Building a Future for the Children

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TyAnthony Davis and Devon Carr are two attorneys who are working toward opening charter schools in Los Angeles.  They have similar educational backgrounds where they beat the odds to become successful.

Both men had brothers and sisters at home who, denied the same opportunities, fell further and further behind. Each understood the crucial lever that flipped was the expectation in their new schools that they could and would achieve. Juris doctor degrees in hand, they were positioned for careers ripe with paychecks and prestige.

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Taking a Knee for Students

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The achievement gap between majority students and underrepresented students still looms in California.  Education leaders must continue to make noise and shake things up to draw attention to the lack of equity.

"In our governor’s eyes, it seems the state’s enormous racial and economic gaps in education don’t require closing because California needs a permanent underclass to fuel the economy."

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Promoting Inclusion at Hosler Middle School

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Hosler Middle School special education students, showing compassion and empathy for victims devastated by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, spent the month of September collecting jars of peanut butter to donate to local food banks as part of Feeding America’s Hunger Action month. A portion of the donations will go to areas affected by the hurricanes.

My Buddy Club, which consists of 22 Hosler seventh-grade students with special needs, partnered with The Cheesecake Factory in Cerritos to reach out to the Lynwood community and ultimately raised 875 jars of peanut butter.

“I could not be prouder of the students who have so graciously given their time to help others in need,” Hosler seventh-grade Special Day Class teacher and food drive coordinator Brenda Miramontes said. “The objective of My Buddy Club is to create an atmosphere of awareness, kindness, social responsibility and friendship. This has been an empowering experience for our students.”

A special ceremony was held on Sept. 29 to commemorate the food drive and tally the final jars of peanut butter donated. Throughout September, Hosler students who made contributions received free snow-cones at lunch.

“I feel very good about giving back to the people in need,” Hosler student Adrian E. Ruiz said. “It makes me feel good to be in this club.”

My Buddy Club was created as a way to encourage students with special needs to integrate into the general education population and gives them a place to meet and hang out with new friends. It was started by Miramontes, fellow seventh-grade SDC teacher Connor Salazar, and instructional assistants Amanda Diaz and Isam Peguess.

“As a Lynwood alumni, I wanted to start a club that promotes a spirit of comradeship and inclusion of students with disabilities,” Diaz said. “It is my way of giving back and showing our students that they can be part of something bigger than themselves.”

The enterprising club has become deeply involved with fundraising for charitable causes. Upcoming projects for the 2017-18 school year include an anti-bullying campaign, creating a campus recycling program, teacher appreciation, and an Autism Walk. In 2016, My Buddy Club raised more than $600 in two hours with their first Autism Walk.

Lynwood Unified School District encourages its faculty and administrators to work with students and their families to promote extra-curricular activities that instill positive character values, and collaboration with community agencies.

“We want every Lynwood student to be not only great achievers but also world citizens who positively impact our society,” LUSD Superintendent Gudiel R. Crosthwaite said. “By contributing to the effort to combat hunger, and helping victims of natural disasters, our students are learning the value of integrity and virtue, qualities that will serve them well as the leaders of tomorrow.”

 

SB 557

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California schools can now donate their leftover cafeteria food to local food banks and charities. Authored by state Senator Ed Hernandez, O.D., (D-West Covina) and sponsored by the Los Angeles Unified School District, Senate Bill 557 was signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown.

“I am proud the Governor signed SB 557 into law, which gives schools the necessary tools to donate the food they do not use and help local communities suffering from food waste issues. We have millions of Californians who suffer from food insecurity. This is a positive step toward growing a fruitful relationship between schools and local charities in order to protect hungry Californians. Thank you to L.A. Unified for their continued collaboration to bring this idea into reality," said Senator Hernandez.

L.A. Unified serves nearly 650,000 meals to students daily. In the past, leftover food was thrown away. SB 557 allows unopened prepackaged food, uncut produce like apples, and cartons of milk kept at the appropriate temperature can be donated to food banks or other charities, to be distributed free of charge. Additionally, share tables, where food students don't want, will be available for students to who want more food.

