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From Chuck Olynyk: MY HOMETOWN (Day 104 Post -Fremont)

October 17, 2010

My Hometown
Posted by Chuck Olynyk on October 11, 2010 at 1:31 AM Comments comments (0)

Today is Sunday, October 10, 2010 and Day 104 PF. Not much has been posted lately, as I guess I’m somewhat becalmed, the wind taken from my sails. Yes, there was anger over the death of Rigoberto Ruelas, but whne the memorial service was held, I sort of… stopped. I could not attend, nor could I join the Facebook page which was created; how can you press “Like” on something like that? I did manage to collect a handful of links on the story, which I’ll post in the appropriate place, and I have no intention on letting go of the “value added assessment” bone, but right now I don’t feel much like citing the yellow journalistic rag called the Los Angeles Times, which took down comments on the Ruelas story, but when they felt like posting finally, the comments were along the lines of “So how many teachers off themselves?” and the Times’ defensive “But the parents have the right to know and judge.” Right now I don’t feel much like emailing Howard Blume, who kept promising Mat Taylor that he’d write a story on Fremont but… and that he “has so little power.” Right now I don’t feel that the District will discipline a principal (in fact, he was praised by the Superintendent to the faculty of Miramonte Elementary) who revealed information in a faculty meeting and said, “See? I wasn’t the reason!” I don’t feel much like dealing with my union, because lame duck UTLA President Duffy visited the Mont with the heir apparent to the Superintendent’s position last week and pronounced, “All is well. Nothing to see here, citizen. Move along.”

So for those of you still at the Mont, is it “truly better?” From the text messages and emails I get, people complain about class sizes, about turning in lesson plans. Did Mr. Duffy and Mr. Deasy (Duffy and Deasy, sounds like a vaudeville act: “We just flew in from Beaudry together, and boy, are our arms tired!”) visit your rooms? Did you say, “All is well” or were you among the teachers whose rooms they visited and were labeled weak teachers?

I also admit, I’ve been enjoying the new school. I’ve been at Roosevelt, which I privately refer to as Big Stick High, for twenty school days. I’m guilty of being distracted and even thpugh I am righteously angry at events which have unfolded and at people who have folded, I’ve been enjoying life here.

“I was eight years old and running with a dime in my hand

Into the bus stop to pick up a paper for my old man

I’d sit on his lap in that big old Buick and steer as we drove through town

He’d tousle my hair and say son take a good look around this is your hometown

This is your hometown

This is your hometown

This is your hometown”

Skip once wrote about the little things, the intangible things, like students having cleaned his desk which made him decide to reapply. I’ve been having those, too, things I didn’t see at the Mont for about ten years:

Being asked by a football player in my homeroom to wear his jersey for Teacher Appreciation Night, which made me feel at home, especially when I had the tradition explained to me of walking on the field hand in hand as a show of brotherhood, each player and faculty member’s name being announced.

Going to the game, watching my students on the field, or cheerleading, or performing with the drill team. Seeing a student who always is so grim, commenting and trying to draw a smile from him, who stayed stone-faced on that Friday, but on Monday came by first thing in the morning to shake my hand and brandish a huge grin.

Watching parents and alumni run the concession stands, that sense of community so obvious. Wolfing down blistering hot tacos made by the parents.

“In ’65 tension was running high at my high school

There was a lot of fights between the black and white

There was nothing you could do

Two cars at a light on a Saturday night in the back seat there was a gun

Words were passed in a shotgun blast

Troubled times had come to my hometown

My hometown

My hometown

My hometown”

Back to School Night: when I get thirty parents for the over 200 students I had at the Mont, I thought I was doing pretty good, as most teachers were drawing ten; then I started getting those numbers. At the last Parent Conference Night I attended at the Mont, out of 178 students I had for academic classes and the 21 I had for Advisory, I had a mere ten parents attend. If they had been there just for the academic classes, that is 5.6%. By contrast, at the first Big Stick Conference, where I have approximately 125 students (big difference in numbers—heard has to do with how QEIA money is spent…) for academic classes and 27 for Homeroom, I had approximately 20 attend, which brought it up to over 13%. Please understand that I am new to the school, that school had only been in session for 19 days and that most teachers did not have grades of any real significance yet. In spite of the poverty, of families working, in spite of the school being labeled a “drop-out factory” by Mr. Davis Guggenheim in “Waiting For Superman,” the parents came.

There was something else.

