June 2011 Family of Schools Newsletter
A Plan for Our Future
It is a remarkable time for public education in Los Angeles. It is an even more remarkable time for public education in the greater Westchester community. This school year has brought substantial and unprecedented change to Los Angeles Unified School District and to Westchester. Change is challenging but this is the single-most exciting time I can remember in my almost 20 years at LAUSD.
It is fascinating to have a ringside seat at the dawn of the Deasy Era. Superintendent John Deasy, a nationally renowned education reformer, took over the helm of the district on April 15. Deasy has launched a bold agenda that promises an outstanding teacher leading every classroom in schools lead by only high achieving principals.
He has already implemented a school- and teacher-ranking system, reconstituted five schools, and created a comprehensive metrics for assessing charter schools. The superintendent's relentless charge toward eliminating achievement gaps and increasing high school graduation has galvanized the ranks throughout the district.
The pace of change strikes at the core of the traditional public education bureaucracy. Deasy has been able to capture diverse reform voices into a comprehensive vision for change anchored in concrete, measurable gains in student achievement data. The first major test of his reform agenda will come as he unveils a comprehensive teacher training, support and evaluation system this fall. This will be the first time in decades teachers will be evaluated against a set of criteria that could lead to discipline or dismissal if there is underperformance in any important area.
In my 17 years of teaching, I was only meaningfully evaluated twice. A student's right to a high-achieving teacher isn't something we can negotiate. But if we do this right, transforming assessment will be done with our teachers not to our teachers. I remain hopeful that this part of the reform agenda is something we can all do together. If we continue to connect evaluation to our training and support programs, the end result will be a new paradigm that everyone embraces and trusts. It is that kind of collaboration that can lead to real change in the classroom.
Here in Westchester, important changes are also hitting the ground. Bobby Carr, the new Westchester High School principal, recently presented a transformation plan for Westchester High rooted in dramatically improving instruction and achievement. Because the plan combined an exciting academic program with a pathway for including all current and future Westchester students, I presented the idea to my colleagues and it passed the board in April. With this decision Westchester High will transform into Westchester High School Enriched Sciences Magnet.
Of course, the proposal and the change are not without controversy. Neighborhood residents are understandably concerned about whether their kids will be able to attend the new magnet. And teachers, no matter how long they have been at Westchester, will need to re-apply for their positions. But the design for the new magnet is among the best instructional plans I have read. It engages the community in exciting new partnerships and incorporates the highest academic rigor in each of the new small schools. In short, it is one of the most exciting academic plans I have ever seen.
Finally, we have begun the planning process for CRES School No. 22, the new elementary school under construction in Playa Vista. This is the first school to be built on the Westside in almost three decades. I am thrilled to announce that we will begin discussions this month with Loyola Marymount University to open this new school as a lab-demonstration school emphasizing an environmental focus. This dynamic partnership will allow LMU's School of Education to lend its expertise and graduate students to the school community. I think we can create a university-school partnership here that could be a model for the district.
The underlying theme to all these changes is that they depend on partnership and collaboration. I will be calling upon LMU to help us in each of these game-changing efforts. I am grateful to have LMU as one of our critical partners in transforming public education in Los Angeles. Thank you.
I am honored to represent Westchester's students and families. It is the challenge of a lifetime. I will keep you posted as these changes move forward.
LAUSD Board Member, District 4
Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) programs are integral to the conversation on college and career readiness. LMU's Frank R. Seaver College of Science and Engineering has been very supportive of Westchester's education community. Focusing on middle school students, LMU's Urban Ecology and Physics departments, as well as the university's sustainability office, strengthened the students' relationship with and knowledge of the university and the environment around them.
In March, LMU welcomed approximately 40 sixth- and seventh- graders from Paula Cohen's Orville Wright Middle School classes. They visited LMU to learn about the sustainability program. The field trip, facilitated by Joe Rasmussen, Dr. Eric Strauss and LMU students, educated the middle school students on sustainability issues such as green buildings, renewable energy systems, the Ballona Wetlands and Native Americans, and the LMU Urban Ecology Program.
In April, another group of sixth-grade students from Orville Wright came to LMU's campus for a "science in our lives" experience. Lion Science is a science-service organization created by LMU students Michael Hunter and Alex George, and supported by faculty adviser Forouzan Faridian from the Physics and Engineering Physics Department. They organized twenty LMU science students to work with the middle school students through a rotation of six science workshop stations.
In the era of high-stakes testing, it is difficult for teachers and administrators to balance the inclusion of arts within the core curriculum. However, with the support of LMU, students within the LMU Family of Schools have been recognized for the important contribution of art to their education. This spring, LMU hosted two art shows, bringing more than 50 high school students to campus to showcase their work and to be honored for their efforts.
"Pieces from our Past"
LMU hosted a second annual art show in cooperation with the J. Paul Getty Museum, the tutoring and mentoring nonprofit 826LA and Jennifer Lisowski's ninth grade English class in Westchester High's School for Advanced Studies. The photograph collection was partly inspired by Getty artist Catherine Opie, whose classroom assignment "Documenting Home" led Lisowski's students to their subjects.
In describing her students' photography and memoirs to exhibit visitors, Jennifer Lisowski wrote, "Opie believes "a photograph can really speak to one's own personal life,' and she challenged my students to "think about what it is to document [their] own lives.' The Getty loaned digital cameras to students who did not have access to one. Students were given about two weeks to produce 15 to 20 photos of themselves, their families, their homes, and their neighborhoods.
The memoir assignment that accompanies the photos arose out of our classroom unit on narrative nonfiction and expository texts. Students wrote about the significant people, places, and events of their past. After sifting through the possibilities, students settled on a story they wanted to tell.
As a teacher, I sometimes find it challenging to communicate the idea of "audience' to my students when it comes to their writing. So often, the audience of students' work is merely for their teacher. However, that sense of audience was expanded by the amazing volunteers at 826LA, a writer's workshop in Venice, where writing tutors met with them in small groups, talked with them about their visions, and helped them develop drafts."
"Haiku and Hue"
In partnership with the William H. Hannon Library, the LMU Family of Schools organized a Humanitas Exhibition. Westchester High School humanities teacher Carolyn Stebbins and art teacher Sue Sass and their classes created geometric designs, which inspired their classmates' haiku reflections.
Lion for a Day
This year, LMU brought 500 students to campus as part of the Lion for a Day Program, which facilitates transitions for fifth-, eighth-, and 11th-grade students as they make the difficult move from one level of their education to the next. Hosted by the LMU Family of Schools, and supported by the Division of Student Affairs, students come to campus for a full-day immersion in the daily life at LMU.
Three hundred of those students had never been to LMU's campus before. In November, 80 Westchester High 11th-graders participated, including 52 making their first trip to campus. This spring, all the fifth-graders from each FOS elementary school visited campus, as well as 100 Orville Wright eighth-graders.