In Partnership with 74

Teachers, loss of grants, personnel shifts — and MiSiS — played roles in mess at Jefferson, officials say

Craig Clough | October 13, 2014

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Jefferson High School Walk outs LAUSD

Students at Jefferson High School stage a walkout to protest scheduling problems on Aug. 25, 2014. (Credit: Vanessa Romo)

The scheduling mess at Jefferson High School emerged for many more reasons than a troubled new computer system, district officials and school administrators told LA School Report today.

Contributing factors included the loss of several key grants, which created a shortage in teachers, money and available class periods; the teachers’ refusal to make scheduling changes and a reshuffling of Jefferson’s administrators just weeks before school started.

“This is definitely not a MiSiS issue,” Tommy Chang, Superintendent of Intensive Support and Innovation Center for LA Unified, said in an interview. “It’s also a master schedule issue. Scheduling issues caused by MiSiS only exacerbated the situation on this campus.”

District officials, teachers and administrators have been meeting for days to craft an action plan to eliminate further disruption at Jefferson. Their result of their collaboration is scheduled to be presented to the district school board when it meets tomorrow.

Jefferson’s daily schedule is almost unique among LA Unified high schools. It includes two teacher conferences a day rather than the more typical one. When Jefferson teachers were given an opportunity earlier this year to vote to change to a more traditional daily schedule, which district officials said would have alleviated many of the problems that have left students with empty class time, they refused.

In 2010, Jefferson became part of more than two dozen schools that the school board put up for bid to be run by outside groups as part of the Public School Choice program, and the Jefferson bid went to a group of LA Unified teachers, parents and administrators who crafted the school’s plan with help from UTLA leadership.

At the time, the school was being supported by a federal School Improvement grant and a state grant through the Quality Education Investment Act. The state grant netted the school over $8.5 million from 2009-2012 but has expired; and the federal grant, after bringing in millions, will only contribute about $12,000 this school year, according to Lydia Ramos, director of communications at LA Unified.

Under the agreement between UTLA and the district, teachers at Jefferson chose an eight-period day, with two periods set aside each day for teacher conferences, and the two grants helped support it.

“Right now, they teach six classes and have two conference periods. That is uncommon,” said Ramos said.

While media headlines and the teachers union have pointed an accusatory finger at Superintendent John Deasy and the district’s new MiSiS computer system as the culprit for the scheduling problems, leading a judge last week to order immediate fixes, little focus has been placed on the role the teachers and the school’s unusual schedule have played.

“[The extra conference period] usually requires extra funding to support,” Ramos said. “And when they lost their funding, that became a challenge for them because there wasn’t the money to pay for the auxiliary periods.”

With Jefferson’s current schedule, students have about 8 percent less class time than peers in other high schools, Ramos said.

“Because they don’t have the money now, they are not offering enough classes for the kids because they are holding tight to their conference periods, and they voted on that,” said Michelle Windmueller, a lead instructional director in the district’s Intensive Support and Innovation Center who was assigned to Jefferson over the summer. “This is a UTLA issue. It’s part of the collective bargaining agreement that they get to vote on their calendar, and you have to stay with it unless they vote on it again, and this staff is not willing to vote on this again and change mid-year. They are sticking to it.”

Further, Jefferson’s annual budget is determined through a collaborative process that includes administrators and teachers.

UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl did not respond to a request to comment on this story.

With the role teachers’ extra conference period coming to light, it appears clear that the Jefferson scheduling mess could be compared to a plane crash, as crash investigators often note that multiple factors — none fatal on their own — combine at once and lead to the accident.

In its first few years, the schedule allowed students who were on track to graduate to go home for free periods, or to have “service” periods to perform administrative tasks. But with the loss of the grants and available teachers, there was was “no money to support classes for kids who did not want to ‘go home’ or use an empty period for ‘service.'” Chang said.

Chang insisted that it was a combination of factors that led to the scheduling mess.

“Jefferson was the district’s toughest place because of the confluence of all the issues,” he said. “We’re still doing a pretty good job of getting kids in the right classes, but I wouldn’t call it a disaster.”

Others have, including the Associated Administrators of Los Angeles (AALA), the principals union, which in a recent newsletter item, “A Recipe for Disaster,” pointed out how the group believed administrative turnover played a large role in the scheduling problems.

According to the AALA newsletter, Jefferson’s principal and assistant principal of secondary counseling (ASPCS) services were replaced on June 30 with an interim principal who is a retired elementary school principal and inexperienced in high school block scheduling.

The new ASPCS was not allowed to start school until July 28 and was then replaced on Aug. 14 with a new instructional specialist. A permanent principal, Jack Foote, was not assigned to the school until Aug. 19, several days after classes began.

The Jefferson problems “can be traced to the fact the the leadership of the district made some late changes in administration at the school,” Dan Isaacs, a spokesman for AALA, told LA School Report. “When you make administrative changes, those changes should be made in April or May, or certainly when the school year comes to an end, so there’s some degree of interaction between the people going in and going out.”

In a letter sent today to the school board and Deasy that included an overall assessment of the scheduling problems and solutions, Chang wrote that the change in principals was due to Jefferson being named a Core Waiver school in the 2013-14 school year and a review found that a leadership change was necessary, but that “the position took longer to fill than a normal vacancy” because the Core Waiver requires additional management skills in a principal.

Further muddying the waters was a recent letter from Deasy to the judge presiding over a lawsuit, Cruz vs. California, that is seeking to restore quality instruction time in schools around the state. Deasy expressed support for the student plaintiffs. Jefferson is now part of the lawsuit, and by his support, Deasy criticized a district school’s policy of allowing students to take periods with no educational content. The move baffled both the UTLA and AALA.

In a press release, UTLA accused Deasy of supporting the lawsuit to “obscure his role in the school’s destabilization.”

AALA’s newsletter asked why Deasy is “supporting a lawsuit to end a policy over which he has authority? Why the need to take a public position against the organization in which he is the leader?”

The newsletter also said, “AALA members have to wonder, who is running this operation?”

Richard Zeiger, the state’s chief deputy schools superintendent, told the Los Angeles Times that Deasy has the power to eliminate the non-academic classes from LAUSD. “If he doesn’t like these classes, he doesn’t have to have them. He and the school board can work this out,” Zeigler said.

Deasy was unavailable to comment on this story as he is currently on a trip to South Korea.

 An earlier version of this story said Jefferson received $6.5 million from the Quality Education Investment Act between 2009-12. It was $8.5 million. 

Vanessa Romo and Michael Janofsky contributed to this report. 

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