Tag Archives: Los Angeles Unified School District

LAUSD Doubts that Seasoned Teacher-Librarians Can Teach

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Teacher-librarians fill high-tech role.

“There’s no better use of limited funds than paying attorneys to harass educators who’ve devoted their lives to helping our children,” Bennett Tramer of Santa Monica, California, said in a letter published May 17 in the Los Angeles Times. A tongue-in-cheek response to the May 13 Hector Tobar column, “The Disgraceful Interrogation of L.A. School Librarians,” the letter concluded: “I also applaud the valuable presence of armed police officers at the hearings; you never know when a librarian will pull out a book and start reading.”

Tramer was reacting to Tobar’s heart-wrenching description of a week’s worth of hearings, in which attorneys representing the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) asked Kafkaesque questions such as “Do you take attendance?” of dozens of teacher-librarians appealing their layoffs in order to prove to an administrative judge that the teacher-librarians were not qualified to become classroom teachers. At least, that’s what observers such as Tobar and Nora Murphy, a teacher-librarian for L.A. Academy Middle School and blogger, have written about the hearings.

What does taking attendance have to do with being a highly trained educator who is duly credentialed and who teaches how to learn? Here’s the connection: A recency rule established this school year by LAUSD officials (and upheld by an administrative judge) states that a teacher-librarian who has not taught in a classroom for five years is no longer, by definition, a qualified teacher, no matter how many years of service and training she or he has. And if a teacher-librarian hasn’t taken attendance in five or more years, she or he must not have been in charge of a classroom. The administrative judge presiding over the hearings upheld the recency rule, clearing the way for the trials. It is unclear when the judge will rule on the individuals’ qualifications.

In a May 18 op-ed in the Times, Murphy said:

“I have listened as other teacher-librarians have endured demeaning questions from school district attorneys, and I wonder how it has come to this. . . . The basic question being asked is whether highly trained and experienced teacher-librarians are fit for the classroom. LAUSD’s lawyers seem determined to prove they are not. One librarian, who would like to go back to an elementary classroom if her library is closed, was asked to recite the physical education standards for second-graders, as if failing to do so would mean she was unfit. Another teacher, who wants to return to teaching English, noted that she spent all day in the library effectively teaching English. But her inquisitor quickly started asking questions about the Dewey Decimal System, suggesting that since it involved more math than English, the teacher was no longer practiced in the art of teaching English.”

Among those laid off is Leslie Sipos, teacher-librarian for the middle- and high school library at the brand-new LAUSD’s Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools campus, which was featured in American Libraries’ 2011 facilities showcase. “She hadn’t even gotten all the books out of boxes,” Monroe High School Teacher-Librarian Annette Scherr told AL.

“The elimination of school librarians means the District is losing invaluable teachers whose educational specialty is empowering students with life-long, independent learning skills,” wrote American Library Association President Roberta A. Stevens and Nancy Everhart, president of ALA’s American Association of School Librarians, in an open letter May 18 to the LAUSD board and administration. Urging the district to reconsider its decision, Stevens and Everhart asserted: “The elimination of these positions will have a devastating effect on the educational prospects and success of the District’s students. A good school library is not an option—it is essential to a good education.”

As the grilling of teacher-librarians and other LAUSD educators proceeded, there was a presumption that state aid to education was going to be slashed yet again in FY2012, which would be partly responsible for LAUSD having a nearly $408-million deficit to erase. However, California Gov. Jerry Brown announced May 16 that, because state revenues had mushroomed $6.6 billion more than anticipated this fiscal year, he was recommending the restoration of $3 billion to education spending.

If LAUSD receives the $300 million it would be due, it’s unclear whether it could help alleviate the situation in which teacher-librarians find themselves. What could help is the intense networking and outreach that members of the California School Librarians Association are doing to make the Los Angeles school libraries crisis as visible as possible. Teacher-librarians such as Scherr lobbied in the state Capitol with the California Teachers Association in mid-May for additional education funding, and even buttonholed California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, who was among those backing the state’s adoption last year of model school-library standards. Authors Neil Gaiman, Bruce Coville, and Jane Yolen have been spreading the word through Facebook; Gaiman has also created a #savethelibrarians hashtag.

From Kafka to kiosk?

Scherr and other LAUSD teacher-librarians remain determined, but according to the April 20 quarterly report on bond-funded projects issued by district Chief Academic Officer Judy Elliott, the district has already reorganized the Instructional Media Services, which supported the school-library program, into a new department: the Integrated Library and Textbook Support Services. “The Director position of Instructional Media Services is being eliminated,” Elliott writes, noting, “ILTSS supports the instructional goals of the Superintendent and LAUSD by ensuring new school libraries will be made available to students. . . . It is understood that all libraries need a certified librarian, but budget constraints force us to investigate different options for the schools to implement.”

