Saturday, April 30, 2011


Granada Hills High wins U.S. Academic Decathlon in first-ever appearance

C.J. Lin, Staff Writer | Contra Costa Times (Daily News) |

Granada Hills Charter High School won the U.S. Academic Decathlon on Saturday, beating out 35 other teams in the national competition. (Courtesy of Cliff Ker)

Granada Hills Charter High School wasted no time in its first-ever appearance at the U.S. Academic Decathlon on Saturday, winning its first national championship and sweeping most of the individual scoring divisions.

The nine-member team took the top overall score with 52,113.5 out of 60,000 points, with the second-place team, a Texas high school, trailing them by 1,677 points.

"It was hard to grasp at first," said senior Riki Higashida, who also won a gold medal in the math category. "It was surreal. It didn't really hit me. It still hasn't hit me yet that we won."

The win was an unprecedented one for a newcomer to the annual battle of the brains competition, held in Charlotte, N.C. this year.

"It's really unusual, because there's a history of teams going to nationals for the first time and doing well, but not winning the title," said Cliff Ker, LAUSD coordinator for the Academic Decathlon. "These guys came and not only won the Rookie of the Year Award but the national title as well."

The rookie award is given to a school who has never made it to the finals and has the highest score among the teams in each division.

"It feels great to know we've been able to continue California's legacy," said senior Harsimar Dhanoa. "There was a fear of `What if we weren't good enough?' But once they called our name, all that was gone. We were able to do it."

The school, which for the last seven years has been building a decathlon dynasty to join the ranks of the powerhouse schools in the San Fernando Valley, beat out 35 other teams, including one from London.

"It's an honor for us to be the ones to make the mark on Granada's history," said decathlete Eugene Lee. "And to be the first rookie team to win the national title."

The decathletes were tested on 10 subjects including math, science and art, gave speeches and interviews, and competed in the Super Quiz, a fast-paced trivia relay, in the grueling and nerve-wracking two-day event. This year's theme for the questions was the Great Depression.

The teams are composed of three students from each of three grade-point average categories - A, B and C. Decathletes won gold medals in all three categories and added a bronze in the A division and silver in the B division.

Students from El Camino Real, Taft, Marshall and Moorpark high schools have traditionally dominated the competition, with El Camino, the defending champion, holding six national titles.

"Those four have had a stranglehold on California for the last 25 years," said Nick Weber, coach of the Granada Hills team. "So for us to break out of state, that's pretty remarkable."

The win marks a record 12th time that a campus affiliated with the Los Angeles Unified School District has captured the top spot.

To prepare for the challenge, the students sacrificed their spring break and studied 10 to 11 hours a day.

"These kids are probably the hardest working and closest-knit group of kids I've seen in all my years," Ker said. "They had no problem putting in all the extra hours they knew they had to put in."

The decathletes also include seniors Austin Kang, Elysia Eastty, Joon Lee, Shagun Goyal, Sindhura Seeni and sophomore Celine Ta.

The coaches are Weber, Matt Arnold and Spencer Wolf.

The team returned to the Southland on Saturday night, and will be honored Monday at school with a celebration.

"I am so proud of our GHCHS decathletes and their coaches for their first national title," said Brian Bauer, executive director of the school. "The GHCHS community is ecstatic about this amazing feat and honored to be represented by such an outstanding group of young people. We look forward to their triumphant return to campus."


LAUSD School Wins Academic Decathlon, Again: Granada Hills Charter High School won the 2011 Academic Decathlon competition

KNBC NEWS/from City News Service |

Saturday, Apr 30, 2011 | Updated 1:00 PM PDT - Granada Hills Charter High School won the 2011 Academic Decathlon competition, marking the 12th straight year that an LA Unified School District-affiliated school has won.

The team won in Charlotte, N.C., and was scheduled to return to Los Angeles Saturday night.

The nine pupils scored 52,113.5 points out of the 60,000 possible, and bested 35 other schools in this year's finals, the district said.

The members are Harsimar Dhanoa, Elysia Eastty, Shagun Goyal, Rikiu Higashida, Austin Kang, Jiyong "Eugene" Lee, Joon Lee, Shindhura Seeni and Celine Ta. Coaches are Matt Arnold, Nicolas Weber and Spencer Wolf.


The pressure's on for Texas, California teams at Academic Decathlon

By Rick Rojas, Los Angeles Times |

Granada Hills Charter High and a school near Houston rekindle a rivalry between the states. The teams have analyzed each other's results and attempted to nail down their weaknesses.  [more]


Themes in the News for the week of April 25-29, 2011 by UCLA IDEA |

04-29-2011  - An opinion survey conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California found that many public school parents think that schools do a poor job of preparing students either for college—43 percent—or for jobs—45 percent (Educated Guess). With adequate support, two related reforms might help address these concerns. First, efforts are underway to have more students take the minimum number of A-G courses needed for admission into a University of California or California State University campus. At the same time many people are calling for career- and technical-preparation courses that teach workplace skills while also qualifying students for admission to the state’s four-year colleges.

Five districts, including Los Angeles Unified, have committed to give all students college-qualifying courses (Educated Guess). Giving all students these college-qualifying courses does not presume that every student will go directly to college, and many will still choose to pursue other post-secondary training or go directly into the workforce. But whatever their interests after high school, they will be better prepared and have better choices.

State Sen. Darrell Steinberg has introduced a set of bills that would encourage more attention to college and career preparation and open up more courses to qualify as college preparation (Sacramento Bee, KPCC, Educated Guess). One bill would include measures of college- and career-preparedness to the state’s Academic Performance Index, a yearly measurement of a school’s achievement and growth, which includes results of standardized tests. The other two bills deal specifically with the University of California Curriculum Integration Institute (UCCI)  that seeks to combine career and technical education (CTE) and college-prep classes into courses that meet A-G requirements. Currently, most CTE courses do not qualify as college-prep, and those that do usually count only as electives.

UCCI helps teachers understand and develop hybrid courses that combine the best attributes of technical and academic classes. Courses such as Business Math and Applied Medical English are promising because students gain academic knowledge and skills in the context of hands-on, high-interest, real-world applications. “I know I have a lot of students that aren’t going to college, but my goal is still to prepare them because ultimately they have to be critical thinkers, whether they’re in the workforce or they go to school,” one educator said about the dual benefits (Sacramento Bee).