The LA Unified Board of Education passed a resolution, “Healthy Food, Healthy Students, Healthy Communities” in 2011 to allow contributions of excess food to local food banks. However, this resolution did not allow for the donation of leftover food from daily meal service.

“Thank you to Governor Brown for signing SB 557 into law,” said L.A. Unified Superintendent Dr. Michelle King. “We would also like to extend a special thank you to Senator Hernandez for authoring this important legislation and for his unwavering support. Now, thanks to SB 557, even food and milk that has been served will be put to good use instead of thrown away and wasted. In a District as large as ours, these food donations will provide greater access to nutritious foods, while also helping to reduce child hunger.”

Board Member Dr. Richard Vladovic said, “We would wish students eat all of their school meals, but now, whatever items they don’t want to eat can be legally donated. Considering that 1 in 6 Americans goes to bed hungry every night, this law will greatly assist us in providing for the nutritional needs of our communities. I applaud the efforts by the Legislature to help us assist the needy by removing unnecessary barriers to donate perfectly good excess food."

SB 557 is a step in the right direction for communities across California that are suffering through food droughts and shortages alike. With food banks seeing an increase in contributions, their reach and impact will expand to reach more people affected by hunger.

 

CSU Explains Big Changes to School Counselors on the Cusp of College Admission Season

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Over 5,000 high school counselors packed out the Pasadena Convention Center last Thursday for California State University’s 2017 High School Counselor Conference.

The conference was one of a series of gatherings that California State University (CSU) hosted across the state in Visalia, Escondido, Santa Clara and Sacramento.

Held less than two weeks before the kick-off of its college admission season for Fall 2018 which begins on October 1, the conference informed high school counselors about the major changes that have unfolded at CSU since the summer.

Chief among CSU’s new roll outs was its improved online application portal called Cal State Apply. The portal received mixed reactions of excitement and caution. The most obvious upgrade to the new online portal is its cleaner and more user-friendly look. Counselors were also impressed that Cal State Apply has helpful links and resources available on its web pages to aid students who get stuck during the application process. Those tools include chat boxes that connect students with experts and a handy calculator that helps students tally up their G.P.A. as they enter their grades into the system.

Yet, despite its goal of helping students complete a hassle free application, the system does still have quirks. Similar to the old CSU Mentor system, Cal State Apply cannot totally eliminate human error. CSU still relies on students, or their parents and counselors, to understand how to report their high school coursework and grades in a way that proves their classes met California’s A-G requirements for college eligibility.

The pitfall of the new and old system is that it depends heavily on school counselors to be gatekeepers to college. It places tremendous responsibility on counselors to ensure students begin preparing for college throughout their high school career. If students do not learn about college admissions requirements on their own, their college prospects are left in the hands of counselors who may not be knowledgeable of college requirements or who are very likely overwhelmed by a caseload of hundreds or thousands of other students.

The second large CSU announcement was that the Early Assessment Program (EAP) has been retired. EAP required incoming freshman that were dubbed “academically underprepared” start their first semester paying tuition for remedial classes that did not count toward a college degree. Now, CSU will allow admitted students to begin earning college credit from day one, regardless of their level of academic preparedness. Extra support will be given to students who need to increase their proficiency levels in math and English while they matriculate through their first year.

Other themes that dominated the conference included information on veteran support at CSU, the Education Opportunity Program (EOP), and CSU Chancellor Timothy White’s commitment to continue student services originally funded under DACA, or Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals, which is a federal law that grants rights to undocumented students who arrived in the U.S. as young children that was recently rescinded by President Trump.

 

Gates Millennium Scholar Returns to Teach in Hometown

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When it comes to educators, Firebaugh High School Class of 2010 graduate Yvette Reynoso is one of the best. Because she greatly valued the assistance she received from the Lynwood Unified community when she was in school, this Gates Millennium scholar and UCLA graduate were determined to forge a path that would lead her back to the neighborhood where she grew up to inspire others and become a role model.

