Saturday, December 08, 2007

To you who least need reminding

4LAKids: Sunday, Dec 9, 2007
In This Issue:
STILL ACTING UP FOR THE DRAMA TEACHER: Ex-Fairfax High students salute Marilyn Moody with a big birthday bash.
High Performance Schools: THE NEW JEWELS OF LOS ANGELES
EVENTS: Coming up next week...
What can YOU do?

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4LAKids Anthology: All the Past Issues, solved, resolved and unsolved!
4LAKidsNews: a compendium of recent items of interest - news stories, scurrilous rumors, links, academic papers, rants and amusing anecdotes, etc.
"AMERICA'S GREATEST ASSET sits bored, seven hours a day, five days a week."

— Michael Winters, Career Tech teacher @ San Gabrielino High School on receiving a teaching award in Pasadena last week.

You can bet that Mr. Winters' students aren't bored, or kids in Sakhalin Finnie's classes in Wilmington or Aaron Chung's classes in Rosemead. No one was bored in Marilyn Moody's classes at Fairfax, back in the day. We all know one or two or more teachers where Excellence calls for a capital "E" …if they were our teacher we benefited from their excellence. Until every teacher is life changing their won't be enough of them — but thank you to the ones who work at it and are. We know who you are ….and you do too!


On Monday I went to the ribbon cutting for a classroom addition to Alta Loma School. The new building was being dedicated to a teacher, recently retired, who had made a difference to every child she ever taught at Alta Loma over forty plus years. When you meet Aladean Markham even now you feel the fire and her passion for education; when her students - young and old - speak of her you feel the love her passion has engendered.

Mrs. Markham spoke quietly and eloquently of lighting small fires in young people for forty years - and ended with the stark New England poetic landscape of Robert Frost:

TWO ROADS DIVERGED in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

As she spoke there came a quiet murmur from the fifth graders in the audience - kids not old enough to have had Mrs Markham for a teacher ….but whose teachers had Mrs. Markham as a teacher and a mentor…

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

….building as all the fifth graders joined in full voice - and those of us who had Mrs. Markham - or a Mrs. Markham - of our own in the past joined in — the words themselves unlocked from forgotten synapses:

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

…until every voice in the crowd joined in, standing, reciting the words taught by a teacher, found in a book - "Learn this - it's important" - recalled for this moment:

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Thank you Mrs. Markham for keeping the promise - and Mr. Schaffer and Miss Robinson and all the other teachers who make all the difference. — smf

Frost, Robert. Mountain Interval. New York: Henry Holt and Company, ©1920;, 1999. [2007]



By Paul Clinton, Staff Writer | Daily Breeze

Friday, December 7, 2007 - Sakhalin Finnie offers classes in a bungalow that doesn't have running water. So when she teaches high school science lessons that require it, she's forced to improvise.

"I use buckets and try to do it smaller," Finnie said of her physics and chemistry lessons at Harbor Teacher Preparatory Academy, a magnet high school in Wilmington. "We have a lot of paper towels."

Finnie's dedication paid dividends Thursday, as the Milken Family Foundation honored her as a top educator and handed her a $25,000 check at the Harbor College campus where she teaches her classes.

She hasn't decided how she'll spend the funds, which carry no strings.

The group presented Finnie the award and cash at an assembly in the student union. Aaron Chung, a mathematics teacher at Rosemead's Temple Intermediate School, was also honored by the group.

With education dignitaries addressing the packed room and former NFL lineman Rosey Grier urging students to believe in their potential, Lowell Milken emphasized the importance of quality teaching.

Milken attended LAUSD schools and graduated from Birmingham High in Van Nuys.

"I believe teachers and principals have the most important jobs in our country," Milken said. "Good teachers really do make a difference."

The group surprised Finnie, who gasped and held back tears as she headed to receive her honor.

Since 2005, Finnie has taught at Harbor Teacher Prep, a 330-student school for high achievers nominated for a federal Blue Ribbon award in November.

Students earn a diploma and associate degree upon graduation.

The former chemical engineer switched careers in July of 1999, taking a job with Los Angeles Unified teaching science at Huntington Park High School.

Later that year, she transferred to Banning High School, where she started an African-American Student Union.

While at the academy-style high school in Wilmington, the Long Beach resident has been credited with raising the test scores of her lowest achieving students by 10 percent.

"She engages students," said Principal Mattie Adams-Robertson. "She has a very rigorous classroom and high expectations for students."

And she does it with a gentle touch, her students said.

"She cares a lot if you succeed," said Danielle Semira, 17, of Carson. "If she sees you're failing, she takes you aside."

Jessica Uwadia, 17, of Torrance, has similar praise.