However, many cautions are in order. There is the risk that as new thinking is implemented in schools, some of the old thinking and biases remain—with the result that poor students and students of color are presumed to need job preparation while better-off students are “supposed” to go to college. New approaches must not replicate the unfairness of the old.

Further, improving opportunities for students takes much more than simply making students take rigorous college-prep courses—whether they are “hybrid” or not. Without proper infrastructure, these college-preparatory courses might simply give a new label to less-than-rigorous learning. (New York Times). Needed are experienced and well-qualified teachers who can bridge the worlds of work and the classroom; and of course, any learning approach requires adequate books, labs and other materials, reasonable class sizes, and so forth.

As policymakers consider how best to prepare students for the future, they need to focus attention on the resources provided at present. San Diego Unified, which recently has committed to A-G requirements, delayed implementing the policy because it lacks the funds to pay for counselors, tutors and other supports for student learning. The district deserves credit for publicly acknowledging the relationship between critical opportunities and desired outcomes. If California’s parents want to prepare students for college and careers, now is the time to invest.  


ppic Press Release |

full report:

SAN FRANCISCO, April 27, 2011—Most Californians are very concerned that the state’s budget deficit will result in cuts to public schools, the area of the budget they most want to protect, according to a statewide survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), with funding from The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. To maintain current funding for K–12 education, a strong majority favor raising income taxes for the wealthiest Californians, but most oppose raising the state sales tax or personal income taxes overall.

With California leaders at a standoff over how to fill the state’s $26 billion budget gap, strong majorities of Californians (68%), likely voters (65%), and public school parents (74%) say the quality of K–12 education will suffer if cuts are made. There are partisan differences, with Democrats (77%) and independents (64%) saying quality will suffer, and Republicans divided over whether it will suffer (49%) or could be maintained (48%).

When Californians are read the major areas of state spending—K–12 public schools, health and human services, higher education, and prisons and corrections—57 percent most want to protect schools. Since PPIC first asked the question in June 2003, a majority have responded this way. Most are very concerned (57%) or somewhat concerned (29%) that the state’s budget deficit will result in significant cuts.

"Californians’ support for maintaining K–12 spending remains strong. It is a significant factor for the state’s leaders to take into account in any proposals that they put before voters this year,” says Mark Baldassare, president and CEO of PPIC. "Residents are worried about the toll that reduced spending is having on the quality of K–12 public education, and public school parents are noticing the impact of state budget cuts on their children’s schools.”


Californians are slightly more likely than they were in March to say it is a good idea to hold a special election this year on the temporary tax and fee increases that Governor Jerry Brown has proposed to prevent additional budget cuts. Majorities of adults (58%) and likely voters (56%) favor a special election (54% all adults, 51% likely voters in March). Across parties, 72 percent of Democrats, 53 percent of independents, and 38 percent of Republicans say a special election is a good idea.

Most adults (61%) and likely voters (61%) favor Brown’s budget plan to close the budget gap—about half through spending cuts and half through temporary tax increases, with no cuts in K–12 schools. A strong majority of Democrats (72%) and more than half of independents (54%) favor the plan, and Republicans are split (47% favor, 49% oppose).

These results do not necessarily translate into support for the specifics of the governor’s plan. Solid majorities oppose increases in the state sales tax (61% all adults, 62% likely voters) or overall state personal income tax (62% all adults, 66% likely voters) to maintain funding for schools—both components of Brown’s proposal. Strong majorities of Republicans (76%) and independents (65%) oppose a sales tax hike, as do about half of Democrats (52%). Opposition to an overall income tax increase is similar (82% Republicans, 66% independents, 52% Democrats).

By contrast, 68 percent of adults and 62 percent of likely voters favor raising the top rate of the state income tax paid by the wealthiest Californians to maintain K–12 funding. There is a partisan divide: Democrats (82%) and independents (63%) are in favor, and Republicans (60%) are opposed.

Brown’s own job approval rating (40%) is up slightly from March (34%), with 29 percent disapproving and 31 percent unsure. Likely voters view him more favorably (46% approve, 32% disapprove, 21% don’t know). But the governor gets lower marks for his handling of K–12 education (24% adults, 25% likely voters approve). The state legislature fares worse than the governor in both areas. Only 21 percent of adults and 14 percent of likely voters approve of the job the legislature is doing (60% all adults, 74% likely voters disapprove). Just 18 percent of adults and 9 percent of likely voters approve of the way the legislature is handling K–12 education.

When it comes to local school funding, most Californians (60%) would support a local bond measure to pay for school construction projects. A slim majority of likely voters (53%) would vote yes, just short of the 55 percent majority required for school bond passage. This is a record low level among likely voters, whose support has been as high as 72 percent (December 1999). If there were a measure to raise local parcel taxes to benefit local public schools, 59 percent of adults and 54 percent of likely voters would approve—well below the two-thirds vote required to pass. Californians are divided over whether it should be easier to pass local parcel taxes: 48 percent of all adults and 46 percent of likely voters say this is a good idea, while 47 percent of adults and 49 percent of likely voters say it is a bad idea.


Asked how the quality of public schools can be significantly improved, 43 percent of residents and 47 percent of likely voters say existing state funds need to be used more wisely. A similar 41 percent of residents and 42 percent of likely voters say funds need to be used more wisely and the amount of funding needs to be increased. Just 13 percent of adults and 9 percent of likely voters say that increasing state funding alone would significantly improve quality.

Public schools have already taken steps to deal with decreased funding, and the PPIC survey asked about four of them. Residents are most concerned about teacher layoffs (68%), but majorities are very concerned about the other areas as well: a shortened school year (56%), elimination of art and music programs (53%), and increased class sizes (52%).

If the legislature or voters reject tax increases, K–12 public education—which accounts for about 40 percent of the state budget—would face cuts. Among the options that would provide the most cost savings, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO), are eliminating funding for K–3 class-size reduction, ending the state requirement that students be provided with transportation to school, and requiring children to be 5 years old before starting kindergarten. (Plans are underway to move this date up from December 2 to September 1 in the future, but the LAO identified this as a way to save money in 2011-2012.) Asked about these ideas, a strong majority of Californians (77%) say eliminating funding for reducing K–3 class sizes is a bad idea, and 61 percent say the same about ending the transportation requirement. By contrast, 66 percent say changing the kindergarten age requirement is a good idea.


