By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
And we have had an enormous demand for slots, and by extraordinarily bright people. Now, of course, our biggest challenge is sticking with these people so they don't get so socialized once they get out in the schools that all of that fire goes out of them. But I think attracting talent into teaching is a matter of re-crafting what we mean by teaching. I mean, more money would be extremely helpful, there's no question about that. But, I think the problem is not a lack of talent. I think it's a lack of ideas and vision.
BURTON:I agree with all that you said, but I also want to say that all the reform in the world isn't going to change the problems of a school where 50 percent of its staff are first- or second-year teachers without training.
LAPPIN:Our programs work, in part, because of a shared belief within a cluster or school that a) kids can learn, b) we know how to teach them, and c) we're never going to take our eye off doing what we know works.
ROBERTS:You need both a program that works and the collaboration of everyone involved.
MITCHELL:I think the truism about all of this is that Americans love to reform, but they hate to change. Reform is what I tell you to do, and change is what I must do myself.
WEEKLY:A lot of what we're talking about requires taking exemplary programs and making them mass programs, which is to say dollars and cents. How do you convince Sacramento to adequately fund education?
MITCHELL:I think that there is an opportunity to engage the state in conversation about increased funding. But I think funding increases will not be for the system as it exists today, whether it's more funding that's contingent on results, or more funding targeted to help schools achieve results. One way or another, increased funding is going to be more of a contract with schools than it ever has been.
ROOS:I have a contrarian view. This district has more than $10,000 per child to spend, which is a lot of money. But something is wrong. I believe that we are spending so much money per kid on the Chandra Smith decision and other court-ordered stuff that it's draining resources. No one has had the guts to say to the general public, "Do you realize that while we're spending four grand a year on your kid, we're spending $50,000, even $70,000, on some kids?" We have to have the policy discussion that poses the question "Is this fair?"
I think that what the decentralization movement was about was to say, "Look, take your 15 or 20 percent right off the top, but let us have $5,000 a kid and we'll show you how to maximize benefits to kids."
WEEKLY:You know what I've been very struck by? Every time that we talk about LEARN and the decentralization movement, it's in the past tense.
LAPPIN:That's because it is in the past tense. Decentralization and LEARN as reform movements in this district are dead.
ROOS:That is not true.
LAPPIN:I'm sorry, Mike, it is dead at this point. As a LEARN principal who's been at this a long time, I can say that everything is returning to the way it was.
WEEKLY:Can you get specific?
LAPPIN:Here's one example. We have been told we must have a program for kids facing the prospect of not being promoted because they haven't met district standards. And every part of that program has been dictated by the district. They've told us exactly what to do, how to do it, how much to pay for it, how many hours to provide. And the money for that program came directly out of our budget without â anyone asking. Now that's their right -- the board and the superintendent have the right to do anything they want to do.
But if the district is mandating everything that we have to do -- every piece of this program, even to curriculum -- then LEARN, as we know it and as I grew to love it, is gone.
BURTON:But I'm still here.
LAPPIN:That's the only hope. I can remember once, in the early days, a meeting where some principals sat down with a group of middle managers at the district, and we told them what we were about and what LEARN was about. One of my good friends, who worked downtown, came to me and said, "Howard, you know that this will never happen." And I said, "I think it will." And you know what? My friend was right. I find that the entire support for any kind of decentralization has totally eroded.
CASILLAS:I think the statements that you are making are true for your school. But the way the central authority looks at it is that they're setting the standards, so they also need a mechanism to hold schools accountable. They can't customize things for all the schools, so they say, "Everybody shall," instead of having different rules for places where things are working, where schools seem to be doing well with their budgets, where they've allocated resources appropriately. Some schools are not working, and they should have intervention because they've messed kids up for a very long time. But in schools like yours and a lot of others, the sudden tightening of reins is not a very productive message, because it suggests that all the hard work and success are not valued.
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