The football game I attended against Huntington Park. It brought home, as did the previous game, what a high school can be about: community (by the way, good tacos there, too). I saw two large, comprehensive high schools, the centers of their communities, engaged. New coworkers, who are alumni (at Roosevelt, I have a suspicion that most of the faculty seem to be alumni, which says a lot about the school and the community) were talking with me as I stood at the edge of the field. I learned about traditions that night, had it beaten into my head that I was attending the East L.A. Classic in November against Roosevelt’s arch rival Garfield (trivia time: many scenes for “Stand and Deliver” were filmed at Roosevelt, NOT Garfield—heh), learned about legendary football and soccer teams, about water polo. A player would get inured on the field—and the crowds on both sides of the field would hold their breaths. The drill team would maintain a salute in silence. And when the injured player would stand, both sides applauded.

”Now Main Street’s whitewashed windows and vacant stores

Seems like there ain’t nobody wants to come down here no more

They’re closing down the textile mill across the railroad tracks

Foreman says these jobs are going boys and they ain’t coming back to your

hometown

Your hometown

Your hometown

Your hometown”

That is something the educational gurus shaking their Magic 8-Balls miss. The school is often the center of a community.

But Mr. Guggenheim has demonized the schools. Public schools are the sanctuaries of lazy, worthless teachers milking the system, harder to get rid of than a cockroach infestation (Never mind they could do it if administrators actually did showed up in classes and followed through on paperwork to get rid of the teachers that get us tarred with the same brush). Get rid of tenure (never mind that the average teacher at Fremont lasts less than three years, including most of those TFAers who have been brought in to replace the veterans chased out) and unions. Teach about unions (even one like ours that rubber-stamps what the district wants) as a historical footnote, so we can go back to the halcyon days of robber-barons and captains of industry calling the shots and shaping society (except that those same people have no experience of being in the classroom, delivering a series of scaffolded lessons to reach an ultimate goal). Make it easier to get rid of teachers. Better yet, turn the schools into charters and privatize them; that way you can pick the kids you want, the ones that make your test score look good.

Which is why the bean-counters embrace breaking up large, comprehensive high schools. Instead of spending QEIA funding to reduce class sizes, divide and conquer Split large campuses like Roosevelt into Small Schools and discourage cooperation between them. That is what Mr. Guggenheim mentions in his mockumentary, after all.

What is driving the measure of success in education. The sacred test scores. Test scores reveal all, as surely as opening up an animal and reading its entrails… Where there are lower scores, there has to be some other demons lurking rather than poverty, uneducated parents and drug-infested neighborhoods. After all, a renowned educator named Roger Ebert said so in a review of “Waiting For Superman.” He sees the value of and success of Geoffrey Canada’s charter model which “can make virtually any first-grader a high school graduate who’s accepted to college.” Oh yeah, he’s a movie reviewer, but that shouldn’t get in the way of his recognition of valid education plans, should it? Isn’t Oprah Winfrey (yeah, she hasn’t gone Madonna or Cher yet—people still; know her last name, even if she doesn’t use it) as much of an educational expert? She did open a school in South Africa, so she clearly has those qualifications. She’s also used her bully pulpit to “interview” and laud the heroes of the war on ignorance: the likes of Micjhelle Rhee and Davis Guggenheim and Arne Duncan. Hey Oprah, when do you plan on interviewing teachers? Probably when the Los Angeles Times admits it was at fault. Probably about the same time LAUSD admits it was wrong about Fremont. Probably about the same time as our union stands up.

“Last night me and Kate we laid in bed

talking about getting out

Packing up our bags maybe heading south

I’m thirty-five we got a boy of our own now

Last night I sat him up behind the wheel and said son take a good look around, this is your hometown”

Because, when all you care about are test scores, and not what a school represents in a community, you will do anything to manipulate those numbers. If English Language Learners affect the school’s scores, rewrite the tests or the definitions. If those Special Education students bring down the scores of the school, split the school into seven small schools; that way you have less than one hundred special education students per school—and their scores don’t count.

You changed the results—but not the effect. And you’ve made a public school no better than one of those charters which are so praised by Mr. Guggenheim, Oprah, and Lord knows who else. Pick and choose those students.

And you lose what the school is. There was a lot of sadness in what I heard Friday nigh under the lights. Seven Small School. Will there be seven Homecoming Queens? Will there be seven Proms? Seven Graduations? Is it all going to be about hiding inconvenient test scores? Divide and conquer?

I am not a teacher of a small school. I am a teacher. I am the person who is entrusted with 125 students for academic classes in World History and 27 students for Homeroom. Every day I teach life lessons using history as the vehicle. When I was told at Fremont that my concerns were supposed to be about providing for the needs of the students in my Small Learning Community, I balked. I asked, “What about the others kids I teach?” When I went on a field trip, I saw kids from another SLC left behind. Yet I was their teacher, too.

I am a teacher. Unlike a charter school, I teach every kid that walks through my door. Public schools shouldn’t be made to resemble charters, no matter what Mr. Guggenheim, or Mr. Gates or Mr. Broad preach. It is not about hiding the numbers. It is not about fudging the books.

It is about the school being the center of a community.

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