Californians’ support for maintaining K–12 spending levels does not mean they are pleased with the quality of education students are getting. Most Californians (85%) say school quality is at least somewhat of a problem. Over half (55%) call it a big problem, a view held by at least half of residents since April 2005. A majority (54%) say school quality has gotten worse in the past few years, while 29 percent say it has stayed the same and just 11 percent say it has improved.

Less than half of Californians (43%) say schools are doing a good or excellent job preparing students for college, and only 36 percent are happy with the schools’ performance in preparing students for the workforce.

Asked about some of the challenges in the state’s K–12 education system, residents are most likely to view the high school dropout rate (74%) as a big problem, followed by student achievement (46%) and teacher quality (44%). The proportion of adults who view the dropout rate as a big problem is at a new high. Strong majorities of public school parents (73%) and adults across parties, regions, and demographic groups hold this view. Blacks (85%) and Latinos (83%) are much more likely than whites (68%) and Asians (67%) to do so.


The share of Californians who say teacher quality is a big problem is also at a record high. Most Californians say a teacher’s salary should be very closely tied to student achievement (29%) or somewhat closely tied (40%). Solid majorities across regions and parties (69% independents, 68% Republicans, 65% Democrats) say the two should be closely tied. Among racial and ethnic groups, Latinos (75%) are the most likely and blacks the least likely (56%) to say so.

Most residents (65%) are very concerned that students in lower-income areas have a shortage of good teachers compared to schools in wealthier areas, up 11 points since April 2008 (54%). When asked about the distribution of resources, such as good teachers and classroom materials, 79 percent of residents say schools in lower-income areas of the state do not have the same amount. And 67 percent say that if new state funding were available, schools in lower-income areas should get more of it.


Although most Californians (56% all adults, 66% public school parents) say local public schools do not get enough funding, they have generally positive views of their own schools. Half of adults (51%) give their schools a grade of B or higher, as they have each year since 2005. There are differences across racial and ethnic groups: Latinos (59%), Asians (49%), and whites (48%) are more likely than blacks (39%) to give their local school an A or B. Blacks (45%) are more likely than others to give their schools C grades.


  • Many unaware how state ranks in spending, student achievement—page 9
    Just one in four Californians (23%) know that both student test scores and spending per pupil are below average compared to other states.
  • Public school parents see impact of cuts—page 15
    More than half of public school parents say they have noticed furloughs or layoffs of support staff (52%) or cuts to programs such as art, music, summer school, or extracurricular activities (58%).
  • Most prefer local control of state money for schools—page 21
    An overwhelming majority of residents (83%) prefer control at the local level, either by school districts (49%) or schools (34%). Just 13 percent prefer that state government make these decisions.


The PPIC Statewide Survey has provided policymakers, the media, and the general public with objective, advocacy-free information on the perceptions, opinions, and public policy preferences of California residents since 1998. This survey is part of an annual series focusing on K–12 public education that began in 2005 and is supported with funding from The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. Its goal is to inform state policymakers, encourage discussion, and raise public awareness about a variety of K–12 issues. Findings are based on a telephone survey of 2,504 California adult residents interviewed on landlines and cell phones from April 5­­­–19, 2011. Interviews were conducted in English, Spanish, Chinese (Mandarin or Cantonese), Vietnamese, or Korean, according to respondents’ preferences. The sampling error is ±3 percent for all adults, ±3.2 percent for the 1,634 registered voters, ±3.5 percent for the 1,209 likely voters, and ±5.5 for the 763 public school parents. For more information on methodology, see page 24.

Mark Baldassare is president and CEO of PPIC, where he holds the Arjay and Frances Fearing Miller Chair in Public Policy. He is founder of the PPIC Statewide Survey, which he has directed since 1998.

PPIC is dedicated to informing and improving public policy in California through independent, objective, nonpartisan research on major economic, social, and political issues. The institute was established in 1994 with an endowment from William R. Hewlett. As a private operating foundation, PPIC does not take or support positions on any ballot measure or on any local, state, or federal legislation, nor does it endorse, support, or oppose any political parties or candidates for public office.

SUE BURR GIVEN DUAL ROLE OVER EDUCATION: She and Mike Kirst to advise Jerry Brown

By John Fensterwald - Educated Guess |

Posted on 4/29/11 • In a twofer consistent with his frugality, Gov. Jerry Brown appointed a key education adviser Thursday who will also serve as the new executive director of the State Board of Education. She is Sue Burr, a respected fixture in education for a quarter-century.

Burr, 57, is currently the executive director of the California County Superintendents Educational Services Association. She will in effect work for two bosses, Brown and the State Board of Education, though neither she nor State Board President Michael Kirst, who has known her for more than a decade, anticipates a conflict. The Board recommended her to the governor, Kirst said. “She will have a broad portfolio with an unusual and distinct role.”Sue Burr

<<Sue Burr

Ever since Brown announced he was abolishing the Office of the Secretary of Education, both to save money and to simplify a convoluted system of authority over education, it’s been unclear who would provide regular advice on legislation and other daily education matters. Kirst was Brown’s campaign adviser and his first key appointment, but he lives in Palo Alto and has other commitments.

Both Kirst and Burr will giving advice to the governor. Burr will advise Brown on areas of education not under the authority of the State Board, including budget matters, student college readiness, teacher credentialing, early childhood education issues, and school construction, according to a press release from the governor’s office. She’ll be the chief administrator of the State Board, which oversees federal funds for K-12 education and has authority over policies relating to statewide testing, state standards, and instructional materials.

“Sue Burr has the experience, temperament and track record of success that makes her an excellent choice to fill the expanded role of Executive Director,” said Bill Lucia, president and CEO of the advocacy group EdVoice.

Before going to work for the superintendents association five years ago, Burr was the assistant superintendent for business services with the Elk Grove Unified School District, and the undersecretary of education under Gov. Gray Davis from 1999 to 2000, also serving as interim secretary for six months during that time. Burr was the co-director of the California State University Institute for Education Reform from 1995 to 1999, and, before that, a principal consultant for the Senate Education Committee, and for the Senate Appropriations Committee. She also is secretary of the board of the nonprofit group, EdSource.

In abolishing the $2 million, 11-person Office of the Secretary of Education, Brown increased the staff of the State Board by three positions, for a net savings of eight. Over the next few years, the State Board will focus on implementing the Common Core standards and new assessments and instructional guidelines, as well as revising the current state standards in the interim.

