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Up the Down Staircases: Two Tales Out of School


Today's L.A. Times carries a pair of stories reflecting how the collapsing economy has made

it difficult for good people to do good things for education. Steve Lopez's column looks at the strange case of a recently pensioned teacher who has volunteered to return to the classroom without pay. Bruce Kravets, from Lopez's description, is one of the L.A. Unified School District's unsung heroes, a much-praised teacher of logic and calculus at Palms Middle School who took retirement after 42 years on the job.

By all accounts both parents and Palms' principal desperately want Kravets' return but the school board says it cannot allow the popular Kravetz, a Jaime Escalante Award winner, to be anything but a hand-holding "guidance" volunteer at the school. Seems he's fallen between some crevice-sized bureaucracy cracks allegedly caused by school district staffing requirements and teacher-union seniority rules. The word from the district's HR office is that he'd be taking a job away from a laid-off teacher. Which leaves Kravets, Lopez and others scratching their heads wondering how that could be in a school system of overcrowded classrooms created precisely by teacher layoffs.

Meanwhile, Verbum Dei, Watts' all-boys Catholic high school that has produced star athletes over the years, has done the unthinkable from its alumni members' viewpoint, by discarding its legacy tradition. Writer Carla Rivera explains that the school, which was turned over to Jesuit control in 2000, has embraced an undeniably noble policy -- it only admits kids from poor families, augmenting their tuition  with grants and a corporate work-study program administered by the church's Cristo Rey Network.

The problem is that in a city famous for its lack of continuity and

tradition, Verbum Dei was one place South L.A. families could turn to

for continuity and tradition. Now, however, middle class parents who

are proud "Verb" grads can no longer send their children to their old

school, and have the uncomfortable option of enrolling them at its

historic parochial-school nemesis, Junipero Serra High. One unmentioned

but unmistakable conclusion that can be drawn from the story is that

the only way Verbum Dei will be able to satisfy its loyal yet

frustrated alumni is to create admission quotas for their comparably

affluent children.

The saddest quote comes from the president of

the school's alumni association: "Even if we are middle-class, we're

still a voice of the community."