Sunday, July 13, 2008

Doin' th' math.

Sunday, July 13, 2008
In This Issue:
San Pedro Science Center: FADED, BUT NOT FORGOTTEN
HIGHLIGHTS, LOWLIGHTS & THE NEWS THAT DOESN'T FIT: The Rest of the Stories from Other Sources
EVENTS: Coming up next week...
What can YOU do?

Featured Links:
PUBLIC SCHOOLS: an investment we can't afford to cut! - The Education Coalition Website
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.
DO THE MATH I: On June 30th there were two important California budgetary deadlines:

1. Every one of the more than 1000 school districts in the state were required by the Ed Code to come up with a budget or risk being taken over by their local county office of education. LAUSD made it …I know of no school district in the state that missed the deadline.

2. Also on that date the State of California – the legislature, governor and all the various agencies – were unconstitutionally required to come up with a signed, sealed and delivered budget. We are still waiting. It seems that there is no penalty for missing the deadline - No scary "or" to match the "either" — that's why the state hasn't come up with a budget by the due date for 22 years.

One can read all kinds of meanings into the 22 year unbroken string. Party politics as (un)usual. Lack of will. Term limits. Lack of vision. Bureaucratic logjam. Prop 13. Brinksmanship. Democracy run amuck/aground/awry. All of the above is the most likely suspect.

This year a perfect storm converges on our not-so-golden state. There is the huge deficit: $17(ish) billion. Projected revenue is down. Republicans have taken a "No Tax Hikes" pledge. Federal receivers are about to take $7 billion more for prison health care. The state has a cash flow problem and will be totally be out of cash to pay bills on or about August 1 — that means no matter what they will have to borrow some money to pay bills soon. A recent study by the Pew Center on the States had California and Rhode Island tied for dead last when all the states were graded on fiscal management.

Borrowing money - billions - in this credit market - with banks and brokerage firms failing and the dollar plummeting is no easy matter. Lenders charge a premium to borrow money to pay off existing debt; they will charge even more if the state must borrow before the Sacramento has a budget …much like the difference between a bank loan and a payday-credit-company loan.

I know you'd rather be just about anything else – but pretend you are a Wall Street banker in a bear market while politicians argue the semantics of whether it's a recession or not:
• Are you more apt to lend money to someone with a plan and a track record - say a municipality or a school district with a good credit rating, a plan and a solid tax base?
• Or a quarrelsome state treasury that owes $17 billion from previous overspending and has no plan?

Real Wall Street bankers are like you and me that way.

The Legislative Conference Committee by straight party vote has voted to send a budget to the assembly and senate floors for vote perhaps as soon as next Thursday. That budget includes $8.2 billion in tax increases the minority party opposes. The legislature has also rejected the Governor's lottery and accrual proposals.

'The Big Five' - the Democratic and Republican leaders in both houses and the Governor will now go behind closed doors (or perhaps tent flaps) and will try to reach a compromise. Three of those five are Republicans …but if you do the math, 3 out 5 = 60% and it takes 2/3 (66.67%) to pass a budget in California.

DO THE MATH II: On Wednesday the Governor strong-armed the State Board of Education into approving giving every eighth grader in the state a test in Algebra …even though there is no requirement to teach algebra in the eighth grade.

According to a California Department of Education press release: "The Governor announced his position and gave direction to the members of the State Board less than 24 hours before a publicly noticed State Board meeting" … suggesting a violation of the Brown Act/open meeting law. All eleven members of the SBE are appointed by the governor – in the past he has removed appointees to other boards and commissions who failed to follow his direction.

• Algebra is a famous gatekeeper/prerequisite for college. 8th grade is Middle School – four years BEFORE college. The current California requirement is that all students pass an Algebra course to obtain a high school diploma.
• There are high schools in LAUSD who do not recognize Algebra taken in middle school for credit.

This was a discussion that produced a number of quotable quotes; both the Governor and The State Superintendent of Schools circulated their own sizable lists of dueling 'What they're saying' quotes on the subject.

[Gentle readier: keep in mind Folsom's First Law of Political Discourse: "You can always find a snappy quote by a famous bozo to justify any preposterous position you care to defend."]

Here are two such pronouncements:

• Superintendent Jack O'Connell to State Board of Ed President Ted Mitchell (a paraphrase): Next time you complain about the impossible demands of the federal No Child Left Behind mandate, look in the mirror.