“This is wonderful opportunity at a moment in time when we have governor who is forward-thinking and a superintendent of public instruction who wants to work collaboratively to implement Common Core and (the work of) the new testing consortia,” Burr said.

Burr, who will be paid $175,000, said it is not clear to what extent Brown will ask her to speak on his behalf on education issues.

SB 268? …and now for something completely different (and a little more focused on parents and children): ‘ANY TIME, ANY PLACE, ANY WAY’ SCHOOL CHOICE PLAN IN MICHIGAN

By Sean Cavanagh | State EdWatch - Education Week

April 29, 2011 9:29 AM | Michigan Gov. Rick Synder proposed sweeping changes to education this week, but perhaps his most striking idea is to create an open-market for students to choose public schools—without regard to traditional district boundaries.

The Republican governor labels his choice plan "Any Time, Any Place, Any Way, Any Pace." Students and families who live in a school district would be given the first option to enroll, but school systems would also be required to accept out-of-district students, space permitting.

If more students want a spot in a district than space allows, schools would fill those spots by lottery, Synder says.

School choice is a hot topic among Republican governors these days. Synder also calls for removing restrictions on the seat time and the length of the school year, week, and day. He wants to encourage more blended learning, which combines online and face-to-face instruction, and he says that any Michigan student who needs or wants up to two hours a day of daily online education should receive it. That means limits on enrollment in virtual schools will be eliminated.

Snyder's plans could have big implications for the long-troubled Detroit public schools. City school board members and others say they're worried that the governor's proposal would essentially empty the district, by encouraging parents and students to leave.

The idea of creating more educational options for students, and saving money for the state and districts through technology is not new. Idaho lawmakers approved a measure this year that will bring new technology to schools around the state, as part of an Republican-backed education plan that provoked a strong and at times unruly debate. Other states have promoted or expanded tech options for similiar purposes.

Synder's proposal covers a lot of other ground, too, and many of his ideas will have to be approved by the state's legislature, which is under Republican control.

The governor also calls for implementing performance pay for teachers, and changing the state's funding formula to reward schools for making academic gains. He says that any caps on charter school in districts with at least one failing school should be eliminated. Additionally, he calls for setting tougher standards for teachers to pass their certification tests, a step that he noted has been taken by neighboring states.

But the governor's proposed changes to school funding—which includes state financial incentives to districts that control employee benefits costs—has drawn a skeptical response from the Michigan Education Association.

The benefits proposal "means nothing to financially-strapped school districts cutting staff and programs—nor to the countless districts that have already taken such measures," the union said in a statement.

The union seems to take a more positive view of Synder's goal of improving the early childhood system. The governor says the current system consists of "fragmented, segmented, and highly specialized" programs, fed by 84 different funding streams. He wants to consolidate them into a single early-childhood education office.


By Melissa Pamer Staff Writer | Daily Breeze |

04/30/2011 - A bill in the state Legislature could alter the process that allows parents to transfer their children between school districts, potentially affecting thousands of students in the South Bay.

The legislation, carried by South Bay Sen. Rod Wright, would limit the criteria that could be considered when parents appeal the denial of permits that would allow their children to attend school districts outside their home area.

Senate Bill 268 is sponsored by the Los Angeles Unified School District, which last year was met with parent uproar when it sought to clamp down on the large number of outgoing permits in an effort to retain attendance-based funding from the state.

This year, about a third of those permits - thousands overall - were given to students who transferred to South Bay school districts, taking pupil-based funding with them. Today is the deadline to apply for transfer permits for 2011-12.

Melissa Schoonmaker, Los Angeles Unified's coordinator for the Permits and Student Transfers Office, said the bill is needed to clarify standards used by the Los Angeles County Board of Education when it hears appeals from parents who have been denied permits.

The bill, set for a hearing Monday before the Senate Appropriations Committee, would affect county boards of education across the state. The Education Code currently contains no standards of review for appeal hearings, which have been increasing in number as many school districts

"For us, it's just providing neutral standards that every county board will be able to look at every appeal in front of them in the same fashion," Schoonmaker said. "It makes it a fair process for the parent; it makes it a clearer process so that one parent isn't treated differently from another parent. Each case is viewed in the same lens."

The district is again facing a backlash from parents who have organized a petition against the legislation, which they fear would limit their chances of leaving LAUSD for higher-performing outside schools.

Anger at Los Angeles Unified is rampant on a Facebook page for parents concerned about interdistrict transfers.

"They decided to go the back-door legislative route and try to change the rules essentially," said David Coffin, a Westchester parent who has two sons on permits in a high-achieving Manhattan Beach school.

Wright, a Democrat based in Inglewood who represents much of the South Bay, was unavailable to comment on the bill this week. But his office put out a statement saying "clarity" was needed in permit appeal hearings, where "decisions can be perceived as arbitrary."

It's not clear how much of an immediate effect the bill would have, but it comes as LAUSD has limited the reasons for which it will grant outgoing permits.

Last year, Schoonmaker said, the district granted more than 10,500 outgoing permits, and only 330 were appealed to the county board. Of those, the county sided with parents - granting the permits - in 107 cases.

Under the legislation, county boards could essentially only consider whether a school district had followed its own policy - or a transfer agreement between two districts - in denying a permit. There is also a provision allowing parents to present "relevant information that, in the exercise of reasonable diligence, could not have been produced, or that was improperly excluded" at the school district's permit hearing.

Schoonmaker said the latter provision would allow parents to tell their side of the story to county boards.

Nonetheless, the Los Angeles County Office of Education, which has jurisdiction over 80 school districts, opposes the bill.

"We believe that limiting the criteria to that proposed in the bill will create a disadvantage to those the appeal process was designed to serve, the parents and the students," Victor Thompson, LACOE's director of students support services, told the Senate Education Committee. "For example, if a school district only had five criteria and the parent was appealing based on other criteria, what would be the motivation to appeal?"

Right now, the county board can consider myriad criteria when deciding on an appeal - making the bureaucratic process somewhat friendly to parents, Thompson said in an interview.

"We've developed the criteria the county board uses over decades and decades. The criteria was designed to be broad enough to accommodate all the different school districts," Thompson said.

High-achieving Wiseburn School District, which gets 40 percent of its student body from other districts, is likewise critical of the bill and has written to Wright in opposition.

