Inglewood Schools

Last Wednesday, State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tom Torlakson, appointed LA Native, Thelma Melendez de Santa Ana as the new trustee of Inglewood Unified School District. Melendez de Santa Ana comes to Inglewood Unified after leading the Los Angeles Unified School District's Office of Educational Services as well as previously serving as superintendent of Pomona and Santa Ana. Melendez de Santa Ana represents a shift in demographics for Inglewood schools as the first Mexican American to lead the district. In years past, Inglewood schools were predominantly African American. Today, they show a majority Latino population.

In the wake of a state fiscal crisis, the Inglewood School Board and superintendent were subject to state receivership in 2012, which relegated the board to an advisory role and stripped them of all decision making powers. That year, the district took a $55 million loan from the state. California Department of Education appointed trustees to oversee the district and its finances as it pertained to that loan. To date, state appointees spent $29 million. That loan is being paid back at a rate of $1.8 million a year and is set to maturate in 2033.

Since 2012, down 600 students, enrollment has dropped 12% representing a loss of $6 million. 12% declining enrollment is triple the county average. Although previous state trustees began to stabilize the Inglewood USD's finances, this decline has compounded the districts financial woes.

Kelly Iwamoto, President of the Inglewood Teachers Association, believes improving the district's struggling high schools and dual language programs will slow the decline in enrollment in addition to engaging stakeholders. "The next state administrator has to be somebody that is resilient because you have to be here for the long haul," Iwamoto said.

The state is said to be willing to hand over control of the district back to the board once its' financial picture and academic achievement both stabilize. Inglewood School Board Member, Dr. D'Artagnan Scorza, believes Melendez de Santa Ana has the experience and network to turn the tide. He said, "I think she can help get the word out there. One of the assets she brings is that she has a strong local network. She's here in Los Angeles, she's familiar with the communities."

Turning around a failing school district is no small order. Consistency in synonymous with stability, both literally and figuratively. Along with effective governance teams, stability is imperative to supporting children and families. Inglewood Unified School District is one of four districts in the state under state control; five state appointed trustees have been at the helm since 2012.

Five trustees in five years should be alarming to those interested in seeing Inglewood schools returned back to local control. Yet, after the departure of the previous trustee and now superintendent of San Francisco Public Schools, Vince Matthews, another trustee has been selected and is tasked with curtailing the district's declining enrollment; something five previous trustees were unable to do. After resigning or taking on roles elsewhere, no state appointee has served more than 2 years.

In June 2017, the Los Angeles County Office of Education sent the district notice that it was facing a 5 million dollar deficit. While school officials feel hopeful that new leadership will be beneficial, many of Inglewood's teachers fear impending layoffs.

 

Scandal in San Diego

Scandal rocks San Diego Unified as a federal judge upheld a ruling that invalidates AP score for hundreds of Scripps Ranch High School students.More than 500 Scripps Ranch High School students will have to retake their Advance Placement (AP) exams after a federal judge had ruled their scores were invalid. A lawsuit that resulted from an incident report filed by a test proctor who suspected a student of cheating led to an investigation by College Board. The investigation found that students were seated too close to each other; this prompted College Board to invalidate the scores of 844 tests on nine subjects without cause.

The resulting lawsuit seeking to overturn the ruling alleged the decision by College Board was a breach of contract and caused financial strain on students, many of whom had already left school for the summer, some beginning their college careers.

“We were told where to sit, it was not our choice,” said Marissa Barnes, an incoming senior at Scripps Ranch High School. “Now because of that, we have to suffer.”

The College Board says the district failed to meet the requirements for distance between students taking AP tests. Instead, the district chose to use partitions, which are prohibited. Subsequently, those test scores were invalidated; that decision was upheld in federal court.

“When a high school does not comply with the College Board’s test administration requirements, an indeterminate number of students can gain an unfair advantage,” said Carayo, in a statement. “For that reason, while we take the decision to cancel scores very seriously, there is no alternative in such situations.”

SDUSD states there was no evidence of cheating, but stands by College Board's right to invalidate the test scores. The district will offer free retests in late July and August and refunds for students who choose not to retake tests. The impact on this ruling might not be felt for some years, but could certainly have a terrible effect on the college careers of many Scripps Ranch students.

 

Putting the classroom first

By Tanzi West Barbour

I remember when I didn’t have children but my friends did, they would complain about being asked to donate school supplies for the classroom. They didn’t understand why teachers just simply didn’t have “enough.” A number of my friends refused to comply with the request.

And the teachers and classrooms went without.

I didn’t understand what the big deal was then and eleven years later, as a mother of two, I really don’t understand it now. I have become the sales-paper-scouring, newspaper-watching, running-to-the-store-when-I-see-a-good-price, back-to-school-supplies shopping mom. Which means because the back-to-school items are normally extremely affordable, I make it a point to buy extra – for our home, for the classroom, for the school supply drive somewhere, and for the students at our school who may not be able to afford the basics.

I buy extra; not because I can, but because I believe it’s the right thing to do.

I was reminded of the lack that school teachers face when it comes to school supplies when I read an article about a teacher in Tulsa, Oklahoma who stood on the corner of a busy street with a sign that read “Teachers Need School Supplies. Any Amount Helps!” It reminded me of how little most teachers have to ensure our children are receiving the best instruction possible while they are in their classrooms. What she did was revolutionary in my eyes. While we have all received the school supply lists with the requests for classroom supplies, this teacher took matters into her own hands for her own classroom. Her actions have since gone viral and have forced us to have the conversation about budget cuts – big and small – and their ultimate effect on the classroom and more importantly, the students in the classroom.

