Skip to content

From Chuck Olynk: Back To Blogging

June 3, 2013

I knew something was missing from my life when Chuck finally started blogging again- he stopped writing for 120 days.  I also stopped writing for a long time and now just write in fits and starts.  I should have started blogging again when  Monica Ratliff won the  Los Angeles School Board seat in the Valley, but somehow, life has become overwhelming.   So I am glad that Chuck is back, sharp and insightful as ever with some killer lines.  But is was also difficult as I read to relive the various paths we former Fremont teachers took.   One particularly harrowing reconstitution story comes to mind: a male teacher from Fremont stuck in a middle school from hell was removed, suicidal by the police.  He stopped teaching.   Yet he had been successful at Fremont for 10 years.  The evil that was perpetuated by reconstitution seems to hang over us, doesn’t it?  Even as we try to forget and move on- wherever we landed. A two-fer awaits, below.

“Cruel Little Number”


Today is Friday, May 24, 2013 and Day 126 of Year Four. It is also Day 996 since I began writing these posts and Day 928 PF (Post-Fremont), and the 432nd post. It’s also the eighteenth anniversary of the day I buried my father, a complex, heavy-handed man who may not have been the best father in the world, but who tried to teach me some life lessons. I took a break for 120 days.


That’s not true. I stopped writing for 120 days.


I stopped writing, in part, because I was afraid.


You see, those at Theodore Roosevelt Senior High School, which has been under Mayor Villaraigosa’s Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, have been looking at the specter of reconstitution and all its brethren R-words like restructuring and reorganization.


In spite of contracts and agreements with unions, reconstitution seems to render those null and void.  I first started writing about the failure of reconstitution when I was over at John C. Fremont High in that throw-away section of LAUSD, where parent and community support can be ignored, and where “grand experiments” can be conducted upon children and communities because of an inability to fight back. It’s akin to going into a nursing home and challenging the residents to a boxing match.


Those communities were outgunned from the beginning, lacking the money that LAUSD can pay its attorneys, lacking funding from the billionaire “reformers,” but most importantly lacking an ability to pull together as a community and defend their children. Which is why baby administrators are sent there to cut their teeth, must-place administrators are sent there to finish their illustrious careers, and new teachers are sent there to realize that unions don’t seem to offer much protection and that if they want to be on the winning team, they’d just better do whatever they are told.


I’ve been through that. I got out. I would like to think I was an inspiration to some, an irritant to others. Maybe I just wanted to get out of there but couldn’t admit it to myself.


But, back to rebuilding a school (another R-word): I watched how many of my former coworkers, my now former Pathfinders landed on their feet, adjusted to new places, learned to feel the different rhythms of the new schools. They were the lucky ones.


So was I. I found a school which was also a home and a community. I got the gold ring.


Others were less lucky. Some quit, like basketball coach Sam Sullivan, an alumnus of Fremont, who once eloquently and tearfully spoke of what was happening to his beloved school. He couldn’t bear to remain and watch what was happening. Some, like art teacher Margherita Moraca, head of the Humanitas Program, were forced into retirement, their retirement itself threatened. Others tried to hang on, because they’d gone to school there and would have bargained with the devil. One did, and later reneged on it when she saw the bargain was not going to be honored. She forgot who she was dealing with. Others begged, some of those to no avail. It was not pretty.


Some found jobs elsewhere, some changed professions, some taught at other schools which, in turn, suffered from the reconstitution golem stomping through the poorer parts of the City of Angels, and were chased like refugees fleeing occupation forces. Others never got jobs as teachers, unable to, and became substitutes.


I probably should have been more afraid than I let on, afraid I wouldn’t be teaching those important life lessons—or maybe not even teaching. Maybe God protects fools. “Fools, children and ships named Enterprise,” to quote Commander Riker, “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”


I blogged about that for a while. Some others picked it up and the story of Fremont made the circuits of education reformers.


However, the story of Roosevelt doesn’t seem to garner that interest. Maybe that was why I stopped writing, becoming embittered when I realized I was shouting into the wind, and many stopped listening. Maybe I also wanted to enjoy what seemed like a normal school after Fremont, listen to my drill team angels hanging out in my room and chattering away, normal kids with normal problems, to have kids wave at me across the quad or come by for help.


Maybe I got tired of fighting.


Then that R-word showed up. Actually, the word used to preface it was the C-word, Consolidation. After years of the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools pushing the concept of Smalls Schools, based on what the Gates Foundation had in turn pushed in the past (but which mysteriously vanished from its website, go figure), after being told by faculty and staff that dividing Roosevelt into seven Small Schools, each with its own “principal” (but actually a more-impressively titled Instructional Advisor I think, which was also more economical) was not economically feasible, PLAS was told by Superintendent John Deasy, “Fit it.”


Five Small Schools were merged, dickering over consolidation or reconstitution, worries over which school code was to be used, concerns over which academies one might be assigned to—or would there even be a place for you on the new, consolidated Roosevelt. Hell, there’s even disagreement over whether to call the place Theodore Roosevelt High School or Theodore Roosevelt SENIOR High School.