"What used to be a surplus of students is now a situation where there's a scarcity of students. So in a sense there's competition for students," Superintendent Tom Johnstone said in an interview.

"Obviously LAUSD doesn't want to lose that per-pupil funding. It boils down to economics. For us, it's a lot more than economics; and for parents, it's a lot more than economics."



Alan Lowenthal, Chair
2011-2012 Regular Session
AUTHOR: Wright
INTRODUCED: February 14, 2011

SUBJECT : Interdistrict pupil attendance and appeal.

This bill (1) specifies the scope of review by a county
board of education (CBE) when an appeal of interdistrict
pupil attendance occurs; (2) specifies that if, after two
months, no decision by the two governing boards or CBE has
been made regarding an appeal, the district of residence
shall receive the funding attributable to the pupil; and
(3) provides that a parent or guardian is physically
employed within the boundaries of that district if employed
during a majority of the time that the pupil is scheduled
to be in school.

Current law provides for several means to authorize
interdistrict attendance of a pupil who resides in one
school district but wishes to attend public school in
another school district:
The main authorization provides for interdistrict
attendance when both the district of residence and district
of proposed attendance agree. This process allows the
parent or guardian of a pupil requesting interdistrict
attendance to appeal to the county board of education in
the event that either district refuses the requested
transfer. In addition, current law allows the governing
board of a school district for a period not to exceed two
school months to provisionally admit to their schools a
pupil who resides in another district, pending a decision
of the two boards, or by the CBE upon appeal, regarding the
interdistrict attendance. The provisional attendance may be
counted by the district of attendance for revenue limit and
state apportionment purposes. (EC § 46600 et. seq.)
A second form of interdistrict attendance authorizes a
pupil to attend school in a district where the pupil's
parent works, rather than where the pupil and parent
reside. The district where the parent is employed is not
required to admit the pupil but is prohibited from refusing
admission on the basis of the arbitrary consideration such
as race, ethnicity, sex, parental income, scholastic
achievement. The receiving (parental employment) district
may also refuse the transfer if it determines that the
costs of the transfer would exceed the added revenues (thus
preventing mandated costs.) Either district of residence or
parental employment may prohibit the transfer if it would
negatively affect a desegregation plan and the district of
residence is not required to allow more transfers than
specified limits based upon the size of the district. (EC §
A third authorization is under District of Choice (DOC)
provisions. Under the DOC program, a school board may
declare the district to be a DOC willing to accept a
specified number of interdistrict transfers. The DOC
program provides protections against districts targeting
students in specific residential neighborhoods, on the
basis of a child's actual or perceived academic or athletic
performance or any other personal characteristic. A DOC
may reject the transfer of a pupil if the transfer of that
pupil would require the district to create a new program to
serve that pupil, except that a DOC shall not reject the
transfer of a special needs pupil, including an individual
with exceptional needs, and an English learner. DOCs are
required to collect specific data about the students who
transfer to their district and report that data to
surrounding districts and to the state. This data is
required to be reported annually to the Legislature and the
Governor, and the Legislative Analyst's Office (LAO) is
required to prepare a comprehensive evaluation of the
program. (EC § 48300 et. seq.)


This bill:
1) Clarifies that the hearing required by a county board
of education (CBE), within 30 calendar days after an
appeal is filed must be an impartial hearing.
2) Specifies the review by the CBE shall be limited to
the following questions:
a) Whether the district acted in accordance
with an interdistrict
attendance agreement, where applicable.
b) Whether the district followed the district's
policy on interdistrict
c) Whether the district provided the parent or
guardian with an
opportunity to provide information relevant to
the interdistrict attendance request.
d) Whether there is relevant and material
evidence that was not
considered by the district.
3) Requires if after two months, no decision has been
made regarding either an interdistrict attendance
agreement or an appeal, by the two governing boards or
the CBE, the school district of residence shall
receive the revenue limit and state apportionment
funding attributable to that pupil.
4) Provides that, until July 1, 2013, a school district
may deem a pupil to have complied with residency
requirements for school attendance in a district if at
least one parent of the pupil is physically employed
within the boundaries of that district during a
majority of the time that the pupil is scheduled to be
in school.
5) Requires reimbursement to local agencies and school
districts to be made if the Commission on State
Mandates determines that this act contains costs
mandated by the state.
1) Need for the bill. The author's office contends that
the Education Code contains no consistent standard of
review for county boards of education (CBEs) to follow
with regard to handling appeals for interdistrict
attendance permits. Without required standards for
impartial review, decisions can be perceived as
arbitrary by the parties before the county board. In
addition, this measure would also set parameters that
directly link the parent's employment to the school
2) Consistency of appeal review seems reasonable . It
seems reasonable to have a clear and consistent review
approach by CBEs with regard to interdistrict transfer
appeals as envisioned in this bill. Many school
district policies provide for an initial district
appeal if an interdistrict attendance request is
denied; in addition, all school districts are required
to inform parents of their right to appeal to their
local CBE.
According to the author their intent is to insure a
fair and consistent review, and not impede parent and
pupil rights and while keeping open the possibility
that unique circumstances may arise. With this in
mind, staff recommends an amendment that rather than
having a CBE review "whether there was relevant and
material evidence not considered," a more direct and
consistent review question would be on page 4, line
11, "(iv) Whether there is relevant information, which
in the exercise of reasonable diligence, could not
have been produced or which was improperly excluded at
the hearing before the district governing board."
3) Changes to Provisional Attendance Funding Seem
The bill attempts to motivate school
districts and CBEs to act in a timely manner regarding
interdistrict agreements or appeals by creating a time
certain cutoff whereby the district of residence
receives funding attributing to that pupil. However,
given the changes envisioned by this bill by providing
for a clear, consistent, and streamlined approach to
appeal reviews, as well as the lack of information on
how many pupils the current process applies to, a
change in current statute may be considered premature.
Therefore, staff recommends that Section 2 of the
measure be deleted.


Melanie Smollin | TakePart - Inspiration to Action

Ahead of the Class

New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago are the three largest school districts in the country. Together, these mega-districts educate 2.2 million students and house almost 3,000 schools. And together they made national headlines this month for the exact same reason: Each has a newly appointed schools chief.