"She's not a domineering tyrant," Jessica said. "She's a motherly figure."

The foundation has given more than 2,000 such awards across the country to teachers for their stellar talent and inspirational leadership, Milken said.


by Caroline An, Staff Writer | Pasadena Star News

December 7 - ROSEMEAD - When Aaron Chung became a teacher nine years ago, he fulfilled a personal goal.

Chung, a math teacher at Temple Intermediate School who immigrated to the United States from Vietnam with his family, said people were critical of his decision to give up dentistry to pursue teaching.

"I decided to major in biochemistry in college and then became a dentist," he said. "I did not like it."

On Thursday, the dentist-turned-math teacher, who devotes his after-school hours and Saturdays to tutoring students, received one of the highest education honors when he was named a Milken Family Foundation National Educator.

His selection as a new member of an elite group of high-achieving teachers came at a surprise ceremony at his school, where state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell joined other dignitaries in awarding Chung a $25,000 cash prize that comes with the honor.

"I am very, very surprised. I never get anything, and I usually have to work hard, so I'm very, very surprised," Chung said.

Officials from the Milken Foundation travel throughout the nation awarding $25,000 to about 75 teachers every year. Teachers are nominated by their peers and do not go through an application process. A panel whose members are appointed by officials from the state Department of Education makes the final selections.

Chung's devotion is apparent in everything he does for his students, said Lowell Milken, chairman of the Milken Family Foundation.

"He believes that every student can succeed," he said.

Among Chung's accomplishments in his teaching career is helping more than 80 percent of his algebra students achieve proficiency on the math portion of the California Standards Test.

Additionally, the same percentage of his students have passed the California High School Exit Exam and are eligible to take college-level classes.

While his students are excelling, it is the hundreds of hours of tutoring help that has made the biggest impact, students and Chung's colleagues said.

"He is really helpful and he wants students to pass their classes and not to fail," said Jessica Campos, 12.

Chung began the tutoring sessions after noticing that some students were too shy to ask questions during class, he said.

Math is often a difficult subject and most students would say that they hate the subject, he acknowledged, so he tries to make math a positive experience.

"Kids have a lot of positive energy. You just have to get down to their level," he said.

Anthony Ha, a first-year teacher at Temple Intermediate, said he knew Chung would win the award because he is so dedicated to his students.

"No one has sacrificed more. He has a passion and a lot of heart," Ha said.

With his birthday coming up in less than a week, Chung said the $25,000 is a gift that he will put to good use.

He plans to use some of the money to fund a trip to China for his mother. He said he also plans to travel to Vietnam, where he'll give most of the money to orphanages and needy schools.

▲adding smf's 2¢ to the $25 Grand: The LATimes - which goes out of its way to not publish good news stories about LAUSD had a Four Column Color Photo - Above The Fold on Page One (!) - of Mrs. Finnie receiving her award a in Thursday's paper. No story, but a photo is worth 1000 words ….right? Neither the photo nor the non-story made the online edition …which says something about the Times, LAUSD's PR department - or both.

4LAKids Kudos to Sakhalin Finnie and also to Aaron Chun - teachers in the mold and tradition of Aladine Markham! And lest anyone missed the key line about Harbor Teachers Prep (beyond the part about teaching science w/o running water) let me repeat it here: "Students earn a diploma and associate degree upon graduation."

STILL ACTING UP FOR THE DRAMA TEACHER: Ex-Fairfax High students salute Marilyn Moody with a big birthday bash.
By Mitchell Landsberg, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

December 3, 2007 - Students at Fairfax High School can be forgiven if they don't know the name of drama teacher Marilyn Moody. She last taught at the school in the 1970s, more than a decade before any of today's students were born.

But good teachers cast long shadows, and Moody's former students -- the ones who took drama classes at Fairfax from 1959 to 1971 -- remember her as if it were yesterday.

Which, for many of them, it was.

Some 160 Fairfax alumni turned out Sunday to pay tribute to Moody, a teacher whom many credit with shaping their adult lives. They came from as far as Switzerland, New York and Michigan, and, for a few hours packed with love, nostalgia and musical comedy, were again eager students trying to please the best teacher they ever had.

To the tune of "Anything Goes," they sang:

"She'd make us each the best, cause she'd teach the best,
Made our plays the best, and our days the best.
We learned skills to make our resumes the best,
In that building on old Melrose. . . . "

"She changed my life forever," said Celia Celnik Taite, an actress and acting teacher who was one of the organizers of Sunday's event. "She was the most unbelievable inspiration -- my teacher, my coach, my guide."