• Kathy Woods, President, California Mathematics Council: “It is intellectually dishonest for the state to ask students to be tested on academic content that they have not studied. The proposed mandate runs counter to all principles of sound policy in education.”

¡Onward/Hasta adelante! —smf

From The Times' Homeroom Blog: The Battle of Algebra Quotes - with some good additions from the Peanut Gallery!

by Pat Dingsdale from the California State PTA Sacramento Update

July 11, 2008 - Tuesday night the Budget Conference Committee finished reconciling the differences between versions of the 2008-09 state fiscal plan drafted by the Assembly and Senate. The plan adopted along party lines on a 4-2 vote, rejects deep cuts in education and health care and includes $9.2 billion in new revenue, which is $1.8 billion lower than what the Senate recommended and $2.7 billion more in new revenue than what the Governor proposed. A counter proposal to close the budget gap will be offered by the Republican members of the Legislature.

The Conference Committee budget is a balanced approach. It closes tax loopholes and rolls back tax breaks for corporations and the wealthiest Californians and restores money to education, health care and public safety.


• Provides $2.3 billion more for K-12 education tan proposed by the Governor.
• Restores $1.5 billion to health and human services. This includes restoring early $00 million in health care services to the state's most vulnerable residents, the reimbursement rate for Medi-Cal providers and federal pass-throughs funds for the aged, blind and disabled.
• Reduces corrections spending by $200 million with a reform package that helps lower the prison population.
• Restores $57 million in financial assistance for college students.


• Reinstates the tax brackets on the wealthiest Californians by reinstating the 10% and 11% tax brackets. Revenue generated: $5.6 billion.
• Closes a corporate tax loophole for large corporations. Revenue generated: $215 million.
• Suspends a tax adjustment for upper-income Californians. Revenue generated $215 million.
• Restores the franchise tax. Revenue generated $470 million.
• Steps up tax enforcement. Revenue generated: 1.5 billion. This is one-time revenue

The next three weeks are critical. The state faces the very real possibility of running short of cash sometime in August if a bipartisan agreement cannot be worked out.

► Pat Dingsdale is the California State PTA Director of Legislation.

The complete CAPTA Sacramento Update - and an opptunity to subscribe thereto - is available here - The cited July issue sometime Monday July 14th.

by Joe Mathews - LA Times Op-Ed

July 13, 2008 - Twenty years ago, with just under 51% of the vote, California voters approved Proposition 98, a constitutional amendment establishing a minimum funding guarantee for education. For years afterward, officials at the California Teachers Assn. (the initiative's main backer) and other proponents made a habit of describing Proposition 98 as having receiving "overwhelming support" from voters.

Today, the education funding guarantee is as popular as the teachers union has long wished -- a true third rail of California government that zaps politicians who dare to suggest altering it. So they rarely dare. Although Proposition 98 has much to do with the state's current $15-billion-plus shortfall, it is not talked about much in the public debate over hiking sales taxes and borrowing against the lottery and finding other ways to boost the state's revenues. If anything, Proposition 98 appears to be the clear winner of the budget season. Even as the budget picture darkened this spring, the Schwarzenegger administration added $1.1 billion to its budget proposal to meet the guarantee. And buried in the fine print of the governor's plan for a rainy-day fund and spending limit is a provision that would protect Proposition 98 still further by eliminating the Legislature's ability to suspend it, as has been done in bad budget years.

What accounts for the respect given to the education funding guarantee? For one thing, Proposition 98, despite all its problems, has served the useful purpose of enshrining the most important public policy issue -- education -- as the state government's top priority. Second, there's widespread fear on the part of state politicians of challenging the teachers union and the rest of the education lobby.

But there's still another story behind the silence: The multiple formulas of Proposition 98 are so complex that they're difficult to understand, even more difficult to explain -- and, for those who want to know how much education money will go where, next to impossible to predict. Silence, it seems, is safer than wading into the thicket.

This widespread ignorance of Proposition 98's details is most apparent when interest groups make claims about education spending and budget cuts. This spring, for instance, teachers and education advocates protested the governor's budget proposal by claiming that he was proposing to cut education. Conservatives countered that year-over-year spending would go up under the governor's budget. But, in fact, neither side was correct because neither side knows.No one -- not the governor, not legislators and certainly not journalists -- has any clear idea what Proposition 98's education guarantee will be in the new budget year, what size the cuts will be or whether education spending will be cut at all. And because Proposition 98 typically accounts for about 75% of education spending, and education is roughly half of the state's overall budget, the rule of thumb when it comes to claims about the California budget is this: No one knows anything. Why?

