Sunday, October 12, 2008

Fearing fear itself

Sunday, Oct 12, 2008 Columbus Day/Dia de la Raza
In This Issue:
ARTS HIGH SCHOOL TO HAVE AUDITION PROCESS: Applicants at $232 Million Facility Will Undergo 'Exercises' For Skill, Interest Level
TURNING AROUND A TROUBLED URBAN SCHOOL DISTRICT: An Islander's (and former LAUSD principal's) Tale of Educational Leadership
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?

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Former Treasurer Secretary Lawrence Summers opined on one on the Sunday chat shows this AM that the current economic crisis was driven by "too much greed and not enough fear" on Wall Street.

In this winter of discontent - from Wall Street to Main Street to the Street Where You Live - and because the crisis is global, from The City to the High Street to the Village Green - we are all now afraid …very afraid!

We are in a confluence of crises. The economic collapse. The failure of the credit markets. The state budget crisis. The education funding crisis. The failure of political leadership. The failure of confidence. The rise and fall of test scores and API, AYP and GNP. The employment rate and the Dow Jones Industrial Average are all cycles at their perigees - to be tracked and graphed; the chart stretched on a drum like an antique seismometer: an endless loop of highs and lows.

Failure is the watchword and the platitude tells us Failure is Not an Option. The pretense of failure is merely one of Kipling's Imposters. Another of Edison's' ten thousand ways not to make a light bulb.

FDR - in a crisis drearer than this one - or more correctly "these ones" - warned that "we have nothing to fear but fear itself -- nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life, a leadership of frankness and of vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory."

I commend to you FDR's First Inaugural in its entirety, good words for these times because of Thucydides' maxim: "History repeats itself." …and Georges Santayana's corollary: "Those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it."

(Because there's always a snappy quote to justify any position [smf's first law of rhetoric] I also give you: "History does not repeat itself. The historians repeat one another." - Max Beerbohm)

To those who wonder why after a couple of weeks of bad news cycles and $700 billion in cash infused the crisis is not yet solved; why the DJIA is still below 10K, why everyone's mortgage hasn't been paid and why our property values aren't back to where they were a year or so ago (….and why aren't all kids reading @ grade level?) we must remember FDR (like Bush and Barack and McCain) did not have the answers on the election stump in '32 or on Day One in office — but he was relentlessly committed to trying all the tools 'till he found the ones that worked.


In The Reckoning: Taking Hard New Look at a Greenspan Legacy Peter S. Goodman wrote in the New York Times on Thursday:

"George Soros, the prominent financier, avoids using the financial contracts known as derivatives 'because we don’t really understand how they work.' Felix G. Rohatyn, the investment banker who saved New York from financial catastrophe in the 1970s, described derivatives as potential 'hydrogen bombs.'

"And Warren E. Buffett presciently observed five years ago that derivatives were 'financial weapons of mass destruction, carrying dangers that, while now latent, are potentially lethal.'

"One prominent financial figure, however, has long thought otherwise. And his views held the greatest sway in debates about the regulation and use of derivatives — exotic contracts that promised to protect investors from losses, thereby stimulating riskier practices that led to the financial crisis.

"For more than a decade, the former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan has fiercely objected whenever derivatives have come under scrutiny in Congress or on Wall Street.

"'What we have found over the years in the marketplace is that derivatives have been an extraordinarily useful vehicle to transfer risk from those who shouldn’t be taking it to those who are willing to and are capable of doing so,' Mr. Greenspan told the Senate Banking Committee in 2003. 'We think it would be a mistake' to more deeply regulate the contracts, he added.

The article continues:

"Mr. Greenspan warned that derivatives could amplify crises because they tied together the fortunes of many seemingly independent institutions.'The very efficiency that is involved here means that if a crisis were to occur, that that crisis is transmitted at a far faster pace and with some greater virulence,' he said.

"But he called that possibility 'extremely remote,' adding that 'risk is part of life.'"

