Day 21 Thursday June 10, 2010: Dead Man’s Party


Today is Thursday, June 10, 2010 and is Day 21 of my time left at the Mont, counting the furlough days, with 12 actual school days left. Since I’m running behind, you’re getting a double dose of Big O. Been trying to get out something on the Humanitas Senior Reception from Friday, June 4, to give you a sense of what has been lost, as you prepare to either teach at Fremont, go to your new jobs, or simply await your fate. If you are not a part of Humanitas A, B, or C, place yourselves in our position and think about the accomplishments of your own SLCs as you read. This one is about celebrating our best.


Eddie Tafoya, an alum and member of the Humanitas program, works with the City of Commerce. Always grateful for what Humanitas had done for him, he got the City of Commerce to hold our traditional reception at Steven’s Steakhouse and Seafood, everything included.


It was an evening of significant numbers. All three tracks were represented. Two decades, as well. I saw students from my days at Edison, who I’d had in my homeroom, as well as my World History classes, ones I’d considered my sons and daughters. Now was my chance to see them as young adults as we gathered together to bid farewell to a program which sought to build community and collegiality, which actually served as a model for many of the Small Learning Communities on campus, and which was so successful that even the name is going to be stolen for an Academy at the New Fremont, like something out of “The Return of Martin Guerre.”


Humanitas, with Steve DeMarco as C-Track lead teacher, and Ramon Mendez as B-Track lead teacher and Margherita Moraca as Humanimama, served the needs of over 1200 students—about 26% of the Mont’s population. Rita Moraca was, and has always been, the lead teacher, the heart and soul of the program. I’d get dragged to the Thursday lunch meetings kicking and screaming, but she’d get me to go. I guess that’s why she’s Humanimama. She knew how to get us to try our best.


Which is why it is with great sadness that I write that Rita is retiring. But it is perhaps best. After all, the New Fremont will not serve the ideals of Humanitas. I wouldn’t want her to watch the bastardization of what we created together: three houses untied by one vision. May Los Angeles Educational Partnership (LAEP) who was going to partner with Fremont before Superintendent Cortines’ ukaz on December 9, come in and demand they not use the name.


Enough of that. Let the pictures tell the story.

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Day 27 Friday June 4, 2010: Under Pressure


Today is Friday, June 04, 2010 and is Day 27 of my time left at the Mont, 16 days of actual class time. It is also essentially the one-year anniversary of when teachers and counselors chose to lose an hour of paid time. (Actually, the anniversary is Sunday, the anniversary of what everyone prefers to call D-Day, but that’s the weekend, eh? Doesn’t count.) On that day, they wore black and stood in front of the Mont to protest the RIF notices, eliminating teaching positions. They also awaited the arrival of Superintendent Ramon Cortines.


When he did at last arrive, I remember people shouting, “There he is!” Many of us followed him and he faced us in the Quad, where we put questions to him. I think that was when we lost the Mont.


People have asked the same question since December 9th. “Why us?” It has been observed that we are not the worst school in D7 or LAUSD. We didn’t even make the list of worst schools for the state of California. Yeah, Superintendent Cortines has his complaints, such as the one he sent me in an email dated June 2nd: “I know that there are people that believe Fremont is running well, but I just don't know how any of us can justify that only 1.5 percent of the students at Fremont are at the proficient level in mathematics.”


But we still are not the worst or even among the worst schools. So why?


After we confronted Superintendent Cortines, he met with us in the library a couple of weeks later. He then told us “Fremont holds a special place in my heart” and that we would be able to have input into the selection of a successor to Larry Higgins. RIF notices were discussed; cases were made for individual teaching positions and just who could be saved from the unemployment abyss. Jobs were saved, but I had to say goodbye to Cynthia Rosado, a former student who shared two periods of sophomores with me her first and only year of teaching at the Mont. When she realized I would be her partner again and we could plan across the curriculum, she dove into it with enthusiasm—only to be one of the ones not saved. Another casualty.


But we were getting others back, concentrated on them.


Then we got Mr. Balderas in July. Yeah, we didn’t pick him, had no hand into his selection, but many of us shrugged it off. On a personal level, I was trying to get used to a lack of the open animosity Mr. Higgins showed me.


So, “Why us?”


When many of us took our action that day in front of the school, when many of us wore black, and carried a coffin emblazoned with the words, “Budget Cuts Kill Kids’ Futures”, and had someone dress as the Grim Reaper… there were meetings going on at D7… But…


We are not the worst or even among the worst schools, as we all have said. But no war gets fought for only one reason. This is a war.  Against us.


Test scores are a factor.  One factor.  So is greed. “I am not a destroyer of companies. I am a liberator of them! The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind. And greed, you mark my words, will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA. Thank you very much.”—Gordon Gekko, “Wall Street” Odd just how, with just the substitution of “school” for “company or corporation” and “Fremont” for “Teldar Paper” that this monologue be made to fit our state of affairs. Think about that SIG grant  of six million dollars and what has been destroyed in the name of educational salvation  “Why do you need to wreck this company?” “Because it's WRECKABLE, all right? I took another look at it and I changed my mind!”


I would hope that this has nought to do with vengeance. Yet, why are no administrators permitted to write letters of reference? Why was a memo issued to that effect (on pink paper, remember?)? Why has the process of rehiring been so opaque, rather than the transparency promised? Why were threats made about not being paid during the summer, loss of benefits? Options get eliminated before our eyes.


And no the letter sits beside me, pulled from an envelope with a red “Confidential” stamp in the lower right-hand corner. The directions on the letter state that I am “required to follow the instructions” and contact a Personnel Specialist, and that my “Notification of Displacement”, which states I am being “displaced” because I’m at an “over-teachered School”, has been faxed to Human Resources. There’s also a number for, I presume, counseling, to provide me “with assistance during this transitional period.”


Feels like I’m staring into an abyss. But, to quote “Wall Street,” “Man looks in the abyss, there's nothing staring back at him. At that moment man finds his character. And that is what keeps him out of the abyss.”


I called the number and as soon as I mentioned Fremont was told, “Register for a Job Fair to be held for District 7 on Friday, June 11th.” Or I could go try to find a job on my own after mine had been taken from me without any bad evaluations. When I asked about the transfer papers I filed on February 16th (as posted in Day 136, “Teach Your Children”), I was told that information was not available.


“Why not?”


“The computer is still processing it.”


“Really? Still? When will I be given the results?” Maybe this was an early, wood-burning or coal-burning model they were using.


Silence. “In a couple of weeks.”


“The computer is going to have to work on my transfer for two more WEEKS?”


“Yes, sir, about that long.” Well, using ISIS to take attendance or do grades seems to take that long… Maybe…


I thought computers were fast. I mean, I’ve seen them in “Star Trek.” Maybe the District one is calculating pi or is battling illogic. That always worked in “Star Trek.”