Reynoso is now entering her second year as a history teacher at Firebaugh High, poised to empower a new generation of Lynwood students to follow their dreams in college and career.

“Yvette Reynoso embodies the true spirit of Lynwood Unified, with an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and the desire to give back to her community,” LUSD Superintendent Dr. Gudiel R. Crosthwaite said. “We are so fortunate to have Yvette back at Firebaugh, where she is now helping us create lifelong learners with the 21st century skills necessary to achieve their highest academic and personal aspirations.”

Firebaugh High opened its doors in 2005 and Reynoso was a member of its second graduating class. Many of the extracurricular clubs she was instrumental in creating are still active, including the Chinese Club, where students practice their Mandarin and immerse themselves in Chinese culture.

Reynoso has reunited with Firebaugh history teacher Jose Ochoa, who was the first to inspire Reynoso’s career course.

“Mr. Ochoa is the primary reason I pursued history as a major, and as a teaching subject,” Reynoso said. “He taught from a variety of perspectives that made it click for me. It’s so rewarding to be a member of the faculty with him now.”

Reynoso, who teaches World History and AP U.S. History, is now colleagues with the same Firebaugh faculty and staff who guided her to a 4.5 GPA and kept her focused on the academic excellence and leadership skills required to earn a Gates Scholarship, which is awarded to only 300 undergraduates a year and covers all incidental costs of attending a four-year university. With Lynwood’s open access policies, her AP class is filled with all types of students, varying in ethnicity, economic status and ability. However, students continue to excel as they continue to reach and exceed every bar set for them. She uses her path as an example to her students who have set the same goals for themselves.

After earning her bachelor’s degree in history, Reynoso remained at UCLA to complete a master’s degree in education. Her achievements have made a great impression on her students.

“I want my students to understand that they can achieve anything if they are willing to put forth the effort,” Reynoso said. “It’s made a big difference in my classroom. My students are proud to say they are from Lynwood, and they should be. This is a community that means so much to me, because the spirit of giving is everywhere.”

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That spirit was evident during Reynoso’s days at UCLA, when she first returned to the District as an AVID tutor for Lynwood High. AVID, or Advancement via Individual Determination, a program designed to equip students with the skills they need to succeed academically, is a program that has served as a vehicle for students on the verge of excellence realize their potential. Reynoso came in three days a week to work with a small group of students, assessing their needs, answering questions and ensuring the students were making progress in their studies.

Lynwood schools are better for having alumni come home to serve. They bring something extra to the classroom and every other role they fill. There are dozens of examples of alumni coming home to serve and sticking around for decades. To our current students, they serve as proof of what Lynwood kids can do and our students respect them that much for it. To alumni reading this, there is always a place for you here at home in Lynwood schools.

Patty Rodriguez-Lynwood Alumni Conference

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When Patty Rodriguez attended Lynwood High School, she rose early every day to drive to Burbank, where she interned for the KIIS-FM Morning Show before school. After a full day of classes, the Class of 2000 graduate worked as a record store clerk at the mall, determined to forge a path for her future, which included college and career.

Today, Rodriguez still challenges herself with a rigorous schedule that encompasses literature, fashion design and broadcasting at KIIS-FM, where she has ascended to the position of Senior Producer for “On Air with Ryan Seacrest.” Rodriguez shared her story of success with over 150 students and parents as Keynote Speaker during Lynwood Unified School District’s 18th Annual Alumni Conference and College Fair, held Sept. 16 at Firebaugh High.

“You have the power to make change for yourself, your family and your community,” Rodriguez said. “Set goals and advocate for what you believe in. Never forget where you came from. Growing up in Lynwood was special for me, I remember all of my favorite shops and restaurants. You will honor your community by working hard to make it a better place. Sin miedo!”