Please be careful before reading on. I promise your head will hurt. Explaining Proposition 98 in a concise, accurate way does not make for easy reading, and even budget experts throw up their hands when Proposition 98 is the subject.

The Legislative Analyst's Office, which employs some of the smartest people in the Capitol, concluded its official "primer" on Proposition 98 with the following surrender: "It involves complex calculations that few fully understand and generates funding results that are often unintuitive or -- even worse -- counterintuitive." Newspapers often report that Proposition 98 guarantees that 40% of the budget should be spent on education. That is at once not entirely false -- there is a provision of Proposition 98 that says that -- and, at the same time, not really to the point, because that provision of Proposition 98 has not been triggered in 19 years.

So what can you reliably know about Proposition 98? The most important thing to understand is that Proposition 98's funding guarantee is an ever-moving target. And because any estimates of cuts or increases in education funding are based on Proposition 98, such estimates are wrong almost as soon as they are calculated. With Proposition 98 spending projected to be about $57 billion in the next budget year, a 1% mistake in a Proposition 98 estimate represents more than $500 million.

Proposition 98 (which was partly intended to make education funding more predictable from year to year) is unstable even by the standards of an unstable state. The formula is actually three separate formulas (there were two in 1988, but one was added by Proposition 111 in 1990) that are themselves based on the interaction between three volatile factors: student enrollment (which can change rapidly after the state experiences a surge in births or a large influx of immigrants), general fund revenues (which are famously unpredictable in a state with progressive income taxes) and the state's per capita income growth (a figure that has been booming and busting since the Gold Rush).

And don't get me started on the "maintenance factor," a formula within the formulas that requires that any shortfall in Proposition 98 revenues in a bad year be restored in future years.

To tell you any more would simply confuse you.

In writing a 2006 book on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, I talked to dozens of people about Proposition 98, and found only one person in the entire state who seemed to have a firm grasp on the formula: its author, former executive director of the state school board and longtime education consultant John Mockler.

In our first conversation, he told me that "nobody ever really knows what Prop. 98 is really."

Mockler drafted the initiative at the direction of the California Teachers Assn., which saw Proposition 98 as a defensive measure in the state funding battles that followed the adoption of Proposition 13 and its restrictions on tax increases. But Mockler has said he is not much of a fan of it or any initiative, even ones he has written. Direct democracy is "mob rule," he once told me.

Mockler insists that Proposition 98 is not as incomprehensible as it seems. He boils it down this way: Proposition 98 ensures that schools get the money they got last year, plus adjustments for inflation and enrollment. But if it were really that simple, would Mockler be hired so frequently to advise policymakers and others who don't understand it?

"You know, the state is complicated. Life is complicated. The Ten Commandments are complicated," he said. "Because people think Prop. 98 is so complicated, I got to send two kids through Stanford."

Could there be any changes made to Proposition 98? The Legislative Analyst's Office suggested in May that the Legislature "systematically review formulas -- both those passed by the voters and those enacted by the Legislature -- to determine if they are still needed and continue to reflect today's priorities."

But in the absence of top-to-bottom tax reform that includes a repeal of Proposition 13, the idea of repealing Proposition 98 should be ruled out. For all its problems, it does, in its strange way, what the voters intended: It protects education funding.

Some critics of Proposition 98 have made a more nuanced argument: They've complained that it allocates money based on revenue growth but without factoring in whether the state budget is in deficit or in surplus. One unusual year -- a very bad drop or a very big increase in state revenue -- can throw the Proposition 98 guarantee and the entire budget out of whack. These critics would like to see the deficit (or surplus) added to the calculations of the formula.

But it is by no means clear that including other variables in the formula -- such as factoring in the state deficit -- would represent an improvement. Adding more factors might only make a nearly incomprehensible equation even more complicated.

Simplifying the formula so that policymakers, not to mention the public, could understand it would be a noble goal, but the powerful California Teachers Assn., which has protected Proposition 98 with a fervor that the early Christians should have applied to the Holy Grail, would be unlikely to agree to reopen the subject. (In secret talks with Schwarzenegger aides in 2005, representatives of the teachers union offered ways to "smooth out" annual spikes in the Proposition 98 formula, but no agreement was ever reached.)