But “Star Trek” is science fiction.


I think this is fantasy. “You could always register for the job faire.” (Sorry, that spelling always looks more proper to me. Must be the medieval and Renaissance stuff). Now THAT firmly puts the situation in the realm of fantasy, eh?


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Day 31 Monday May 31, 2010: “Closer To Home/I’m Your Captain”


Today is Monday, May 31, 2010 and Day 31 of my time left at the Mont. Time’s speeding up. Faster than a decaying orbit. This one’s going to be all over the map, like a compass gone mad at magnetic north.


I remember when Johnny Jauregui and company came back from a meeting with a community group which seeks to benefit from the six million dollar SIG. The message got passed that “Your people on the Save Fremont website better tone it down! They’re trying to destroy the school.” I recall my outrage, thinking how wrong they were, but I couldn’t decide before if it came from ignorance or not. Then I found out they’d been offered a slice of the pie, a seat at the table. So it is not about empowering the people of a community, but about the power that money gives in a community. Good old-fashioned greed. I’m sure there’s a healthy dose of ignorance in there, as well. Never underestimate the power of human stupidity, especially in groups. But, to quote the movie “Brubaker,” “I don’t see playing politics with the truth.” Unfortunately, the reply is, “You can’t reform the system if you’re not in it!” I just can’t believe in that destroy the enemy from within crap.


How would such a group join in what LAUSD has planned for the Mont? Easy. To quote Howard Beale in “Network,” “We'll tell you anything you want to hear, we lie like hell.” After all, how many good folks reapplied to the Mont, based upon threats, dark pictures painted of their futures outside the Mont, promises of what will be given out as rewards, such as “Title I Coordinator” or “Band Director” or “Lead Teacher of an Academy.” (This is just guesswork on my part. My brain likes to pick apart knots like this, worrying at a puzzle like a dog savaging a chew toy.) A little like “The Terminator”: “Come with me if you want to live!” or “You can’t reform the system if you’re not in it!”


A bunch went along. Dr. McKenna hinted that 80% of you went along, then “Um, over 60% did reapply.” (from the “Patt Morrison Show” on which Dr. McKenna appeared on 4/26/10). Then, in the cover letter/timeline send to the School Board, “130 of 253 certificated...apply to remain at Fremont.  This constitutes 51 percent of the existing certificated staff members..." That damned SIG grant requires that 50% of you are gone. Pardon me, I guess I should include myself in that number. But in some ways, I’m channeling that song by The Eagles, “Already Gone.” So if 51% reapplied, who are so many folks getting rejection letters?


By now everyone should have received the letter stating either Yea or Nay. You are either returning to the Mont as a teacher in good standing—or not.  Some of you had no choice, but to reapply. There were extenuating circumstances—single parents or single incomes, stability at work.  But I keep thinking about the people I’ve worked with along the way in the past 16 years at the Mont. Some of them are casualties, too.


While some of my words may have made folks uncomfortable, and the actions of the Committee to Save Fremont made people scuttle past us in the hallways and hurry to their rooms, please, please understand what we have been trying to stop.


Dr. George McKenna III wants to chalk it all up to “UTLA,” the same UTLA that many have been upset with for a seeming lack of support, from an absence of chapter chairs appearing at lunch meetings to the seeming inattention or indifference of attorneys the union has. McKenna wants it to be about the evil wicked teachers’ union, which it isn’t, and others want to blame the union for not doing enough.


This isn’t about them. It is about us. We are the Mont.


And we’re losing it.


People have complained about what I write. If you have a beef, bounce my emails. Block them. Or reply and write “Stop bothering me!” If you don’t want to know, click Delete. There’s a line from the movie Taras Bulba on that score: “You swore would wear a patch over one eye until the steppes were free again. Cover both eyes, Tymoshevsky, so that you cannot see yourself!” Damn, Yul Brynner sounded a lot like my dad.


If you really want to know why I’m bombarding you with emails, why I wear red on Tuesdays (still haven’t given up on the union—it’s about collective action, not individual deals) and black on Thursdays (I wish the slimming effect worked, but it is in mourning over what is being destroyed at the Mont), why I have a countdown on my board that ticks off the days like the survivors in “Battlestar Galactica,” then listen.


It’s also because people are talking to each other and to me. Some come into the O-Zone for other than the coffee or to forage for Kathleen Loggins’ baked goods. There were two conversations I had with our fellow teachers that shook me to the core.


One was in my room, in tears, feeling ashamed because she felt she had no choice but to reapply, then said, “I want my son to have a teacher like you.” I wanted to move mountains for her in that moment, just to not see those tears.


Another came, when he was packing to go off-track and said, “All my life, I’ve stood up, I’ve walked away from situations rather than give in. I read your emails. All of them. This is the one time in my life I played it safe, and I wish I hadn’t.”  That was a month ago. I found out a few days ago he isn’t getting rehired. He’s damned good at what he does. It almost seems like this is being done to break people’s spirits and to let them taste ashes or the dregs of this foul drink.


There was a science fiction novel I read what feels like about a thousand years ago called “Always the Black Knight,” by Lee Hoffman, about jousting on mechanical horses in the far future and the man who acted like a knight becoming a real one. There was a quote at the front of the book (I’ll spare you the period spelling):

“For knighthood is not in the feats of war,

As for to fight in quarrel right or wrong,

But in a cause which truth cannot defer.

He ought himself for to make sure and strong

Justice to keep, mixed with mercy among,

And no quarrel a knight ought to take,

But for a truth or for a woman’s sake.”

The author was Stephen Hawes, and it’s an excerpt from “The Pastimes of Pleasure,” written in the early 16th century.


I knew this situation was coming up. Lots of good folks who believed that they would be rehired. Why? Because Mr. Balderas and Dr. McKenna and Superintendent Cortines either told them so directly (see the January 26th meeting, written about in Day 156 “Just Because It Doesn’t Make Sense Doesn’t Mean It’s Not Logical” and Day 153 “Should I Stay Or Should I Go” or implied it. Lots of you got burned. You wanted to be left alone in your classrooms and be able to teach.


But the District came knocking. Dr. McKenna demonized us. The quest for a SIG grant was a reason to cast us on an educational dungheap. The school will be “deep-cleaned”—not for us, because we we’re not good enough, but for the new occupants of the New Fremont. There are new doors, lights are being replaced, Mr. Balderas is NOW worried about the appearance of the quad.


And the kids remain forgotten. They’re an afterthought, a box to check off, a group of “stakeholders” to claim were met.


Isn’t there just a little anger here at the injustice of it?