So, what do you do? When I was worked in a public school system in Maryland, I was a part of the Superintendent’s leadership team. I remember the budget cut conversations and community meetings. I distinctly remember asking about effects to the classroom. The two Superintendents I worked for told me that all cuts will affect every classroom one way or the other. So how do you choose?

How do you know when and where to cut? How do you do more with less and not lose anything in the process? We live in an education world filled with data. Critical decisions are made based on important data points. I remember talking with a principal one day a few years ago about the needs of his school. I asked him, “How do you decide what stays and what goes in terms of student support? Where do you draw the line?” He was very open when he told me that most often the cuts come to the teachers. Maybe they have to rethink professional development offerings due to cost. Or maybe every classroom can’t have color paper or a smart board or new textbooks this year. Maybe, just maybe they can get by with a part-time nurse and librarian. The principal put it as simply as possible, “Would you rather have a reading specialist or an endless supply of copy paper? Because unfortunately, you can’t have both.”

Well on the surface it doesn’t sound like a big deal right? If the school can’t afford an endless supply of paper then surely the teachers can figure it out. But when you pull back the layers and dig deep into the spending these educators have to do in order to supply their basic needs, you realize they are spending more than $1,000 per year from their meager salaries. Divide that number by the number of parents in the classroom and you will see that a little donation goes a long way.

I feel like we’re in this endless cycle of “Whose Turn is it Anyway?” Whose turn is it to care about students enough that you want to protect the classroom whatever the costs? Whose turn is it to fight for policies and laws like Title IX that work to put educators first? Whose turn is it to also fight for equity in education so that the least of them can receive the most help and the most of them learn how to share their resources? Whose turn is it to look out for the underdog?

I find these issues in all types of education systems – traditional public schools, public charter schools, private schools, etc. When there is a lack, we need to engage. Whether it’s healthcare, housing, or education, when budgets are being cut, it’s our duty as parents and citizens to step in and fill in the gap.

I am all about taking it to the streets and finding solutions wherever possible. I salute that teacher in Tulsa, Oklahoma just as I salute all of our educators who are going above and beyond to ensure our students, their students, have their most basic school supply needs to be met. I mean, after all, it would be mighty hard to learn or teach without paper or pencil.

 

Education Budget

California's budget is a step in the right direction. This year's May revise was met with praise but called for a deeper commitment to ensuring K-12 education moves closer to being fully funded as well as providing relief to school districts combatting competing priorities for scarce resources.

Late last month, Governor Jerry Brown signed Califonia's budget for the 2017-2018 featuring an allocation of 74.5 billion dollars for education. An additional $1.4 billion dollars was committed to the Local Control Funding Formula, bringing the program's funding to 97% of full funding. Districts are also set to receive $877 million in one-time discretionary funds.

This also distribution includes a much needed $50 million dollar increase to after school funding in response to rising wages across the state. In years past, the governor was opposed to committing more dollars to after-school programs and called for school districts to find the answers in their budgets. But as after-school providers began to scale back and or close their doors to families and children, state legislators made a move to increase funding for these vital programs.

Additionally, to combat a looming teacher shortage, $41.3 million dollars was dedicated to recruiting and retaining teachers. The focal point of these efforts will be in special education, math, science, and bilingual education, where teacher shortages have had the greatest impact. An increase of $10.3 million in additional services was allotted to aid and support refugee students.

As LCFF approaches fully funding, legislators are calling for Governor Brown to enact legislation, Assembly Bill 1321, introduced by Assemblywoman Shirley Webber, which requires school districts to more closely monitor per-pupil spending of federal, state, and local dollars.

Executive Director, Ryan J. Smith, of The Education Trust-West, an education advocacy organization, based in Oakland, released the following statement on the budget signing.

“The Education Trust-West appreciates Governor Brown and the Legislature enacting a budget that puts more dollars into education,” Smith said. “Fully funding LCFF is one of the most important things we can do to close opportunity and achievement gaps.” Smith also supports calls for the governor enacting Assembly Bill 1321.

Four years after implementation, educators hope LCFF will reach full-funding sooner rather than later.

 

Parents as Partners

By Marvetta Thompson

In my 13 years in education, I have heard the phrase, “Parents as Partners” thrown in discussions, debates as well as intense heated arguments with stakeholders.  However, do we really know what the phrase means, do we have a uniformed definition of what this phrase entails? As a new parent, I think about what this phrase means to me in the perspective of both an educator and parent and what I would want this relationship to consist of in order to ensure uniformity in the field of education. 

 

  • Breakfast/Lunch with the Principal - School leaders should come up with a consistent forum where parents and school leaders can discuss upcoming events, opportunities for parent workshops, concerns, ways to participate in the decision making process of the school and norms. 

 

  • Monthly newsletters/Regularly updated website - Depending on the parents level of technology usage, schools should have the option of a printed newsletter and regularly updated website which highlights important events, special announcements, teaching parents about daily check-in questions to ask, apps to support parents which various content area support at home, and local community resources to support your child in emotional/social development.

 

  • Open classroom visitations -  Implement and remind parents that every classroom has an open door policy to visit a classroom (announced or unannounced). Whether this is to observe how your child is behaving in class or to get an idea of the teacher’s personality and relationship with students, parents should have the opportunity to visit and get a better perspective of the school and its’ implication of mission and vision for all students.