The union likes the formula precisely because it walls off education from some of the annual budget winds. And it is Proposition 98's very complexity that helps education officials defend it. How do you build a better mousetrap when you can't understand how the current mousetrap works?

In fact, the state would be in big trouble if Mockler, Proposition 98's author, is ever so selfish as to die. Perhaps some public-spirited rich person could sponsor a ballot initiative that would require Mockler, who turns 67 later this year, to live forever.

California will need him. Like it or not, Proposition 98 will have a long future.

• Joe Mathews, a contributing writer for Opinion, is an Irvine senior fellow at the New America Foundation.

San Pedro Science Center: FADED, BUT NOT FORGOTTEN
By Melissa Pamer, Daily Breeze Staff Writer

7/8/08 - A year after the San Pedro Science Center was saved from the threat of closure, waist-high weeds choke the facility's orchards. Work on the once-productive vegetable garden has been abandoned and the farm-like center has a forlorn feel.

One of dozens of animals at the Los Angeles Unified School District educational facility, a 500-pound sow known as Ophelia grunted eagerly at the sight of a recent visitor. The pig took shelter from the sun under a makeshift covering the district can't afford to replace with a permanent structure.

"It's technically open," said former science adviser John Zavalney of the 3 1/2 acre facility, which has provided a hands-on learning experience to students for more than four decades but has seen a decline in recent years.

"Maintenance is an issue," he said, standing amid the overgrowth near a stand of pomegranate trees at the center, which is in a residential neighborhood of northwest San Pedro.

Zavalney was one of two advisers based at the site who regularly led student field trips until district budget cuts forced the elimination of both positions last summer. An animal enthusiast who taught students for more than 20 years in a classroom called "The Zoo," Zavalney was transferred to a local district office where he worked largely on teacher training.

Since last August, the center's collection of bungalows and storage facilities has been run by four science technicians who haven't been able to

adequately maintain the grounds, Zavalney said. Teachers who came by for field trips in the past year, he said, had to guide their own site tours without the benefit of the two educational advisers who know about the animals, which range from a 32-year-old Shetland pony to a variety of exotic and rare reptiles.

But, with Zavalney as the center's champion, it looks like things are about to change.

Zavalney, who plans to return in the fall as a staff educator at the facility, is refining a plan to remake the site as an environmental education center for students and the broader community.

The proposal includes a "smart garden" and composting site, a "green" demonstration house, an amphitheater, an American Indian cultural area, a new barn and a facility for the many rescued animals at the center.

"This is it; this is my dream," Zavalney said. "I just know it's going to happen."

Though Zavalney's plan for the center - to be renamed the Center for Sustainability, Environmental Education and Service Learning - has the backing of district officials, it's still not clear where the money would come from.

Last year, the loss of a multimillion-dollar grant from the National Science Foundation forced the district to close all but two of its science centers, which once numbered 12. And on June 24, the board passed a tight budget that accounted for $350 million in expected state funding cuts - leaving little room to increase funding for the San Pedro center.

Zavalney's own return to the facility is being funded by an outside grant from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

"It's a start," said school board member Richard Vladovic of the initial funding.

Since his election last year, Vladovic - who represents the Harbor Area, along with Carson, Gardena and Lomita - has been an enthusiastic backer of the center. He said he endorsed Zavalney's efforts and hoped for a state-of-the-art facility.

"I want an environmentally sustainable center where kids know how we're going to have to live in the 21st century to survive," said Vladovic, who lives one block from the center. "You can't learn that in the classroom. You need that science experience."

Vladovic, Zavalney and school officials foresee the district obtaining financial backing from local corporations and nonprofit environmental groups. Otherwise, money to complete the transformation would have to come from a new bond measure - or from a board vote to transfer funds from another district pot of money, Vladovic said.

The effort is in line with a state mandate to increase environmental education in public schools - and it is within the scope of work of a new district committee dedicated to sustainability, Zavalney said. A curriculum for the state's Education and the Environment Initiative, the product of 2003 and 2005 legislation, is in development and should be completed by 2010.

"We want to be ahead of that and start teaching now," Zavalney said.

If realized, the effort would end a period of neglect for the San Pedro Science Center, which district officials said had its heyday in the 1960s and 1970s.