“I don't have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It's a depression. Everybody's out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel's work, banks are going bust, shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter. Punks are running wild in the street and there's nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there's no end to it. We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat, and we sit watching our TV's while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that's the way it's supposed to be. We know things are bad - worse than bad. They're crazy. It's like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don't go out anymore. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we are living in is getting smaller, and all we say is, 'Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials and I won't say anything. Just leave us alone.' Well, I'm not gonna leave you alone. I want you to get mad! I don't want you to protest. I don't want you to riot - I don't want you to write to your congressman because I wouldn't know what to tell you to write. I don't know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street. All I know is that first you've got to get mad. 'I'M AS MADAS HELL, AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!' I want you to get up right now, sit up, go to your windows, open them and stick your head out and yell - 'I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!' Things have got to change. But first, you've gotta get mad!... You've got to say, 'I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!' Then we'll figure out what to do about the depression and the inflation and the oil crisis. But first get up out of your chairs, open the window, stick your head out, and yell, and say it: ] "I'M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!"—Howard Beale (Peter Finch), “Network” (1976). No, I don’t think I’m Howard Beale. "I am but mad, north northwest. When the wind is southerly, I know the difference between hawk and a handsaw." “Hamlet,” I believe. I know the difference between hawk and a handsaw.


You wonder at what I’m doing and why? What the Committee to Save Fremont is doing? Could we be accused of trying to destroy the school, to ruin chances for a grant, as if money without morality can fix this place, as if money alone can provide justice? Is this supposed to be some sort of Pyrrhic victory or Slavic “scorched earth”?


Captain Kirk (witnessing the destruction of the Enterprise which he ordered): My God, Bones… what have I done?”

Dr. McCoy:  “What you had to do. What you always do: turn death into a fighting chance to live.”—“Star Trek III: The Search For Spock”


For those of you who received those letters, please let someone know. You don’t have to go it alone. Talk to each other.


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Day 32 Sunday May 30, 2010: “A Heartache, A Shadow, A Lifetime”


Today is Sunday, May 30, 2010 and Day 32 of my time left at the Mont. I’m pecking away at this while getting ready for church—probably finish it when I get home and go do laundry. By now people at the Mont who have been rejected will have gotten their letters, I’ll assume, although “assume” is such a dangerous word. On the series “The Odd Couple,” Felix Unger (Tony Randall) stood in a court and explained, while circling key letters in the word, that “When you ‘assume’, you make an ‘ass’ of ‘u’ and ‘me.’” My English teacher didn’t think that was anywhere near as clever as I thought it was. I live in a world of differences of opinion.


I know some of you held out hope, because the acceptance letters went out regular mail and it was like the classic Chinese water-torture, checking the mail daily (why not email? Nah, too efficient) for your invitation to the party. My condolences for those of you who waited in vain, only to receive the certified letter stating, “Thanks, but no thanks.” If I joke or crack wise, please understand it is not mockery of you. Just my nature in dealing with high stress or painful situations.


My mind is bouncing around in time, like Billy Pilgrim in “Slaughterhouse 5,” catching glimpses of people and snatches of conversation. Sometimes it’s a jumble, or maybe an Impressionist painting, where if I just step back a bit, have some perspective, I can see the picture we all created together.


Today, Johnny Jauregui posted to a cover letter/timeline by Dr. George McKenna III, of Washington Prep fame (just hold still long enough and he’ll tell you) of the process of Restructuring (is that the R-word we’re using now? No longer Reconstitution?) at FremontHigh School. There are some highlights we need to dive into. The Timeline memo highlights feature McKenna statements in " ", Johnny’s comments in ( ). *Mine are bold because, well, it’s me.*

12/11/09: in a lunch meeting, Duffy tells teachers that they should not reapply to Fremont." (But this is not true, I was in this lunch meeting and from what I recall, Duffy did not mention this.) *Duffy did talk about the Fremont
teachers coming up with an alternate plan.*

1/26/10: “I again meet with the Fremont Faculty to discuss restructuring.” *Boy, was that a meeting! I wrote about it in Day 156  “Just Because It Doesn’t Make Sense Doesn’t Mean It’s Not Logical”  posted Wednesday 1/27/2010. Here follow some prize quotes. Let’s see how they withstood the test of time:*


 “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. Still never saw him in my class. Superintendent Cortines visited April 16, at least.*


“Nothing is being destroyed!” *So our baker’s dozen of SLCs are going to be folded into 6 on three tracks. Staff to be moved elsewhere? We had to destroy the village to save it?*


 “Your counseling duties will not change!... How could they possibly change?” *Yet in Day 83 “Superman’s Song,” posted Saturday, April 10, 2010, we discovered 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 showed “5 Academies – 3 Grade 9 Centers – 1 Magnet”. Each Academy would have a counseling caseload of  500, except on C-Track C-Track will have “The School of Law, Justice and Government,” at 500 students (actually, it works out to over 700) with a single counselor, and the “The Mathematics, Science and Technology Magnet” with 300 students, and overseen by a single counselor to deal with half the caseload of the counselor assigned to “9th Grade Center C”. That’s 600 students if you are not following the math.*

“You don’t even have to go through your resume. All you have to do to re-apply is fill out an application.”  *We were all encouraged to reapply and assumred that most of us would retain our jobs, that the Memorandum of Understanding was a mere formality. 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. It also has been pointed out, scripted interviews were used, and one parent on the interview committee who was encountered during the community walk on April 25 stated to those on the walk that she did not even turn in some of her interview notes to the principal. This was in Day 62 “Little Lies” posted 5/1/10. And yet the School Improvement Grant, which will feed SIX MILLION DOLLARS into Fremont over three years requires that 50% of the faculty be removed. Why was this not told to the faculty?*

2/7/10: “The ‘Save Fremont’ website, constructed by teachers in opposition to the restructuring, comes on line.” *Well, at least he wrote something right. I encourage members of the Board of Education to actually go to the site and read every entry, just so you get the unedited versions. I am editing for the sake of brevity.*

2/11/10: UTLA attempts to conduct an unapproved parent meeting at Fremont." (This is not true...our permit was revoked and we moved the meeting to Praises of Zion.) *Mr. Balderas yanked the permits already granted for the rally held 2 days ealier, as well as for the parent meeting. If Dr. McKenna was serious about meeting with the parents, why was the permit revoked? How can ANY PARENT MEETING be disapproved of? I thought we wanted parental involvement. That was why we managed to gather 700 signatures during our community walks, as I stated to you at the May 11 Board meeting and wrote in Day 52 “Like A Rock,” posted that same day.*

"2/26/10: Principal Rafael Balderas sends to staff members an updated version of the school's internal organizational and instructional plan.  This was developed in collaboration with a few teachers, as most chose not to participate."  (This is not true, several teachers signed up for these committees, but Balderas never collaborated with them. Most teachers chose not to sign up because they could only provide recommendations and could not be taken seriously as decision-makers.) *Actually, that was discovered on the floor of the auditorium, scanned in and posted on Day 83 “Superman’s Song” on
Saturday April 10, 2010
. See that post for details.

