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Plan to overhaul Obama Global Prep Academy draws a union protest

Vanessa Romo | May 27, 2015

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UTLA member Cat Proctor

UTLA member Cat Proctor outside Obama Global Prep Academy

Dozens of teachers, parents and students protested today at a UTLA rally against LA Unified’s plans to reconstitute one of the district’s most troubled schools.

Barack Obama Global Preparation Academy in south LA is one of the district’s few Pilot Schools as well as one of 37 “Reed Investment Schools,” those involved in a legal settlement last year to address inequities at low-performing schools. Under the terms of the deal, the district agreed to provide additional funding to stabilize the schools and to retain teachers.

But after an “accelerated review,” Superintendent Ramon Cortines is calling for an immediate overhaul of the campus — a move that includes restaffing the instructional team. While current educators are encouraged to reapply for their positions, they are not guaranteed jobs.

The teachers union contends that such an intervention would further destabilize the school and claims it is a direct contradiction and violation of the Reed settlement.

“I have been a parent here since the doors opened,” Michelle Miller told the crowd gathered outside the school today. “If it wasn’t for the teachers behind me, my sons would not have graduated. [The people making this decision] don’t know the teachers, they don’t know the students. It’s not right.”

Maria Rivera, who is the Targeted Student Intervention Population Program Advisor at the middle school, said it has been “underfunded and understaffed” since it opened in 2010.

In a memo to board members earlier this month, Cortines explained his rationale for why drastic and immediate change is necessary to turn around the school, recounting the findings of an observation team team comprised of content area experts, including coordinators for Standard English Learner programs, math, English Language Arts, and three instructional directors from the office responsible for overseeing all of the district’s Reed schools.

After spending a half-day on the campus on April 30, the team concluded that a “strong instructional program is not in place.” The report goes on to say:

  • While work was displayed in most classrooms, the majority of posted assignments were low-level worksheets that provided little to no student feedback.
  • In multiple classrooms, reviewers found students who were not participating in the lesson and had not been given supplemental assignments
  • Projects, activities and assignments did not require higher levels of thinking or were not aligned to the instructional standards resulting in low-levels of student cognitive engagement.
  • Students expressed a desire for more elective curse offerings and clubs.

Protesters today also voiced concerns about teacher turnover and the implications of unfilled positions.

Despite ranking among the highest priority schools within the district due to low academic tests scores and unusually large Standard English Learner population, there are currently seven unfilled positions: 3 teachers, 2 Resource Specialist Program teachers, 1 English Language Learner coach and 1 Special Education support provider.

Students also reported that they have not been taught science, a core content area that is tested in middle school, because the position is vacant. The science vacancy has also prevented the school from fulfilling the the science component of the science, technology, engineering and math focus that was outlined in the revised pilot school plan.

The teachers union acknowledged the school’s deficiencies. In press release issued today, UTLA said district leadership has rolled back dual language programs, closed the library and ended music, dance, and art classes — all contributing to disenfranchisement of the community and declining test scores.

But the union contends that Cortines’ plan to make teachers, counselors and administrators reapply for jobs “is just a way to blame teachers for a much bigger problem.”

“Teachers are ready to revive the school plan,” Suzanne Spurgeon, a spokesperson for UTLA, told LA School Report. “They want to do what they have to do to keep the school going.”

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