A 2006 outside evaluation of the site - along with other, now-closed science centers - stated the San Pedro site "lacks the adequate funding necessary to leverage the educational power of the facility."

The report, issued by IBM under a contract with the district, called the San Pedro center "the `jewel' of the LAUSD science program" and stated, "No other such science facility exists in urban public education."

Todd Ullah, the district's director of secondary science programs, said "dramatic" cuts were responsible for the center's decline.

"It's unfortunate that due to budget constraints you can't always do it all," Ullah said.

Getting Zavalney back at the site - and bringing in more children for field trips - is crucial for getting outside support for the plan, which should take about five years to realize fully, Ullah said. The agreement between the DWP and LAUSD that will fund Zavalney's job should be approved soon, he said.

District officials met Thursday with Zavalney at the center and discussed making the site's existing structures more environmentally friendly and reducing energy consumption - a first phase of the plan. Representatives of a regional environmental education group and urban forest advocacy nonprofit TreePeople were there as well.

Over the summer, the site will be prepared for the October groundbreaking of Los Angeles County's smart gardening and compost demonstration site, which is moving from the South Coast Botanic Garden on the Palos Verdes Peninsula.

As for Zavalney, a gleam in his eyes shows he's ready for his brainchild to begin taking shape.

"I never turned my keys in," Zavalney said last Tuesday, opening the door to a bungalow library full of slides of tiny baby octopuses and other sea creatures.

"I knew I was coming back."

►STELLAR LAUSD GRADUATES TELL THEIR STORIES – Some students overcame addiction, financial issues and family problems on their way to becoming standouts.

by Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

July 7, 2008 — Nick Perle did not seem destined to be among a group of honored graduates selected to address the school board. Most of his life, he'd been headed down a different path -- at age 8, he started using drugs to escape the pain of physical abuse and his parents' divorce. He passed out during classes in high school, if he bothered to show up at all.

But there he was last week sitting with the stellar students, marveling at their accomplishments.

Irresistibly, the student narratives began to overshadow official business at the downtown headquarters of the Los Angeles Unified School District. That business was accomplished with the election of Monica Garcia to a second one-year term as board president.

Then the students told their tales.

Deara Okonkwo, 17, disclosed that she was graduating not from high school, but from the University of Southern California with a major in English and a minor in psychology. (She had graduated from Middle College High in South L.A. at 14.) She also teaches dance and manages a dance group. She's headed to graduate school at USC. She intends someday to be the U.S. secretary of education.

Honors student Kelvin Batiste, 18, hadn't been sure he'd be included in graduation ceremonies at Hollywood High.

Family problems had caused him to move to Lancaster for three months of his senior year, separating him from his friends in the Performing Arts Magnet at Hollywood High.

His mother, Veronica Batiste, recounted in an e-mail how she and her son had experienced periods of homelessness as he grew up.

The day before graduation, Kelvin finally got word that his paperwork was in order. An aspiring actor, he plans to start at Cal State Northridge and hopes to transfer to New York University to major in theater.

"I can actually make it out of the ghetto and become something," he told the school board.

San Pedro High grad Gabriela Lopez, 18, proudly noted that she'd never missed or even arrived late for school. Her mother has worked serving food in the school cafeteria for the last decade or so.

Outside school, the honors student started a dance troupe. She also volunteers at a senior center and as a church youth leader. Her goal is to become a heart surgeon or a forensic anthropologist, which, as she explained, is someone who identifies corpses.

Maybe later she'll run for the U.S. Senate. The first in her family to attend college, Lopez will start at El Camino College in Torrance and transfer, she hopes, to USC.

And on it went. About a dozen students spoke. Board President Garcia acknowledged the parents' roles in these success stories. She also called attention to the many students who failed to graduate. More than half drop out in L.A. Unified.

Nick Perle had been headed that way.

He started smoking marijuana daily at age 8, pinching the drugs from his older brother, who, he said, also was self-medicating to cope with an abusive father and other family problems. His father died when Perlewas 10. After that, he started popping pills initially prescribed to treat panic attacks. He discovered Xanax, Vicodin, OxyContin and more.

He had no friends, no interests. But he would hang out with rappers, rockers -- it didn't matter: "I was kind of like a chameleon, blending into any environment, whatever I had to be to get loaded," he said. "I didn't know who I was."