Taite (Class of '73) and Judy Rich (Class of '60) came up with the idea for the tribute when they realized a few months ago that Moody was about to turn 80. What began as a plan for a fairly small surprise birthday party quickly snowballed as word spread among Moody's former students, many of whom have stayed in touch.

By the time Sunday rolled around, it was a full-fledged production.

The party itself was no longer a surprise -- as the event grew, that idea no longer seemed prudent. But Moody, long retired and living in Woodland Hills, still seemed bowled over.

"As Mike Myers would say, I'm verklempt," she told the brunch crowd at the Sportsmen's Lodge in Studio City. As the accolades flowed, she waved her hands frantically in embarrassment.

Most people can recall a favorite teacher, someone who excited them about learning and perhaps inspired them enough to set the course of their lives and careers. But by all yardsticks, Moody appears to have been especially gifted, and the outpouring Sunday reflected the lifelong passions she incited in her students.

"It's interesting how one teacher can change not just all these people's lives, but the face of show business," observed Cynthia Szigeti (Class of '67), who went on to become a successful actress and improvisational acting teacher, whose own students have included Conan O'Brien and Lisa Kudrow.

Many of those at Sunday's event have had successful entertainment careers, not only as actors but as dancers, musicians, set designers, producers and, in several cases, drama teachers -- the gamut of show business jobs.

Anita Mann, a dancer and dance producer, said that throughout her career, she has "heard Mrs. Moody in my ears every day."

Russ Titelman, a 1962 Fairfax graduate who went on to become a successful musician, songwriter and Grammy-winning record producer, wrote in a tribute to Moody that she "was the guardian of the door that opened onto a universe of infinite possibilities."

"Plus," he added Sunday, "she was so funny and so tough. . . . We were constantly living in fear of the wrath of Moody, and at the same time, you knew she loved you."

Her former students were almost uniformly consistent about what made Moody a great teacher: She set expectations higher than many thought they could achieve, then pushed them to realize those goals. She demanded and instilled discipline in her students -- and sometimes scared the daylights out of them. In ways large and small, she showed that she cared deeply about each of them and understood their abilities and idiosyncrasies -- sometimes better than they did. She bristled with passion, energy and unbridled, irreverent fun.

Sometimes, she just bristled.

Her students all remember what she called them. It was always their last name, only their last name, usually delivered with several exclamation points, as in, "Bernstein!!!!" or "Burke!!!!!!" Students, for the most part, called her Moody, and still do.

"Hi, Moody, it's Bob Steinberg, '64," one of them announced from the stage of the banquet hall Sunday. Without explanation, he added: "Here's something you never thought would happen. Here's that $5 I owed you from 1964. I want you to know that changed my life for that night." She laughed.

For her part, Moody was self-deprecating about her role in students' lives. Asked the secret of her success, she said, "They were such eager students. I loved every one of them." She added: "Whether they had private problems at home or they just wanted to be part of a group, they needed drama, and I think I fulfilled that."

Darrell Walker (Class of '72), who became a lawyer and executive vice president of the black-oriented BET television network, regaled the crowd with his recollections of "the Moody walk, which was somewhere between a drill sergeant and Marty Feldman in 'Young Frankenstein,' " and "the Moody voice," which, he said, could often be heard as far away as the football field.

He hadn't been especially interested in acting, Walker said, but Moody pushed him and along the way taught him valuable lessons about himself. "What I've learned in the years since is that that wasn't an acting lesson," he said. "That was a lesson in life."

During the years Moody was there, Fairfax High was a school very much shaped by its time and place. The students were overwhelmingly Jewish, academic strivers who were either the children or grandchildren of immigrants struggling to make ends meet. It was also, by the late 1960s, a turbulent place that was fully swept up by the passions of the antiwar movement and the counterculture.

Moody's biography might suggest she didn't quite belong there.

Born in Blue Earth, Minn., she had studied economics and drama in college before taking a job as a teacher in the theatrical mecca of Bemidji, Minn. One morning, she recalled, "they said on the news that it was 40 degrees below zero and the trees were cracking. I said, 'California, here I come.' "

After attending graduate school at UCLA, she took a job teaching drama at San Pedro High School in 1952. She taught there for five years and then briefly at John Burroughs Junior High before landing at Fairfax in 1959. That was the point, she said, "when a Missouri Synod Lutheran Gentile became an honorary Jew."

Her first year, she produced Fairfax's first student musical, "The Boyfriend." She went on to direct numerous other dramatic and musical productions, many of them award-winners, before a back injury in the early 1970s prompted her to scale back on stage work and teach other subjects. She retired in 1979.

Although her health has declined in recent years and she does not walk easily without help, Moody on Sunday looked decades younger than 80, and she showed some of the wit her students remember so fondly.

