To Close Achievement Gap, LAUSD Board Says No Must-Place Teachers At Struggling Schools

 Speak UP moms from Moms in Action Advocate for Close the Gap Resolution

Speak UP moms from Moms in Action Advocate for Close the Gap Resolution

LAUSD's lowest-performing schools will no longer be forced to accept "must-place" teachers against their will, as part of an ambitious “Close The Gap” resolution the Board passed Tuesday to help ensure that every student in LAUSD is prepared to meet state academic standards and qualify to attend a 4-year university.

The resolution, sponsored by Board President Monica Garcia (BD2) and championed by Communities for Los Angeles Student Success (CLASS), a coalition Speak UP is a part of that operates under the auspices of United Way, also takes significant steps to help English Language Learners by exempting kids in EL development classes from being stuck with a series of short-term substitutes when teachers take long leaves of absence, which disrupts consistent learning. It also called for Long-Term English learners and those at risk to participate in an individualized reclassification plan, similar to an IEP for kids with special needs, to be sure they meet certain benchmarks. 

Speak UP member and Moms in Action Founder Mary Najera, however, called for the Board to follow through with added accountability. “How are we going to make sure these goals are met, and what happens if they’re not?” asked the mom whose son was identified as gifted but who nevertheless graduated from an LAUSD middle school reading at a third grade level and only caught up after moving to a charter school. “It’s not enough just passing resolutions. We need to make sure our teachers and our schools really implement it. Change isn’t happening fast enough for our community.”

While debating the resolution, LAUSD Board Vice President Nick Melvoin (BD4) attempted to end the district policy forcing any school to accept must-place teachers that no one wants to hire.

“What is the purpose of not placing these teachers in the lowest-performing quartile [of schools]? The same logic would apply to all classrooms and all students,” Melvoin said. “I’d like to see us work to not have them in any schools.”

Melvoin’s effort ultimately fell short when Board members raised concerns about costs, but a revised version of the resolution did pass unanimously with watered-down language directing the superintendent to “work to eliminate the pool of teachers displaced one year or more via training, help with replacement or exit from the district.”

The district currently employs 708 displaced teachers, and 211 of them have been on the list for more than a year, according to LA School Report, which received the data Wednesday as part of a public records request.

 Speak UP moms ask LAUSD to reopen Pacific Blvd. for their older kids with severe needs

Speak UP moms ask LAUSD to reopen Pacific Blvd. for their older kids with severe needs

The debate over must-place teachers highlights how a Board widely billed as Kids First and reform-minded is nevertheless hesitant to make the tough choices necessary to put the interests of kids before the interests of adults. While Board members expressed concerns about the cost of paying out displaced teacher contracts, which Board Member Richard Vladovic (BD7) said smaller nearby schools district often do, every Board member except for Melvoin voted on Tuesday to ratify a new labor contract giving raises for all SEIU employees, which will cost the district $162.9 million. 

It’s clear the Board is more willing to spend big money benefitting adults rather than making the changes employee unions oppose that would benefit all kids. 

Perhaps in recognition that it might be picking winners and losers by making reforms such as more hiring flexibility apply only to certain schools, the Board scaled back the resolution’s ambitious goals of having 100 percent of students meet certain milestones, such as graduating eligible to attend a 4-year university. Instead, the language called for all students to be prepared to meet specific academic milestones such as reaching reading proficiency by the end of first grade.

The resolution also calls on the superintendent to strengthen LAUSD’s Parent and Community Services Division to go beyond complying with laws and to focus more on creating a “stronger school and home connection.”  

Vladovic, who was honored Tuesday with the renaming of Teacher Preparation Academy after him, said the real test would be whether LAUSD successfully implements both the Close the Gap resolution and the English Learner Master Plan, which also was presented to the Board Tuesday. That plan for the first time includes Standard English Learners, whose languages use English vocabulary but incorporate phonology and grammar rules from indigenous languages, such as African American, Native American and Hawaiian languages.

“We write great plans,” Vladovic said. “It’s the operational aspect that we tend to fall down on. We don’t follow through.”

 Speak UP mom Stacy Drageset advocates for transgender students

Speak UP mom Stacy Drageset advocates for transgender students

The Board passed another Speak UP-supported resolution Tuesday to help LGBTQ students by recognizing LGBTQ History Month, including LGBTQ students on textbook committees and by offering more sensitivity training at schools. Board Member Ref Rodriguez (BD5), who spearheaded the resolution, acknowledged the activism of Speak UP mom Gloria Rodriguez, who helped inspire the resolution and whose daughter spoke in favor of it Tuesday.

Speak UP mom Stacy Drageset also offered impassioned testimony thanking LAUSD for treating her transgender daughter with respect and for training the staff at her elementary school to support her, which increased “my daughter’s odds of surviving beyond 18,” she said. “Nevertheless, we realize this is not always the case in every LAUSD school. I have heard of teachers and staff not honoring a child’s transition-- not calling them their chosen name or treating them as ‘less than’ because they don’t conform to gender norms…These kids can spiral downward very quickly if they are not supported by their families, schools and communities.”  

Also at the meeting:

* The Board approved plans to open six new magnet schools in neighborhoods such as Boyle Heights and Sylmar, as well as nearly 30 new magnet centers, ranging from a gifted magnet at Orville Wright middle school in Westchester to a Social and Gender Equity magnet at Millikan middle school to firefighter and police academy magnets in West Adams.

* Melvoin took LAUSD’s leasing office to task for proposing massive fee increases to vendors leasing space on LAUSD campuses, including afterschool programs for kids and parent groups. “We have a lot of work and cleanup to do in leasing: short-term leases, long-term leases, parent fees, PTA fees, PTO fees,” he said. “I’ve heard in the 11 months I’ve been on the Board so often from parents and community providers and afterschool service providers and summer providers about how frustrated they are by our process.”

LAUSD was trying to charge a church $14,000 to run a five-day summer camp for homeless kids, and one vendor who runs a swap meet at Fairfax High was just slapped with a 2700 percent fee increase from $2,000 month to $55,000, Melvoin said. “The Board policy needs to change so that we can delineate between different functions and not charge our PTOs the same thing we would charge a private company trying to use a parking lot. We need transparency and clarity on this.”

* Vladovic apologized to parents from the parent group Parent Revolution and confirmed their complaints about the quality of “single plans” to turn around low-performing schools. District officials approved plans that were missing crucial information.