The school systems in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles have all gone back to the blackboard—from the top down. (Photo: Shonk/Creative Commons)

On April 7, New York City’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced the abrupt resignation of schools chancellor Cathie Black, and subsequently tapped deputy mayor Dennis M. Walcott to be her replacement.

Superintendent Ramon Cortines retired from the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) on April 15,  and  former deputy superintendent John Deasy took his place.

On April 18, incoming Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel named Jean-Claude Brizard the new head of his city’s school district.

The new chiefs face daunting budget deficits, pending teacher layoffs, lagging student achievement, union contract negotiations, and community discord. Are they up for the challenge?

Here’s TakePart’s list of the three most important things you should know about each.


Critics of New York's Cathie Black argued that it’s difficult for non-educators to inspire confidence in teachers, parents, administrators and the general public.

The good news is that all three new chiefs have backgrounds in education, to varying degrees.

NYC: Walcott's teaching experience is very limited—he taught kindergarten for 18 months in 1974. He has a teaching license for elementary grades K-6, a master’s degree in education, and firsthand experience with NYC public schools as a student, parent and grandparent. Mayor Bloomberg points out that as deputy mayor, Walcott “visited hundreds of schools” and was City Hall’s liaison to the school system for the past nine years.

CHICAGO: A native of Haiti, Brizard has worked in education for more than two decades. He’s a former teacher and school principal with a master’s degree in school administration and science education. Brizard is also a graduate of the Broad Foundation’s Superintendents Academy.  Most recently, he served as superintendent in Rochester, New York, a predominantly low-income minority school district that struggles with achievement.

L.A.: Of all three new leaders, Deasy has the most experience as a superintendant. He spent more than 12 years leading school districts in Rhode Island, Santa Monica-Malibu and Prince George's County. Like Brizard, he completed Broad’s executive training program. Most recently, Deasy worked as a top official at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


Perceived leadership skills are crucial to widespread public acceptance and approval of superintendents.

NYC: Walcott is known for being a reform-minded leader with a softer touch who is skilled at garnering public support for change and responding to community concerns. In his first few weeks in office, Walcott promised to not speak ill of teachers, to embrace a tone of civility and cooperation, and to simplify the role of principals in his district.

CHICAGO: Brizard’s style is described as “one of outreach and responsiveness” by former colleagues in New York. He’s been known to hold regular meetings with parents and administrators to find out what’s going on in schools. However, his relationship with the teachers’ union in Rochester was tumultuous, and teachers gave him a vote of no confidence after he promoted policies they disagreed with.

L.A.: Superintendent John Deasy’s no-nonsense results-oriented leadership has earned him the respect of city officials and educators alike. Judy Perez, president of Associated Administrators Los Angeles, and A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, both expressed confidence in his capabilities. Deasy’s stated goals include improving parent and community engagement, and bringing greater civility to LAUSD. “If we can't treat each other everywhere in the district with dignity,” says Deasy, “we won't see the dignity in our students."


All three superintendents appear to embrace the Obama administration’s federal school reform agenda.

CHICAGO: Brizard is known for his efforts to close low-performing schools, fire underperforming principals, promote charter schools, and link teacher pay to student test scores. He and his boss Mayor Emanuel support pending legislation that will lengthen the school day and school year, and reduce the importance of seniority in teacher layoffs.

NYC: Wolcott promises to press forward with Mayor Bloomberg’s policy agenda, which includes getting rid of last-in-first-out seniority rules, supporting charter school development, and closing low performing schools. “I believe in what we’re doing, and I haven’t had any evidence that what we’re doing is wrong,” Walcott says.

L.A.: Deasy recently introduced a performance management system that will be the centerpiece of his administration. All schools, educators and administrators (himself included) will be tasked with meeting 15 goals. These include almost doubling the percentage of students who read at grade level in third grade, and raising high school graduation rates to 70 percent by the end of the 2013-14 school year. Deasy is also planning to revamp teacher evaluations to include student test scores, promote charter school development, and focus on the use of data to improve schools.

On his first day as LAUSD’s superintendent, Deasy could have spoken for all three new chiefs when he said: "I did wake up this morning aware that all of the responsibility is on me. There is huge work in front of us. But we're not going to talk about the work…we're just going to get it done."

Photo: Shonk/Creative Commons via Flickr.

Friday, April 29, 2011


la tIMES |

April 28, 2011 |  9:21 am

L.A. middle school students protest proposed cuts to music program

Aly Ung, left, and Xavier Zapata, giving a shout, take part in a demonstration outside Florence Nightingale Middle School, in the Cypress Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. The 11-year-olds were among students, teachers and parents who gathered Thursday in front of the school to protest proposed cuts to the music program.

Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times

Florence Nightingale Middle

3311 North Figueroa St., Los Angeles, 90065

  • Public school in the Los Angeles Unified district.
  • Grades 6-8
  • 1,893 students
  • 80 faculty members

Florence Nightingale Middle

Source: California Department of Education

Sandra Poindexter, Ben Welsh Los Angeles Times



04/28/2011 06:56:55 PM PDT - LONG BEACH, Calif.—Gov. Jerry Brown on Thursday vowed to fight to protect public education funding as he worked to wrangle a deal with Republican lawmakers over how to best close a yawning budget deficit of more than $15 billion.

The Democratic governor spoke at the California State Parent Teacher Association's 112th convention to several thousand PTA members and delegates a day after a new poll indicated a majority of Californians are concerned about the impact of any future budget cuts on public schools. But most of those surveyed also said they did not want to see their own taxes go up to solve the problem.

Brown wants to extend for five years increases to the personal income, sales and vehicle taxes, but negotiations have stalled. The tax increases are scheduled to expire this year, and renewing them would bring the state an additional $9.2 billion a year.

Brown wanted to hold a special election in June to put the tax question to voters, but has been unable to get the necessary Republican votes in the state Legislature to get it on the ballot. He has signed bills that cut the $26.6 billion budget deficit by $11.2 billion by reducing spending and transferring money between various government funds.

Brown told cheering parents and teachers that he was their ally in the battle to protect education funding in the upheaval.

"It's going to have to be the voice of the parents and teachers and yes, even the school students themselves to awaken the conscience of California to our true path forward, which is to invest in the future and not steal from it," he said. "That's really what's at stake here."

A voter ballot measure on the tax renewals was critical to the state's future, he said, and it isn't one that state lawmakers should make "in the dark of night in Sacramento."

