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Roosevelt High Parents Beg L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa: Don't Make Us Your Pet Project

"At Roosevelt High School, encouraging students to strive for excellence."
"At Roosevelt High School, encouraging students to strive for excellence."
@villaraigosa via Twitter

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has grown super attached to a few key issues since taking office. King among them: environmentalism, the subway, bicycle friendliness and education reform. Unfortunately, though, the more the mayor coddles each of his talking points, the more they seem to wilt. It's actually kind of creepy -- "Of Mice and Men" style.

And no pet project has seen more mayoral coddling than Roosevelt High in Boyle Heights. As the flagship campus in Villaraigosa's proud "Partnership for Los Angeles Schools" program -- and his alma mater, to boot -- the mayor devotes more PR visits and Twitpics to Roosevelt...

... than green ribbon-cuttings and cycling events combined. (And that's saying something.)

But the feeling isn't mutual. The local bloggers at Mayor Sam, gleeful that someone is as disenchanted with Mayor V as they are, reported yesterday that Roosevelt parents have tired of serving as his political plaything. (Even more tired than in 2009.) Most recently, they appear to have typed up a three-page laundry list of the mayor's "promises" versus "reality." Here's a good one:

PROMISE:

• Empower schools with control over school decisions.

REALITY:

• Teachers are not respected and treated as professionals.

• Decisions are made at the [Partnership for Los Angeles Schools] level.

• Principals are told what to do.

• Teachers have no voice in major decisions that are made.

• Some Principals do not bother getting approvals from the Small School Decision making Councils (teachers, parents, students).

It's one thing for Villlaraigosa to fight teachers unions' attempts to regulate classroom activity -- we're glad he's on that once-radical side of the fence, along with a growing army of city players. But teachers themselves know their students better than anyone. If they want to put in the extra work, by all means, tell the puffy office folks to step aside!

As part of its big flashy makeover the last few years, Roosevelt has undergone a split into seven small schools. In contrast to the reality witnessed by high-school parents above, here is the way the small schools were originally pitched:

Why small schools?

• Roosevelt Teachers, parents and students are now planning the school's transition from its existing learning communities to seven small schools

• Roosevelt will still be Roosevelt, but students will discover ways to turn their interests and talents into a high school degree

• Students will experience more personalized attention from teachers, and a safe environment that fosters experimenting, challenging and learning

• Students will graduate at higher rates and reach new levels of achievement

• Roosevelt graduates will enter college, trade school and employment better prepared academically and emotionally.

• Why small schools? Because our students deserve the best education possible

But according to the three-page complaint, the small schools, hit hard by budget cuts, are skeletal versions of the enriched learning kingdoms they were proposed to be. The "College Corner" has been combined with the Career Center. Practical computer-training and vocational classes have been cut. Arts programs, after-school help and Advanced Placement options have been whittled down to almost nothing.

Really: What's the use of a seven-sided makeover on Roosevelt when she's dying from the inside?

Money is tight, it's true. But as EGP News, an Eastside neighborhood rag, reported back in 2009, budget-cutters aren't listening to those who know where the fat is. At a "showdown" meeting with Villaraigosa, children waved signs with phrases like "93 percent of Teachers at Roosevelt don't have confidence in the Mayor's Partnership." Ouch. From the piece:

Mario Hurtado, a pink-slipped history teacher from Roosevelt... told EGP [that students and teachers] wanted Title 1 Funds, used for ESL Programs and supplemental school supplies, to be less restrictive and to be used temporarily to pay for teacher and staff salaries.

"Because we are in an economic crisis and short on funds, restrictions on Title 1 should be waived--we might be short on supplies, like Post-Its, but we'll have teachers," said Hurtado.

And there's more. Academic Performance Index scores (at least at the two small schools we can find them for) are similarly dismal: between 500 and 575. Those make Compton Unified look like district of the freaking month. And embarrassingly, the Los Angeles Times recently discovered that the rest of the mayor's precious Partnership schools are also doing worse than untouched district-run schools.

You'd think, with the amount of time Villaraigosa spends on campus, some progress might have been made. But that's the problem with Sir Vanishing Veracity -- he's great at flashing pearly whites and shaking constituent hands and Tweeting about it, but when it comes to nitty-gritty policy and pedagogy, he hasn't got a clue. And instead of appointing underlings who do, he keeps it in the family with more flimsy, substance-less pols in training.

Sorry, Roosevelt, that you got stuck as the starved and tortured Guinea pig of Villaraigosa's failed K-12 revolution. L.A.'s under-1,000 trees and nonexistent bike paths can relate.

Hey, at least you got to meet will.i.am!

Heh.

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@simone_electra

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swilson@laweekly.com

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