About 30 La Cañada High sophomores gathered in front of their school’s administration building after school let out Friday with signs and T-shirts in protest of the school’s World Cultures Academy program possibly ending.
The World Cultures Academy is an interdisciplinary combination of English and history for sophomores. It was founded and taught at LCHS this year by Rick Mohney and Jim Cartnal and it’s already made an impact on students.
“When I wake up in the morning I don’t dread going to school as much as I used to,” said Anders Iversen, the student-protest leader, participant in the program and sophomore at LCHS. “When we walk in we know we’re going to pushed to our limits but we’re not going to be pushed beyond them…When I’m sick I’ll go to WCA and then I’ll leave because I enjoy the class.”
The program could amount to just a one-hit wonder, though. Mohney accepted an early-retirement incentive plan for veteran teachers offered by La Cañada Unified earlier this year and later decided he wanted to come back to teach the course on a part-time basis.
Jackie Luzak, LCHS’ principal, won’t allow Mohney to return part time though because of the impact it would have on staffing next year, according to Anders. Luzak could not be immediately reached for comment because she’s attending the senior trip to Catalina.
“Luzak wants to bring back full-time teachers to strengthen the community at LCHS, which I understand,” Anders said. “But what I don’t understand is they’re not sure what they’re going to have next year — they’re hiring as they go, so why not hire Mohney now and go from there?”
Wendy Sinnette, La Cañada Unified’s assistant superintendent of human resources, said committing to Mohney would complicate things when it comes time to create next year’s master schedule.
“Whenever you’re building a master schedule priority is given to hiring [full-time educators],” Sinnette said. “If we had extra sections [hiring Mohney part-time] would be a potential consideration, but with the budget crisis we are running so lean that the only sections we are able to assign at this point are full-time.”
Cartnal was left to decide between continuing the WCA with a new teacher or stopping it all together. He chose the latter.
“[The WCA] is a program [Mohney] and I have been envisioning for three years and I think it’s the students’ opinion that when you don’t have the two founding teachers present the program can’t continue,” Cartnal said.
The World Cultures Academy has garnered more than just student support.. Guy Iversen, Anders’ father and an attorney, met with Luzak and Aaron Dover, LCHS’ assistant principal, to discuss the situation with Mohney on behalf of LCHS students and parents on April 21. Iversen also sent a 47-page document that included a student petition with 48 signatures, a parent petition with 22 signatures and 14 letters/emails from LCHS parents to La Cañada Unified’s Supt. Jim Stratton,. Stratton was asked to step in and rescind Luzak’s decision but he backed her. Stratton couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.
Leslie Baldwin, an eighth-grade English teacher at LCHS, witnessed the protest and was impressed by the students rallying behind their class. She said that in the 12 years she’s worked at the school she’s never seen anything like it.
“It’s much more than a class, they have really created a professional-learning community,” said Baldwin, whose son is also a member of the class. “It is a group of learners that are being asked to collaborate with the teachers.”
Clayton Herrmann, a sophomore at La Cañada High and member of the WCA, said the class brings the school’s two greatest teachers together, calling the WCA “the only class of its kind.”
Of course, the student protestors want to see WCA return next year but at the end of the day, they just hope they’re heard by their school’s administration.
“I hope they look at it from a personal level and see it from our eyes,” said LCHS sophomore and WCA member Sean Dino. “I don’t think they’ve done that.”
Whatever the outcome is, Cartnal is proud of his students.
“What I hoped would come has already been achieved, the students feel they have a voice and they’re been able to exercise their constitutionally-protected rights,” he said. “I think the students want this program to continue and I sure hope that it will. I would really like to continue to be a part of it.”