Though they insisted she was anything but a sentimentalist, she appeared deeply moved as she told them, "All of you here gave me the best part of my life. . . . It was my pleasure to have helped you along the way, and I got more from you than you'll ever know."

The day ended, appropriately, with a musical production -- for which, according to co-organizer Debbie Wenner Green, 25 people rehearsed every weekend for six weeks, determined to craft something that would be up to Moody's exacting standards.

It was. "Well done!" she yelled after one number. Others brought her to her feet for standing ovations.

They ended with "We Love You, Moody," rewritten by actor and writer Stuart K. Robinson (Class of '73) to the tune of "We Love You, Birdie" from "Bye Bye Birdie."

"We love you, Moody,
Oh, yes we do.
We're better people
Because of you
One high school class,
Who knew?
Oh, Moody,
We love you."

Moody proclaimed it "Oscar-caliber."

Then they sang "Happy Birthday" and presented her with a cake. "These aren't trick candles, are they?" Moody asked. Then she blew. And blew. And blew.

Kids. Sometimes they just never grow up.

High Performance Schools: THE NEW JEWELS OF LOS ANGELES
by Racquel Palmese - Green Technology Magazine

Fall '07: THE LOS ANGELES UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT spreads across 710 square miles of inner cities, deserts, rolling hills and suburbs. Running from the endless vistas of tract homes to the northern horizon of the San Fernando Valley, then south and east through the ethnic enclaves of East LA, Boyle Heights, Chinatown, Koreatown, Leimert Park Village, Little Tokyo, Filipinotown, Koreatown, Little Armenia, Little Ethiopia, Little Persia, Little India and Thai Town to the Towers of Watts, it finally it ends at the canals and harbors of Long Beach, California.

The second largest school district in the United States, it has been called a behemoth, top heavy and inefficient, controversial and downright impossible to manage. Maligned and magnificent, its numbers alone evoke both wonder and disbelief. Of the District’s 708,000 students, 73 percent are Hispanic, 11.4 percent are Black, 3.8 percent are Asian and 8.8 percent are Caucasian. It teaches the English language to almost half - 315,400 students - who speak 88 different languages. Many of its 13,000 buildings (1,059 schools) are in disrepair. Most of them, built over a half century ago, have had little or no renovation.

Almost daily, news stories recount the District’s travails, but its achievements are rarely noted. Perhaps the most unanticipated and impactful of its activities – one which only a school district of the size of LAUSD could undertake – is its school construction and renovation program. This multi-year endeavor, valued at almost $20 billion, is by far the largest ever undertaken by a school district. By 2012 it will deliver approximately 180,000 new seats in 145 new schools. Some 20,000 renovation projects will be completed.

The program came to life in 1997, when voters allocated $2.4 billion for modernization of facilities and addition of classroom space. New bond measures were passed in 1998 ($4 billion), 2002 ($3.5 billion from the city and a portion of a $13.05 billion statewide bond), 2004 ($9.2 billion), 2005 ($3.985 billion).

Adding to that, in November 2006, a statewide K-12 and university facilities bond act was passed providing an additional $10.41 billion (see related article on Proposition 1D), which includes $100 million for high performance (green) school construction statewide.

So far, 186 projects have been completed, including 65 new schools that provide 2,650 classrooms; 64 schools are being designed or in approval processes.

Let Them be Green!

To appreciate what Joseph “Guy” Mehula, LAUSD’s chief facilities executive, and the 5,000 people who work at the Facilities Support Division, are trying to accomplish is to not only embrace the enormity of the construction project, but to grasp that in the midst of this building boom LAUSD decided that all its new schools must be high performance schools. The District mandated that every school designed after the year 2003, about 64 schools, will be designed to meet the tough sustainability standards set forth by the Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS). [Click here for related story.] LAUSD was the first district to make such a declaration, to set such a mandate for its new school construction. Since then a host of others have followed its lead.

At this writing, two CHPS “demonstration” schools have opened in Los Angeles: Charles H. Kim Elementary School in Los Angeles and Maywood Academy High School in Maywood. Most new projects are in the design stages, with about 10 nearing construction. “Every one of these schools,” Mehula told an audience at a recent Global Green schools conference, “is built to represent its community, both by its unique design and by creating indoor and outdoor spaces that are open to the community.” This includes meeting rooms, theaters, athletic fields, swimming pools.

“We call this joint use,” he said, “and it’s a central part of our planning for all the new schools. To create such healthy and beautiful schools has had the effect of raising up the neighborhoods they’re located in. People take pride in them and know they are special.

“The biggest problem we have is getting the word out about all these terrific new schools that are each a jewel in their communities.”

Designing a Green School

Ying Wang heads up the high performance schools program at LAUSD, reporting to Mehula. An architect who is passionate about green schools, she helped structure the CHPS point system that leads to school certification. “The best part of CHPS,” she says, “is that if you integrate it very early (in the design phase) it won’t necessarily cost extra money.”

As an example she cites Central Region Elementary School (CRES) #18, which has been approved by the Division of State Architect and is going out to bid with completion expected in about 15 months. The design architect was able to meet the school’s budget without requiring any additional funding to meet the CHPS requirements. On a typical project, the architect will be able to reach at least 28 CHPS points, which was the minimum required to be certified as a CHPS school since 2002 out of a maximum of 81. A new points system raises the minimum to 32 and maximum to 85. Most projects currently average at least 33 points.

This particular school got 45 points. Wang explains that this was accomplished not only by complying with all the points the District required, but by adding extras right from the beginning. The building was oriented for optimal sun exposure, achieving energy efficiency that was 37 percent greater than California Energy Commission standards. Recycled materials were used as much as possible and construction waste was recycled – again adding points to their score.

“The building is well located and uses the site,” Wang says. “They designed it with an overhang which becomes a covered walkway. With a lot of our buildings that are not built to sustainable standards, the architect will design it the way he or she likes and then we’ll have to add on features for energy efficiency or other sustainable things, and those become additional costs.”

“These high performance schools provide a great opportunity for the school itself to be an instructional tool,” says Kevin Tyrrell, principal of Quatro, the architectural firm that designed CRES #18. “As an example, all the classrooms have cross ventilation; they all have lots of natural light. There are things that are incorporated into the building that show students how to work with the natural environment to do things that are much more beneficial. These are all things that can be taught for science and other classes.”

CRES #18 is a 575 seat neighborhood elementary school that includes 23 classrooms, a library, administration, food services and a multi-purpose room. Says Tyrrell, “Building it green not only didn’t cost anything extra, it probably saved money. For example, there are several ways you can handle site drainage. You can have different areas collecting water that are connected to a drain connected to a storm system. That’s pretty expensive. We have our site configured so we’re using a combination of a natural and created slope, so all water drains to our turf area on our site which is used as a retention area. If there’s a major rain event, the water percolates down to the aquifer. We’re reducing runoff, and we’re not adding to the storm water runoff demand.

Overall, use of abundant natural light reduced the energy load for lighting considerably and natural ventilation reduces the amount and size of mechanical equipment needed for air conditioning. In traditional schools, interior hallways have classrooms on each side, limiting air flow and light. CRES 18 has an exterior walkway which eliminates almost all the need for light or ventilation during the day and also reduces the volume (hallway) that needs to be ventilated. This reduces energy consumption and provides a more healthful air supply. Tyrrell says the building interacts with the environment.

The Visual and Performing Arts Center on Grand Avenue will be a $100 million high performance high school that contains four small learning academies. Gary Gidcumb, of HMC Architects, is the lead architect on the project. He has been working on green buildings for the past 17 years. Since 2002, he’s been designing green schools and says that green building is a “growing emphasis of the firm.” “Growing” is the operative word; Gidcumb acknowledges that once you start designing green, “what it comes down to is you can always do more.”

At Grand Avenue, Gidcumb and his staff faced enormous challenges when it came to energy efficiency. The theatrical academy, for example, has an 11,0000 square foot lobby and a 950 seat theater, plus a black box experimental theater in the round. “These are large, open spaces,” he says, “difficult to air condition. There are also a lot of large classroom spaces, like dance studios and the library. But we feel good about meeting the challenges. We succeeded within a difficult arrangement.”

As with CRES #18, the architect and the District accomplished the 45 point CHPS score by incorporating many sustainability features directly into the original design plan. The library, for example, with a 50 foot high ceiling, utilizes glazed windows to stop solar heat gain.

The challenges that Gidcumb and his staff faced included working through the many levels of such a large school district. “You’re always going to have folks that think the right way to do things is different from the way you want to do it,” he says. “What we’ve been able to do is work with all of those camps to build consensus on what the right approach is.” The architect now gives talks to LAUSD design staff so they can communicate with architects and emphasize the importance of initiating green design from the earliest stages.

“For most of architects we hire, it’s their first time encountering a CHPS school,” says Ying Wang. “They may have experience with sustainable design, so we join the pre-design meetings and present written documents with our requirements for things like energy, water and sound. We provide the architects with a scorecard that has rating requirements they must meet for these high performance schools.”