 

If we want to indeed treat parents as partners let’s give them more opportunities to participate in discussion and the decision making process of the school. Let’s not talk about it, let’s implement and support.

 

Complaint: Long Beach Unified School District underfunded 'high needs' students by $41 million

A complaint filed with the Los Angeles County Office of Education alleges that the Long Beach Unified School District underfunded 'high needs' students by $41 million. LACOE is named in the complaint as the county office of education was responsible for approving the district's Local Control Accountability Plan last fall. The complaint charges that the district failed to meet its obligations to populations of students that are meant to be serviced by supplemental and concentration grants.

California's Local Control Funding Formula awards school districts concentration and supplemental grants to serve their populations of foster and homeless youth, low-income, and English-learners. After soliciting feedback from key stakeholders, districts are required to include and publish details about how those funds are allocated and spent in their Local Control Accountability Plans or LCAP.

Long Beach Unified receives $108 million in supplemental and concentration grants for its high-needs students, who make up 70 percent of its student population.

Public Advocates filed the complaint on behalf of the Children's Defense Fund, a community group and two parents after two years of warning letters and inquiries received no response. Superintendent Steinhauser stands by his district's LCAP and says the district fully complies with 'the spirit of the Local Control Funding Formula' and refinement would be done as required and would spell out how student groups are targeted in more detail with its next LCAP.

Although the LCFF does not require itemized expenditures, LBUSD is one of few districts that offers a full breakdown of how spends its basic, supplemental and concentration grants. Comprised of staff salaries and benefits, Common Core instructional materials, and technology improvements, the complaint references $41 million dollars earmarked as "supplemental education supports." In this case, the complainants feel the way the funds are allocated is too broad and allege that LBUSD does not spell out how those funds specifically target the schools or student populations they are intended to. Superintendent Steinhauser explains that these funds are targeted at teacher retention in high-poverty schools to combat the looming teacher shortage.  

Long Beach Unified has 60 days to provide an adequate response to the complaint. After which, Public Advocates will decide whether or not to pursue an appeal to the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tom Torlakson or a lawsuit.

 

Lynwood High School art students help design the city’s new “Welcome to Lynwood” sign

Three Lynwood High School art students caught the community’s attention with their inspiring designs and were named contest winners for helping design the city’s new “Welcome to Lynwood” sign.

Sophomores Bryada Overstreet, Beatriz Soto, and Stephanie Martinez won for their individual sketches that encompassed the history, atmosphere, and values of Lynwood. The students were recognized and received $1,000 scholarships at a City Council meeting.

“I recently moved to Lynwood from Louisiana and I was a bit intimidated at first,” Overstreet said. “For my sketch, I drew two hands shaking because it reminds me of when I first moved here, and how I was grateful to have other students and teachers embrace me with open arms and show me this new place.”

Lynwood Mayor Maria T. Santillan-Beas invited all students from the Lynwood Unified School District to participate in the contest and help create a new design for the city’s welcome sign. The winning pieces will be used as inspiration for the city-hired professional graphic designer.

“We are proud to have our students’ talent recognized on a citywide scale,” Lynwood Unified Superintendent Gudiel R. Crosthwaite said. “As a District, it is important for our students to gain experience in their desired professions while they are in high school and we are excited that our community has given these students this opportunity.”

The competition was judged by Santillan-Beas, city officials, two community members, a local artist, a representative from a Lynwood art gallery and Lynwood High School art teacher Luis Vega.

Overstreet and Soto used pencil, pen and colored pencils to compose their sketches while Martinez used her graphic design experience to submit a computer-generated piece. The students worked on the pieces for a few weeks before submitting on March 27.

“Competitions like this one allow students to apply the skills they learn in class to real-life situations. They play the role of a graphic designer or architect, and they have to read guidelines, research, brainstorm, design, and present,” Vega said. “It helps them realize the importance of the art skills they learn, and it builds confidence and motivates them to participate in similar projects.”

Mark Flores, Lynwood’s director of recreation and community services and lead organizer for the contest, said the city received more than 60 entries. Criteria included the use of the phrase “Welcome to Lynwood,” images or words that depict the city promoting cultural, economic and educational opportunities and capture general community appeal.

The city is looking for a graphic designer to complete the construction of the design and determining how many signs it will place throughout the city. The new signs should be installed in about four months.

 

 

 

LAUSD Board Raises

Education is not funded at a level that is on par with what we want for our students and communities. Often, teachers spend their own money for essential supplies needed for their classrooms in addition to giving parents lists of required or suggested supplies at the start of the school year. Additionally, many schools are in disrepair and lacking vital programs and services that allow our students to excel. In light of these facts, whenever raises go to the top of school districts, there is always pushback from those who feel the strains of being underfunded and underpaid. 

When it was announced that the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education members, who choose to serve in their role full-time, would receive a 174% raise very few people were happy about the move. Salaries of full-time LA school board members are set to go from about $46,000 annually to $ 125,000 per year. Part-time board members' salaries would increase from $26,000 to $50,000. The raises were unanimously approved by the district's compensation review committee after hearing testimony in which it was said that board members spend up to 60 hours a week on district business and make less than their chiefs of staff. These raises are set to take effect in 60 days. 

LAUSD Board President Dr. Ref Rodriguez said, "We thank the LAUSD Board of Education Compensation Review Committee for engaging in a thoughtful and comprehensive process that ultimately supports our continued efforts on behalf of the students, families, and school communities we serve," of the raises.

