More than 50 students, parents, teachers and community members turned out for a forum on the future of Crenshaw High, and the goal was to ensure that the concerns and voices of young people are heard and taken into consideration as the school undergoes transformation.
The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Board of Education voted in mid-June to transform the Crenshaw-area campus as part of an effort to improve the academic performance of students.
The controversial process has so far included dividing the school into three magnet programs; and forcing staff to reapply for their jobs.
In the process, some at the school say a special education department that had actually brought academic scores up has been decimated—eight of the nine teachers were not hired back, and a preponderance of older and African American instructors were not rehired.
Additionally, what some teachers called a promising program that had garnered kudos from the state school accreditation commission as well as a Ford Foundation grant—Extended Learning Cultural Model—may not be continued.
According to the district, this program is unique to Crenshaw and is not funded by LAUSD. It’s continuation will be determined by the principal and the new teaching staff.
George Bartleson, director of intensive support and intervention with the LAUSD, said that more than 50 percent of the teachers who opted to go through the rehire process were retained.
At the forum, the potential loss of the Extended Learning Cultural Model program was one subject students focused on.
They also spent considerable time discussing what they wanted from a transformed Crenshaw—resources, people who listen, as well as a discipline policy that did not seem to push them out of school.
According to the Community Rights Campaign, a coalition of organizations that work with the students, in a survey of 343 Crenshaw students, 45 percent had either been ticketed or arrested. The large majority of those cited got tickets in the “other” category. Representatives of the campaign say most of the students do not even know what “other” means.
One speaker, an African American male, talked about his on-compus arrest. He said bullying prompted him to bring a knife to school for protection. He was arrested for the offense, which he knew was wrong.
But what disturbed him most about the incident was that no one ever asked him why he brought the knife to school. He said no one ever talked to him about what was happening.
Another student, a young Latina, said she was suspended from school for “giving attitude” to a vice principal. However, she said her parents were not notified about the suspension nor were her teachers. So she continued to attend, because she did not want to miss class.
She, too, yearned for someone to talk with her about the situation.
According to the Community Rights Campaign, these two students are part of some startling statistics at Crenshaw as it relates to discipline:
- 24 percent of students are suspended and expelled.
- 23 percent of students experience a police interaction.
- 20 percent of students experience a security guard intervention.
- 18 percent of students talk to a teacher, administrator or dean.
- 10 percent of students are given detention.
- 4 percent of students experience intervention by student council.
One of the three demands the students articulated at the forum was the desire for the full implementation of the School Climate Bill of Rights. This legislation was recently approved by the school board but will not be implemented until the 2013-14 school year.
The students are also demanding a healthy and holistic school that addresses all the needs of students of color by investing in resources.
According to the Community Rights Campaign survey, 51 percent of students say there are adequate resources to support their learning and achievement compared to 49 percent who thought there were inadequate resources.
Additional research by the campaign found that the resources appear to be available, but students don’t know about them.
About 53 percent of the young people said there are not adequate services to support their emotional needs as students (i.e. a school nurse, who apparently only comes to the campus one day a week). Another 47 percent believe that such supports are adequate.
Finally, the students want the district to prioritize the inclusion of their voices in the transformation process.
The student survey demonstrates the perception of how far away LAUSD has been so far in this endeavor, because only 4 percent strongly agree that Crenshaw students were involved in the decision-making process of transformation. Another 10 percent strongly agree that their parent/guardian had been contacted by the district or the school administration about the process. Only 5 percent strongly agreed that they were asked to be involved in the interview panels for the principal, teachers and staff re-hiring process.
Bartleson noted that more than 40 interview panels have convened so far and each contained a student, parent and community member.
Within the next few weeks, the students say they will combine all of their demands into one document and present it to the school district and the administration at Crenshaw.