According to Scherr, Elliott testified before the administrative judge that there was no function a teacher-librarian could perform that couldn’t be performed by anybody else. That philosophy is reflected in the report, which goes into detail about the implementation of Follett Software’s Destiny integrated-library system for library and textbook inventory management. Principals are offered three options: Find external funding for a teacher-librarian to manage the software system; delegate a school staffer to learn and maintain the software; establish an unstaffed “kiosk” self-check system so students and faculty can still access the library’s collection.

via americanlibrariesmagazine

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L.A. Unified’s ‘teacher jail’ policy ends up punishing students

Teacher-Jail-700In 2012, the entire 110-member staff of Miramonte Elementary School was pulled off campus after accusations of molestation were leveled at two teachers. Mark Berndt pleaded no contest to charges involving feeding semen-laced cookies to blindfolded students; charges against the second teacher were ultimately dropped (and he has since left the district). Everyone else spent the rest of the school year cooling their heels in a new, not-yet-opened school.

John Deasy, who was then superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, justified the move by saying he was concerned there might be a culture of sexual abuse at Miramonte. All staff files were scrutinized. But in only a couple of cases were there previous allegations of abuse; a few other teachers were found to have broken minor, unrelated rules, and most of the staff returned to Miramonte the following year.

At first this looked like nothing more than an honest effort to protect children, after Miramonte administrators had rebuffed earlier complaints. But it was the start of a troubling series of teacher suspensions at other schools that disrupted students’ education and that notably did not involve their safety. These suspensions with pay during often lengthy investigations are known as “teacher jail”; teachers largely spend the time at home while substitutes who often are less qualified take their places.

With classes beginning Aug. 18, the many admirers of Hobart Elementary teacher Rafe Esquith are wondering whether he’ll be there to greet a new batch of fifth-graders after four months in teacher jail. His case, and those of others before him, raise troubling questions about whether the teacher investigation system is causing too much disruption at L.A. Unified schools.

In 2014, two beloved teachers at separate high schools were reassigned to teacher jail for eight months over allegations of possible financial improprieties involving field trips. Both were finally returned to the classroom. That was also the year that a popular science teacher, who taught at the arts high school named for Supt. Ramon C. Cortines, was yanked from the classroom because two students had designed projects for a science fair that appeared to a couple of people as too similar to weaponry. (One project, a standard at science fairs across the country, was a milder version of a catapult-like invention that President Obama had tried out and praised at a White House science fair.) While he was in limbo, the teacher missed out on one of the most important months of the school year — the period of intense preparation for the Advanced Placement tests — replaced by a substitute who didn’t know the material.

But none of those teachers had the national reputation of Esquith. He has written three books on inspired pedagogy and has improved students’ English skills by getting them excited about staging Shakespeare plays. He pays for their productions with a nonprofit that also funds student field trips to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which were canceled this year because of the investigation.

The trouble started, according to accounts given to Times reporters, with a mild joke about nudity based on a passage in “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”; Esquith was then removed from the classroom in April when the investigation expanded into whether there were financial irregularities with his nonprofit. Yet later, according to reports, the investigation came to focus on allegations that Esquith had molested a boy some 40 years earlier, when he was a teenage camp counselor — an allegation that the district had been aware of for years.

Of course the district has a right, and an obligation, to investigate molestation accusations and remove possibly abusive teachers when allegations arise. But as currently practiced, the procedure appears to turn too many easily resolved cases into administrative quagmires. Why not just tell the science teacher that science fair projects shouldn’t look like weapons? End of story.

By all means, investigate when necessary. But L.A. Unified should not overreact by removing teachers over allegations that have nothing to do with student safety. The district must put student welfare first, and their welfare is not served by disrupting the school year. It’s time for an independent examination by the district’s Office of the Inspector General.

via Los Angeles Times

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L.A. Unified releases audit of charter school with ties to candidate.

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Ref Rodriguez
L.A. Unified Board of Education candidate Ref Rodriguez. (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)

An audit of a charter school with ties to a Board of Education candidate found fault with the school’s financial operations and the way it maintained employee records and other documents.

The audit was released Wednesday by the Los Angeles Unified School District in response to a Public Records Act request by The Times and other media outlets.

The school, Lakeview Charter Academy, is part of PUC Schools, which was co-founded by board candidate Ref Rodriguez. Rodriguez currently serves on the board of directors and in a part-time capacity as treasurer of the corporate arm of the organization.

The audit did not reveal problems that could result in the Lake View Terrace school being shut down. But it found some issues that L.A. Unified wants remedied.