3/11/10: UTLA produces its own improvement plan for Fremont but does not send a copy to my office.  This plan demonstrates low expectations of students and does not contain any substantive changes.  I received a copy of this plan on April 18, 2010
."  (This is not true, first of all McKenna received a copy of our PowerPoint for the March 11th community meeting from one of the community members who asked for the PowerPoint - Mr. Brown, member of the District 7 Parent Advisory Council.  I gave it to him on his flashdrive.  The PowerPoint was a quick, last minute summary of our Single Plan.  We actually made a more detailed and prettier one later in the month. The PowerPoint was a summary of our single plan, that was approved by our school site council in January, even the principal voted for it.  So no, it was not made by UTLA.  In fact our single plan was so good that Dr. Russ Thompson himself, LD7 Secondary Director, sent an email to Balderas and forwarded it to me, commenting that our single plan looked great.)

: UTLA conducts meetings for parents in opposition to the restructuring at a nearby church.  These meetings are attended by less then ten parents." (For those who were at the morning meeting or evening meeting, we know this is not true.  In fact we had over 40 parents/community members sign in for the March 11th meetings.)

3/16/10: 130 of 253 certificated...apply to remain at Fremont
.  This constitutes 51 percent of the existing certificated staff members..." (Did not McKenna state 60% reapplied in his radio address on KPCC?) : “Um, over 60% did reapply.  Many threatened and said, we’re not, none of us, going to reapply.  We’ll bind together.  They’re still demonstrating this weekend.  We have a flyer here that says they’re going to walk through the community.  They do something every week that says we’re not going to do this.  So, instead of collaborating, and we’ve written to them and asked them to collaborate.  They said, ‘We will resist.’  But it’s not on behalf of the students.  I think it’s a self-interest.  I think it’s unfortunate, ‘cause there are many good teachers.” *That was a quote from the “Patt Morrison Show” on which Dr. McKenna appeared on 4/26/10, quoted from Day 62 “Little Lies” posted on Saturday, May 1, 2010.*

"4/16/10: Mr. Balderas mails detailed restructuring plans to all Fremont parents." (McKenna is referring to the nice glossy pamphlet that
Fremont parents received in the mail the first week of May, a week before we went to the Board Meeting on May 11th.  It was sent out three weeks after the date on the coversheet of the pamphlet.) *Actually, the cover letter to the pamphlet was dated April 1, 2010
, kind of ironic, eh? Also, what kind of actual details does the pamphlet provide? Would YOU as a parent send your child to a school based upon the information provided?*

Okay, I’ll stop with the boldface. Time to take my helm off and just… talk. I’m a handshake kind of guy. I’m not cut out for politics. I don’t have the guile for it. I can’t even play poker well. But politics are being played with the truth, with the lives of these kids. Please understand, I am writing as a concerned faculty member of
FremontHigh School, a place I have dedicated myself to for 16 years. This is not about “taking the easy way.” I love teaching at Fremont, because I found a place where I am needed and where all of my special talents can be used. I do living history in the classroom to an extent that no one anywhere in the country does, to my knowledge. I don’t do it for awards. I do it because it works, especially here. I reach kids.


But I cannot allow Dr. McKenna’s twisting of events and implications of our motives to go unchallenged.


The process at Fremont has been inauthentic. These are simple distortions of the truth or “miscommunications,” as Dr. McKenna and Mr. Balderas explained away earlier statements how we would not be paid over the summer in order to get us to reapply. These are lies. The lies are hurting people whose faces I see everyday, many of whom are too afraid to say anything, hoping against hope that they’ll be left alone, just like the listeners referred to in that famous scene in the movie, “Network.”


Maybe they won’t say anything.


But I will. Because someone has to.


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Day 33 Saturday May 29, 2010: “Shadow Captain”


Today is Saturday, May 29, 2010, John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s birthday, the middle of the Memorial Day weekend, and Day 33 of my time left at the Mont. I never made it to the yard yesterday. Too busy dealing with matters related the Mont, our educational Dirty Dozen, Teachers’ Letters to Obama and a whole host of stuff which sprang up like the dandelions which now cover my neighbors’ backyard—I’ll go mow their lawn later, just to be neighborly and since I have a lawn mower and they don’t.


That mowing the lawn bit was just a reminder to throw your way about merit pay. If I was rewarded by the city, perhaps lowering my taxes or providing me with water at a reduced rate, for having a better lawn than my neighbors, why would I want to help them? By helping them, that lessens the chances of me getting an award/reward. So my yard can look better, and theirs look like crap? Will the crappiness of their lawn make mine look even better by comparison? Yeah, that makes for a good neighborhood, eh? That some place you want to bring kids up in?


That’s what you will have when that SIG grant of six million that the District wants comes to the Mont. A hell of a lot better than 30 pieces of silver. And you just sell out 4600 kids to do it. Like Josef Stalin said (me quoting Stalin—shows you my mad-on): “The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of a million is a statistic.” One of the teachers who spoke to Secretary Duncan told me, “Sounds like your faculty is turning on each other.” She also made reference to the destruction of community. We’re doing it to ourselves.


We keep looking at business models to fix education, to model education after; of course we’ve managed to eliminate just about any class at the Mont that has to do with using your hands under the guise that such classes would “track kids” (let’s not mention the cherry-picking of students which some counselors and SLCs had already been guilty of—nah, that’s not tracking).


It’s about balance. Miyamoto Musashi, in “A Book of Five Rings,” wrote “Pen and sword in accord.” Education in Classical Greece involved being well rounded. One of the hallmarks of the Renaissance was to be a “Complete Man,” sorry for the seeming sexism of that phrase. But we want to pretend we are successful “Captains of Education.”


This isn’t “The Deadliest Catch,” with ships’ crews competing to bring in the most crabs. That’s on the open sea, and the success of one boat does not diminish from another. Year ago, I remember a friend of mine, Phil, who said about awards/rewards, “There’s two theories. The universe has an infinite number of cookies, and it won’t matter who gets how many cookies. Or the universe has a finite number of cookies, and you getting more cookies hurts my chances to get cookies.” But a school is a closed system, essentially. The Mont has 4600 students on three tracks. It will not be just superior teaching which will win the day, for you have to assume all kids are equal. It will involve cherry-picking, to get that edge.


And that’s when we’ll stop helping each other do this thing we do.


It’s why I make coffee just to give away to co-workers.


“Why is this idiot talking about coffee?” Give an ear, then.


I make coffee to give away. People come into my room, get a cup, exchange pleasantries or grouse about the state of affairs. Usually, unless I’ve gone feral, they leave in a better mood. My room becomes a hang-out, a gathering place. Kids get used to seeing teachers walk in and out of my room. It’s not unusual for a teacher to sit down and watch a lesson in progress. Gee, you think that might be sharing best practices? Because we do it in each other’s classes, too, even if there is no coffee.