The Alumni Conference and College Fair is sponsored by the Lynwood Alumni Association (LAA), bringing together dozens of LUSD alums to conduct workshops, answer questions from students and dispense advice on college life and how to construct a successful career path.

Renteria is a Lynwood High graduate who acted as president of the LAA for several years before being elected to serve on the LUSD Board of Education. Current LAA Conference Chair Yvette Torres is a 2011 graduate of Lynwood High and has returned to the District as a substitute teacher.

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“It was so inspiring to see Patty come back and talk to the students,” Torres said. “They really connected with her message and left the conference convinced that they can attain a world-class education, that we will give them the tools they need to succeed.”

LUSD students – many of whom are taking Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate classes – had their choice of over 20 workshops that covered topics ranging from the college admission process, choosing majors and how to cope with rigorous academic schedules.

Nearly two dozen universities – among them USC, UCLA and Cal State Fullerton – set up tables where representatives discussed college life and financial aid. The Lynwood Partners Educational Foundation was present to acquaint attendees with details about their scholarship fund, which annually awards up to five high school graduates and alumni with scholarships ranging from $200 to $500.

Lynwood Unified retains such a sizable percentage of graduates as faculty and staff, it introduced a Human Resources table at this year’s conference to encourage local alumni to obtain information about becoming a substitute teacher for the District. Current students filled out and submitted applications as well.

“Lynwood is a community that takes great pride in highlighting the achievements of their residents and passing on knowledge to their children,” LUSD Superintendent Gudiel R. Crosthwaite said. “I want to thank our alumni volunteers for all the hard work they have put into making the Alumni Conference such a success year after year. Patty Rodriguez’s very personal and emotional account of her journey and triumph left many students teary-eyed and determined to follow in her footsteps.”

 

Little Rock 9

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Monday, September 25, 2017, marked the 60th anniversary of the Little Rock Nine integrating the campus at Central High School following a ruling handed down by the United States Supreme Court, Brown v. Board of Education. Before this consequential decision, Mendez v. Westminster, ten years prior, set a legal precedent when a California circuit court ruled segregation in schools unconstitutional. This ruling had a direct impact the Supreme Court's decision in the Brown v. Board case which set a federal mandate that segregated schools are unconstitutional.

On that fateful day in 1957, nine black students, Melba Pattillo Beals, Minnijean Brown, Elizabeth Eckford, Ernest Green, Gloria Ray Karlmark, Carlotta Walls LaNier, Thelma Mothershed,Terrence Roberts, and Jefferson Thomas, attempting to attend school, were met with mobs and troops standing in their way. A staunch segregationist, Governor George Wallace, deployed the national guard to block the doors to Central High School. Days later, President Dwight Eisenhower federalized the National Guard and ordered Central be desegregated, and black students be allowed in undeterred. The National Guard remained on campus for a year following the initial orders.

One of the nine, Melba Pattillo Beals, recalls "stark raving fear," but decided to attend Central High School "because they had more privileges; they had more equipment; they had five floors of opportunities."

A mob surrounded, 15-year old, Elizabeth Eckford and threatened to lynch her.

"I could hear the noise, the name-calling, and stuff, but I didn't know that people were getting knocked down with sticks and bats and bricks and all that. It took a long time for me to realize how much danger I faced," recalled Jefferson Thomas.

Ernest Green said he would endure the whole ordeal over again for the benefit of the community.

We have made progress since Brown v. Board, but segregation still exists in our public schools. Much of it attributed to the opportunity gap, lack of resources, a system of education that is not culturally competent but the system itself is complicit and keeping the spirit of segregation alive. The Little Rock Nine endured hellish conditions for merely attempting to get an education. As we look back at their experiences, we thank them for their sacrifice of being the first. We owe it to them to continue to make strides to educational excellence through equity for all kids.

 

Bilingual Education

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Bilingual education can benefit students who speak Spanish as a first language and students who speak English as a first language.  Helping students to learn another language and learn about other cultures can help students succeed in college and beyond.