In class, he usually did just enough to get by. By his second year of high school, his grade point average was 0.68; his credits left him mired in ninth grade. He got kicked out of one public high school.

Perle said he was physically abused again at a private boarding school in Arizona, but his mother promised him quick passage home if he earned good grades.

He did. And July 2, 2004, was the last day he used drugs.

Perle enrolled at Thoreau High in Woodland Hills, a nontraditional "continuation" school for students who have not thrived elsewhere.

By the time he graduated at 19, his GPA had soared to 3.86. And he was selected to speak before 4,000 people at a June ceremony at Palisades High.

"I'm grateful that I was able to deliver the speech in front of my peers," he said, "because gratitude without expression is like wrapping a gift and not giving it."

He told them that "a boy does what he wants to do, and a man does what he needs to do."

At the school board meeting, he spoke about Thoreau High and its 12-step program for overcoming addiction, about its caring teachers and about students who look out for one another. It was a place where he never saw a fistfight.

He found out that he liked basketball, writing, movies and spending time with family and friends.

And he deepened bonds with his brother, who also achieved sobriety, and his mother.

During the first Thoreau back-to-school night, "I didn't have this feeling of impending doom with my mom walking into the school, because I was doing great," he said. Later on, "people clapped when I got an award, which was completely new to me."

He plans to attend Pierce College and become a counselor who helps addicts.

Amid this collection of superstar students, it was Nick Perle who brought all the adults, transfixed, to their feet, some with tears in their eyes.



by Connie Llanos, Staff Writer | LA Daily News

07/06/2008 - NORTH HOLLYWOOD - It's 10 minutes into the school day and Rosalba Manrique is already shouting.

With 600 sets of eyes staring back at her during a Monday morning assembly, the petite and usually soft-spoken principal is hammering home a crucial lesson.

Asking her pupils about the school they attend, she is not satisfied when they simply answer in unison: "Fair Avenue Elementary."

"How come you stopped saying the second part?" Manrique yells. "You go to Fair Avenue - a Distinguished School.

"You are distinguished students. ... You cannot forget that!"

For Manrique, the state's Distinguished School award, given to only a handful of the most-improved schools every year, is more than a label. It's one of the tools she uses to prove to pupils that their personal circumstances won't hold them back.

Like many schools in Los Angeles Unified, the vast majority of Fair Avenue pupils are from low-income, minority families in which little English is spoken. But unlike most other schools, Fair Avenue has found a way to thrive and fuel success.

In the past nine years, its pupils have increased their achievement on statewide test scores by 30 percent.

And English-language learners at Fair now score about 25 percent higher than the average English-language learners in LAUSD.

That achievement has propelled Fair Avenue from languishing among the bottom 20 percent of all schools in California to climbing to the top 40 percent.

Making the shift hasn't been easy, however. It began under a former principal and has continued under Manrique for the last five years.

Key to the change is an attitude instilled by both principals that teachers and staff should not allow their pupils' challenging backgrounds to serve as excuses for faltering achievement.

"Yes, we have families that are homeless, that live in a garage, parents that cannot help their kids with homework because they cannot read or write," Manrique said.

"Those are our challenges, but we simply have to face them and do whatever it takes to help our children succeed."

Just 15 years ago, Fair Avenue was a very different place.

In a community bordered by porn shops, strip clubs and warehouses, its pupils were among the lowest performing in the northeast San Fernando Valley.

Maxine Matlin, now a district administrator, became the school's principal in 1994.

One of her first tasks was to show all fourth-grade teachers that their pupils' test scores fell at the bottom of fourth-grade classes in the area.

"The funny thing is people knew they were struggling, but there was a belief that there was nothing they could do about it," Matlin said.

So Matlin redirected the instructional program to reinforce core subjects like reading, writing and math.

Her next task was how to get parents involved. Planting grass was the answer.

Already, several attempts to grow greenery on the school's barren front lawn had failed, and everyone told Matlin she couldn't do it.

"They had to visually see you were willing to work," she said. "It took three tries but by the end of it I had fathers who were gardeners mowing the lawn and painters painting the front of the school ... everyone got involved."

Turning the school around took a lot of effort - at times 18-hour days and seven-day workweeks. Not everyone signed on for that, and Matlin lost a few teachers, but the ones who remained believed in the school's new mission.

Today, Manrique - who took over from Matlin in 2003 - credits the hard work by teachers and staff with continuing the turnaround.

