While everything from whether an adequate number of meetings to inform parents about developments to the question are teachers just fighting because they are afraid of change may be up for debate, there is one thing about Fremont High School that can not be disputed: Most of the students at the South Los Angeles high school are getting an education that leaves a lot to be desired.
The campus, which operates on a three-track, year-round schedule with a student body of more than 4,700 (its two-semester capacity is 3,600), has been designated a program improvement school since the 1997-98 school year. This means that under the federal No Child Left Behind Act and based on testing of academic skills, the school has not met growth targets for student achievement.
A look at just the last three years shows that Fremont’s Academic Performance Index (API) scores have gone up and down. In 2005 for example, scores jumped 17 points over the previous year, then in 2007 dropped again to 492. The next year showed improvement with the overall school API numbers increasing to 516. But that decrease the previous year continued to put the school behind its growth target.
And while the school’s scores grew to 525 in 2009, Fremont was significantly behind similar schools, which were scoring at 583.
The state-wide goal is 800.
Additionally, looking at other statistics, Fremont had a 34.2% four-year derived drop-out rate; an improvement from its 54.9% rate in the 2003-04 school year.
The district also noted that on the 2008-09 California Standards Test only 380 of 3,392, Fremont students scored proficient in English language arts and a mere 45 of 3,226 hit the proficient mark in math.
According to Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Superintendent Ramon C. Cortines, the continued low scores and lack of urgency at the school, forced him to declare that on July 1, 2010, the campus will be restructured, and the administration will report directly to him.
As part of that effort, everyone employed at the school, expect the principal (how as appointed by Cortines last school year–had to reapply for their jobs by Tuesday.
Among the changes being proposed for the South Los Angeles high school are breaking the 16-week semester into two eight-week, so-called mesters; and having students take four classes each mester. The school would remain a multi-track campus until the 2012-13 school year, when additional campuses opening up nearby would then enable Fremont to return to the traditional calendar. Meanwhile, youngsters would be on-track four months and off two.
Fremont would be restructured into five separate academies and one magnet school, and ninth grade centers would be established on each track.
Staff would participate in five extra days per year of staff development to strengthen standards-based instruction, how to check for understanding, English language development and culturally relevant curriculum.
While the district forges on with its plans, there are parents, teachers and students, who feel they have been left out of the process.
Mirna Rico, who currently has a ninth grader in Fremont, said she has not received adequate information on what is happening at her daughter’s school.
“In December, my daughter came home and told me they had fired 160 of the teachers, and that next year they were going to have a brand new school.”
Rico said she had not received any letters or phone calls or bulletin about the situation. “Nothing that said this is what is going on at Fremont. It was really insulting; as a parent not taking us into consideration on the decision.”
Rico added that she was updated by a teacher about the situation, then a week later the principal came into a meeting that she was attending, and told the parents they were being misinformed about what was going on.
“I asked how were we being misinformed, if we’re not receiving any information,” pointed out Rico.
According to George McKenna, interim superintendent of Local District 7, which encompasses Fremont, letters were sent out to parents on Dec. 10 in English and Spanish. He said the district has also reached out to parents via their monthly parent meetings.
“Since the superintendent’s decision was made, not one parent or community person has called District 7,” said McKenna.
In fact, the local superintendent said the parents he has interacted with are happy something is being done.
The principal is also inviting parents and community members to sit on the committees that will be responsible for selected teachers, added McKenna.
Teachers, have also been invited to serve on the restructuring committees, but according to the local superintendent, not many have taken up the offer.
That may in part have to do with how teachers feeling about the restructuring, said Johnny Jauregui, an advanced placement biology teacher and student activity coordinator, who has been at the campus five years.
Jauregui said every year the district put in new principals or new administrators, and in some cases, they have been responsible for mismanagement of funds, contends the teacher.
One of the main concerns he has about the proposed changes said Jauregui, is that they encompass approaches that have already been tried at the school.
“We tried doing a ninth grade academy five or six years ago, and stopped it because it did not work. They’re trying to do something that didn’t’ work.”
The biology teacher said added that of the other big issues with the district’s approach is that they are “destroying something in order to fix it.”
Jauregui also pointed out that a poll taken during one of the first parent meetings his group held, people were confused about just exactly what was going to happen at Fremont.
“Some of the parents think it’s going to be a charter school, while others think the school is going to be closed,” Jauregui.