Nobody likes hearing "I told you so", or "you were warned"- but Gentile Readers, there it is: The Smoking Gun.

I don't hold much with predestination or the inescapability of fate. But I do believe in the power of hubris - and that when human beings interfere with chaos it only makes the inevitable more chaotic.


This past week the state PTA leadership met to discuss the current mess, the previous mess and the mess to come. Against the backdrop of the past with our feet firmly planted in the current the consensus is the prospect of the future is not promising.

But the future is our children - and raising and educating kids is the most positive and hopeful thing a person, a family, a community or a society ever does. We have no option but to go forth and conquer. We must insist that the promises made are kept - even if they have already been broken.

We must know that we have nothing to fear but fear itself – and we must be unafraid.

¡Onward/Hasta adelante! - smf


There was a ribbon cutting in Hollywood for a new but long overdue high school last week - a school named in honor of UTLA leader and education activist Helen Bernstein.

I didn't know Helen but I know a lot of people who did. She was of a tradition of change agent/troublemaker/adult activists from Marshall High School (we know who we are). I would like to have known Helen - though I doubt if we would have agreed-with or even liked each other 100% of the time. As others have pointed out who knew her: Helen knew the difference between transforming education and reforming and-endlessly-re-reforming it …and I doubt if she would have had much semantic patience with "innovating" it either.

Speakers at the ribbon cutting - from the mayor, the current UTLA president, the superintendent to the school board member - all tried to wrap themselves in Bernstein's legacy - and almost universally they missed the point.

To quote Bernstein: "They just don't get it."

We can reform and innovate and legislate and reconfigure and decentralize 'till Kingdom Come; we can test and standardize and scaffold and debate the pedagogy — nothing trumps education in the classroom. Nothing replaces the connection between the student and the teacher. All the rest are just condiments on the relish tray. - smf

The Reckoning: Taking Hard New Look at a Greenspan Legacy by Peter S. Goodman - New York Times [Oct 9, 2008]

ARTS HIGH SCHOOL TO HAVE AUDITION PROCESS: Applicants at $232 Million Facility Will Undergo 'Exercises' For Skill, Interest Level
by Ryan Vaillancourt | Los Angeles Downtown News.

October 13, 2008 - DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - As construction crews put the finishing touches on the High School for the Visual and Performing Arts, Los Angeles Unified School District officials are beginning to craft a unique policy regarding which students will get to attend the $232 million facility.

Once envisioned by philanthropist Eli Broad - whose foundation has given $5 million to the project - as a school for the city's most talented young artists, the school instead will cater primarily to the low-income students who live in the surrounding communities.

While the district will not employ a strict audition process, it will give priority to students with demonstrable talent, or potential, in the arts, said Richard Alonzo, superintendent of Local District 4 and the top LAUSD official overseeing the school.

Unlike the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts at Cal State L.A., which utilizes a highly selective audition process to find the county's most talented students, those who enroll at the campus at 450 N. Grand Ave. will have had little exposure to the art world, Alonzo said.

"These parents don't have the social capital to have their children take piano lessons or take them to art classes and have special instruction, which doesn't mean that they don't have the talent or the desire or the motivation to become artists and singers and actors and dancers," Alonzo said. "We say those same world-class students exist, but kind of like diamonds in the rough in our neighborhood."

Incoming freshmen, sophomores and juniors - the district will forego a senior class in the school's first year, which begins in fall 2009 - will have to demonstrate talent, or proven potential and interest, to be accepted, he said. Starting this spring, the LAUSD will host a series of weekend "recruitment fairs" that will allow families to learn about the school and let potential students participate in informal evaluations, he said.

The events will be open to students from across the LAUSD, as 30% of the school's 1,700 seats are reserved for children who live outside the school's feeder district, known as the Belmont Zone of Choice.