Gidcumb feels that when it comes to building green schools, architects are not getting up to speed as quickly as they should. “It’s extremely important,” he says. “There’s so much at stake and so much that architects can do to make an impact. And that’s on every project, no matter what the budget is. The Visual and Performing Arts Center is on budget. It’s not a “showcase” project where grants or special funds have been allocated specifically to get a high CHPS score, and we still managed it. Every project should be a showcase project, and you shouldn’t have to sacrifice design quality or break the bank to do it. It’s a real challenge to the profession.”

He says that the ultimate goal is to build schools that are carbon neutral (emitting no net carbon dioxide into the atmosphere) and net zero (producing as much energy as they consume). “That would be a fantastic step forward for communities to see that. When I see the school as a center of community and the things that happen there and kids who can grow up in that sort of environment and then go home to their families who see that they are part of the solution – that’s a terrific thing.”

Building a Green School

The process of building a new school can take as much as five years, sometimes more. It begins with LAUSD’s Real Estate Department. “The biggest problem we have with LAUSD is we don’t have that much land available, so we have to use eminent domain to buy properties,” says Wang, “The nice thing is the newer schools cause real estate values to go up for the local community.”

Selecting a location for a new school takes into account district needs including relieving overcrowding in existing schools, eliminating the need for year-around schools and involuntary busing. The Real Estate Department assesses where a new school needs to be situated based on these factors and then acquires the necessary properties. It relocates private and commercial residents when necessary. The more families that need to be relocated, the more time the project can take. Thus far, over 1,200 parcels of land have been acquired, and 2,200 households and businesses have been relocated to make way for school construction.

After a site has been selected, the Community Outreach Department is activated. Visits are made with residents and business owners, and community meetings are held. (See sidebar: Warming a Neighborhood to a New School). Site selection also includes an assessment by the Office of Environmental and Health Services (OEHS) and the production of an Environmental Impact Report before the site is claimed. That starts the funding and approval stage.

The California Department of Education decides how much state funding will go to the District. “Not everything can qualify for funds,” says Vincent Coffeen, LAUSD director of design management . “The rest is paid for by local bonds. The state, in theory, is supposed to fund 50 percent of construction, but now it’s really more like 35 percent because of escalation of construction costs.”

Construction costs escalated 20 percent in 2006, causing some projects to trim their budgets. The state is encouraging the building of CHPS schools by the creation of a special unit within the Division of State Architect (DSA) to handle high performance schools projects.

“We work with DSA on a plan check,” explains Coffeen. “It can take a very long time to work through that. It’s always about 12-15 months for architects to finish their drawings before we even get to the DSA, and then we can have a project sitting there for another 10 months. But we have an agreement with them now that is shortening the process. Our goal is a six-month review at DSA.”

Since the LAUSD loses $1 million for each month delay on a $60 million high school, this new partnership agreement with DSA means significant savings. The accelerated review period saved the LAUSD $6 million in 2006. The staff shortfall at the DSA created by the explosion of LAUSD building plan approvals is being addressed by a partnership agreement. The PA, as it’s called, created a team of mostly outside consultant reviewers for LAUSD projects. LA now issues “look ahead” reports that include project profiles sent to the DSA in advance, so the agency can be ready with review teams waiting the submissions arrive. As of January, 2007, a new law allows for “concurrent review,” which means that DSA reviewers can work throughout the design process, instead of waiting until plans are drawn up and submitted. This is expected to shorten the process even more, setting a efficient system in place for other districts as well.

“DSA is in major collaborating mode right now,” says Mahendra Mehta, transition manager at the DSA. “We are partnering with LAUSD. The key to it is managing the timeline in planning and communications, getting started early in the process and staying in communication all the way through to approval.” Wang agrees, “We can save five percent of regular costs for a CHPS school by starting early with the state agencies. That’s very exciting, because after about five years of payback, these schools start making money with energy savings.”

During the DSA approval process, final drawings are also sent to CDE one last time to verify square footage for a determination of state funding for the project. Then the bidding process begins. Unlike many commercial buildings that utilize design teams made up of architects and construction contractors who work together from the onset of the design process, LAUSD calls for a separation of the design and building processes. The award goes to the contractor who submits the lowest bid.

Right now there are 16 green school projects in the pipeline, all of them almost through the DSA process. In two years, says Wang, there will be 40. What does all this mean for other districts? “It means their standards will change,” says Wang. “Other districts can use our experience.” The inexhaustible Wang also spends time giving presentations at conferences and districts considering building green schools.

“We have all our information on our (LAUSD) website,” she says. “I would say to those districts, ‘go grab it as much as you can. You are always welcome to call me. There are a lot of paybacks in building green schools.”


