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From Chuck Olynyk: Running On Empty

December 18, 2010

I guess that title is meant to apply to the “New” Fremont, I just wonder how long it can keep going with continued attrition of teachers, incompetent administrators and helpless students who don’t know that they can advocate for themselves and whose parents don’t realize that this reconstitution is not normal. I keep getting messages from my students: “school sucks,” “I have a bunch of teachers who don’t know how to teach,” and on and on. Meanwhile, one teacher tried to paint a rosy picture for me and said he didn’t notice that anything was amiss at the Mont.   Really, then why are so many teachers quitting? He claimed not to know anything about that. For whatever reason, he continues to be in denial about what really happened and refuses to personally hold any administrator at fault. When I brought up what happened to our Title I coordinator last July, he just shrugged and said, “I know, that was bad.” That was bad?? As long as many teachers refuse to see the house is burning down around them, as long as they think they are safe because they “teach the standards” and “do their jobs,” as long as they collaborate with probably the most unethical administration Fremont has ever seen, they continue to damage the future of education for students. Like a few colleagues, I still can’t make it past the emotional part of reconstitution, thus I am not able to provide the clear, sharp analysis that is needed. So I am glad Chuck can as he does here in Running on Empty.


Today is Saturday, December 18, 2010 and Day 173 PF. I am officially on vacation. Roosevelt is a different world. As opposed to Fremont, I got handshakes from those who work in my Small School. I got appreciation. I got fed. All of those are valued. I mentally compared what happened yesterday with other schools. Norco High had nothing like this. I was never at Corona High in the winter. Letha Raney Junior High had nothing for the winter break.

The fondest memories were of Edison Junior High/Middle School. I remember the late Mr. Frank Manzo, the principal who hired me, and his successor, the late Joseph Santana hosting a Wassail. Staff were invited to the Principal’s Conference Room. I recall decorations, recorded hammered dulcimer music playing, food… and the principal and APs greeting each person by name, warmly wishing them best wishes for the season, a firm, sincere handshake, and an invitation to eat, drink and be merry. As I write this, I am realizing how much I miss Frank Manzo and Joseph Santana.

Yesterday made me feel like I’d re-entered those days.

Then I came home and read emails and reactions to the Howard Blume article in the Los Angeles Times on the situation at Fremont and just how far off base he’d gotten it. The Group Mind (as they used to refer to the process on a science fiction radio talk show on KPFK in the 70’s and 80’s—Jim Ladd on KLOS calls it “the Tribe”) picked the article apart; some of this is gleaned from Facebook comments, others from the few comments posted directly to the Los Angeles Times article “Fremont High reportedly doing better, but staffing difficulties weren’t revealed”

by Howard Blume.

Let’s start with something simple from the Value-Added Boys who take pride in the accuracy of their reporting. The Los Angeles Times put up a map at the beginning of the article for Fremont High, 1279 Sunnyvale-Saratoga Rd., Sunnyvale, 94087, a Public School in the Fremont Union High School District, serving 1,949 students and having 84 faculty members.

Too bad you got the wrong school there, Mr. Blume. It is you that is responsible, isn’t it, or is it Sandra Poindexter or Ben Welsh who are responsible for that snafu? The school you wanted is at 7676 San Pedro, Los Angeles, 90003. You’ve been there before.

How about this one? The midyear test results? What results were those based upon? Periodic assessments? Periodic assessments are categorically NOT standardized tests. In my own limited experience (intense sarcasm alert) I have heard administrators say, “You don’t have to use the periodic assessment as written. You can come up with an alternative.” That pretty much makes them not standardized tests, but the public would not be aware of that. Therefore, you’ve lent the Principal, Mr. Rafael Balderas, credibility he hasn’t earned. That is credibility he should have destroyed when his claims were proven top be false, Mr. Blume.

A number of Fremont teachers and the former Mont teachers have questions, since this comes across a bit like Senator Joseph McCarthy with papers in hand, brandishing them as evidence. Here’s one of them: “How much growth? It could have been 1%.” Are there any specifics there, Mr. Blume? Any concrete numbers for growth from the same people who made false claims and/or did not provide you with relevant information?