Imagine that! Teachers walking in and out of each others rooms, wantonly observing each other teach—without even writing anything down or placing themselves on a schedule and (gasp) even sharing ideas!


Wait, it gets better. I don’t charge for the coffee. How can that be? How can you just give something to your potential competitors without expecting some monetary return? Sorry, not Ferengi enough; in fact, I’d make a damned lousy Ferengi (sorry, Star Trek Deep Space 9 reference). No, I give coffee away. Without charging! Non-regulars always ask if they can have a cup, which I happily pour. Here’s the key: the regulars share. Kathleen does her Super-Mom thing and bakes for the crew. Mat, Kathleen and others bring me ground coffee. Sometimes people who don’t even get coffee bring me some. People help because they can (by the way we’re out of coffee, if anyone remembers for Tuesday). And we share not only coffee and baked goods, but our ideas on education, even across the curriculum. Guess that makes us coffee house revolutionaries, eh?


Where will it end, you wonder?


Why, this will end July 1, 2010, with the birth of the New Fremont, and its 5 Academies and the cherry-picked “The Mathematics, Science and Technology Magnet”, with merit pay proposed for the teachers who remain. Of course, with only two Academies per track, I totally envision the Magnet getting the better 300 kids. If it does not, what exactly will the mechanism be for making it a Magnet? Quality of teachers? If that is the case, will the teachers in “The School of Law, Justice and Government,” the other Academy, with officially 500 students, but in reality will be 700, be considered to be of lesser quality?


Ah, the business model. Somebody is sure being given the business here.


In case anyone forgot, the name of the game is PUBLIC EDUCATION. But, even though you’ll be asked to “share best practices,” the reality will be that those whose test scores are higher, whose attendance is better, whose grades are better, will receive that “merit pay,” which says I’m better than my co-worker/competitor.


Damned if I’ll play that game, especially with kids’ lives in the balance. Some might say that shows I am afraid to compete. I spent decades getting the crap kicked out of me in the SCA. I’d try a new weapon’s form and my friends descended upon me with wild glee, like sharks in a feeding frenzy. And I deserved it. And I got better.


But I also shared my knowledge with others. I remember how, because others chose to be sexist with a young woman named Rhiannon and cheated when they fought her, I decided to show her how to “kill” me, that is to strike a killing blow in our martial art. The next weekend she’d return to our tournaments, where we practice medieval fighting with rattan weapons and really uncomfortable armor, and pick apart my defenses. I’d have to spend the next week racking my brains on how to stop her. Once I figured that out, I’d see a new hole to exploit, teach that to her—and wait to get the living tar beaten out of my ego. She was my competitor and yet my friend.


That won’t happen with merit pay. $5000 for improved attendance and improved grades replaces the 30 denarii.


Which is why I won’t play that game. Everyone has to decide for themselves.

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Day 34 Friday May 28, 2010: “You Are Like a Hurricane”


Today is still Friday, May 28, 2010 and Day 34 on my time left at the Mont.


A lot can happen in one day.


Anthony Cody works with a team of experienced science teacher-coaches who support the many novice teachers in Oakland. He is a National Board-certified teacher and an active member of the Teacher Leaders Network. He has also been responsible for bringing Fremont attention through his blog, Living in Dialog at and “Teachers’ Letters to Obama” or TLO. on Facebook.

He is also responsible for getting me involved in the conversation with Arne Duncan.


Why are we doing this? As the intro to Anthony’s blog states, education is at a crossroads. We as teachers have a moral responsibility not to be bystanders, but to be active participants in where we must go, and where we must take education. So I am re-posting Anthony’s latest, which appears on Facebook, as well as a number of other sites. Even if you disagree with where Fremont is headed, please read, please think, please act upon what you will read next.


“Welcome to the Summer of Teacher Discontent
Monday we finally had our talk with Secretary Duncan. As I have written on my blog, we tried to carry the messages from the two thousand members of this group. We worked for hours to prepare our six topics. But in the end, we felt largely unheard, in part because the time was so short, the phone line so poor, the words too few to convey the depth of frustration we all feel about where education is headed.

“We have their attention. Somebody up there finally has awoken to the fact that teachers can make a difference -- in politics as well as in the classroom. Perhaps it was the thousands of teachers who mobilized in
Florida to stop Senate Bill 6. Perhaps it was the backlash to the administration's support of the firing of teachers in Rhode Island
. But all of a sudden, for some reason, they care what we think. We need to make sure they know exactly what we think, in no uncertain terms.

“Two months ago we polled the members of Teachers' Letters to Obama and asked what issues we should raise when we spoke with Secretary Duncan. The top three issues are: Overreliance on test scores for high stakes decisions (93%), narrowing of the curriculum due to over-reliance on test scores (87%), and tying teacher pay and evaluations to test scores (84%). But in our call to Secretary Duncan, the Department of Education seemed to have quick answers to every point we raised around these issues. We need to develop our understanding, including current proposals, so we can weigh in effectively on the policies being decided upon. We need to do a bit of homework, and sharpen our thinking. Then we need to get out there and take a strong stand on what we believe in.

“We need you. We are proposing a summer of teacher activism focused on getting smart, getting clear, and getting involved in the policies that are affecting all of us -- too often in terrible ways. Here is how this will look:

“Discussion Openers: What is wrong about the ways tests are being used? What are the negative consequences? What are alternatives to this approach?

“For the month of June, we are asking everyone to jump on this topic. If you have a blog, write about it. If you have books about this, read them. And most importantly, come to the Teachers' Letters to Obama discussion forums and discuss. We need clarity. What do we want tests to be used for? What do we want to change about the ways they are used? We need to reach a consensus, as teachers, and decide on concrete policies we will support that will enact our vision. We will also have threads where we can suggest ways to affect change: who to pressure, what legislation to support, where to protest, where to write.

“We will organize two large webinars for the month of June. The first will be designed as a learning session. We will invite a few experts, teacher leaders and advocates to share some key understandings about standardized tests and the ways they are being used and abused, and some possible alternative approaches. The webinar will be open to all, and there will be channels for participation. This will be followed by a period of active discussion, where we will seek the consensus we need to speak powerfully on this matter. Then we will hold the second webinar, which will be Teacher Roundtable, where we will allow prominent and powerful voices from the discussion to speak out publicly. We will invite the Department of Education, members of Congress, and the press to attend. This will be their chance to hear teachers. And our voices will reflect not just the ideas of the few who are speaking, but will carry the power of all who have been involved and contributing. The policy ideas that emerge will become the items that we will ask the Department of Education and members of Congress to act on in the months to come.

“What do you say? Will you join in this process and make your voice heard?