By Sandy Banks - Los Angeles Times Columnist

December 8, 2007 - The grumbling reaches fever pitch at many schools this time of year. The semester is nearing its end and homework assignments are piling up -- just as the winter break is about to begin. Parents of school kids know what that means:

Their children will be lugging loaded backpacks on ski vacations and ditching family dinners to finish school projects. Not even on holiday, it seems, can a kid escape the homework demons.

But in upscale San Marino, the private commiseration of some parents has become an aggressive public campaign, mounted by a mother obsessed with the notion that homework is wrecking family relationships and turning children into automatons.

"They're making me out to be a homework-hater," said Tracy Mason, a former accountant, now stay-at-home mom of a Huntington Middle School sixth-grader. "All I'm saying is, this is a big burden on families. We want [the district] to justify it."

Mason has spent months poring over studies, interviewing experts and bombarding parents and school officials with research that suggests that homework contributes little to students' academic prowess.

She wants San Marino district officials to study the issue and consider limiting the amount of work teachers can give.

Her aggressive effort has inspired some parents and annoyed others. And it has revealed an uncomfortable cultural breach in one of the state's most successful school districts, where 70% of the students are Asian American and high test scores are considered a ticket to the Ivy League.

"They're willing to make everybody miserable with hours of homework," Mason said, "and as long as test scores are going up, nobody cares."

When I spoke with Mason this week, she was in the car, hustling her daughter to an after-school grammar tutoring session. Twice a week, $50 an hour. She winces every time she writes a check.

Tutoring has become a lightning rod in the brewing homework debate, stoking resentment among parents, who say it reflects an unhealthy fixation on grades and handicaps students who do their homework the old-fashioned way.

In my conversations with middle-school moms -- almost all of them white -- it was clear where many place the blame: Hyper-competitive Chinese parents are raising the bar too high, to ensure that their children succeed, they said.

Few will say that for the record, of course. Never mind the racial sensitivity; no one wants their kid deemed a slacker in a high-flying district like this.

The ethnic rift is not surprising in a system pushed into overdrive by waves of immigrants from Hong Kong and Taiwan, whose nose-to-the-grindstone academic focus has helped San Marino High rank among the nation's top 100 high schools, according to U.S. News and World Report.

Asian parents have been quiet during the homework debate, but don't like being cast as villains, said Dora Liang, the mother of a high school student.

"To say Asians dictate the policy is not true," Liang said. She acknowledged that many Chinese parents hire tutors, some because they don't understand English well enough to help their children with homework and others because "the curriculum is not challenging enough. They do it to have a competitive edge.

"People come to San Marino because of the quality of the schools and how it affects the property values, whether they're Asian or non-Asian," Liang said. "If you feel strongly that the homework is too much, you have the option of telling your kids not to do it."

Of course, it's not that simple. Parents may believe that the homework grind is producing stressed-out, joyless, uncreative kids, but they don't want theirs to be left behind.

Still, it's no surprise to me that concerns emerge in middle school, where the homework load increases and children must adjust to a procession of teachers.

I don't envy San Marino officials, caught between competing perceptions and value systems.

Supt. Gary Woods said parent surveys make the dilemma clear: "Fifty percent of parents here think we give too much homework," he said. "And 50% think we give too little. . . . This is a conversation that has gone on since my days as a high school English teacher 21 years ago."

But it does no good to haul out the "back in my day . . ." speech in this debate. Schools live and die by test scores today. "We have to get all our students to an advanced level," Woods said. "And we only have so much class time to do it."

Even those parents who are grumbling admit that San Marino's academic success has paid dividends, keeping their property values high and the real estate market strong, even in today's slowdown.

Still, some told me they are quietly checking out private schools -- including Mason, who moved to San Marino from Irvine in part because the schools were good.

"I'm lobbying my husband now . . . If it's not going to be fixed in my daughter's school years, let's just bail," she said.

The irony is impossible to miss. People move to San Marino because the schools are so good, then leave the school district because the homework is so hard.

▲ORSON SCOTT CARD - the prize-winning best-selling young adult novelist (Ender's Game) has written a series of essays - complete with acatual schorly references - about the mind numbing evils of homework, based on the following premise:

• What if you had a really lousy job?
• You're only employed for seven hours a day, but you have to ride the bus for half an hour each way.
• While you're there, they only let you go to the bathroom at certain times. You only have ten minutes to get from one work station to another
• If you do anything wrong, you aren't allowed to talk to anybody during lunch.
• Even when you go home, it's not over. A job supervisor also lives in your house, and makes you do two or three more hours of the same work you did on the job. The at-home supervisor is even harsher than the one at work and has more power to inflict annoying punishments if you fail to comply.
• Not only that, but you can't quit this lousy job. It's the law -- the government requires you to stick with it for at least ten years.

That's a fair description of the lives of far too many of our school-age children.