Details regarding the selection process have not yet been finalized, but Alonzo said the district is working with art teachers and professionals to develop rubrics to determine a student's fit for one of the school's four academies: visual arts, drama, music and dance.

"The students will go through various exercises, so for those interested in dance we'll have dance classes so we can see if students have the right posture or bone structure to be able to be dancers, or a child interested in art, we'll have them make drawings," he said.

The LAUSD is also reaching out to middle school arts teachers in the feeder district to help identify students who would be a good fit for the new school, Alonzo said.

For now, Alonzo stressed that the selection process will not be highly competitive. But he said that could change.

"The audition will be evolutionary and progressive as the school begins to develop a reputation," he said. "We hope that in the future we'll also be able to develop an audition process that will be fair to all kids and won't be determined solely on economics and what parents are able to offer their children."


The enrollment process at the High School for the Visual and Performing Arts will differ from that at three other nearby high schools: Belmont High School, the Miguel Contreras Learning Complex and the Edward R. Roybal Learning Center.

Those schools, which currently comprise the Belmont Zone of Choice, are divided into specialized academies. The 15 academies within the three institutions focus on areas such as engineering or social justice.

To get into one of those academies, students merely have to indicate interest, Alonzo said. He added that 60% of students attend their top choice, and 75% of students get into their first, second or third selections.

While the enrollment process at the High School for the Visual and Performing Arts will differ from the others - given the consideration for existing talent - it is still striving toward the same goal of giving students choice, said Maria Casillas, president of the nonprofit Families in Schools and a member of Discovering the Arts, an advisory board helping the district develop the new school.

"Compared to the evaluation rubric that they're currently using at the other schools, like the social justice school, it should be somewhat similar except the arts are more applied," Casillas said. "At the end of the day, it's all about giving students and parents choices."

In addition to developing the rubrics to evaluate potential students, the district is reviewing 26 candidates for the school's principal position, which will have a major role in developing its arts curriculum, Alonzo said. Officials hope to select a principal by the end of the month, he said.

TURNING AROUND A TROUBLED URBAN SCHOOL DISTRICT: An Islander's (and former LAUSD principal's) Tale of Educational Leadership
Lynwood Unified School District Press Release

LYNWOOD, Calif., Oct 10, 2008 /PRNewswire via COMTEX/ -- When Dr. Dhyan Lal first arrived at Lynwood Unified School District in 2004, all the public schools in this small, urban, working-class city of largely Mexican immigrants were struggling to meet statewide standards. While a score of 800 was considered "meeting standards" by the California Department of Education, nearly every Lynwood school was showing Academic Performance Index scores in the 500's and low 600's.

Many campuses were overcrowded and in disrepair, and there were no computers in most classrooms. The dropout rate was high and climbing. Less than 20 percent of juniors were able to pass the state's high school exit exams. The district was finding it increasingly difficult to recruit and retain qualified teachers because salaries were low and staff morale was dismal.

"Many urban schools were failing our children," said Kamal Hamdan, Transition to Teaching Director in the College of Education at Cal State Dominguez Hills. The College of Education professor had worked with Dr. Lal to bring qualified teachers to a Los Angeles high school, and said he knew that when he heard Dr. Lal was heading to Lynwood, that things were about to change radically there.

A few years earlier, Principal Lal had turned around one of Los Angeles' most troubled schools -- Jordan High in Watts. "I had seen Dr. Lal perform miracles at Jordan, and I knew he could do the same for schools in Lynwood," said Hamdan. During three years under Dr. Lal's leadership, Jordan High quadrupled the number of students it graduated and 80 percent of its graduates went on to post-secondary education.

Now, four years after Dr. Lal took the helm of Lynwood Unified School District, the picture is very different -- and the controversial superintendent is turning skeptics into believers and garnering attention from leading educators and organizations nationwide.

Four new schools that opened in 2005 have not only alleviated overcrowding, but brought new excitement and hope to the community. Today, every classroom in the district's 18 schools has at least four new computers, and tens of millions of dollars have been invested to modernize and repair aging schools.

