School & District Management Opinion

Chuck Olynyk: A Year After, a Veteran of Reconstitution Offers Words to the Wise

By Anthony Cody — January 13, 2011 5 min read
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A year ago I got the first of what would become many missives from a veteran teacher at Fremont High in East Los Angeles. We are being told by certain billionaires and the economists in their employ that the reason test scores lag at some schools is they are staffed by “bad teachers,” who have low expectations for their students, who go through the motions, and ought to be fired for the good of the students. This description does not fit Chuck Olynyk very well, but he was treated as if it did. We have come to know him through his writing, and his passion for his students comes through clearly. This is a man who came to class many days wearing period chain mail and helmet, corresponding to the historic period under study. But chain mail would not protect him from the slings and arrows of Los Angeles Unified, once they were determined to reconstitute his school. His experience is a microcosm of what is happening to our profession in the name of “reform.” Today, as the error is about to be repeated at yet another Los Angeles high school, Chuck offers some words to the wise, based on his experiences last winter and spring at the Mont.

“Carry On, Wayward Son.”

Today is Wednesday, January 12, 2011 and I would have called it Day 198 PF, but things have been happening and people have asked me very good questions and made statements about when I will stop thinking in terms of Post Fremont. So, I’m not sure what to call today. Tomorrow and Friday are that Old Slavic/Orthodox New Year. And, according to me I wrote Day 168 “Somebody Had To Say It”
and sent it out January 14. According to Anthony Cody, It was Jan. 13. Still makes it a year ago, so I’m mulling on just how to label the new calendar.

The old calendar is through--for a number of reasons. One of which is what is happening at Jordan High School. A day after a breathy robo-call from School Board president Monica Garcia announcing Dr. John Deasy was “enthusiastically approved” to become the next Superintendent of LAUSD, the current Superintendent Ramon C. Cortines decided to demonstrate that he was not a lame duck. Today he announced the reconstitution of David Star Jordan High School in Watts. On Friday, October 8, Superintendent Ramon C. Cortines, went to Jordan, and told the faculty they had four choices: (a) Reconstitution (b) Green Dot (c) the Mayor’s program or (d) a plan created by the faculty, I wrote about that in Day 107 PF “Everything Must Go.”

I also wrote that Dr. George McKenna, III announced that reconstitution would not take place: “You’re just going to do what I tell you to.” Which was what the Fremont people were told. Superintendent Cortines, some twenty-two days later, told the faculty NOT to choose the options of Green Dot (going charter) or the Mayor’s PLAS group;. Instead the only options available were to write a plan in one month which he would weigh in on.

We now know that to be a sham.

When I texted folks, here are some of the responses I got: "(Expletive)... he learned nothing!!!” “Because Fremont was such a success???” “So he said ‘f*** your plan.’”

It should not be a surprise to anyone.

After all, Fremont was given three months to write their plan, one with LAEP involved; it was still gutted. It was supposed to happen from the very beginning. So what today’s post is about is what we at the Mont learned.

We learned that we should have stuck together. Some of us learned it right away, that it was burned into our souls. Trust your buddies. Some of us learned it later, by breaking ranks; they did okay for a time--some even got coordinatorships or lead positions with the new regime, telling themselves they could still create positive change. The “positive change” is some questionable bragging about a rise in ‘periodic assessment scores.”

There were problems staffing the school; people were promised all sorts of things (the carrot); they were also threatened (the stick). Repeatedly. They were lied to, so that the threats carried greater might (anyone from the Mont remember how we were all going to be shipped to Bethune en mass? Or how we wouldn’t be paid over the summer?) When the tissue of lies was shredded, we had the lies explained away as “misunderstandings” or “miscommunications” or “misinterpretations.” Don’t fall for it.

You will be told to reapply, even though you are the problem (at least you’re being told you are the root of all evil), and that many of you will keep your jobs. You might even be denied letters of reference, as we were. Hey, Mr. Balderas [principal] talked to Howard Blume of the Los Angeles Times “Balderas was able to retain the ‘best and the brightest’ and able to fill slots as needed with equally able educators.” That probably means there hope for an SIG grant. Don’t fall for it. Ask around. We had many who reapplied, only to get cast aside as soon as they provided signatures or gave the administration what they wanted.

Don’t get used.

Staffing the school will be a nightmare. And they don’t want a bunch of qualified, experienced folk. Mr. Balderas made statements to the Los Angeles Times that Mr. Blume in his December story that “It turned out the union was correct.” Maybe they’ll have to put up one of those giant inflatable gorillas on the roof that you see at car dealerships and appliance stores in order to get people to stay.

They aren’t staying at Fremont. They are leaving, by ones and twos, but they are leaving, either to another school or leaving the profession entirely. And the administration will be prepared to state that those who replace them “are as good or better.” But why lie about the numbers? And how is it the district doesn’t know exactly who or even how many teachers work at a school?

They lied to us at Fremont from the beginning. Be prepared for the same.

We developed a website at get the information out. There’s a lot of our history at savingfremont.weebly.com (my old posts) and rememberfremont.webs.com (the current one), as well as Fremont Watch. You might do the same. Huntington Park is already has a site: savehphs

That is, if you want to fight it. Just tonight I saw from one of the students whose fate I care about state that I’m a Pathfinder in my heart.

I discovered there was life after Fremont. If -no, when--many of you get moved, you will be sent to other schools. You yourself may feel strange about it. Most people will welcome you with open arms. Just this morning I was in the Main Office and was asked how I liked it at Roosevelt. I said what was in my heart, which echoed what many saw in me December 9th: I was told I “looked ten years younger” (hey, I’ll take that). That’s how I feel, too. Then I got asked in the office, “Where did you come from?” I gave the one word reply and was greeted with the same response I always get, “Oh. Ohh.”

And you will have to explain.

You didn’t do anything wrong. You’re being blamed, being put on trial at a drumhead, but you didn’t do anything wrong.

Just have faith in each other and stick together. And that means not reapplying.

You are not alone.

I guess I’ll call this Year 2 Day 1, because it is a new year for me.

What do you think? Do any of Chuck’s experience correspond with yours?

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