Weekly musings on the arts and current events.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Fast Reshuffle

The school where I taught for nearly twenty years, Huntington Park Senior High, is being reconstituted. This means that everyone--the administrators, the teachers, the clerical, maintenance, cafeteria, and security personnel, every one of them--has been given notice. If they want their jobs back, they must reapply, and the rules state that only half of them can be rehired.

Disruption for the students will be dire, especially those preparing for college. The Los Angeles School Board has apparently not considered what happened the year following a similar reconstitution imposed upon nearby Fremont Senior High. Many of its best teachers chose not to reapply, in some cases taking their expertise, programs, even grants, to other campuses. Sixty per cent of the classes wound up being taught by substitutes and temporary volunteers.

A former colleague told me yesterday that hiring interviews will be handled by four panels, each consisting of district officials, a parent, and a student. I don't know how evaluations can be performed fairly and uniformly by four separate panels, but apparently time pressure necessitates a decentralized approach. Huntington Park's new school year begins in just six weeks.

Of course most teachers will land on their feet. The district can't actually fire them without cause, so they'll either be reshuffled to other campuses or they'll stay home and collect their full salaries.

My greater concern is for the lower paid classified workers, many of whom live in the neighborhood and walk to work. If they must transfer to remote campuses, some will have to take buses, lengthening their day and perhaps turning their kids into latch-key-students, who are, almost by definition, at risk.

I don't wish to hyperbolize, but I think it is fair to say that reconstituting is a top-down attempt to force change upon a school's culture. There can be no line of argument for replacing the man who cuts the grass, vis a vis raising student achievement, other than desperate faith in authoritarianism.

All my life, I've been suspicious of anyone who utters such phrases as crack-down, no-nonsense, zero-tolerance, and across-the-board. Ignorance of nuance, indifference to root causes, and refusal to refine priorities, is hardly a virtue. In other postings I'll continue to share my experiences and comment upon the educational challenges we face, but let me say for now that executive petulance will solve nothing.

Smiling Tom by Robert Henri, 1924. Henri, an Ashcan School luminary, painted lots of children, often smiling, and of all races and ethnicities. It's evident that he genuinely liked them. I've rarely heard school board members, educators, or government officials speak of children except in the aggregate. By the way, this painting is to be auctioned at Christies next week with an estimated price of between three and five hundred thousand dollars. Click on the picture for a closer look...and let me know if you decide to bid.


Ben Hardy said...

It sounds like you are having similar public budget cuts that we are having here in the UK, where local authorities and universities are being told to cut their budgets by 25%. The Government tell us that this encourages efficiency, which perhaps it does, but it also means a huge amount of unemployment - and it is often, ironically, the lowest paid who lose their jobs.

Coincidentally, my 'high school' (they call them secondary schools here) was Huntington Comprehensive School, York.

And I don't think I'll put in a bid. Not this time.

Janie B said...

I wrote in my blog about changes happening at my school next year, too. It can be very unsettling for all. Someone in high places needs to see the importance in education and help us out!

Paula Slade said...

Politicians - 3
Teachers - 2
Clerical/Maintenance - 1
Students - 0
Let's see who wins here.

The painting is lovely. Unfortunately my piggy bank is empty.

DUTA said...

(Hope my comment goes through as I've been having difficulties with comments since yesterday).

First of all, you should thank God that you're out of this system; it's not a healthy one. How do I know that? Well,Israel imports from America every system, method, procedure, trend, fashion practised there. She's more America than America although she can't afford it. Even America cannot aford to be America any longer.

Let's face it - american education system is good with generating all kinds of community organizers, journalists, writers, lawyers, advisers who excel in bla, bla, bla and paca, paca. However, when it comes to real workers with brains and ethics the country has to rely on people who came in from elsewhwere, especially from east- Europe.

The changes you mention in your post are useless unless they include the following:

1. an appeal to students 'to ask not what the school can do for them but what they can do for the school and the country'.

2. an appeal to parents to recognize the fact that their children (the school's students)are their responsability, and that the teacher cannot and should not be expected to play the role of parent, nanny, nurse, brother, social worker etc..

Unfortunately, many teachers go along with the usual lies regarding the education system of which they are an integral part. That's why the respect for them is low and so are their wages.

Crosby Kenyon said...

Wish I could afford to bid on anything. This is such a hot-button issue. Where should educational reform actually start?

TallTchr said...

@Ben: Politicians are building a case that teachers are overpaid. It's really our union they're angry at, not us.

@Duta: I don't know any East European educators, myself. I'm curious about whether their system is better than ours, or if they've learned to make do with less.

@Crosby: Welcome! Where to start? With the kids! But as I said, no one likes to mention them.

DUTA said...


It's not the educators, it's the students. It's the quality of the students that matters, and also the willingness of the System to invest in those who learn and bring results on one hand, not lowering expectations on the other hand.