Firebaugh High became the first in the district to qualify for the International Baccalaureate program, making it one of only 10 schools in Los Angeles County to offer a global curriculum that prepares graduates for the most prestigious universities in the world.

Another new school, Cesar Chavez Middle, beat out more than a dozen schools in well-heeled neighborhoods in Orange County in an academic pentathlon contest last year. Teacher retention is up, in part because a new $12 million, five-year federal grant gives teachers and administrators bonuses for increasing student achievement. There's been a significant increase in high school exit exam pass rates. Virtually every school has shown measurable, and sometimes dramatic improvements in student achievement.

Lynwood had its first Blue Ribbon No Child Left Behind nomination this year and district-wide, Lynwood schools gained 66 points on the API Index from 2004-2008, compared to only 47 points in the same time period for all schools in Los Angeles County and 53 points statewide. Lynwood advanced 22 points from 2007-2008, nearly doubling the gains seen in neighboring Bellflower and Long Beach District schools.

"Our latest API numbers indicate that our transition over the last few years to a managed curriculum and use of data-driven instruction is really paying off," said Dr. Lal. "This is especially significant for our secondary schools, where we had positive gains across the board."

To improve teaching and learning, Dr. Lal has led the district in competing for and winning more than $20 million in public and private grants that help attract, train and incent the best teachers and administrators. But the numbers don't tell the entire story. "I believe that every student can achieve -- and it's my mission to instill that attitude in principals, teachers, parents and students themselves," Dr. Lal said.

Many supporters of Dr. Lal attribute his extraordinary leadership skills to the difficult odds he's overcome personally in his life. Born in a tiny fishing village in the South Pacific Fiji Islands, he was adopted at age 13 by an American family from Glendale, California. The dark-skinned boy who didn't know English was ostracized and emotionally battered in the all-white community that banned home ownership by people of color.

Through sheer determination and courage, Lal became a successful teacher, earning not only a bachelor's degree, but also two master degrees and a doctorate in educational leadership, all the while helping to support his impoverished family in Fiji. In his 2005 autobiography, Island Boy, he expressed his profound gratitude not only to Leonard Howard De Caux, who brought him to America, but also to his father, Uttam Lal, whose vision of his son obtaining a good education and a better life has come true.

Besides giving generously from his wallet and from his heart to troubled students he got to know personally, Dr. Lal has collaborated with the Los Angeles Police Department to develop a college scholarship program for at-risk students. To date, Operation Progress has awarded more than $250,000 to 30 graduates of underperforming schools in Los Angeles and Boston.

"I knew that if I could succeed (against all odds), anything is possible," said Dr. Lal. "I also know that every child in Lynwood can succeed, if the adults in our community believe in them and work to support them."

OpEd by Tamar Galatzan in LA CityWatch

Oct 10, 2008 - The most fulfilling aspect of being a member of the Los Angeles School Board is the opportunity to help a school maneuver around (and sometimes over) government bureaucracies. In the past year, we’ve been able to do some small things, including getting DVD players and outside lighting, and tackle some bigger projects, such as keeping the Limerick Elementary School library on track.

So, when a handful of schools in my district began asking why they were not allowed to have solar energy projects on their school site, my staff and I started digging.

What we discovered was a 10-year supply contract with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power that provided supply discounts but drastically limited solar energy or any other alternative energy project on District property in the area covered by the DWP.

The contract was set to expire on the 30th of last month so after discussing the issue with our Facilities department, I asked for a meeting with DWP to discuss the District’s need for alternative energy flexibility.

This column does not allow me the space to explain why the meeting never took place.

Let’s just say it wasn’t for lack of trying. For the past few months, I’ve been asking Facilities to keep me in the loop on negotiations with DWP. I even drafted a solar energy resolution in case that was necessary.