Many arrive at school early and stay late to tutor students for free after school or visit them at home.

Parents credit the school's office workers, who often serve as part-time counselors.

And teachers credit parents' involvement, and tireless administrators who often work evenings and weekends.

In a recent surprise visit, LAUSD Deputy Superintendent Ray Cortines said he sensed an unusual energy at the school.

"When you have been doing this as long as I have, you can walk onto a campus and feel the pulse," Cortines said. "I feel it here, and it feels good."

And as schools districtwide look for ways to turn around sagging student test scores, Fair Avenue's transformation is proof that change is possible.

"The successes and challenges that this school is facing are the same as the ones that the state of California faces as a whole," said Mary Perry, deputy director of education research organization EdSource.

In a recent study EdSource found disparities in academic performance among students who are poor or don't know English on most campuses statewide.

"They are defying the odds."

Jessika Monroy's little white Mary Janes swing back and forth over the peeling linoleum floor of her bare-walled kitchen as her mother watches in amazement.

The 6-year-old Fair Avenue kindergartner is not distracted by the Spanish chatter that can be heard through the thin walls of her one-bedroom North Hollywood apartment.

And she is unfazed by the loud honking from the crowded street below as she sits at a poker table usually used for dining but that today will be her desk.

Maria Marcela Monroy sits close by on the mattress that she uses as a sofa. She tries to help her daughter with her homework, but can't.

"Ay mami, tu no sabes," Jessika tells her mother.

Nine months ago Jessika spoke no English and had trouble writing her name. Her mother speaks no English and has little more than an elementary education.

But on this day, writing a short story for homework comes to Jessika with ease.

"Writing is my favorite," the hazel-eyed girl says.

Exhausted from her shift at a drum factory that started at 6 a.m., Maria Marcela wishes she could help her daughter.

But knowing that Jessika is at Fair Avenue is a great relief.

"We want her to have everything we didn't have."

The next day, Jessika sits in Classroom No. 14, tiny pencil flying along the paper as she mouths along to every word from teacher Leticia Escamilla.

Like Jessika, most of her classmates started at Fair Avenue nine months ago speaking almost no English. Today they are eagerly working on a story about butterflies.

"What kind of butterflies should our story have?" Escamilla asks in English.

Twenty little arms shoot up instantly.

"Blue butterflies," one boy shouts.

"Beautiful ones," a pig-tailed girl offers.

"Can they be enormous?" Jessika asks.

Escamilla walks by each knee-high desk to make sure her pupils spell their words correctly.

"Yes mijos, very good," she says. "English is tricky, but we won't let it trick us here."

As a mother of seven and an East Valley native, Escamilla understands their challenges.

After working at five schools in three districts - and almost every time being disappointed by a lack of effort to improve student achievement - Escamilla sought a position at Fair Avenue last year because of the school's reputation.

She knew she'd made the right decision when she was encouraged to visit her kindergartners' homes.

"It has been like an adrenaline surge," she said.

The familial vibe at Fair Avenue has made a world of a difference to Griselda Mesa.

Before transferring her two children to Fair Avenue, she felt intimidated and ignored by other schools' staffs. When her oldest daughter's grades began to slip, Mesa struggled for weeks to get a meeting with an administrator.

But at Fair Avenue, all Mesa had to do was ask and her daughter was assessed and put into special-education classes.

"I have seen the changes in my children," Mesa said in Spanish. "It is because of the teachers and the principal. You know they care."

That hard work by teachers and staff has led the community to view Fair Avenue as a neighborhood center.

The school's parent center is a hangout for stay-at-home mothers and even a few fathers. With strollers in tow, parents begin arriving at the center's bungalow minutes after dropping off their older children.

They sip coffee and eat pan dulce. Later they learn about nutrition, parenting and homework tips. At night the center reopens for parents taking English classes.

As he looks outside the doorway of his fourth-grade classroom, Rafael Ortiz can see the changes in his community.

A teacher at Fair Avenue for a dozen years, he has noticed pupils come to his class better prepared and teachers are enthusiastic. During this day's open house it's apparent more parents are involved.

"I don't know about other schools, but I don't understand why they are not raising their scores. It is obviously possible."

Inside Ortiz's classroom, conversation is constantly buzzing. From science to grammar, nearly all of Ortiz's lessons involve a discussion that later leads to reading and writing.

