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Welcome to the Planet

August 31, 2010

Welcome to the fallout
Welcome to resistance
The tension is here
Tension is here
Between who you are and who you could be
Between how it is and how it should be

So I was having my usual iced mocha, one shot of expresso with whole milk and extra whip cream with a bagel at Starbucks in my community of Sunland-Tujunga, a community whose small businesses are failing at an alarming rate and which has an unofficial unemployment rate of about 20% but still boasts some decent LAUSD schools and rituals like yearly festivals that reinforce a sense of cohesiveness- when a gentleman sat down at the table a few feet away and began talking to one of the baristas, who was obviously a friend.

He was discussing what he was doing to get his daughter ready for the upcoming school year. “Yes,” he said in a loud voice, “I’m sending her to a charter- a K -12 charter, an entrepreneurial charter, no LAUSD for us!” I winced. I wasn’t about to get into that conversation, it wasn’t my business anyway, but I wanted to say,” Hey, did you know that an LAUSD school won the Academic Decathlon, and that North Hollywood High won the Science Bowl contest?” But why bother? We’ve become so villified I would rather identify myself as a used car salesman than an LAUSD teacher.

Never mind that LAUSD’s Mt. Gleason middle school in Tujunga boasts a great new magnet school that my neighbor’s daughter attends. She also takes flute lessons and woodshop there. Apperson is a wonderful elementary school. Verdugo is a decent high school with a dedicated staff that also must take in a large number of group home students as there are many group homes nearby in Lakeview Terrace, one of which I tutor at.

This evening, I was in a wonderful, thriving, independent book store in La Canada-Flintridge, which is about 4 miles from my home in Tujunga. The whole area extends from the rural horse country of Shadow Hills to working class Sunland- Tujunga (with some studio types living in the hills above) which them transitions to Glendale, La Crescenta and finally La Canada Flintridge, a well -known upper class community.

The Flintridge Book Store and Coffeehouse- unlike most other independent or chain bookstores – is not struggling. In fact, they will be moving soon into a much larger storefront just a few yards away. Some of their most lucrative and stable business comes from students and they stock titles from a book list the La Canada and Glendale Unified schools provide to them, thereby keeping local business alive. This afternoon when I went in for some ice tea and some planning time, kids jammed the school section and the checkout counter. They’ve been given a message by their parents, community and teachers that too many other communities don’t bother to send: Literacy is the key to your life. There was a parent there and she was exclaiming how wonderful her child’s AP English teacher was and I couldn’t help but think about the fact that I doubt any Fremont parents knew whether their child’s AP English teacher was also wonderful – or if they knew what AP meant at all.

It brought back memories of the inevitable first few weeks of my own AP US History classes when so many kids would try to exit when they discovered how heavy the work load was, and I would ask them to bring their parent and the parent would usually give in to their child’s request even though you could see the conflict in their eyes. I sometimes wondered at the moment what it would be like to have as the parent I talked to today mentioned- helicopter parents- after I mentioned to her that I worked for LAUSD. She said well you know some of these parents can be “helicopter” parents- meaning overly involved after I mentioned that these kids don’t know how lucky they are to be in a community that supports education the way La Canada does. At that moment, I would have given anything to have a “helicopter parent” at Fremont.

What were these bright- eyed and enthusiastic students who looked like they were ready to take on the world reading?? Many of the same titles that our wonderful English teachers who did not return or were “not selected” would read with their kids. Steinbeck, Camus, some teen authors as well. There was an entire wall devoted to novels and non-fiction readers for 5th grade and up.

I flashed back to a day when I was on campus off track and happened to run into Martin, one of my seniors who was on his way in to Fremont- only security wouldn’t let him in- “we don’t let B track students in without their ID,” the security barked. I happened to arrive at a fortuitous time and Martin was allowed entry but only if I accompanied him the entire way. He was on campus frantic to get a hold of a copy of Catcher in the Rye for his AP English class. He needed it for his off track sessions.

. We roamed from class to class, asking any English teachers if they had a copy but came up empty. We then went to the book room where the book clerk informed us with a glare and a tone that made it clear that no follow up questions were needed, “The novels are in the trailer and I’m busy right now.” Allrightythen.…..

We then went to a computer lab where I ordered the book for him on Amazon for about seven bucks. I know many other Fremont teachers have probably done the same for their students. I wondered if Martin had been attending LA Canada High or even El Camino Real if he would have been treated in such a manner.

Then I thought about all the nasty “no excuses” comments on the LA Times site and the high fiving type comments that now teachers will actually have to work and fire all the teachers. And I realized that I would love to teach in a community like La Canada because they wouldn’t fall for that – schools are an integral part of those stable communities. Teachers stay for years. They are valued and appreciated. Would I be selling out? Probably. But it would be cool to see what it was like to teach students whose parents spare nothing in the quest for their education. Before anyone gets mad at me, today, I received a facebook message -actually it was during a on online roundtable of teachers discussing reconstitution in which our own Chuck Olynyk was featured, along with several other teachers who have dealt with reconstitution. I’m sure Chuck will be blogging in detail about it, especially a very informative presentation by a KIPP teacher.
But I digress.

“Ana,” a former student of mine who graduated Fremont this past year, facebooked me to tell me she dropped all of her classes at Santa Monica college and that she signed up at American Career College for 15,000 dollars (student loans) to be a dental assistant. Why? She couldn’t afford to pay for the books at Santa Monica College and even though her mom had the money, she would not help her. I immediately contacted her, telling her to withdraw from American Career college and contact Santa Monica college again. I told her even if she had to wait until spring to go to Santa Monica, to not attend the private career college. She later facebooked me to tell me that her mother felt guilty and started crying but that was after she had dropped her classes at Santa Monica. This is what happens when there is little to no guidance or continued community support, when schools like Fremont are looked at with contempt, when there is no understanding of how important teacher stability is as well as the education of parents. Ana made an impulsive and ill -advised decision because no one was there to advise her and her parents had no knowledge of the difference between the advantage of the community college over the private career college. How can policy makers and journalists say that parent involvement and knowledge do not matter?
And the LA Times thinks that value -added is the savior? What good is it to shame 3rd through 5th grade teachers when the problems are so systemic? Our students will continue to be victimized without access to the kind of education and community support mentioned above. The education part was being provided by many of the teachers no longer at Fremont. Now that is gone. And with little community support, what will happen to Fremont students now?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 16, 2010 9:50 am

    you are right about your concern about private career colleges and how they prey on those who do not have the advantage of consultation and guidance.

    please check out our blog at if you get a chance….

  2. November 18, 2010 8:52 pm

    Thanks so much – the website was very informative. I can’t believe how expensive some of these private career colleges charge what an ivy league would charge.

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