To justify, these raises have to be married with greater accountability. In theory, if board members are paid well enough to serve full-time, they should be more available, informed and responsive. As such, it is the duty of stakeholders to hold leaders accountable to the communities they serve, especially when they are compensated to do so. As such, this creates both the necessity and opportunity for the LAUSD School Board to strengthen partnerships they have with community stakeholders.

As a school board member, I know the sacrifices and amount of work involved in being a part of a governance team very intimately. Likewise, I know how it feels to feel like I am not adequately paid for the work that I do. I would be more than happy for the opportunity to serve in my role as a board member full-time.

One of the more frequent complaints you receive as a board member who works a full-time job in addition to serving on a school board is that you aren't present enough. In many ways, it seems like we work multiple full-time jobs. Few are aware of the hours spent away from work, school, and family required to respond to the needs of the community and or time spent researching and reading to make the most informed decisions. With that in mind, these raises are a good move if, and only if, they result in increased productivity and gains for students. 

PAY INCREASE HELPS

The LA United board members received an unexpected pay raise by an independent panel.  This pay raise helps board members who are working part-time, as well as those working for the board full-time.

“This is a total surprise. But it will help all of us with our duties. I don’t think any of us expected this, but I know personally it does help my situation. I visit a lot of classrooms.”

Read more here

Summer Literacy

Students tugged at their parents’ shirt sleeves, pulling them through a colorful, mountainous collection of 2,300 books piled high all around them in the Lynwood Unified School District Office on June 28.
 
These Lynwood Unified summer school students – more than 250 of them – had full access to pick out three books to take home as part of the District’s inaugural Scholastic Literacy Event, where parents, guardians and District personnel encouraged students always to maintain strong literacy skills. Summer learning loss poses a danger to the academic success of students who live in under-resourced communities. If any, very few students in such communities have opportunities to engage in activities that limit the effects of summer learning loss. The activities, most of which happen by default in more affluent communities that are known to help mitigate summer learning loss are family vacations, trips to museums, summer camps and of most importance, reading.

Scholastic Literacy Events are specially designed to empower families to support their children’s academic achievement through interactive activities – giving them the tools and skills necessary to build a culture of literacy at home. As a byproduct, summer learning loss is mitigated as we know that students living in poverty often enter school years behind their more affluent counterparts because of the knowledge that is lost between the end of one school year and the start of another. 

Almost 200 parents and guardians accompanied their children to the event, taking pictures with Clifford the Big Red Dog and listening to stories from District staff about learning to read and the importance of literacy.
 
“It all starts with reading – it is the foundation for learning,” Lynwood Unified Director of Equity and Literacy Event coordinator Patricia Brent-Sanco said. “A child’s life can open up when they open a book, and you must learn to read to qualify for 21st-century careers. We want to get students and their parents excited about reading so that it will always be an integral part of their lives.”
 
“I really love books, so it was fun for me and my family to come and pick up some new ones,” incoming Hosler Middle School seventh-grader Susana Zelaya said. “I was surprised at how many good stories there were to choose from.”
 
Librarians from Lynwood Unified school sites assisted students in selecting their books. Students were able to pick out one book that correlated with their grade-level learning curriculum, and two fun tales like the “How do Dinosaurs Say Good Night,” “Olaf’s Night Before Christmas” from Disney’s “Frozen,” and “Shake to Assemble” featuring Marvel’s Hulk.
 
All 2,300 books were donated by Scholastic, Read Lead, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Lakeshore Learning and Feed the Children.
 
“This truly was a community-focused event, and we were all thrilled to see so many students and parents here,” Lynwood Unified Superintendent Gudiel R. Crosthwaite said. “This was only our first time doing this event, so I know next year will be even larger and will spread the importance of reading to even more students

Parents Wake Up!!! Stop wearing your child’s school success as a badge of honor, when your child is failing.

By David McGuire

I haven’t been given the opportunity to have children of my own yet; however, as an educator, I have spoken to and worked with many parents. I have worked in public charter and traditional public schools and have concluded that all parents want the same thing – for their child to get a good education and attend a good school. However, what parents often forget is that a child receiving a good education and attending a good school are not always mutually exclusive.

In my conversations with parents, if their child attends a good school, some of them are satisfied. Parents feel it is a badge of honor to say their child attends a high-performing school. My question is always, “How is that high performing school performing for your child?” This isn’t a myth; there are high performing schools that are failing students that attend them.

Parents, you must know your student. If you send your child to a high-performing school with a strict discipline policy because you want your child to have structure and discipline there is not anything wrong with that. I say this from experience; some students cannot handle zero tolerance schools. Parents love them because schools with zero tolerance or strict discipline create a safe environment for students to learn; however, what those schools do not take into consideration is that kids will be kids and sometimes they will step outside of the lines. Parents, if you know your child steps outside the lines more often than other children and they are suspended from school, is that high performing school educating your child? The answer is no. They can’t be because your child is suspended from school more than they are in school. Your child is not learning anything academically or for that matter behaviorally either.  

I say wake up! Wake up and see what is happening to your child. Because your child attends a high performing school, with the fancy uniforms, catchy slogans, morning celebrations, and strict policy for disruptive students, you may turn a blind eye to the fact that your student is failing. If this sounds like your situation, you need to know your student isn’t learning anything. Your student does attend the college field trips, but s/he doesn’t participate in any of the activities. They are not contributing to what makes the school great. They are suffering and falling between the cracks, but you can profess proudly that your child attends this high performing school. As harsh as this sounds, your students are not aiding to the success of the school. Your child is failing and you are allowing it.

