More views on the reconstitution at LA’s Fremont High School
“FREMONT HIGH SCHOOL DISASTER”
by Mat Taylor
The intellectual, moral and practical disaster that is the reconstituted, reconstructed Fremont High School in South Central Los Angeles should serve to demonstrate to educators, school boards and politicians all over the country the damage done to students and communities when ill-informed experts control our schools. As the school year begins this summer at the still year-round high school, Fremont is staffed by a huge percentage of substitutes, first year and displaced probationary teachers. Many of the new hires are from Teach For America, an obvious legal problem what with RIF teachers still not back to work. Certainly not the picture of educational reform LAUSD would like to portray!
When Superintendent Cortines announced in December 2009 his plan to reconstitute Fremont for the 2010-2011 school year, he did so knowing that there is no credible research extolling the virtues of this harsh model of reform. Most see it as simply punishment. His argument was that students were under-achieving on high stakes tests. Something had to be done! He invoked No Child Left Behind for the power to make such a change. He stated that previous attempts at reform had failed because teachers had not cooperated. They didn’t want the school to get better. The school culture would change by releasing over half of the teachers and classified staff, scrapping the structure of Small Learning Communities, introducing student uniforms, having eight classes per semester in a block schedule and by lengthening the school day. A New Fremont Plan soon surfaced. Written by unknown District folks, it did seem to have a heavy influence from well-traveled
District 7 Superintendent Dr. George McKenna. The plan offered little except a school reorganized into academies. No research was cited. Teacher, parent or student input was not apparent.
Fremont High School is located in one of the poorest, most violent neighborhoods in Los Angeles, but had lately enjoyed undramatic but significant improvement in test scores, attendance and graduation rates. Even with an over-crowded, year round campus, most of the staff felt morale was high and the school was on an upswing. There was a majority of long-time teachers who had forged a strong academic backbone on campus. Fremont was not placed on the California list of lowest performing schools for 2010, much to the consternation of Cortines. From later comments made by Cortines and LAUSD School Board members, it became clear this action was taken for two reasons. First, they wanted to show President Obama and Education Secretary Duncan that LAUSD was on top of the latest political agenda of Washington D.C. (Cortines’ announcement coincided nicely with a visit the next day from Duncan to LAUSD school.) Secondly, they wanted to break up the strong
union chapter that had grown strong over the years at Fremont.
A group of a dozen teachers soon gathered at UTLA to craft a fight back strategy. After an all-day meeting, two goals emerged, to retain all the teachers and to promote our own previously written reform plan for Fremont. Our major tactic was to get as many teachers as possible to not re-apply for the New Fremont. We hoped to show them that it wouldn’t be easy to staff the new school with experienced teachers. Our overall goal was to make it difficult for the District to reconstitute Fremont and hope that they would think twice about ever trying this at any other school.
What followed over the next several months of 2010 was an attempt to organize teachers and community in the most positive and comprehensive way possible. Press conferences, demonstrations, parent meetings and community walks were held. After many conversations and meetings, strong relationships were built among many who had never done these kinds of direct actions before. About half of the Fremont teachers did re-apply, but only a handful of District teachers chose to after a petition drive was instituted to rally all LAUSD teachers to the cause. The interview process was less than authentic. Many who were asked to come back to the New Fremont decided they could not. The District’s claim that 600 teachers had applied was less than truthful. They knew they had a staffing crisis on their hands. Still, they decided to move forward with the reconstitution of Fremont.
When the dust settled, well over half of the teachers were displaced and had to find new positions in an atmosphere of administrative distrust of Fremont teachers. Besides over half of the classes being staffed by substitutes, there is widespread over-crowding of classes and major student scheduling problems. A host of Contract problems have arisen and many grievances filed. In addition, an oppressive environment created by the Fremont administration has led to poor morale and student and teacher attendance problems. The New Fremont shows the reconstitution of NCLB for what it is, a dramatic failure for students, teachers, and communities.
The Save Fremont Committee would like to salute the hard work and dedication of UTLA South Area Representative, Christopher Arellano and UTLA AFT Vive President, Joshua Peshtault.
UTLA South Area Chair (phone number redacted; email if you’re interested in connecting)