Here’s something concrete: when Superintendent came in December 9th with his armed School Police officers standing guard at the doors to announce Fremont’s “reconstitution”, later changed to “restructuring” (lest anyone forget), he did so under the excuse that there was “only single digit improvement in test scores.” Yet that was proven false, as Fremont’s scores went up 28 points. That was with the old staff, pre-reconstitution era.

There is also the minor problem that the only subject in which standardized testing improved was Chemistry. Periodic Assessments do not correlate. In fact, I know of at least one teacher who said the percentage of D’s and F’s for final semester grades increased for that teacher and at least four others. Under the working conditions where, by Mr. Blume’s own words, that the principal’s “made claims that were false” and where “the district had not released all the relevant data”, would it surprise anyone to learn that these teachers are being harassed by administrators who drop hints to pad grades. Yet, as this teacher points out, “If you can’t read or don’t come to class, how can I pass you?” And yet there has been at least one teacher who had her students earn 100% on the periodic assessments, assessments which are self-graded (particularly in English and Social Studies) and that means the gates are wide open for the less-than-honest student—or the teacher who feels pressured to raise those grades. It certainly isn’t unheard of. Just check out what happened in Atlanta a number of months ago to that superintendent.

“Someone just back of you while you are fishing is as bad as someone looking over your shoulder while you write a letter to your girl.”—Ernest Hemingway

As to the district providing relevant information: Even though teachers—who provided accurate information to you WHICH PROVED TO BE TRUE WHILE INFORMATION FROM THE DISTRICT PROVED TO BE FALSE—have provided you with numbers of unfilled positions (greater than the “four” you cite from LAUSD sources), you do not mention the number of teachers who quit, the number which is growing weekly, to be supplanted by substitutes and teachers who are “willing to work” to plug the gaps and cover unfilled positions. One teacher still at Fremont gave me this example: “the turnover in one 12th grade class was 4 teachers in the first three months – the first one, a returning veteran retiree left mysteriously before the end of the first week; after weeks of rotating subs, the second one came and left within a month, when traditionals went back; the third retired from teaching; the fourth is a keeper, I hope. This scenario is not atypical; it has been evident in all departments, but most frequently in the English Department, where teachers are feeling harassed by a very inconsistent new administrator. What’s also interesting, is that there are very few complaints from the students – they seem to be able to roll with it, which is both a good and a bad thing; good because they have learned to deal with adversity, bad because they should be outraged.”

Others have told similar stories. Yet those who have lied are not being held accountable to the public for their lies. Why not ask for budget numbers instead of solely relying upon the words of LAUSD? Wouldn’t such information be available under the Freedom of Information Act? Isn’t that the same way the Times got the “scores” for its data-base vilifying teachers?

The same could be used to find out what happened to the funding for class size reduction. The funding was there, there are still at least 4600 students and yet there are fewer teachers. How does this add up? Evidently the new Title I coordinator is having a hard time making things add up, as well. He is tasked with uncovering the disbursement of equipment, ordered from various funds, but is having a time of it, trying to locate those non-consumable goods which cost big bucks. We know one AP’s desktop was seized. Maybe the information is there. Or it might be in those nice Mac laptops on the desks of Mr. Balderas and Mr. Salazar. This is public money we are speaking of here? Is not LAUSD, meaning those in charge of disbursement of those funds, accountable, and shouldn’t they be held accountable for providing the truth?

So why would such a story be written in the first place? Were you invited to write it? Did LAUSD summon you into the august presence of Superintendent Cortines, or Dr. George McKenna III or Rafael Balderas? If so, did you ask them why false claims were made?

So, why would LAUSD want this “success story” to see print?

On Wednesday, February 24, 2010, Day 127, I posted “Give Me Three Steps” (see

). I used the title of a Lynyrd Skynyrd song for a piece which laid out a plan on how to make this “reconstitution”, later renamed “restructuring” (lest we forget) happen, thinking in terms of a military campaign or advertising campaign (we could be rude and call it propaganda, but why start now, eh?), using Miyamoto Musashi’s 1645 classic “A Book of Five Rings,” and Niccolo Machiavelli’s “The Prince.” (Dullards can cite the more accessible “The 48 Laws of Power” if their lips are going to get tired…).