Every child deserves to attend a high performing school, but what every child needs more than anything is to attend a school that allows them to be high performing students. There are low performing schools or lesser performing schools that are doing exceptional work for some students, but because this school is not highly rated or they do not begin every morning with a celebration circle, they are not anything to brag about. Parents stop wearing your child’s school success as a badge of honor instead wear your child’s success as a badge of honor. If that school isn’t doing the work for your child, then why are you praising them? Look at your individual child’s performance and not the performance of the school as a whole.

As a school administrator, I strive to ensure my school is a good fit for every child; however, that may not always be the case. I would be doing that child a disservice if I continue to allow that child to fall through the cracks. Some students can strive in a strict environment and there are many others that cannot. That is the beautiful thing about not having a one size fits all model. There are some students who need to be in a school that will provide them with opportunities for correction and provides supports for their discipline. Suspending a child from school is not the only deterrent for misbehavior in school. When you have a child that constantly gets suspended from school not only are they missing the instruction but they also become desensitized to suspension.


Parents, I implore you to Wake Up. Look at your individual child and not the school as a whole because while you are looking at the school as a whole your child is losing.

 

A New Majority

Dr. Ref Rodriguez was elected President of the Los Angeles School Board at it's first meeting on Thursday, July 6th.  As a co-founder of a charter schools group, Dr. Rodriguez's election to this position is a strong indication of the intentions of the new majority on the school board.

"The new board members and I have a charter background [but] we really are about high-quality schools for all kids.... The board’s role really is to tackle high quality and excellence.”

Read more here

Shantell Lee: In the spirit of celebration

By Florentina Staigers

Working in education in this city, I’ve begun to realize that Shantell Lee and the countless other New Orleanians who have succeeded are really something to be celebrated. Not because they are some sort of an anomaly, but because they are not an anomaly. Despite so many structural barriers that work against her and others like her, Shantell has risen to success—and not just success defined by the normal social markers of education and money. She is also successful in the ways we often take for granted: in her kindness, compassion, and willingness to serve the community.  

I first met Shantell in the classroom. We were both students in the University of New Orleans’s master's program taking a non-fiction course. At that time, I noticed she was smart and friendly, but I was too absorbed in my own studies and focused on laying down roots in New Orleans to get to know her. Then, about a year ago, we began sitting in education policy meetings together. Although I still didn’t know her very well, I had a clearer picture of who she is simply because I know New Orleans a bit better.  I began to see her in a new light.  I saw how important her story is to the educational narrative of New Orleans. We spend so much time speaking about statistics, quantifying success or failure, or debating policy that we sometimes lose sight of the spirited people around us doing the hard work.

Recently, I asked Shantell to talk about her education journey. 

There was not a whole lot that surprised me about her story because I’ve made it my job to be familiar with both the data and the people’s stories around me since moving to New Orleans. I didn’t have to be surprised to be impressed and inspired.  Shantell was the kid we all hoped to have in our lives and who teachers wanted in the classroom, the kid who despite poverty and despair that was engaged and driven in the classroom. 

She attended elementary school in New Orleans, but in middle school, her parents transferred her to Jefferson Parish, where all of her classmates were white.  Shantell experienced culture shock, but she learned to adapt and to “code-shift” in her new environment. She was also grateful for the support she received. In the 8th grade, one of her teachers asked her to work on the school newspaper because she was excelling in her English classes and enjoyed writing. “She saw something in me before I saw it in myself,” Shantell said.  The teacher talked to her about college and gave her encouragement. Before this, she hadn’t really thought about college.

“My parents didn’t really have time to focus on my education.  They were always working. My older sister was a lot different than me. She attended New Orleans Public Schools and I used to ask her why she didn’t bring books to school. No one was checking my report card or talking about college. No one knew how to get into college or about scholarships.”

When she did apply to college, she applied only to Dillard because she was interested in an HBCU and they had accepted her before she got around to finishing an application to Xavier. She was also pregnant her senior year in high school.  She went to school half day and worked part-time at a local grocery store. 

But for her, the real challenge was the first year of college. “It was HELL,” she told me. “There was just a lot happening. I had a baby. I was still working nearly full time. My mother passed away and I was on academic  probation by the end of the 2nd semester.”

She relayed this to me fairly casually, but I was still amazed. I couldn’t imagine those kinds of struggles my freshman year.  I had gotten so stressed out by my statistics exam, I’d started having tension headaches.  Shantell’s story put it all in perspective.  At every step in her education, she had to overcome the heaviest burdens and the biggest of challenges to achieve the same level of success as most students. Thankfully, Shantell had support in the form of a professor who helped her secure internships and encouraged her to obtain her Master’s degree. 

At Dillard, Shantell also saw the difference between her skills and the students from Orleans Parish. “Some of those students didn’t know how to write a paper.  In Jefferson Parish, I was writing five-page papers all the time my senior year. I saw there was a different standard. We knew how to write and do research.”  

In hindsight, she was grateful for the opportunities she’d been given and wondered how it would have been different if she had gone to Orleans Parish schools.  “There was a school newspaper, so I was able to have that ah-ha moment with that teacher in the 8th grade. And that doesn’t exist in Orleans Parish. Even if there was a teacher who saw my potential, there wouldn’t have been a track to put me on. And classroom sizes are very different. A teacher probably wouldn’t have even had the time to see that I was good.” 