“Please join us on the Teachers' Letters Discussion forum to discuss this process, and the big questions we are raising about our obsession with testing.


Anthony Cody


Okay, Chuck again. Got some sites for you to check out:


Marsha Ratzel,

Heather Wolpert-Gawron,

Mary Tedrow,

Renee Moore,

Elena Aguilar,

Rian Fike,

Nancy Flanagan,

Accomplished California Teachers,


Time to stand and be counted.




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Day 34 Friday, May 28, 2010 “Against the Wind”


Today is Friday, May 28, 2010 and Day 34 of my time left at the Mont. It is also a furlough day, so I got to sleep in all the way to 6:00 a.m. Woohoo. Early morning, so that means I actually have time to process stuff which crossed my radar, realizing that some of what I saw was important.


What touched me yesterday: one of those days where I could put the kids on auto-pilot; they knew what they had to get done, and I didn’t feel like cracking the whip. I noticed one student, we’ll call her J., standing by the open window, looking at the rain. Good kid, done early, no problem. I joined her and asked what was up. Without looking at me, she said, “I don’t know what to do about next year.”


“What do you mean?” I asked, knowing the meaning.


“I don’t want to stay at Fremont.” When I asked why, she said, “All the good teachers are leaving. There won’t be any Aesthetics next year. It’s just going to be all messed up.”


“Are you worried about uniforms?” She looked at me with a non-verbal Duh. Or Dumb ass. I like it when kids think past the surface. “No, I’m scared my education will get messed up. I’m going to graduate in two years. I want to be able to go to someplace good.”


“Are you learning anything here? Any of your teachers? Anything in my class?”


J. didn’t answer for a long time. I thought I was getting an ignore, but she was trying to form her words, I guess. “Yeah, A bunch of you are going because you say what they’re doing is wrong and that if you stay, it will be like that priest’s poem (Pastor Martin Niemoller, who wrote “First they came for the Jews…”). You’ll just be going along with it, knowing it’s wrong. You’d be a part of it. You said that you can’t use the excuse, ‘You were just following orders.’”


I tried to find some way to just let her find the words without putting my own words in her mouth. “That’s right.” I thought of a “co-worker” who came into my room to tell me in front of my students, after loudly announcing to the kids months ago that she’d never reapply, that I was wrong for not reapplying, and that what kept her going was to look into “their sweet, young faces.” I remembered telling her it was because of my kids that I knew I couldn’t reapply. But here was the reality. This is one of the casualties of the war on public education. This is one of the victims.


“You don’t know where you’ll be next year?”


I shook my head. “No clue.”


Siberia?” She smiled a little bit.


“Yeah, just like my grandfather, huh? Nah, no idea. They’ll probably ship me to a middle school or make me a pool teacher.” I was thinking about how this might be the last time I teach about the World Wars and Totalitarian regimes, bringing to life my family’s visions of those times, keeping them alive in a way, and the Cold War and Vietnam and the Fall of the Berlin War. I flashed on Roy Batty’s (Rutger Hauer) last words in “Blade Runner”: “I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I've watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in the rain. Time to die.” Maybe it was the rain, or the time of year.


“So why can’t I leave, too?”


“Do you think that is the answer?”


“I don’t want to be a part of this, either. If it wrong for you, why isn’t it wrong for me?”


That’s the problem with teaching. Sometimes the kids learn the lessons and apply them. This wasn’t coaxing. This wasn’t brainwashing. This wasn’t a trail of breadcrumbs she was supposed to follow to reach a conclusion I wanted. I was teaching for months about right and wrong, about standing up for others, about totalitarian regimes and loss of freedom and how life has no easy answers. And then this child turned into a young woman right before my eyes.


That’s why we do this.


Even a drop of water can wear a hole in a stone.


Day 34 Friday, May 28, 2010 “Against the Wind”

This was reposted by Anthony Cody at Teacher Monthly as “A Casualty In the War On Public Education”

It was also reposted by Sabrina Steven Shupe at:
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Day 35 Thursday May 27, 2010: “Raise A Voice”


Today is Thursday, May 27, 2010 and this is Day 35 of my time left at the Mont. Lots of topics to play with. An Especially productive day, even if on the surface it did not seem so. Yeah, there was the frustration of trying to watch the Dodgers-Cubs game, which was unable to be seen for quite a while. But the silver lining appeared when we tried to come up to solutions to the chronically low-performing broadcasters.


First of all, everyone associated with the fiasco last night has to reapply for their jobs. If the peanut vendors only cared more, we wouldn’t be having these problems. The bat boy union is obviously an obstacle to reform, so that has got to be ruthlessly crushed; once that, and the parking attendants’is broken, there’s a championship in the future. Yes, we understand that it will take 2 or 3 seasons for performance to get back to expected levels, but we have to get rid of the culture of failure. Don’t you understand? Whoever spearheads this will be a hero.


These changes will, in order to root out failure wherever it festers, be drastic, but as long as the game improves, it will be for the best.


We’ll need to reorganize, of course.  The venue, to go with the new vision, which will have to include input from the people watch the game from the rooftops (yeah, the community organizations)—but only selected rooftops, hand-selected by the Commissioner—will have to be renamed New Wrigley Field, to better reflect the new athletic spirit of the place. The manager will have the new title Chief of Baseball Operations to better reflect his leadership status in the dugout.


Pitchers will have to successfully strike out over 80% of the batters or they will be sent to the minors. Or is that managers? Of course, teams of consultants, who will have never played the game, but who have sat in ballparks, will have to be brought in and run clinics, for the players.


Instead of nine innings, the game will be restructured into six quarters. Yes, that number is correct.


And the scoreboard will become a big graphic organizer.


But as long as there is money involved, who are we to judge?



Some good news on the Arne Duncan front. After the disastrous phone call Monday, Secretary Duncan called Anthony Cody in Oakland and Marsha Ratzel in Kansas, who helped convene Monday’s meeting, two of our “Dirty Dozen” or “Twelve Teachers”, to actually ask what they thought. Of concern to teachers at the Mont was the topic of restructuring and the unfairness of the process, the means of determining which school would go to the left or the right. Amazing that it also seems to revolved around test scores and SIGs. Which leads to the emphasis on boosting the scores, which turns us into test-prep academies (wait, aren’t you at the Mont becoming academies next year?) as we chase the elusive AYP.


But there are other valid concerns out there, topics which were suggested by the polling on the Facebook “Teachers Letters to Obama” group, of which I am a proud member. There are concerns about assessment, about safe and successful schools, about diverse learners, college and career readiness.


But the good news, aside from the calls, was that Secretary Duncan found what was said to be of value, and that he would be willing to pursue other conversations.


That means we need ideas. We Twelve have the attention of the DOE, so let’s bring forth ideas. Post comments to the sites. No, we won’t all agree, but when folk sing in chorus, not all their voices sound exactly the same. We are one demographic. This isn’t just A.P. teachers, not people working on administrative credentials or hard-bitten union types. We don’t all have the same points of view.