My parents would have called that that part “vibriki.” That means you’re squabbling over nonsense details. To quote Fritz Leiber, “Bored men will loose arrows at dust motes.”


But those fears were very real. There were plenty of my new coworkers who spoke just as the faculty at Fremont did after reconstitution was announced by then-Superintendent Ramon Cortines, who left his mark on LAUSD and went on to have a state-of-the-art high school named for him(, even over the objections of parents and community “Parents object to naming process for downtown L.A. arts high school”

“L.A. Unified skips school input, and its own procedures, in naming arts high”


There were the whispers in hallways and in each other’s classrooms, always worrying about where people would end up, whether it would be at which of the two academies the five Small Schools merged together would make up. Folks eyed each other and the seniority lists. Where did we all fit? How many teachers would they need in each area? Who would lose in the employment game of musical chairs? Would they even be used? After all, some of us had even been told there was a list. Great, I’ve now got something from “The Mikado” in my head, “I’ve got a little list. They never would be missed.”


My laptop went idle. I want to say that I wanted the facts, that I wanted to see where this was going. But, truth to tell, I also wanted to keep teaching, to keep teaching here at Roosevelt. The past three years have been the best so far of my teaching career. I’ve had respect from colleagues. I’m involved in extra-curricular activities.  I’ve been allowed to teach an AP class, something which was a political football at Fremont. Kids live out of my room and my refrigerator. The back of my Explorer is filled with pom-poms, which have learned to refer to as poms.


So I kept Coop, my laptop from speaking. It was reserved for working on PowerPoints for my AP class. Now it was revising my old PowerPoints. I was just too busy, others who used to be interested in what was happening to Fremont had no interest in Roosevelt, and I was afraid to write.


Then several things happened together, feeding each other.


There were the rumors of what the academies would be like: that students who had not score at least at a basic level in California Standards Testing would be given double-blocks of English and or Math.


Do the math. If 9th Graders entering school are placed in classes based upon 8th Grade CST scores, they are being placed on tracks. The sacred and hallowed A-G requirements (where we assure that “all children will be college-ready”) can’t be met when you have kids who have four of their six periods/day filled already.


Where’s the room for other classes? Well, let’s get rid of 9th Grade Science, since they don’t test in it, eh? By the way, let’s get rid of Physics, because that’s hard… While were at it, let’s double-block those 10th and 11th Graders…


Why not? On the new recruitment flyer, the five merged schools have been designated by PLAS as School #3 at Roosevelt. A majority of the students, and we don’t even get #1? We are the school of leftovers, aren’t we? The Island of Misfit Toys?


But that will make the newly-consolidated Roosevelt look like a remedial school (I’ve heard the phrase ghetto school bandied about) or a continuation school. Let’s have AP classes, lots of them. Where a campus which once had 5,000 students had something like 5 sections of AP Calculus, let’s have a campus of 2000 have 9 sections…


Why? Because the more sections of AP classes which are offered, and the more students take them, the better the school looks.


And we’ve just recreated educational apartheid.


Hey, it worked in other places, so let’s do it again. Besides, who will fight back?


I will. So will others.




Because two days ago, right smack dab in the middle of what is always a hellish week for me, the anniversaries of my parents’ deaths twelve years apart, and their funerals, right as I’m ending my teaching on the Cold War, which really grabs the kids as I explain how it affected the lives of my parents, as I show them my piece of the Berlin Wall and explain how it was given to me and how I gave it to my mother, right in the middle of that, the yearbook came out.


Why would the yearbook matter? Because kids have me signing theirs, and I have them signing mine. Because I’m reading what they wrote. Because, as I look at these pictures I’m thinking about how they have shaped my life, how I have shaped theirs and how I cannot stand by and just watch, playing it safe just because I’ve been happy.


Someone once told me that I needed to blog because I was creating a record of what happened, of where the bodies are buried. I don’t know if I entirely believe that one, considering these are people who no longer want to hear about Roosevelt, and who won’t be interested in where the bodies are buried.


Maybe they don’t want to hear it, anymore. Maybe the reason is that it doesn’t DIRECTLY involve Bill Gates or the other Billionaire Boys Club members and their influence on educational policy. Maybe it doesn’t involve standardized testing to the degree they’d wish (although I believe it does). Maybe the campaign is the thing to fight and the battlefield that is Roosevelt High School is too small, just another island in the education reformers’ island hopping campaign.


I say, “Bull.”


What is happening at and to Roosevelt is important. It’s not a “little fight,” or skirmish. It’s not little if you are in the midst of it. It’s not little, if you see lives affected. It’s not little if you see those around you being hurt and you keep silent.


Like I did.


So, I’m back in the fight, because no fight, no school is too small to lose to the mismanagement of “outside providers.”


“Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard”


Today is Friday, May 31, 2013 and Day 133 of Year Four. It’s that end of the year wrap-up in progress. Books are getting turned in. I’m signing yearbooks as seniors take root in the O-Zone, foraging for food and Vitamin Waters and snack crackers and  Red Vines. Some just want to sit in a room they’re comfortable in as they finish projects for other classes and reminisce.


I’ve got a soft spot for them. It’s especially tough because this is the group I started at Roosevelt with, the ones who made me feel like I was a member of the community. They were a particularly nice group, with good values.


But there was also another reason I may have not had many problems in the classroom: there were two deans on campus, two years ago. There had also been some 22 campus aides. Those who did not play well with others were dealt with, allowing us to teach the rest.


Now? It’s very different. It was a tough year for me. There were thieves of time, stealing that time I’d use to make my classroom, the O-Zone, a very special place, a place where I’d do living history in the classroom, play music, introduce them to Shakespeare in the context of a history class, take the kids to the Getty Villa.


A lot of that happened a lot less this year…


The kids are working on their final projects. Well not all of them. In three of the periods, I have an island or two (the desks are now arranged in groups for this project) where students just… sit. That’s not strictly true. They play with their phones, the same phones they are not supposed to have out.


But then, these are minors who have not obeyed the rules, who have disrupted class. I have been cussed out, and been told, “That one has anger issues.” So do I.


We can start with the School Board. “L.A. Schools will no longer suspend a student for being defiant.”,0,442761.story?track=rss&utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+lanowblog+%28L.A.+Now%29


Or we could go to the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, which helped to create the situation wherein it was decided that each Small School would not contribute to having a single dean on campus, let alone two, and that we are down to about 4 campus aides.


We could go to the several 10th Grade drug dealers who roamed the halls or the girl caught with drugs who was in class the next day. We could talk about kids who refuse to hand over a phone and are told by an administrator to “put it away or it will get taken away…”


When I watched the group of kids in one class (the group I refer to in my head as The Village of the Damned or the Island of Misfit Toys), I remember them smirking because I realized that confronting them would do no good. Last week they were still grinning and nudging each other as I was collecting notebooks from the class, grading them laboriously.


They stopped grinning as I gave out the final project, mentioned that they weren’t working at all. I was told, “Give them their grades.”


And? And do what after that? A shrug. Later, an explanation, “I talked to the kid’s father. I asked, ‘Have you looked at his grades?’ The father said, ‘Why should I look at his grades?’” Somewhere in my head, I’m sure I heard van Halen’s “And the Cradle Will Rock”: “Have you seen Junior’s grades?”


Yes, I’m complaining. I’m trying to understand why minors engaged in criminal activity can steal time and opportunity from those who wish to learn. I’m trying to understand why, in our zeal (well, not MY zeal) for test prep and scores, where schools are managed by CEOs who want raises but who won’t pay teachers on committees, why do those who cause our students to be afraid are allowed to flourish?


For now, courtesy of the Los Angeles Unified School District’s board, I feel they’ve further emboldened these “students.” Now it is we who also get to be afraid.



5 Comments leave one →
  1. June 4, 2013 10:01 pm

    I can testify first hand that being forced out of a community for political reasons is painful. I documented my sojourn through the desert in the “Harry Mills” saga on Blocker’s Blog last year. Glad to see Mr. Olnyk is back. So am I! Blocker’s Blog is back with “Diary of a Rookie Teacher” looking at journals from my rookie year with comments after 10 years in the business. No, rookie teachers are NOT better than veterans. Also, Blocker’s Blog recently had a son, Professor Ed Comics. In the latest Professor Ed blog a comic strip explains the looming Common Core Standards and the brewing resistance from states-righters. Visit Blocker’s Blog up in the “Blogroll” at the top. Again, it’s good to be back in Los Angeles where I belong!

  2. June 5, 2013 10:54 pm

    Hey Blocker, It is awesome to hear from you. You and Chuck are two of the most gifted writers I have ever met. I hope you are well. We need to meet up sometime. Yes, I remember my first year teaching- not a pretty sight. I am checking out your blog right now.

  3. July 10, 2013 3:46 pm

    Welcome back. Now what? Catch up with us T Your blog reminds me that teachers do care enough to take risks.

  4. Miriam Aceves Chavez permalink
    November 7, 2013 9:44 am

    Wow. I have been truly inspired by your blog. I am a former student of Fremont High school and I’ve worked with students from Roosevelt High school in the past. I moved to Fresno in 2006 and finished High School here. I am currently working on my Masters in Higher Education and wanted to look back at all the important people and factors that influenced my education. I found so much new information about Fremont that I was unaware of. But it makes sense I can look back and remember how the environment was and I understand. I am just really glad that you express your thoughts freely and put all this information out there it’s just great to see that. Thank you for all of your posts and thoughts.

  5. November 8, 2013 10:15 am

    Miriam, thanks for your comments. I still miss Fremont terribly to this day. Three years has not erased the loss of my students, colleagues and classroom. Yes, there is much great information about Fremont. It is very special but I am not sure it will ever recover from the reconstitution. Good luck on your master’s degree. Do you plan to stay in Fresno?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: