Sometimes life comes at you, becoming moments and soundbites like different colored beads randomly strung together—I think that’s Slaughterhouse 5, if I’m not mistaken. I’m feeling a little like Billy Pilgrim these days. Sorry, Mat—too much time hanging out in classes outside of my core subject area during my conference period.


Like yesterday, I drove in to Fremont on my off-track time to attend a faculty meeting at which the famed Dr. George McKenna III, who has retired and come back more times than Brett Favre, would be speaking at, unveiling the master plan for the “New Fremont,”

which, by the way, was not his. He is merely “implementing” it. Everybody who knows any history knows about some rather famous trials where that excuse was trotted out. He repeatedly informed us that Superintendent Cortines had already made his decision—done deal—get over it, but that the plan is subject to change.  “It’s the same, but different,” I guess…


Dr. McKenna told Dr. Parmenter, the UTLA rep who asked for brevity and to get to the point, that he needed “ten minutes” to get his message out and answer questions.  Twenty minutes later, he was telling Steve DeMarco he wasn’t done and not to interrupt. That pretty much set the tone.


If you weren’t there, it was quite the experience.  Pouring rain (not as bad as last week, when we played French Revolution and could not meet in the library), cold auditorium, armed school police officers who were stationed at the doors (again). Too bad Dr. McKenna could not come up with an answer to explain their (armed) presence. “They are employees of the school,” was one response. “It’s raining. Maybe there’s a problem with the roof and they’re here for public safety. I don’t know…” was another—pardon me if I don’t get the quotes exactly right, for I am getting the gist as best I can (hey, can I get a copy of the film?). I think you can see where this is going, even if you do work at Fremont. You know we don’t learn too quickly.


What I got from the 90 minutes was a series of quotes—and something else. I saw and heard what has been called “the Fremont magic” during other events in our colorful and storied history. More on the “magic” later.


You have to understand, those of us who have never really grown up do lots of silly things—secret handshakes and all. One of the most revered is to speak using quotes from movies/tv/books (rare, I know, but you can measure our geekiness if we can quote Lord of the Rings or Dune—I digress).  The use of quotes becomes an art form and one can convey entire scenes and a range of experiences with the selection of the proper line. It can become a verbal shorthand (older folks can now explain to young folks what shorthand is, probably to be followed by an explanation of the sliderule), able to transmit vast amounts of information with a few words. Less is more. I think that called poetry. Anyone remember, “This! This is a hall pass!”?


Try it. I brought examples:


“We’ll be having PDs on your behalf. We’ll target the math department, the English department (they get caps because I’m afraid of them), the social studies department.” On our behalf?  I also get nervous about being called a target. Targets get shot at.


“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.


“Nothing is being destroyed!” So our baker’s dozen of SLCs are going to be folded into five (figure I heard) on three tracks.  How does that work, five divided by three? Staff to be moved elsewhere? “We had to destroy the village to save it”?


“How can you get students ready for college? You don’t even have a college counselor.” That’s when Aurora Martinez, who had been patiently sitting with her hand raised pointed out her presence.


“Your counseling duties will not change!” This was said to Agnes Cesare, Pathways Counselor on B-Track, that her caseload would not change, that nothing would change, even with thirteen SLCs being folded into 5 (please correct me if I’m wrong—used to it), that no counselors’ duties would change. “How could they possibly change?” Of course we also heard about dicing and slicing data and cross-pollinating SLCs…


“You don’t even have to go through your resume. All you have to do to re-apply is fill out an application.”  The ease of the application process was explained, that we would face a interview panel of two students, two parents, two “community members” (who have precisely what expertise to bring to the evaluation process?) and that the final say would be in the hands of the principal. Let me know if I misremembered; there was so much good stuff here. I feel like John Pinette in a buffet…


“You can sign up for committees.” Robert Heinlein’s definition of a committee is an organism with six or more legs and no brain, so I am wary when I hear that word bandied about. And what say do these “committees” have in the design of the “New Fremont”?  How can they have any authority when we do not know who will be left here at Fremont in 156 days? Sort of like sewing clothing that might be for you or might be given to someone who’s shaped differently (I’m sensitive at my weight) only you’re doing an entire wardrobe. One size does not fit all.


“Your seniority will count elsewhere.”


“Oh, so we found the villain!” In response to parental involvement and support. By the way, he never answered Maria Gaspar’s (UTLA chapter chair) on when and how would a community forum take place.


“Oh, so if we fix poverty, everything will be solved?” Response to Mat Taylor and others who spoke of the poverty issues. I guess the poverty has nothing to do with the statistic of 134 homicides within a 2-mile radius of Fremont since 2007. So walking to school through a neighborhood where a murder takes place every FIVE days doesn’t alter the chances of how well our students might perform?


“You argued so passionately that I have to reply dispassionately.” Said to Becky French. Yeah, yeah, Venus and Mars. Nothing sexist at all, eh? Or is this a Star Trek/Mr. Spock thing?


“Oh, you can answer for her? You know the answer to the question I asked her?” Said to Becky when Dr. McKenna asked a question about SLCs of Agnes Cesare, to which Becky replied, “Yes I can. I work in her SLC.”


The SLC discussion, who pointed out gaps in his knowledge, led to Dr. McKenna saying, “There’s alot of things I don’t know.” Certainly not about SLCs, although the existence of C.A.L.A.-A and C.A.L.A.-B was questioned, as to the special needs of those SLCs dealing with ELL students.


The prize-winner, though, came when teachers and counselors said that this (more like “This”—whatever “This” was) was not logical and didn’t make sense: “Just because it doesn’t make sense doesn’t mean it’s not logical.”


The Fremont magic. It sprang up like the dandelions and the toadstools on my lawn. Whenever times get tough—I mean really tough—Pathfinders pull together. We snap at each other like members of a huge dysfunctional family, but when things get dark, we rally around each other. When the ship springs a big leak, we don’t run to the lifeboats; we repair the ship and bail out the water and go sailing on with our 5000 kids. I have a sweatshirt with the logo “Pathfinder 4 Life.” So many of you argued with passion—don’t make it a dirty word, Dr. McKenna—and it is our passion which drives us to come in to a place where we seem so unsupported, so outnumbered and overwhelmed. That passion lights a fire in people’s hearts and brings kids to our door. Ever see the movie Teachers? At the end of the movie, after a fire alarm has been pulled and the school empties out, an administrator tells Nick Nolte’s character. “Half of those kids aren’t even coming back.” To which Nick Nolte’s character replies, “But half of them will.”


We’ve been hearing about seeing the glass as half-full. I think many of us do, already.

--Chuck Olynyk


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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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