Shantell has a lot of knowledge about education, not just from her own experience, but she also has been working in the education field for the past few years.  In her current position, she helps parents with One-App, which is the school enrollment system in New Orleans. She also helps run after-school programs. Asked what she thinks about schools today, she doesn’t hesitate.

“It’s very, very scary. Our kids in the afterschool program don’t know how to do the work. If it was just one, that’d be different. But it’s the entire fifth-grade group. And I ask them, ‘Well, where are your notes?’ and they tell me they aren’t allowed to take notes. They don’t have textbooks and no notes to reference either. How are they supposed to succeed?”

She also shared some of her thoughts on education reform. First and foremost, she wants parents to be empowered to send their children to the right school. When it came to her daughter going to kindergarten, she had an excel sheet and wouldn’t even consider the worst performing schools. 

“I want them to do research and stop sending their babies to horrible schools. I want them to ask questions; be involved.” This is why she sometimes sends parents home with their own homework assignments while helping them with One-App. She explains to them that there is more to a school than a letter grade. She asks them questions about medications because perhaps their child needs a school with an on-site clinic or a nurse. Or does the school have a zero-tolerance policy? “Because that might not work if your baby is anxious,” she says.

She also questions the turnover of teachers. “Passion and compassion can’t be taught. When only half of the teachers are coming back, that creates inconsistency in the school, in the child’s life.”

I can tell she cares very deeply about the children she works with, but she didn’t actually expect to be doing this work. She laughs. “People always told me I’d end up in education. I always said no. I told them it doesn’t pay and I need money.” She imagined she would go on to get her Ph.D. and teach literature at the university level, but working as a graduate assistant and seeing how the dynamics of racism, classism, and sexism operate in academia, she began to change her mind. She had also applied for an internship in literacy that was supposed to be with adults but ended up as a program for kids. She loved it. She loved talking to kids about their lives and hearing their perspectives. This is when her ideas about her career path really began to shift.  She saw the harsh reality children were facing and knew she could provide hope through her own experiences.

“Some of those kids aren’t thinking about college because no one has told them about it. They need someone to say, ‘You’re good at this.’ They think you need money. But I tell them my family was poor-poor, and I still made it.”

At the end of the interview, I asked Shantell what she would say to herself as a child and what would she tell the imaginary self that went through Orleans Parish schools.  She thought about it for a moment before answering both.

“You are as smart as you think you are. And you can do whatever. It’s important to tell my teens that. They aren’t told that enough.”

I nodded. I gave her a hug and left from the meeting full of hope. Shantell’s story is certainly a story that makes it seem possible.

Florentina Staigers is an independent policy consultant with a background in law, sociology, and non-fiction writing. She currently works in the education field, but has also worked in immigrants’ rights and women’s rights. Florentina also writes for the secondline blog in New Orleans.

Independence Day?

When I think of this year's Independence Day holiday and the current pulse of our nation, I am reminded of a poem penned by Langston Hughes.

"Let America be America again.

Let it be the dream it used to be.

Let it be the pioneer on the plain

Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed--

Let it be that great strong land of love

Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme

That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty

Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,

But opportunity is real, and life is free,

Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There's never been equality for me,

Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.")

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?

And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,

I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.

I am the red man driven from the land,

I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek--

And finding only the same old stupid plan

Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak."

This poem, written in 1935, is more relevant now than ever. It draws from the experience of those who struggled as citizens of a fledgling nation in the grips of the Great Depression and Jim Crow and parallels our now divided nation in the throes of a vile and hateful administration.

But when I think of this holiday and the reasons we celebrate the independence of a birth of this nation, I am torn. July 4, 1777, meant American independence from British rule, but my ancestors, Native Americans, and immigrants were not free nor were they afforded the promise of this great new nation. Thus, I have long taken issue with the creed this country was founded on because I felt it was hypocritical.

So long as we have mass incarceration and governments investing more in prisons that schools, America will not be the land of the free. So long as unarmed men and women are shot and killed by those who are assigned to protect and serve them, America will not be the home of the brave. So long as American patriotism more closely resembles American greed and arrogance, America will not be America.

America must live out its creed in the most genuine way possible. If we are founded on the principles that all men are created equal, then we have to put our policies, money, and resources where our mouth is, so to speak. We must promote systemic change to ensure that the promise of America is extended to us all. Not just here on our mainland, but across the globe, for the whole of humanity. That creed has to be more than a clever slogan. And if we don't make it true for all men, regardless of where they may fall within the margins of our nation, America will never be the America we all hope and wish it will be; it certainly won't be 'Great Again.'

I am grateful to live in this country, despite its shortcomings I am one who always keeps in mind the great promise and potential even the bleakest situations pose -that fact makes the reality of where we are as a nation all the more frustrating. Because I know we can do better and be better as a nation, and we live beneath our potential. The opportunities this country have afforded have also provided me great responsibility to bear and tell the truth, but also to ensure everyone

One necessity the Declaration of Independence points to is the fact that people of color should extend to themselves "the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence" that Frederick Douglas spoke of in July 1852. As such, whether you celebrate this holiday or not, we can honor the work of those who have paved the way to move us onward from recognizing the potential greatness of America to ensuring that what America was meant to be is relevant and a reality for ALL Americans born on this soil or not.