"The model of bilingual education requires that 50 percent of the students in a class speak English as a first language while the half do not. The goal is for students to become fully bilingual and bi-literate in both languages, learning at a gradual pace."

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Opinion on DACA

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Chloe Hilles, a student at Foothill Technology High School shares her thoughts on the future of DACA in an opinion piece featured in the LA Times.  Ms. Hilles also provides pertinent information about DACA to help readers better understand it.

"You are born into citizenship by pure chance, it is not your choice in the least. Neither is immigrating to a country as a child, because it was a decision that rested on the shoulders of the parents, and it is not one young children could make. This is a country that prides itself on being composed of immigrants, and it’s appalling to punish the ones who embody the American dream."

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Local Leader Spotlight-Barbara Sahagun

Photo by Daniel Shaver

Photo by Daniel Shaver

As communities react to the news of the Trump administration rolling back DACA, allies and opponents of undocumented immigrants have been engaged in conversations about what should be done next. While I have strong feelings and opinions about this issue, I am one that believes it is always best to reserve space for those who are most directly affected. In my local leader spotlight, I highlight the journey of a fellow Lynwood alumni who, despite the challenge of being formerly undocumented, worked to become go from undocumented to doctor.

Meet Barbara Elena Sahagun, a second-year medical student at Weill Cornell Medical College, who strives to reduce health disparities and increase diversity in medicine. In 2013, Barbara graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in biochemistry and a minor in psychology. Throughout her undergraduate education, she mentored and tutored at-risk youth. As a social justice advocate, she worked towards making higher education accessible to all. After graduation, she worked in the emergency department as a scribe where she expanded her knowledge of the health inequities in low-income communities. As a medical student, Ms. Sahagun continues to champion diversity in medicine through several organizations including Students for Equal Opportunity in Medicine, Latino Medical Student Association, Student National Medical Association and Women in Medicine. Barbara also volunteers at community clinics for low-income populations and continues to mentor students wishing to pursue a career in medicine.

I was scrolling through Facebook reading posts reacting to the news. Most of them were angry, some were sad, and some were in support of Trump's actions. It's safe to say those who were in favor of repealing DACA will not soon be on my timeline again. But so many of the stories and reactions I read hit home. However, one hit home more than others. I came across a post by one of my childhood best friend's little sister. Here is her post:

"I’ve been hesitant about speaking out about DACA because I don’t want to feed into the bad/good immigrant rhetoric going around. But actually, let me feed into it because I was so so so bad. Here it goes:

1. Worked without a worker’s permit aka hustled. From cleaning sorority houses to tutoring Beverly Hills kids, I worked to get through school. These rich white folks didn’t mind paying me under the table though-- the labor was cheap. And at the end of the year, my momma would do my taxes & I paid up because I wasn’t trying to mess with the IRS. Hold up, what’s wrong with this picture?

2. I drove around without a driver’s license. I paid car insurance, state registration, smog check, and the state Did Not Care. Checkpoint! The cop takes away my car (because I don’t have a license) and sends it to his buddies at the impound. [Insert picture of a  brown girl taking her huge biology, calculus & chemistry textbooks out of the trunk while cops smirk in the background]. Did you say calculus? Yeah, kid, I wasn’t even drinking and deriving.

3. Turned 18 and stayed in the U.S. knowing that I was undocumented.

4. I drank alcohol before I turned 21. I mean, I didn’t even have an ID to confirm my age and all the citizen kids were doing it. Salud!

So there’s your "dreamer" narrative of how I went from Undoc to Doc. "

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This post struck for a few reasons. The first, I had gone to school with her older brother since middle school and had known Barbara as Allan's little sister since then. I had no clue that she was undocumented; this was true of a few friends I had growing up through Lynwood schools. Her post also served as another clear example of how the approach to immigration is both racist and not based in fact.