As September came to a close, Guy Mehula, the District’s Chief Facilities Executive, informed me that DWP had cancelled all of the meetings with LAUSD regarding the contract. Finally, on Tuesday, September 30, LAUSD and DWP sat down for their first contract negotiations. The date the contract expired.

The District proposed a mutually beneficial partnership through renewable and energy efficiency programs that will assist DWP in meeting its ambitious objectives.

In the spirit of leaving a cleaner environment for our children, let’s hope that LAUSD and DWP sign a new contract that preserves slightly reduced rates and encourages energy efficiencies.

● Tamar Galatzan represents District 3 in the north Valley on the LAUSD School Board. She is also a Deputy City Attorney and as such is an employee of the City of Los Angeles of which the DWP is a department)

Also see: DWP’s Greatest Ripoff/The $equel: LAUSD TO PAY DWP MILLIONS MORE AS DISCOUNT ENDS + a blast from the past

HIGHLIGHTS, LOWLIGHTS & THE NEWS THAT DOESN'T FIT: The Rest of the Stories from Other Sources
10/13/2008 - Educational institutions are responsible for creating by far the largest number of construction projects in the Valley. Below, the Business Journal provides a roundup of education-based construction projects in the area —elementary, middle and high schools and community colleges. While the projects differ in scope, the common thread is that they are each part of a renaissance of sorts in education-based construction in the area. In many cases, the projects mark the first time Valley schools will be equipped with the types of facilities needed to transform their grounds into first rate campuses.


2008-10-06 -- The letter that governor Arnold Schwarzenegger sent to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, requesting $7 billion a federal loan has surprised more than one school district, not because of insufficient funds but as a result of the way these measures were taken in Sacramento.

Some education analysts have started to point out the California must immediately embark on a profound reform in terms of education, if the golden state wants to guarantee increases in academic achievement and prepare for students for college.
Although in the last years some changes have been implemented, like the advent of a new database system, hiring quality educators and providing flexibility to schools, these are but some of the key issues that according to experts, must still become aligned.

New West Charter Middle School (New West), a high-performing charter public school in West Los Angeles, was victorious in a court ruling Friday, when the court ruled that Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) had violated the law after the school district denied New West students their legal right to classrooms under Proposition 39. The court ordered LAUSD to provide space for 285 students at Fairfax High School or another acceptable school facility in conformity with Proposition 39 by October 8, 2008.

Congress has approved a $700 billion plan aimed at stabilizing credit markets that also included an authorization of long-sought funds for rural school districts.
• The financial rescue package also includes an extension for two years of the Qualified Zone Academy Bond program, which provides $400 million a year in tax credits to holders of bonds used for school renovation and repair projects and certain other school costs. The credits are meant to cover the costs of interest on the bonds.
•And the bill includes a two-year extension of a $250 income-tax credit to help teachers purchase books and other supplies for their classrooms. Without the extension, both the school construction and teacher tax provisions will expire at the end of 2008.

It's been two weeks, since 12-year-old Mercedes Hearn became the innocent victim of a gang related shooting. She spoke out about the suspects that shot her and delivered a sobering message about school safety on Friday.
Mercedes Hearn, 12, is still recovering after suffering three gunshot wounds. She was shot twice in the leg and once in the chest.
"I feel as if they should of never shot me. I am not a gang banger -- none of that. I stay in the house. I do not even know the people that shot me," said Hearn.

October 6, 2008 -- Los Angeles school officials are starting over on a high school project in Maywood because the preferred site is so contaminated by industrial chemicals that it would cost at least $22 million to clean up, which would delay construction by as much as six years.
The cancellation, announced last week, means that the Los Angeles Unified School District will be forced to break its long-standing pledge to take all schools off year-round operation by 2012.

The news that didn't fit from Oct 12

EVENTS: Coming up next week...
Saturday Oct 18, 2008
Ceremony will begin at 9:00 a.m.
Edward R. Roybal Learning Center
1200 W. Colton St.
Los Angeles, CA 90026
*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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