"It's a choice that the people have a right to make. You can't tell the people of California, 'Shut up, we don't want to hear from you,'" he said.

Brown told reporters that nothing was off the table in order to get the Republican votes needed for a ballot measure on tax extensions—including pension reform and a spending cap.

When asked if he would consider a second, separate voter ballot measure on pension reform, Brown said all alternatives were up for consideration as long as it would get both sides talking again.

"I think that's all a part of the discussion. I'm open to anything," he said. "I put no preconditions to meeting with the Republican lawmakers. Anything they want, whether it's pension reform, capping, regulatory form, I'm listening. Even agricultural issues, I'm listening."

Brown said he was optimistic that lawmakers would ultimately find a compromise despite the current stalemate.

"Some of the Republicans as recently as the night before last said, 'We're going to get there.' I've been speaking with these Republicans frequently, so within the last 48 hours I heard from a couple of them some very positive—but by no means definitive—comments," he said.

The poll released Wednesday by the Public Policy Institute of California found that 65 percent of likely voters are very concerned that public schools will suffer if deeper cuts are made to education to help close the state's remaining $15.4 billion budget deficit.

The institute found that 56 percent of likely voters favor a special election giving the electorate the right to decide key budget questions, while 61 percent support Brown's plan to balance the budget through a mix of cuts and taxes. But that does not mean voters would endorse the Democratic governor's proposal entirely.

Two-thirds of likely voters surveyed said they oppose raising personal-income taxes to maintain current funding for schools, and nearly as many oppose higher sales taxes to pay for schools. Instead, six in 10 favor raising income taxes on top earners to fund education.

Parent and local PTA official Heidi Pyle, of Corona, said she was extremely concerned about her youngest daughter's future and had watched the public school education shrink in the past decade.

"It would just be great to see that my 9-year-old will have the same opportunities that my 21-year-old had, and right now I don't see the equal opportunity that this child is getting compared to my first child," she said as her daughter, Kati-Lynn, listened.

"That's all parents want is to have our children do better and be better than what the generation before had."




PRESS RELEASE: April 28, 2011

For Immediate Release
Contacts: Linda Mayo

Vice President for Communications

(916) 261-1715

Alison apRoberts

Communications Manager

(916) 261-5286


LONG BEACH - Governor Jerry Brown today called on thousands of parents and PTA members from across the state to continue speaking up for children and urging the Legislature to protect education funding. His appeal came during an address to PTA delegates during the first day of the 112th Annual California State PTA Convention at the Long Beach Convention Center.

"Schools are the future, and you are the voice of those schools, so we've got to hear from you. You have the credibility," Brown told the delegates. "It's going to have to be the voice of parents and teachers and, yes, even the school students themselves, to awaken the conscience of California to our true path forward, which is to invest in the future, not steal from it."

Jo A.S. Loss, president of the California State PTA, said the association's members clearly support protecting education funding.

"Our nearly 1 million members have said loudly and clearly that adequate school funding is their top priority," Loss said. "They are deeply concerned about the massive budget cuts that education and children's programs have already absorbed in the past few years. We will continue speaking up for a balanced budget solution that will prevent deeper cuts that would affect children."

The PTA has been focused on raising awareness about the devastating impact of state budget cuts on children. The association recently launched a "Cut$ Hurt Kids" campaign, supported by a Facebook page. Thousands of PTA members have already contacted legislators urging them to reject an all-cuts budget and to protect funding for education and other crucial children's services.

# # #

everychild. onevoice.

The California State PTA has nearly 1 million members throughout the state working on behalf of public schools, children and families, with the motto, "Every child, one voice." The PTA is the nation's oldest, largest and highest profile volunteer organization working to improve the education, health and welfare of all children and youth. The PTA also advocates at national, state and local levels for education and family issues. The PTA is nonprofit, nonsectarian and noncommercial.

Thursday, April 28, 2011


During an appearance with celebrity chef Jamie Oliver on Jimmy Kimmel's late-night show, LAUSD Supt. John Deasy says the Los Angeles school system will stop offering high-sugar chocolate and strawberry milk.

By Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times |'s John Deasy

Los Angeles Unified School District Supt. John Deasy, pictured in January, announced this week that the LAUSD will stop offering chocolate- and strawberry-flavored milk in its schools. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times / January 13, 2010)

DOCUMENT: Letter from Supt. John Deasy to the school board

April 28, 2011 - Los Angeles schools will remove high-sugar chocolate- and strawberry-flavored milk from their lunch and breakfast menus after food activists campaigned for the change, L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy announced this week.

Deasy revealed his intent, which will require approval by the Los Angeles Unified Board of Education, during an appearance with celebrity chef Jamie Oliver on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" Tuesday night.

The policy change is part of a carefully negotiated happy ending between the Los Angeles Unified School District and Oliver. The chef's confrontations with the school system became a main theme in the current season of the TV reality show "Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution."

The timing of the flavored-milk ban, which had been under consideration for some time, gave Oliver a positive outcome and allowed the nation's second-largest school system to escape the villain's role. Deasy quickly alerted the school board to the deal before going on television.

In early episodes, Oliver's show had presented former Supt. Ramon Cortines and school board members with unflattering sound bites and camera angles. But with Deasy, the British chef gushed that he'd enroll his own child in L.A. public schools, if he had one here.

L.A. Unified led the nation in efforts to ban junk-food snacks and sodas, but its meals could be healthier, despite exceeding federal standards.

"A popular breakfast offering of Frosted Flakes doused in chocolate milk with a side of coffee cake and a carton of orange juice contains 51 grams of added sugar (or 79 grams of total sugar counting those that occur naturally in the milk and the juice)," wrote USC school-nutrition experts Emily Ventura and Michael Goran in a recent Los Angeles Times editorial. A 12-ounce can of Coca-Cola contains 39 grams of sugar, they noted.

Food activist Matthew Sharp called the impending ban, which would take effect in the next school year, "an important teaching tool for students to wean off the sweet tooth" that again puts L.A. Unified among national leaders in nutrition.

The high-sugar chocolate milk has been banned in other districts across the country, including Fairfax County in Virginia and Washington, D.C.

Other steps to improve school food in Los Angeles could include swapping out burgers in favor of sandwiches and offering pasta and soup rather than chicken nuggets, said Sharp of the nonprofit California Food Policy Advocates.