Step One was to create a vulnerability. Creating a sense of urgency helps. Done. Superintendent Cortines even managed to convince a lot of the Fremont staff not to even fight. He’s doing the same thing at Jordan and Huntington Park right now. The sense of urgency was driven home in a number of ways. We were told to reapply or dire consequences would follow. Threats (now called “misunderstandings” or “miscommunications” some of which have been retracted through “Explanations”) of non-payment during the summer, of being banished to a particular middle school, of being made “substitute pool teachers,” of getting a RIF notice, that 150 of us could be replaced with a literal snap of the fingers… all of these were paraded before us.

Step II was to develop a team. Alfie Enciso, now in charter-land but once at LD& called them “Laker teachers”. That was the re-application process, to see who was a team player. That was also when promises of coaching positions, coordinatorships and lead teacher positions. Worked, too. Unfortunately, that’s when some found out that there are different levels in the team, and some didn’t even make the final cut. I guess that’s the cruelest cut of all. “A prince never lacks legitimate reasons to break his promise.” “If an injury has been done to a man it should be severe that his vengeance need not be feared.” —Niccolo Machiavelli

Those remaining got to become the “Agents of Change.”

Step III would be to develop a plan. That was the laughable one which was paraded by Mr. Balderas at LD7, the one that was found on line, the one that wasn’t even translated into Spanish until May.

Step IV followed closely on the heels of Step III, because once you have a vision, you need to communicate it. Remember the banners and the Fremont Pathfinder which replaced all the student-painted murals?

Step V? Already happened. Many of those who were not going to be part of the team became LAUSD “unpersons” (at least for a while)—just ask those who had a hard time getting jobs or trying to get past McKenna’s Wall out of LD7. And recall that now many Mont teachers stick to their rooms. The Mont is a UTLA dead zone. Those who are enacting the plan move ahead without fear. Mr. Balderas said in a faculty meeting to one teacher, “I know you’re not a trouble maker because you’re still here.” “Aut Caesar, aut nil.” “Caesar’s way or no way.”—motto of Cesare Borgia, the model for “The Prince”

We are witnessing Step VI, according to stuff I’ve been able to put together from sources. This is the stage to celebrate those first victories. My buddy Phil, who taught me how to fight in the S.C.A.

(, called it “legend-building.” On February 24th, Day 127, in “Give Me Three Steps”, I wrote “We’re a lot more high-tech (I’m still identifying with that monkey in the space capsule). Use the media. Step VI: celebrate some early short-term victories. Find and celebrate some successes from the first semester at the New Fremont High School. The 62% new teachers look with stars in their eyes at the ‘Lakers teachers,’ and the district’s job becomes that much easier. So that would be first semester, next year, since the ‘horrible teachers’ would be gone.”

Looks like we just saw that. While we are seeing admission in the Times that Mr. Balderas lied, and that LAUSD refused to hand over information, those bits of “news” are buried in the article, while the victory dance continues in the end zone over questionable period assessments.

I also wrote about Step VII: “So, before the end of the first school year of the New Fremont, the agents of change will have to be reinvigorated or they will burn out. In the S.C.A. (Society for Creative Anachronism), awards and titles are handed out…. I was knighted, and then a number of years later I was granted the title Baron. That won’t fly in the 21st century, but a show of public gratitude for loyalty and willingness to make things better—“sacrifice” would be a good noble-sounding word—would go a long way to doing that. That would be a good Step VII.

“With the Agents of Change (that would be a great name for a group of superheroes) rejuvenated, the shaping of the new culture at the New Fremont (sounds redundant, but I can’t see a way around it) begins. It would be like a Renaissance. Interesting that people coined the word Renaissance because they wanted to bask in the glories of the Classical World and wanted to distinguish themselves from the Dark Ages (another label meant to throw mud)—I recall a textbook I saw at Edison Middle School which read, “In the Middle Ages, men had no knives and forks. They hacked their meat with swords”); it was a period of rebirth of Classical values.”

Let’s see if that one comes true, as well.

In the mean time, I intend to continue to shine a light on what happened at the Mont, at what is happening at Jordan, at what is happening at Huntington Park (see And there are other battles to fight. Battles over value-added assessment, seniority, furlough days, pay cuts and budget cuts. There’s still lots to do.

Deal me in.

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