LAWNDALE, Calif – Hundreds of Lawndale High School students walked out of class to protest a decision to involuntarily transfer 50 of their top teachers (who were notified of the transferral by the principal, during the middle of class) to Leuzinger High School, one of the lowest performing schools in the state. According to Academic Performance Index (API) scores–the state’s measuring tool of student achievement–Leuzinger is in the bottom 10 percent of public high schools in the state.
The decision was prompted by the plan outlined in President Barack Obama’s education reform “Race to the Top” program. The goal is to spread resources in order to improve all schools, but the students, parents, and even many of the teachers, themselves do not believe reassigning instructors will do what is intended.
“You are beginning to tear down what we’ve worked so hard to build,” Maria Salazar, a member of Lawndale High’s PTA, told school board members and district administrators at a school board meeting in mid June.
The building that Salazar is referring to is the fact that over the past few years Lawndale High School has shown significant improvement. They are the best performing school (API score is the highest among the district’s six high schools) and has the highest graduation rate in the Centinela Valley School District. Last year they were named a California Distinguished School.
Lawndale is the first school to receive the award in the district, and the students believe that the dedication of their teachers is the reason.
“Teachers are like family to us. When they move, we’re left with nothing. We’re not doing this for fun. We’re doing this because it’s something we believe in,” said junior Nora Kiroloss.
Many of the teachers are outraged because they had little to no input on a decision that affects them so drastically. Some are even reporting that it is a violation of their union contract.
“Schools are like communities. If you take or remove any part of that, it destroys the balance,” said Julie Ichiroku, a Lawndale English teacher who learned she will be transferred to Leuzinger.
District Superintendent Jose Fernandez stands by the decision saying that they knew it would be a controversial issue, but that every student in the Centinela Valley School District deserves the right to a rigorous education.
If no significant improvements are made to these schools, they could eventually be taken over by the state. Currently, about 50 percent of students in the district are not adequately prepared for graduation. This is the district’s attempt at remedying that.
“I do not understand the way they are fixing the problem,” said Marian Thomas, a member of the Coalition for Racial-Free Education, and parent of a recent Lawndale High School graduate.
“I don’t understand it. Why break something that works? A better solution would be to take the skills that these top teachers possess, and transfer the skills to Leuzinger, but not the teachers themselves. They should figure out what works at Lawndale, and try to use it there. Research shows that effective leadership, committed staff, and teacher longevity make a successful school.
This method to improve Leuzinger doesn’t support research, and I just don’t get the rationale. Instead of actually handling the performance issues of the students at Leuzinger, they are just switching places and breaking continuity. They aren’t taking into account the way this affects the students, who came to the board meetings crying, and saying ‘please don’t take our teachers.’
“There are a multitude of innovative programs that they could try to incorporate, specifically the Algebra Project, (founded by Harvard-educated civil rights leader Robert P. Moses as a model for student-centered education, and geared towards historically underserved populations) and AEMP (Academic English Mastery Program). Have they tried any of this? I dont understand why they are taking our good teachers (who) have helped build many of the programs that have helped these students. One student came up to me crying and said, ” It’s like they are punishing us for doing good,” Thomas concluded.