Day 160 Saturday, January 23, 2010: “Rudderless Ships”


In 160 days, my career as a teacher at John C. Fremont ends under the guise of reconstitution.  Or is that restructuring? Maybe it’s the history teacher in me, but I look at time quite a bit, hanging event in eras, seeing patterns.


In 503 years of the Roman Empire, the average Roman emperor lasted 5.5 years. Since July 1994, we have had eight principals at FremontHigh School. Our “Caesar” has a “job-expectancy” of 23 ¼ months. During those same 16 years, approximately 30 Assistant Principals (including 5 SIFs—1 former AP hired at this position, 1 later hired as an AP when the SIF positions were eliminated) have worked at Fremont, overseeing the management of an “urban high school.”


As to the facility itself, built in 1924, I believe, it was designed for 2400 students. When it went year-round on the Concept 6 calendar and added the 9th grade in July 1994, the campus population swelled to something like 5000 students; not all were there at once, since we operate with three tracks, one of which is off at an one time; that puts us at something like 3600 students.  Add to that, approximately 250 teachers and who knows just how many other staff.  We’re bigger that many medieval towns were, and as large as the number of citizens in an ideal Greek city-state.


But our situation is from ideal.


Between July 1994-1998, under one principal, Fremont went onto the Concept 6 calendar (which swelled the population). I recall that during the accreditation process, when I oversaw one of the committees, I wrote in my report (which was to reflect what the staff and other “stakeholders” felt) that the staff felt phone lines and computers were needed in the classrooms. I was told by the principal this was too expensive and to delete that from the report.


Between July 1998 and October/November 1999, there was a huge debate over who would fill the librarian vacancy, the principal at the time considering shutting the library down instead of putting a candidate for the job in that position. This and other events led to a student organized walkout of something like 3100; it made national news. The process of accreditation stalled.


Between and October/November 1999 and July 2000, another principal got the staff to unite and restart the stalled accreditation process (passing it quite successfully). The campus underwent a makeover, a mural was painted on the gym, a fence was put up to add to campus security, Pathfinder bumper stickers and articles of clothing appeared.


Between July 2000 and 2002, Advanced Placement classes appeared in greater numbers, but problems with the management of the massive school kept cropping up. How come we had to have a two-year-long debate about just what a hall pass is?

Between 2002-2004, debated raged from on high about how we could best implement our teaching. A process which went on for years was “Unpacking the Standards,” wherein every department meeting and nearly every staff development involved, at least in Social Studies, the “unpacking” of Standard 10.1.  It reads as follows, “Students relate the moral and ethical principles in ancient Greek and Roman philosophy, in Judaism, and in Christianity to the development of Western political thought.” The Standards were “unpacked” so often that an endless round of jokes came out. There was also much questioning about “Can the students articulate the standard?” Add to this that the teacher had to create an “Instructional Matrix” (basically what the unit was about, what sacred standard was covered), post what “scaffolding lessons” were to be used, and what the “culminating task” (not a test—oh no) would be do demonstrate the student’s mastery of said standard.  Thinking maps were another magic bullet to appear. There were also meetings/debates upon block scheduling, some of which are now starting to resurface… We also had in 2003 the “Learning Walks”—some of us called them “Learning Parades”—wherein a gaggle of administrators and other radio-carriers would invade a classroom to observe what was going on, what standard had been “unpacked,” was there evidence of the standard being addressed displayed on the front board—I know, because, although I had standards posted on the two side boards, as well as having students having a detailed explanation of standards in their notebooks, I was dinged for not having the standard posted ON THE FRONT BOARD.  

In July 2004 and lasting until 2006, Fremont had two principals. I like to call this the Division of the Roman Empire. Each principal took half of the school, sharing the principal’s office.  In less than two months, one principal seized another office and the two were bickering, just like Western and Eastern Roman emperors; staff was divided between “Fremont North” and “Fremont South,” although the Caesars’ offices were on the East and West sides of the hallway. SIFs appeared amongst us—I think SIF stood for School Improvement Facilitator, but the timing was unfortunate, what with the Star Wars movies—and served as another group of administrators. I couldn’t tell the difference; a former AP became a SIF, while a SIF later became an AP when the SIF funding ran out… Bulletin 1600 was issued to us in 2004, decreeing that whereas Fremont had a few Small Learning Communities (Humanitas, the Academy of Travel and Tourism, the Math/Science Magnet, to name a few), the entire school would consist of SLCs; a large number of teachers and administrators traveled to Stanford to be inserviced by the Stanford Redesign Network, I believe; this led to SLCs having to re-do paperwork on plans and vision statements for said Small Learning Communities—sort of like debating “How many administrators can dance on the head of a pin?” The First Things First program, which involved money from the Bill Gates Foundation, tried to get on campus in 2005, but was voted out by the faculty in 2006, while the Coalition for Essential Schools threw up its collective hands in disgust at working with such contrary teachers.

Between July 2006-2009, with one principal in command, Instructional Learning Teams (ILTs), which was explained by a trainer was a voluntary program of teachers in like-subjects to plan model lessons together which fit the needs of the students; we were told to go slow, that this wasn’t a checklist. During this era, the principal informed the faculty they had to use/submit “9-step” lesson plans; these were later modified to “7-step.” There was also a “Read To Achieve” program, wherein all faculty were to basically teach reading in the classroom.


In July 2009, a new principal was selected by Superintendent Cortines, after telling faculty and staff they would have a say in the selection process. ILTs became mandatory, and the work was demeaned by at least one administrator, who asked in a meeting, “How are the Learning Teams going? Mediocre at best, huh?” without seeing our work in the course of a few months; he later said his complaint is that ILTs work too slowly.


During these past 16 years, Fremont was in one of eight “Regions” in LAUSD; the Regions were dismantled because of accusations of bureaucratic waste and being top-heavy with administration and out-of-classroom personnel, and Fremont became part of a Cluster (and we all added a word to cluster to sum up our feelings on the effectiveness of this); the Clusters were made up of one or two high schools, the feeder middle schools and their elementary schools. Then Clusters went into the Twilight Zone cornfield and Fremont became part of Learning District I (eye), for now Learning Districts could deal with the situation better. Within a couple of years, a couple of Learning Districts were folded into others, absorbed (I’m tempted to say “assimilated” because I watch too much Star Trek), and Fremont has now become part of District 7 (or if you are cool and use initials—LD7).


My point in this rant is that we’ve clearly had no stability in leadership. LAUSD restructures from Regions to Clusters to Learning Districts and then reshuffles LDs.School administration changes every 23 months. Each principal comes in with a vision of how to fix Fremont—well and good. But the vision changes like somebody channel-surfing.  Give up the remote and stick with a plan!  We’ve clearly had no stability in leadership in 16 years. With that many chiefs, we’ve been like a rudderless ship in a storm. See just how many ideas have been offered as the “magic bullet.” Yes, some were great ideas, but we never follow through. And now, one of the ideas that worked, the SLCs, is threatened with being gutted and cast upon the pile of failures…and we, the faculty and staff of Fremont—teachers, cafeteria workers, custodians, school police, clerical staff—are being blamed.



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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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