There is no immunity from police profiling

Every time we see an instance of a person of color, or anyone, gunned down during a police interaction, the response always boils down to the fault being on the side of the civilian- who, many would be alive or unharmed if they just complied. As an elected official, I often work in close collaboration with various levels of law enforcement. In the wake of recent police shootings, I made it a point to try to start a dialogue around change and promoting community policing.

Regardless of our titles or career choices, at the end of the day, we are all human and are subject to human nature and emotion. Each instance of harassment or image of unarmed black men shot and killed are increasingly frustrating. I am a little angrier and more afraid each time I am stopped, knowing I did no wrong.

As an accomplished leader, educator, father one might say that I am reasonably successful. However, I am still intimately familiar with the fear and anxiety of driving and seeing a police car in my rearview mirror. One of the most infuriating things I have had to deal with in recent days is being harassed by the police while driving a new car that I worked hard to earn.

"Is this your car?"

"Yes, why wouldn't it be?"

"Because it's brand new and has temporary dealer plates on it."

"So, I can't have a new car?"

"It's a simple question."

"No, it's racial profiling, and that's not acceptable in my community."

It may have been a simple question, to them. But the implications of these types of interactions are damaging and dangerous. It is troubling to me that a young black male driving a new car in the community he sacrifices for, serves, and gives back to is enough justification for harassment because the notion that he might have stolen what he could have worked for is probable cause sufficient for a stop.

I was born and raised in Lynwood, California. I left to get and education and came back to serve my community. After an unfulfilling stint with the NBA, I was deciding between a career in law enforcement or education. My gut, heart, and purpose all led me to education; however, I still kept my options open to consider law enforcement. Finally, I had to make a choice between the LA Sheriff Department or the Lynwood School Board at that point I chose to work on building strong youth instead of trying to repair the broken adults that slipped through the system. Ironically, the department I was recruited by has been the most frequent perpetrators of racial profiling and harassment for me.

I am the epitome of why the reason, the suggestion, or notion that being polite and complying with officer commands is a means of feeling safe is fallacious at best. Of the many times I have been pulled over by the police, often at gunpoint, I have only received one ticket. I have never been arrested, and I don't have a criminal record. In fact, I have never been suspended from school, and I am confident I returned all of my library books on time. But every time the police pull up behind me my heart starts to pound and I utter the most sincere prayers that I don't see the red and blue lights flash or hear sirens. If by chance I am pulled over, I am doing everything in my power to make sure I make it home.

There are some who might feel that my point of view of experience is dramatic or result of some alternate reality. But this is what black men of all ages live on a daily basis. Often, where we live, what we drive, how educated we are or what we do for a living has no effect on our interactions with police. And we have seen men who fight back shot and killed as well as men who comply shot and killed. So tell us, what do we do now? How am I supposed to advocate for dialogue and partnership between police and community when my interactions with police have not all been pleasant, and I am fearful when I am approached or pulled over?

I am my brother's keeper; I hear the voice of my brother's blood, calling from the ground.

After my incident with the police a few weeks ago, I paused and wondered whether or not I should tell my story. But I was reminded that change dies in darkness and if I wanted anything to modify the way our communities are policed I had to use my platform and speak up. Just think about the term "community policing." Why are pushing to change the way our communities are policed and not demanding that the focus is on ensuring that our communities are protected and safe. At the end of the day, we don't or want to be "policed," we want to be protected, like our lives matter to those who are meant to serve us.

What has to happen at this point starts with both sides of this issues realizing that there aren't two sides to this. I understand the stress a pressure our police officers work under, but I also understand the same pressures we feel as a community. We all just want to get home safely. So police have to be trained to do everything possible to ensure that both parties get home safely. We have to shift the mindset around the role of police in our communities by making sure the public understands what is happening to them when they are stopped or approached by police. Many of the interactions that we have seen gone awry are rooted in fear but we can do better, we have to do better. I know it's possible because we've seen it done.

Protecting and serving community means the protectors and servers are held accountable for protecting and serving those whom they are tasked to safeguard just as the public must be held accountable to ensure that police can do their jobs and return home to their families safe as well.

If we do this, Tamir Rice could play innocently with a toy gun in a park with and be barraged with nuggets of wisdom as police approach him instead of bullets. Philando Castille could reach for his ID, as he was told, and live to tell the story about how he politely interacted with police the day before as he served lunch to his students. Alton Sterling could be cited for selling CD's and asked to leave the store premises when approached by the police and return home to his family. Mike Brown could be seen as a kid who may have made a poor decision but still make it to his first day of college. And the men and women who have lost their lives in the line of duty could protect and serve communities and come home to loving families every night.

 

"Seeds on the Green" - A guiding principle for the upbringing of children

The Igbo and Yoruba (Nigeria) proverb exists in different forms in many African languages. The essential meaning is that child upbringing requires a collective effort or, it takes a village to raise a child. One of the reasons that I have this proverb as my guiding principle is because it has been the theme of my upbringing. As it relates to education, I think about the village that rallied around me to make sure I understood and realized my potential and promise.
 
Two years ago, I had a lofty dream to host an event where I could pair young men with mentors in a way that allowed meaningful conversation and interactions to take place in the most genuine way possible. Last Saturday, that dream became a reality when I hosted what I pray is the first of many annual "Seeds on the Green" events.
 
