Teachers at Crenshaw High School are trying to stop the executioners’ axe from falling on their school, as it has fallen on so many others. Is it too late?
“The last few days have been hard to bear—especially for those of us who want UTLA to become an organizing union, which puts forth our vision for how we can best educate our kids. Last night, teachers at Crenshaw High School—who, despite the most valiant and strategic fight we’ve seen yet against a reconstitution, had been forced to reapply for their jobs under the district’s “magnet conversion”—began receiving news about whether they’d been rehired for year. The news has been very bad.
“More than 30 teachers at Crenshaw — half the faculty — have been “rejected” by the hiring committee so far, including UTLA Chair Cathy Garcia, West Area UTLA Board member Alex Caputo-Pearl, and multiple veteran African-American teachers, who not only teach at Crenshaw, but make the area their home, and who, now, will not be allowed back to teach the kids at their own “home school.”
“In addition to being a part of militant actions against the reconstitution, once the re-application process started, the faculty organized the majority of teachers to re-apply, believing that “that this is our school, we are part of this community, and we won’t be pushed out without going through every piece of this struggle we can, even a re-application process.” Everyone was clear-eyed about the process – that it would be a kangaroo court, with decisions essentially a forgone conclusion. But teachers agreed to go through it anyway, and push it into the light of day, because stability was important for the students. They’re why we’re all here in the first place.
“This news about Crenshaw is devastating, not only because it further destabilizes another inner-city school that serves students of color. It’s worse because Crenshaw, despite ongoing district neglect, had worked, through years of organizing and investment in instructional innovation, to become a model for bottom-up, genuine reform. The teachers at Crenshaw, working in partnership with students, parents, community members, and university scholars, had created a nationally-recognized model for educating students of color: The Extended Learning Cultural Model (ELCM).
“The ELCM is the single most groundbreaking, all-encompassing model for genuine education transformation attempted at an urban high school. The ELCM combines cutting edge instructional pedagogy with community-based internships, leadership opportunities, and activities that connect to the students’ classroom learning. This “extends learning” out into the community. The model also included parent workshops to further support student learning and development. The ELCM was a model to educate the whole child in each and every one of his/her ecosystems: classroom, home, and community.
“And the model was working! The work of the students, teachers, parents, and community members at Crenshaw had garnered the attention of the Ford Foundation, who awarded Crenshaw a $250,000.00 grant to pilot their work, with the promise of more money to come. In addition, WASC, the accrediting board, who threatened to remove Crenshaw’s accreditation just a few years before, praised the work of the faculty and staff, and the newly created stability and “espirit d’corps” of the entire Crenshaw community under this new model. Test scores rose significantly in 2011-12. All of this success occurred in spite of years of district neglect, and a virtual revolving door of administrators (more than 30 in the seven years since Crenshaw’s accreditation was threatened). The ELCM was turning Crenshaw around. All that was needed was stability, and perhaps (dare we say it) even some district support.
“What did LAUSD do instead? They destroyed it. Superintendent Deasy went after Crenshaw this past year, ignoring all of the gains recognized by the Ford Foundation, WASC, and the actual data (which spoke for itself). Deasy HAD to destroy the Extended Learning Cultural Model. And, he made Crenshaw High School a huge political priority. The ELCM was a direct threat to him, his top-down philosophy of education, and his authority as superintendent. The ELCM was not created by him or the District. It operated largely independently of him and the District (though the school invited him to be involved in a positive manner, several times over the last two years). Teachers and parents raised their own money for it, which must have been upsetting for our superintendent—to know that peon teachers and parents had direct lines to international foundations over him. The ELCM is based on education as a tool for critical thinking and contribution to social justice, not education to create more workers for a market and business model, as Deasy promotes. It had the support of prominent academics of color, with whom Deasy could not stand toe-to-toe. It was led by progressive unionists, not District hacks. The ELCM was, pure and simple, a direct threat to Deasy, and he knew he had to destroy it. So he did.
“Deasy blamed the years of inadequate progress not on district ineptitude (as WASC clearly noted), but on the teachers. He called the school a failure, and decided to institute more of the same: reconstitution. This time – cleverly, because it brings in more resources and connotes positive change — under the guise of a “magnet conversion.” He very specifically obliterated the Social Justice and Law Academy, by rejecting ALL of its architect teachers – this was the Academy that had planted the seeds for the ELCM more than any.
“The results so far have been the same as at Fremont, Jordan, Manual Arts, and Muir: teachers were forced to reapply for their jobs, and almost all of the veteran/activist teachers have not been rehired. And just like all the other reconstitutions that came before it, big UTLA did not have the power or strategy to stop it. While some officers have provided valuable but limited support in communicating with District officials, the two big things that the Crenshaw community needed UTLA’s help with were not able to be put together – help to organize the other 6 schools that are being magnetized so that the relatively strong 7th school, Crenshaw, won’t be left out on a limb; and investment in public relations, community ads, etc., to frame the whole “magnet conversion” city-wide as a destabilizer. Just like with Public School Choice, teacher evaluations, etc. – when UTLA goes issue by issue, one by one, school by school, we lost.
“The ELC Model at Crenshaw is what the Schools LA Students Deserve Campaign is really about. This is the kind of work community partners and UTLA can be showcasing. But as dark as this time has been, the fight is not yet over. We may have lost a key part of this battle at Crenshaw, but the fight to preserve the ELCM is just beginning. And, students and parents, again, are finding their footing after this blow. Again, this is an incredibly innovative, student-centered educational model. It was attempted by teachers, working in partnership with students, parents, and community members. And it worked. Remember that. Remember what WE can do to counter the fake reform proposed by the district, the billionaire Boys Club, and the neoliberals who want to impose a corporate model on public education.”
More to come on the ELCM soon.
UTLA Chapter Chair, Crenshaw High School
UTLA Year-Round Director
Design Team Leader, The Social Justice Schools at Maya Angelou Community High School