• Homework, Part I: THE WORST JOB IN THE WORLD by Orson Scott Card
First appeared in print September 17, 2006 in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC

• Homework, Part II: WHY DO WE STILL GET HOMEWORK? by Orson Scott Card
First appeared in print September 24, 2006in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC

by Mary MacVean, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Dec. 5 - It's December, and the pressure is mounting. Not from the presents or the cooking or the relatives. Those are a piece of cake -- a fruitcake, perhaps. It's the agony of choice. Or, more accurately, CHOICES.

For L.A. parents who want their children to go to a magnet school or want a permit to send them to a school other than their home school, December can be full of angst: visiting campuses, deciding which one suits best, then playing the odds in a system that has many more students than places for them.

The worry season officially begins when the L.A. Unified CHOICES booklet arrives in the mail. Right there on the cover it says, "Please open at once." Why wait to ramp up the anxiety?

The booklet, much improved in the last several years, explains the possibilities clearly. It includes an application (no copies accepted), due by 5 p.m. Jan. 11, and an envelope to mail it – though plenty of faithless parents carry it by hand downtown to the district offices. Anyone who needs a booklet can get one at any LAUSD school.

Last year, The Times played host to the Magnet Yentas, writer Sandra Tsing Loh and other moms who answered readers' questions about the system. In the links [following], we're repeating excerpts of their advice. Information also is available at

smf's 2¢ - This article marks the debut of a new byline in 4LATimes, welcome Mary MacVean. I wrote my very first piece for publication about the Choices brochure process. Last year Sandra Tsing Loh and Co. - under the guise of The Magnet Yentas wrote some very good, funny and informative stuff for the late, lamented School Me! blog in LATimes. The Times in their infinite wisdom - demonstrating the viability of reruns on the Internet to prove the Writers Guild point - has republished online.

Links to that "all that 'right stuff'" is presented below. One piece of advice to "'ye of little' faithless parents" from my original advice: DON'T hand carry your application downtown! You will get neither satisfaction nor a receipt!

1. Make and save a copy.
2. Mail your application and all correspondence in, certified mail, return receipt requested.

THE MAGNET YENTAS REDUX …Return …Rerun …Recycled …Resurrected

EVENTS: Coming up next week...
• Monday Dec 10, 2007
Please join us at an Open House to showcase Washington Preparatory High School's new Physical Training Facility!
11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Washington Preparatory High School
10860 S. Denker Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90047

• Monday Dec 10, 2007
SOUTH REGION HIGH SCHOOL #15: Pre-Design & Project Update Community Meeting
6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
San Pedro High School
1001 W 15th Street
San Pedro, CA 90731

• Monday Dec 10, 2007
VALLEY REGION ELEMENTARY SCHOOL #13: Site Selection Update Meeting
6:30 p.m.
Vista Middle School - Multipurpose Room
15040 Roscoe Blvd.
Panorama City, CA 91402

• Thursday Dec 13, 2007
6:00 p.m.
Adams Middle School - Auditorium
151 W. 30th St.
Los Angeles, CA 90007

*Dates and times subject to change. ________________________________________
Phone: 213-241-5183
Phone: 213-893-6800


What can YOU do?
• E-mail, call or write your school board member: • 213-241-6383 • 213-241-6387 • 213-241-6386 • 213-241-6180 • 213-241-6388 • 213-241-6382 • 213-241-6385

...or your city councilperson, mayor, the governor, member of congress, senator - or the president. Tell them what you really think! • There are 26 mayors and five county supervisors representing jurisdictions within LAUSD, the mayor of LA can be reached at • 213.978.0600
• Call or e-mail Governor Schwarzenegger: 213-897-0322 e-mail:
• Open the dialogue. Write a letter to the editor. Circulate these thoughts. Talk to the principal and teachers at your local school.
• Speak with your friends, neighbors and coworkers. Stay on top of education issues. Don't take my word for it!
• Get involved at your neighborhood school. Join your PTA. Serve on a School Site Council. Be there for a child.
• Register.
• Vote.

Who are your elected federal & state representatives? How do you contact them?

Scott Folsom is a parent and parent leader in LAUSD. He is immediate past President of Los Angeles 10th District PTSA and represents PTA as Vice-chair the LAUSD Construction Bond Citizen's Oversight Committee. He serves on various school district advisory and policy committees and is a PTA officer and/or governance council member at three LAUSD schools. He is also the elected Youth & Education boardmember on the Arroyo Seco Neighborhood Council.
• In this forum his opinions are his own and your opinions and feedback are invited. Quoted and/or cited content copyright © the original author and/or publisher. All other material copyright © 4LAKids.
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