I was fortunate to be present when President Obama rolled out his My Brother's Keeper initiative. All of us in the room were tasked with taking the initiative home and adapting it to the needs of our communities starting with case studies, then action plans and summits to lay the foundation for sustainable practices that would undergird young men and boys of color with the support they need to thrive. My version of this initiative came in the form of The Village Project. With which, we would build a village around our youth, aligning them with resources, information, opportunity, and mentorship. As we held our first press conference, our young ladies demanded we include them as well. So naturally, the work expanded to include our young girls as well as families.
 
Since that first press conference, we convened a few think-tanks to work towards centralizing resources, establishing a vision and focus but also look at things we could do to start moving the needle. At one of our last meetings, I shared my experiences growing up in Lynwood and gave some context to why this work is so meaningful and shared my idea for the "Seeds on the Green" event. This event would bring our young men together and align them with mentors using golf, something that is readily available to all of them but something that they rarely have the opportunity to take advantage of. When I shared this idea, I had no proof of concept that such an event would have the results that I hoped for. But I knew that the most important part of the event would be the fact that young men had an opportunity to glean from men who could deposit seeds of wisdom in them as a part of the first cohort of young men that we worked to support.
 
Our equity department made dozens of phone calls the night before the event, and 25 young men showed up at our district office to board a bus at 8 am on a Saturday during the summer. That was a win in and of itself. But these young men came eager to interact and learn even though they had no idea what to expect. They trusted us enough to be open to what we had to offer. Many of them had only seen golf on tv and for the most part had no real interest in the sport. In Lynwood and many similar communities, most of our young men are driven to play basketball, football, soccer, and baseball. Few, if any, ever consider golf.
 
Perhaps the most moving part of the day was when one young man shared his story. As we planned this event, we tried to find a golf course that was close enough to Lynwood that it would be accessible to our mentees on a regular basis and also somewhere that was in proximity to keep transportation costs as low as possible. We chose Los Amigos in Downey, California since it was a short 2-mile drive from Lynwood.
 
Los Amigos is a course that is frequented by professional golfers from all across the globe. But what is unique about this course is that the entrance of this course is adjacent to the Los Padrinos Juvenile Detention Center. One of our students shared with us that this time last year he was watching people play golf through a barbed-wire fence and this day he was on the other side. This event literally and symbolically meant he had liberated and secured a brighter future for himself. As he approached the event, he had a visual of the two paths he had available to him. If he went left, he was back at Los Padrinos. If he turned right, he was surrounded by caring adults, men who embodied everything he aspired to be where he'd be enriched with wisdom and opportunity. In talking to him, we made a deal with him. If he stayed on task, kept his grades up, we would make ourselves available to him to continue to teach him the game of golf.
 
As I reflect on this event, it did not matter what activity we used. What was most important was the fact that we had men willing to spend time empowering and mentoring young men in a forum where they could ask questions of men who grew up and overcame similar obstacles as they are facing. More important, many of these young people heard someone say they believed in them and had them back up those words with action and commitment. They went from showing up reserved and not knowing what to expect from us or golf to opening up to us and practicing their golf swings without golf clubs as they waited to board the bus home.
 
Now that we have the proof of concept for this type of event, it is imperative that we make sure this kind of gathering happens as often as possible. Planting seeds are one thing, but for anything to grow, we have to make sure we nurture each of them; this is especially important for young men who might sorely need support as they transition from boyhood to manhood. We have so many broken men because they failed to make this change properly. It is my hope and prayer that the first of many Annual "Seeds on the Green" event will be a means to that end.

 

What is "School Choice"?

As a parent, you have the right, no, the obligation, to search out the best schooling options for your children. That is where the discussion of school choice should rest. Too often, the narrative around school choice is framed in a way that allows school systems to dominate the conversation without taking into account the day to day impact schooling has on families. In it's most authentic form, school choice for parents is about finding a place that offers services, programs and rigor that matches the needs of their children and families. 

It is not the fault of families that funding for education is flawed and pulling kids out of boundary schools means that school system loses funds. That reality should be the least of a parent's concerns around what is best for their children. The truth of the matter is, too often educational institutions hold the best interest of students and families hostage with their budgets in mind.

At this point in the juncture, we know that charter schools are not going away and traditional public schools sorely need reform. What is counterproductive is high-level conversations that lack any substantive input or consideration for what school choice looks like for parents. Even the notion that parents would prefer convenience over what is best for their children is faulty. If the best your school has to offer is proximity, then you are giving parents the illusion of choice. It is not so much that parents don't want to have to drive further than they should or put their kids on a bus, it's the fact that parents will do what is best for their children, even if that means going out of their way to do so. So if traditional public schools want to do what's best for families, they need to be nimble and respond to the needs of students and families above all else or get out of the way of parents who seek out the best option for their kids. 

LAUSD Tackling Dyslexia

The LAUSD is committed to preparing teachers to serve students with the learning disability, known as dyslexia.  Though a California state law has been enacted to train teachers about dyslexia, the LAUSD put a plan into immediate action ahead of the law.


The board gave Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Michelle King 90 days to return with an action plan to provide staff and teacher training on the warning signs of dyslexia, interventions proven by research to be effective and appropriate assessments for identifying dyslexia. 

Read more here

Bullies in Elementary

According to school climate surveys in the LA area, the majority of schools reporting bullying behaviors are elementary schools.  The school district is now following a restorative justice model, but elementary schools have been late to receive benefits of the rollout.

"The data reflects responses from 786 district and charter schools across the city that participated in surveys given in the 2015-16 school year, the most recent available."

Read more here