I want to make sure we amplify the truth around this issue. Here are the questions I had for Barbara along with her responses:

 

What was your response to the DACA repeal announcement?

"I was not surprised about the news nor the fact that Trump could not face us himself to make the announcement.”

 

When did you find out you were undocumented?

"I was 9 or 10 years old. My soccer team had won the championship and were invited to play in Hawaii at a national tournament. My parents were uncomfortable with me traveling because I was undocumented, so I couldn't go."

 

Tell me about your life growing up in Lynwood.

"I grew up like the rest of the kids in Lynwood; it's a community that will always be dear to my heart. I go home as often as I can. But growing up in Lynwood had its challenges. My counselors in high school were woefully misinformed about undocumented students. I was told that I could not attend college because of my undocumented status. So, I dropped out of high school."

As a fellow alum of Lynwood schools, I am happy to share that we are now better equipped to support undocumented students because of stories like yours. Being told you could not go to college must have been a crushing blow. What made you decide to go back?

"My mother. She was aware of the obstacles I faced, being undocumented, but was disappointed in me for not taking advantage of what my parents brought me to this country for. Her being disappointed in me was heartbreaking. At the time, I was young and probably didn't appreciate all she had done for me. The bar she had set for me was to graduate high school, I at least owed her that."

 

Looking back at that period in your life, is there anything you would have done differently?

"I don't think so; things happened for a reason. Interestingly, dropping out of school was beneficial. When I re-enrolled in school, I had to take courses at a community college concurrently. In doing so, I found out that I could attend college. I'm not sure I would have found this out had I not dropped out of high school in the first place.

 

What made you want to pursue a career in medicine?

"I wanted to tackle the health disparities that plagued communities like mine. Being a social justice advocate led me to believe that I needed tools and education if I wanted to have a direct impact on health."

 

What do you say to those proponents of DACA who suggest undocumented immigrants brought here by their parents as children should go home?

"We are home."

 

What is your plan going forward?

I plan to use my newfound privilege, my green card, to continue advocating for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States today.

 

What advice do you have for those who will follow in your footsteps?

"Don't try to follow my footsteps, choose your own path. But if our paths cross, let's work together to support our communities. Don't forget the struggle or the community that helped you get where you are. No matter what happens, we are resilient; the strength in our community is palpable."

Barbara's story is one of many examples of the great promise our undocumented immigrants and DACA recipients possess and what they can accomplish if given a chance. I am extremely proud of the woman she has become and excited to see what more great things she will accomplish. In reaching out to her, I told her I thought she is a leader, whether she likes it or not. She does so, by embodying the promise and potential that parents of DACA recipients and undocumented immigrants risk life and imprisonment to give their children. As an educator, I am all the more motivated to ensure we continue to support this vulnerable population of students and their families so that their dreams remain valid. Barbara, thank you for your leadership. Your community is proud of you.

 

Rodriguez Resigns

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LA School Board President, Ref Rodriguez, resigns from his post after being charged with multiple felonies related to his school board bid in 2015.  Rodriguez shared that he is still committed to the children in LA.

“When I was elected Board President, I committed to highlighting the Kids First agenda for L.A. Unified. I remain committed to putting kids first, and so, in order to allow the Board to remain focused on the hard work ahead of us, I have decided to step aside as Board President."

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Kids-First in LA Unified

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A new organization, entitled Kids Coalition, has been started in LA.  The intent is for students and parents to be empowered in schools.

“A kids-first agenda, if you were to actually implement it, is one of the most radical political agendas in the country.  What’s exciting to me about this moment is the potential opportunity to translate kids first from a catchy political slogan into an operational reality and a legal right for all students in the LAUSD.”

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Equity Issues

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Title I funds were slated to go to schools in impoverished communities, however;  the plan was withdrawn.  The plan could have caused issues for magnet and charter schools.

“It is not all about money. But we need to discuss how to repurpose this imbalance. The board does not want to shut down excellence, but we need to do things differently if we want different outcomes.”

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