But then neither do the teachers that we will represent. And that’s the point. We’ve come together because it really is about the kids. We will no longer be demonized by the McKennas of this profession, whose scorn of teachers is evident in his every word, venom dripping.


Which leads to the next topic.


Some of you may wonder why I have not been emailing these posts, as well as posting them at this site. In one instance, the emails started bouncing with the explanation that the intended recipient did not like me. So I stopped sending them to that email address. Another chose to speak to me about reapplying in front of my students, so I felt that there was little point; if she wanted to know, she could always check this site, then return to burying her head in the sand. Another showed my email to Mr. Balderas, asking why she was the recipient.


And someone wrote in, crying, “What about the other 80% of the teachers who want to stay at the Mont? The 20% are ruining things.” So, if there are actually 80% who want to stay, then I’ll direct my energies toward this site, as well as “Teachers Letter to Obama” and the group I’ve had the privilege to become a part of.


Maria Gaspar, the oft-silent union chapter chair, sent around a memo yesterday. Here it is:


It is a grant, to the tune of $2 million for three years. SIX MILLION DOLLARS.


What would you do for six million dollars? What would you do for a piece of that? We’re starting to see what some would do.


This is about merit pay. There are strings attached, yes, strings we are being made aware of. But make no mistake about it. This is about merit pay.


I wrote previously about this topic before, as a comment to an earlier post by Barbara Stam. I feel I ought to repost it as part of this rant rather than let the words be hidden as a “comment”. Here it is:


“I have many misgivings about merit pay. There are differences in students; some have problems we can only guess at and do not come here to learn; for some, it is a haven from home, and for others it is another battlefield. And the argument can be made to separate the wheat from the chaff, to put it in its cruelest sense. Then call it tracking.

“So some teachers will be given the achievers, will hold their students up and say, "My kids are just like yours." But they are not.

“I'm staring at my grades, still noticing that 50% of my students are 9Rs (to use the latest designation). That's what I started the year with. I supposed that's better than when we went wall-to-wall SLCs, then I had 58% 9Rs, as did several of the other SLCs on the same track (by contrast, another SLC ended up with 10% 9Rs, which I was told was "luck of the draw"). During the second grading period this semester, 68 out of 169 earned "Fs." Am I a failure as a teacher? I hit different learning styles, bring in realia and music, was told by Mr. Higgins that by laying out each unit on the board so that the kids know exactly how to assemble their notebooks, organize their materials, and not get lost, that I was doing too much for them--spoon-feeding them. Another current AP says that I "over-plan." I provide ways to replace lost work and provide supplementary materials and extra-credit (I differentiate on that). Yet, I have 40% of my students who failed.

“So, am I a failure as a teacher?

“Will it fair to base my pay on my students' grades, having 50% 9Rs, while another teacher might have 10% 9Rs? Will that be a type of tracking? So "loser kids" get a "loser teacher", eh?

“And then there is another problem. Teachers come into the profession often lacking materials and lesson plans. What have we always done? Shared what we have. I have rarely met a teacher who treats a lesson he or she created as copyrighted material. We give it away. These lessons we do are not state secrets.

“I hear APs babble about sharing "best practices." What the hell do they think we do all day. Many of my materials are on-line, so that they can not only be accessed by kids, but by other teachers. In fact, there are other teachers at other schools--and in other districts--who were told about the site and have used what I have. Ask members of the department how often I act like some missionary and brandish my passport or thumbdrive at student teachers, new teachers, and veterans to share what I have.

“But why should I share anything when every teacher is a competitor for merit pay?

“And that cuts to the core. What we do each and every day is *share*. We share our knowledge and experience and bits of wisdom we've gleaned along the way with our colleagues and with our students.

“I thought about dismantling the pages at, not because I no longer wish to share my work. I thought about taking them down because I did not want to watch the administration do.

“But I believe that this is a symbol of what I have accomplished here in 16 years. I will not yield to the siren call of merit pay, viewing each and every on of my co-workers as a threat to every dollar I might earn.

“Some of us fight for other things than money.”

When we get the opportunity, I must beseech you to reject this grant. As the flyer has pointed out, the process has been tainted. The classrooms will never see the money. And this is that step toward merit pay. Some might feel it is okay: the ones who dump their problem kids in other classes for someone else to deal with, the ones who then say, “I don’t have any problems with my kids.”

Educational apartheid.


Did you enter the profession to do that?


May 26, 2010: “Hello, This Is Arne Duncan”—Anthony Cody at Teacher Monthly


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Day 38 Monday, May 24, 2010 Word Game


Today is Monday, May 24, 2010 and Day 38 of my time left at the Mont. We just were told that our conversation with Arne Duncan, the Secretary of Education, was over, some fifteen minutes ago. We were given about 30 minutes. No, that is not true.


In the 30 minutes (which had been reduced from an hour), approximately half our number had a brief opportunity to speak. But we were operating with different definitions, playing a word game, as it were. Unfortunately, we came with statements and solutions. They wanted us to come with questions. The presupposes that they had answers to deliver.  To me, it felt like so many faculty meetings when I want to bring up questions like, “What about the audit? When are we going to hear about where the money went?”


I was asked to record my impressions. There are many colorful words I would use from a variety of languages. I’ll try to keep it clean—which will like as not make me explode all over Das Bean (Coffee Bean, Claremont, for the rest of ye).


Lousy sound quality, as we strained to hear. I’m trying not to steal any metaphors (tempting, eh?), and please let me know if I did, but it sure didn’t feel like anyone was listening. Didn’t seem like there were any real teachers in the room, except us. Nah, folks who may have sat in classrooms and observed what’s wrong with us, but never in their lives ever had to deliver a series of scaffolding lessons to 42 (my typical number, not just the answer in “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”) sophomore, half of whom might be 9Rs. So I’m less forgiving than some. We spoke. Seemed like they spoke more. “Everybody’s talkin’ at me, can’t hear a word they’re sayin’…”


But here’s what we did accomplish:


Marsha Ratzel, and Heather Wolpert-Gawron, addressed the issue of “College and Career Readiness.”


Mary Tedrow,

Who also spoke for Renee Moore,

spoke to the topic of “Great Teachers and Leaders.”


Sandee Palmquist and Elena Aguilar, spoke of “Diverse Learners.”


Which is as far as we got. Anthony Cody, and I were to address “Safe and SuccessfulSchools,” but were informed the conversation was over as I was about to speak.


Bob Williams, Rian Fike,,

Nancy Flanagan, were to speak about “A Complete Education and Fostering Innovation.”