For Ashley Quezada - who two years ago was at risk of flunking at a different school - the teaching style is demanding.

"But it's fun here," she said.

Ortiz spends several afternoons a week tutoring and gives up his summer vacations to teach remedial classes.

He also often is in his classroom past 5 p.m. preparing lesson plans for the next day or listening to students vent about issues outside of school.

"I do get drained - mentally and emotionally. You are not only a teacher, you are a counselor, a psychologist, a father and an uncle," Ortiz said.

But in the classroom Ortiz is rewarded for his efforts.

At the end of a grammar discussion Ortiz calls on 10-year-old Gamaliel Martinez to name a rule of quotations.

The boy's first attempt is filled with stutters laced with a heavy accent. Ortiz moves on to other pupils, but he later returns to Gamaliel.

This time, Gamaliel's face lights up as he answers.

"Punctuation goes inside the quotes," Gamaliel says shyly.

"Good," Ortiz says matter-of-factly to the nervous boy.

After his pupils leave for lunch, Ortiz's pride can be seen in his face.

"They know we care," he said. "I think that makes a difference."

Like her predecessor, Manrique works long days, often starting at 6 a.m. to get ahead on paperwork. She has also been known to make early-morning visits to pupils who are habitually late or absent.

The early start frees her to make frequent classroom visits, to observe teachers who are doing well and offer pointers to those she feels are lagging.

The day doesn't end for her until after 6 p.m.

Not everyone is a fan of Manrique's relentless drive.

Roberto Garcia, a teacher at Fair Avenue and a representative of the teachers union, said Manrique can be too hard on teachers.

He said some teachers, who have been struggling with a class or a group of students, have complained about Manrique's frequent classroom visits.

"Her tactics border on harassment, and we have lost a lot of good teachers recently," Garcia said.

But Manrique makes no apologies.

"If I see that a teacher is not doing their job I am going to visit them, send coaches to their classroom," Manrique said.

"We do whatever it takes."

For the principal, Fair Avenue is more than just a school. It is a community.

"What makes us unique is that we are not just an entity where we teach kids how to read, write and do math," Manrique says.

"But we are a group of hardworking teachers devoted to children. We want the best for them and we have a community that works with us."

HIGHLIGHTS, LOWLIGHTS & THE NEWS THAT DOESN'T FIT: The Rest of the Stories from Other Sources
CHARTER SCHOOL BATTLE IN L.A.: growing demand for charter space draws community resistance.

California education officials set a high bar Wednesday: All eighth-grade students will be tested in algebra.

COMMUNITIES IN SCHOOLS: New Data on What Works to Reduce Dropout Rates (Web Conference July 30)

voters’ concerns about rising gas prices and the sagging economy trump education as a campaign issue




FRACASO EN ESCUELA ES PREOCUPACIƓN MUNDIAL: Culpan a profesores pocos capacitados y a padres sobreprotectores


…but 4LAKids wonders about the grades for Work Habits and Cooperation.


Failing core classes in middle school never kept Florida students from moving on to high school. Until now.


DISRUPTIVE INNOVATION: Changing the way we learn.

Last year, Gov. Schwarzenegger proposed 500 new school clinics. The plan, however, was killed by budget problems.

SAVE D.C.'s VOUCHERS: by Margaret Spellings in the Washington Post
The U.S. Secretary of Education appeals to save a program that uses public money to fund private and parochial education.


DOLORES STREET SHOWDOWN + DOLORES PRINCIPAL AND AALA DEFENDS RECORD - Unions, teachers and parents battle over future of Carson elementary principal

UPSIDE/DOWNSIDE: California's fiscal woes largely of its own making + Rebuilding voters' trust is Job 1 in Sacramento

LAUSD offers regulatory help to charter schools - already exempted from the Earthquake Safety Field Act - by exempting them from city and county zoning ordinances.


FIXING OUR SCHOOLS: A ten step plan for reinventing US education

Business as usual is simply not working when it comes to education funding.

GO TO: The news that doesn't fit for July 13th.

EVENTS: Coming up next week...
*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 Tenth District PTSA and represents PTA as Vice-chair on the LAUSD Construction Bond Citizen's Oversight Committee. He is a Community Concerns Commissioner, Legislation Team member and a member of the Board of Managers of the California State PTA. He serves on various school district advisory and policy committees and is a PTA officer and/or governance council member at three LAUSD schools.
• 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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