“We appreciated the opportunity to work with the district and are grateful for the inputs that have helped us improve our practices, even though we disagree with some of the points that were made,” said Jacqueline Elliot, chief executive of PUC schools.

The Times reported Tuesday that the audit’s public release had been withheld at the request of a school board member. District sources said the delay came at the behest of school board member Monica Garcia, a political ally of Rodriguez.

L.A. Unified General Counsel David Holmquist confirmed that a board member requested the delay, but would not specify which one.

Garcia did not respond to requests for comment through her staff and email.

In an interview, Holmquist said that under the California Public Records Act, the audit was a public document that would have to be released if requested. The district decided to release it after confirming that PUC had received the final version of the report, he said.

>>> Read more

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Ex-LAUSD chief John Deasy joins Broad leadership academy

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John Deasy, former Los Angeles Unified School District superintendent, is joining a training academy funded by philanthropist Eli Broad, Deasy’s long-time supporter.

Deasy resigned from LAUSD in October after issues with technology projects and growing tension with the school board. He remained on the district’s payroll until the end of December.

In his new position at The Broad Center for the Management of School Systems, Deasy will serve as a consultant and superintendent-in-residence for the Broad Academy, the center’s training and coaching program for urban public education leaders, according to a center news release.

>>> Read more 

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Before LAUSD travel ban, former superintendent flew 100k miles last year

on private foundation’s dime

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Dr. John Deasy.

Former Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent John Deasy traveled more than 100,000 miles last school year, equivalent to circling the globe four times, according to a KPCC analysis of credit card records.

Before he stepped down, Deasy charged more than 30 business trips to his district-issued American Express card over the course of the 2013-2014 school year, traveling to New York and Washington, D.C., at least five times each.

LAUSD’s contract with Deasy, who remains on the payroll as an administrator until the end of the year, states the district is responsible for his expenses. But theWasserman Foundation,  a private family foundation headed by Casey Wasserman, ultimately covers the tab, district officials confirmed.

Deasy continued to travel on district business after he announced his resignation Oct. 16. His decision to step down followed a string of problems with the rollout of key technology projects and growing tension with school board members.

Read more >>> Deasy News. 

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(Click on the above image to enlarge it. Map by KPCC’s news clerk Daniella Segura.)

KPCC obtained two years’ worth of Deasy’s credit card expenses, beginning on June 30, 2012 and extending through the end of June 2014, the close of the district’s fiscal year.

The records show Deasy charged flights, hotel rooms, meals and ground transportation costs for visits to Aspen, Austin, Birmingham and Boston, among other locations. In all, Deasy logged more than 100,000 miles in the air, according to KPCC analysis of flight purchases.

To get a better idea of Deasy’s monthly expenses, KPCC examined charges in August 2013, during which Deasy bought tickets to Washington, D.C., New York, Pittsburgh and Albuquerque.

His local restaurant bills reached $630 for the month with per meal prices ranging from $25 to $250 at Fleming’s Steakhouse. Fleming’s tasting menu starts at $45 per person.

His expenses for the month neared $4,800, including $1,340 for a three-night stay at the W in D.C., which Travel Advisor lists as a luxury hotel.

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Breaking News: FBI Raids LAUSD Offices for iPad Files

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Dr. John Deasy former PGCPS Super involved in the endless saga in Los Angeles after he left Prince George’s County.

LOS ANGELES (AP) — FBI agents seized 20 boxes of documents related to Los Angeles Unified School District’s beleaguered $1 billion iPad project, officials confirmed Tuesday. Agents confiscated documents at the district’s offices Monday regarding procurement practices involving the Common Core Technology project, LAUSD’s plan to equip all schools with 21st century learning devices.

The FBI confirmed an investigation into the district, but would not provide any further information, citing the ongoing probe. “The L.A Unified School District will offer its full cooperation to federal authorities during the course of the investigation,” Interim Superintendent Ramon Cortines said in a statement. The FBI action was first reported by The Los Angeles Times. The initiative to provide all 650,000 students in the nation’s second largest school district with iPads has been plagued with problems from the start. Hundreds of students initially given the iPads last school year found ways to bypass security installations, downloading games and freely surfing the Web.

Teachers complained they were not properly trained to instruct students with the new technology. And questions were raised after emails were disclosed showing that then-Superintendent John Deasy had been in communication with vendors Apple and Pearson before the contracts were put to bid. “The idea of providing first-class learning technology to all the kids in the district, not just the kids who could afford it, is certainly a worthy educational goal,” said Charles Taylor Kerchner, a professor at Claremont Graduate University. “That worthy goal runs up against problems of organizational feasibility, and it did from the beginning.”

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