I have included their blogsites because we intend for our message to get out. Please check them. These folks are good. I am proud that they want me in their company, proud to have represented the over 2000 teachers on “Teachers’ Letters to Obama” on Facebook, and even though I now have something else that eats into my time, I’m glad Anthony Cody suckered me into this. I think this is what I want to do. Before, I was limited to annoying administrators at just one school. Now, through the use of technology, I can irritate people I’ve never even met. Some people make lemonade out of lemons. I throw the lemons.


Even if we are invited back for another round of sitting on our thumbs or, to pull out my venerable “Star Trek”, “Captain, you remind me of the man who demanded of the philosopher to be taught all of the world’s wisdom while standing on one foot.” “Dagger of the Mind,” if I’m not mistaken.


It ain’t over until we say it is.


We ain’t said yet.


May 24, 2010: “Talking Into A Tin Can On A String 3000 Miles Long: Our Talk With Duncan”—Anthony Cody at Teacher Monthly

It was also reposted by Susan Ohanian at:


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Day 40 Sunday May 23, 2010: Carry On


Today is Sunday, May 23, 2010, and Day 40 of my time left at the Mont. Day 40 if I count ALL of June, including the furlough days which shorten the year AND the weekends and Memorial Day. Oops, I’m still one off. Okay, so it is now actually Day 39. How Slavic of me to adjust the calendar. But it is 23 days remaining of actually going to the Mont.


By now the letters have gone out, informing those who applied to remain to find out of they stay or pack their stuff. I do not envy them that sort of crushing message, extinguishing hope. Nor would I wish to trade places with those who have chosen to remain, committing themselves to a plan doomed to failure.


Doomed to failure.


Because instead of actually raising test scores (which seems to be what this is all about—with a little union-busting thrown in for good measure), it will lower them.


But that is okay. Superintendent Cortines will call Mr. Balderas a hero, no matter what. If the test scores drop, it will be because of the teachers, not the chaos resulting from this metamorphosis. If they go up, whether it will be because Mr. Balderas will have the 9Rs removed from Fremont before next year’s CSTs, or whether we, as teachers and counselors, actually did something right and the score climb, as they have been climbing before Mr. Balderas arrived at the Mont, then he will take the credit—and be a hero. “Heroes are not known by the loftiness of their carriage; the greatest braggarts are generally the merest cowards.”—Jean Jacques Rousseau. “Calculation never made a hero.”—John  Henry Newman


According to Superintendent Cortines. According to Dr. George McKenna III. According to Judy Elliot. According to those who teach classes in the administration program.

“Heroes are those who can somehow resist the power of the situation and act out of noble motives, or behave in ways that do not demean others when they easily can.”—Philip Zimbardo. “Aspire rather to be a hero than merely appear one.”—Baltasar  Gracian. Or, to quote “Babylon 5,” which I haven’t done in a while: "To celebrate this latest victory against the tyranny of a fanatical few who have endangered the lives of our citizens, Clarke proclaimed today a planetary holiday. Curfew has been extended two full hours until 9 PM Earth standard time, so go out and enjoy."

ISN broadcast by Alison Higgins, The Illusion of Truth


Will any of them be heroes to the students, the ones whose lives are affected? “True courage is not the brutal force of vulgar heroes, but the firm resolve of virtue and reason.”—Alfred North Whitehead


Maybe the word “hero” needs to be examined a bit more closely. I don’t pretend to know entirely what a hero is. But I know what is not a hero. When you risk nothing, that is not heroic. To be told that if the scores stay the same or drop, you’ll be lauded as a hero, that belittles true heroes. If success lands in your lap because of the efforts of others, and you are given credit for those successes, you are not a hero. When you skew the results, spin-doctor them to cast you in a favorable light, you are not a hero. When you treat people you consider your subordinates in disrespectful ways, you are not a hero. When you wash your hands of any responsibility for your actions, and blame your superiors, you are not a hero. “Nurture your minds with great thoughts. To believe in the heroic makes heroes.”—Benjamin Disraeli “Hard times don't create heroes. It is during the hard times when the 'hero' within us is revealed.”—Bob Riley


Tonight the twelve teachers who will be speaking with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan tomorrow at 2:30 met online. We joked, others not in the SCA actually making references to “Henry V” and the St. Crispin Day speech, which always makes me mist up I actually have gotten free drinks because I can sit in the bar and do that one, as well as the “Once more unto the breach, dear friends,” and the first 43 lines of ACT III, Sc. 3, with Henry scaring Harfleur into surrender:

“If not, why, in a moment look to see
The blind and bloody soldier with foul hand
Defile the locks of your shrill-shrieking daughters;
Your fathers taken by the silver beards,
And their most reverend heads dash'd to the walls,
Your naked infants spitted upon pikes,
Whiles the mad mothers with their howls confused
Do break the clouds, as did the wives of Jewry
At Herod's bloody-hunting slaughtermen.
What say you? will you yield, and this avoid,
Or, guilty in defence, be thus destroy'd?

Yeah, Kenneth Branagh rocks. But I had to spoil it and bring up Bluto’s Pearl Harbor speech in that other classic, “Animal House.” Yeah, when things get too serious, I make jokes. Think I even managed to site the cliff scene from “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.”


The humor is there. It takes the edge off what we do. You can meet us at:


We talked about what we need to say—and do. Anthony Cody and I will be discussing “Safe & Successful Schools” as one of the six topic areas. Here’s what I hope to be saying, some of which will seem familiar if you followed what was said to the School Board on May 11th (see Day 52, “Like a Rock”):

“I work at a school undergoing reconstitution, a high school in an impoverished part of
Los Angeles. It was originally built to serve 2400 students, but now serves over 4600 students on a multi-track calendar.

“The new year will start in some 40 days, without being fully staffed by credentialed teachers. We are unable to plan: How many experienced teachers will have been lost? How many have pledged not to return? The counselors’ caseloads increased by 25-30%, and LAUSD has admitted that that the education of the students will be negatively impacted for at least three years. This whole approach is counterproductive.

“When we propose “turnaround models” and “reconstitution” as the fix, we ignore the wider-ranging issues of poor student attendance, high student transience, a large proportion of English language learners, and students who do not care much about academic success, issues all directly related to poverty and social inequity. Students need emotional security as well as physical safety to thrive.

“Getting rid of all the teachers or even half the teachers does little to address the deeper problems. The key is to personalize the learning, to develop relationships. At
Fremont, each Small Learning Community is 400 students who share the same group of teachers, reducing the number of students who "slip through the cracks." One of our successes is what I call the Legacy Effect: Brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews and cousins who share the same group of teachers, building family trust and enhancing learning.”

We’ll see how it goes tomorrow. To quote B5 again, "I'm delirious with joy. It proves that if you confront the universe with good intentions in your heart, it will reflect that and reward your intent. Usually. It just doesn't always do it in the way you expect."

G'Kar, Epiphanies


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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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