Education Mayor gets an F
“Your attention, please.
Will Antonio Villaraigosa please report to the principal’s office at Roosevelt High.
Yes, folks, I’m once again calling out the Education Mayor, as he has called himself. The L.A. mayor attended Roosevelt in Boyle Heights as a kid and took control of it last July along with nine other schools he promised to rescue.
“Judge me by what we do in these schools,” Villaraigosa said in September.
Three weeks ago, teachers at Roosevelt did just that, taking a poll on how things are going.
With 199 teachers casting a ballot, 184 expressed no confidence in the mayor’s Partnership for Los Angeles Schools (PLAS).
Is “rebuke” a strong enough word?
How about “revolt”?
“We basically switched one bureaucracy for another one,” said English teacher Esteban Lopez, who sees no improvement over the way things were when Roosevelt was controlled by the Los Angeles Unified School District.
Lopez was one of seven teachers I met with Monday night, all of whom had gripes. Four of the seven had voted to support the mayor’s initiative in 2007, when it won by a 152-62 tally. But now they’re giving PLAS a big thumbs down.
Decision-making by PLAS administrators is irritatingly haphazard and confusing, said English teacher Rebecca Lizardi.
Can a student in one of the seven small academies take a class available only in another academy? One day yes, the next day no.
“Why don’t they just use a Ouija board?” Lizardi cracked.
Not that special ed teachers Yolanda Rivera and Graciela Lopez or social studies teacher Chris Berru expected miracles when they threw their support behind the mayor two years ago.
“It was the lesser of two evils,” Berru said.
He and others knew the mayor’s team was appallingly short on details as to how things would get better. There were vague references to giving teachers more say in running Roosevelt, but Berru insisted that hasn’t happened.
Nor have teachers seen the infusion of money the mayor promised, and they’re unclear on how the transition to smaller schools will be executed.
“We’re not against small schools,” Berru said, “but they don’t seem to know what they’re doing.”
The teachers told me many of their colleagues at other PLAS schools are equally lathered up.
“They’re furious,” Lizardi said.
When I checked Mayor Villaraigosa’s daily schedule to see whether he might be available to talk about all this, I saw that he was on tap to address “the nation’s leading education reformers, funders and scholars” at a summit Tuesday in Pasadena.
I saw the schedule too late, unfortunately. I would have loved to have heard what wisdom the mayor passed on to the assembled scholars.
I did get a hold of PLAS officials Marshall Tuck and Angela Bass, and they were rather cooperative, I have to say. Yes, they admitted, there are grievances of varying degrees at PLAS schools, and they did indeed take a whomping from the teachers at Roosevelt with that landslide vote of no confidence.
“They’re unhappy with the work of the partnership, and they told it to us loud and clear,” Tuck said.
He added that he and Bass went to campus to let teachers have their say, and now they intend to make many of the adjustments and improvements the teachers are demanding.
I have a summary of that meeting, by the way, including complaints from teachers.
They blast PLAS administrators for “top-down” decision-making “with little involvement of or respect for the teachers, community, students.”
They tell bosses: “Your role is not clearly defined and it is not known by most teachers.”
They decry a lack of communication and transparency, complaining of closed-door decision-making.
“I haven’t seen any real changes or differences from the year before other than more meetings, a mug and a shirt,” one teacher said.
“What happened to all the money?” another asked in reference to the $50 million raised by the mayor to support the transformation of PLAS schools.
Tuck said $290,000 of that money has been directed to Roosevelt so far for transitional expenses, but some of it is being held in reserve to save jobs when the budget cuts hit.
He and Bass didn’t sound terribly optimistic that Roosevelt would meet the mayor’s goal of a 30-point improvement on the state’s Academic Performance Index, but they said the long-term objective is to get far more students into college-prep courses.
PLAS took on some of the lowest-performing schools, Tuck said. At Roosevelt, only 3% of the 4,700 students were proficient in math last year and 18% in English.
“We’re trying to transform schools that have been broken for a long time,” Bass said.
Understood. Villaraigosa was anything but modest, though, in his criticism of the LAUSD and in boasting that he could do a much better job. He’s not exactly acing any tests thus far.
Is he even showing up for class?
Tuck said the mayor visits schools “at least once a week.” But at Roosevelt, teachers said they haven’t seen much of him since he sold them on the partnership in 2007.
On that occasion, Esteban Lopez said, a mouse ran in front of the mayor as he spoke, and Villaraigosa said that was one of the problems he was going to fix.
“The mouse is still there,” Lopez said, “but [the mayor] has never come back.”