Healthier offerings could cost more, however, and prove less popular, jeopardizing federal funding if student consumption drops. That same concern holds with eliminating flavored milk, although the menu change itself will have no added cost.

About 75% of milk sold is flavored, Oliver noted on the Kimmel show.

Sharp said he anticipated a slight, temporary drop in milk consumption. But, he added, "it's a little tough to know how the real audience of students will react."



Los Angeles Unified School District 

Office of the Superintendent

TO: Members, Board of Education

FROM: Dr. John E. Deasy, Superintendent 


INFORMATIVE Date April 26, 2011

I am recommending the elimination of flavored milk with added sugars in all LAUSD schools in anticipation of the renewal of milk contracts by the Board of Education on June 14, 2011. This change will benefit our students by offering them only milk products that lack the higher amounts of added sugars. The District should not experience any appreciable difference in revenue received from the federal reimbursement program.

BACKGROUND LAUSD cares deeply about student nutrition and our goal is to be the premier school food establishment in America. LAUSD is already a recognized national leader in the effort to promote healthy food and lifestyles to combat diabetes, obesity and other health issues- including the banning of sodas and other drinks high in sugar, sale of junk food, elimination of foods with added trans fats, and the increase of access to fruits and vegetables. 

Over the past decade, the Board of Education has done an outstanding job in establishing meal nutritional standards exceeding the USDA requirements. The District's nutrition policies are more stringent than any school district in the United States. To this end, the elimination of flavored milk with added sugars further strengthens the District's goal of providing a balanced nutritious meal for all students. Added sugars in our flavored milk products provide an additional 6 to 13 grams of sugars to the milk products served to our students. With the increasing rates of obesity and diabetes of our student population, it is necessary that the District make this decision to promote healthy outcomes for our students. 

In mitigating the possible decrease of milk consumption by students, District staff will be involved in various awareness campaigns via different mediums on the importance of drinking milk which is a high source of calcium and other essential nutrients. This information campaign will include, but not be limited to, utilizing the assistance of KLCS, parent groups and other nationwide initiatives. LAUSD is committed to providing our students and parents the most up-to-date information about healthy eating and healthy lifestyles. We strive to continue working with the greater community to provide the best quality school food to all our students. 

If you have any questions, please contact me or Enrique Boull't at (213) 241-4133. 

c: Michelle King 

David Holmquist 

Enrique Boull't 

Judy Elliott 

Jefferson Crain

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

LOS ANGELES UNIFIED IS ACADEMIC DECATHLON’S STAR STUDENT: The nation's troubled second-largest school system doesn't get a lot of respect — except when it comes to the Academic Decathlon.

By Rick Rojas, Los Angeles Times |

Academic Decathlon Granada Hills

Members of the Granada Hills Charter High School Academic Decathlon team join hands in celebration upon their return to school after winning the 2011 State Academic Decathlon in Sacramento. (Mel Melcon, Los Angeles Times / March 16, 2011)

L.A. Unified schools that have won the national Academic Decathlon GRAPHIC:  L.A. Unified schools that have won the national Academic Decathlon

April 28, 2011 - It's not often that schools across the country look with envy at Los Angeles' public schools, where monumental budget woes, potential widespread teacher layoffs and a long list of hurdles confront the sprawling, diverse school system.

But in the Academic Decathlon — a grueling intellectual high school competition — the Los Angeles Unified School District has become the best in the nation.

L.A. Unified schools have won the national Academic Decathlon competition 11 times since 1987, more than any other school district. In the last decade, L.A. Unified schools won six of the titles. This week, Granada Hills Charter High School enters the national competition in North Carolina as a frontrunner, coming in with the highest score from the state competition.

So what makes L.A. Unified such a powerhouse?

For one, the best coaches know the secret sauce, the ingredients for a winning team. They have an eye for talent and scour their schools for the nine A, B and C students required to form a team. They can spot the right kind of C student — the ones who are smart but don't apply themselves. And they know that a couple of strong students in one subject can carry weaker team members.

In the nation's second-largest school district, the coaches also have a deep pool from which to pick the best students — the ones who don't mind adding the decathlon to their college applications.

And they begin early. Granada Hills hasn't even finished the season, yet coaches are looking forward to the next, researching the competition's theme for the year — the Age of Empires — and scouting for their next team.

They're looking at test scores and grade-point averages, and they have an eye on students in such other extracurriculars as debate, robotics and even junior varsity football.

Nick Weber, a Granada Hills coach, said the strategy of making a good team doesn't mean poaching, say, the best in debate or the athlete who's going to make varsity. Instead, he said, it requires picking from the middle, taking the intelligent, dedicated students with good character.

They also must find students willing to surrender their free time — including vacations and weekends — to practice. By one estimate, a team like Granada Hills will have spent about 300 hours studying over the course of a decathlon season. They do this while keeping up with their regular classes.

To keep the coaches motivated, the district pays them the same stipend of about $2,800 that football coaches receive.

Holding it all together is Cliff Ker, who has been the decathlon coordinator since 2000. Working out of a district office tucked away near Birmingham High School in Lake Balboa, Ker's walls and bookshelves are lined with mementos from competitions and portraits of winning teams posing with governors and presidents. He can name each student and knows where most of them went on to college.

Although his budget has been reduced from $300,000 to below $90,000, the veteran administrator said it's his job to keep such distractions away from the students and coaches so they can focus on winning.

"My main challenge," Ker said, "is to carry on the tradition of excellence."

Southern California schools have won the national title nine times in the last decade — including L.A. Unified's El Camino Real (five times) and Taft High, both in Woodland Hills. Their toughest competitors are from Texas, Wisconsin, Illinois and Arizona.

Anne Edelstein, state director for the Arizona Academic Decathlon, is one of the competitors who hopes to end California's winning streak this week. "We wish they weren't so good," she said with a laugh.

The Academic Decathlon began in 1968 in Orange County. A decade later, it was brought to Los Angeles to see if a program that worked in suburban schools could be replicated in a more diverse urban environment, said Paul Possemato, a retired district administrator who oversaw the competition's launch in L.A.

What started with six teams quickly blossomed into 50 participating schools over a few years, with the district grabbing its first national competition when John Marshall High took the top title in 1987.

This year, 74 schools participated in the local competition; 11 made it to the state contest in March.

The decathlon tests students in math and science, economics, social studies, art and music theory. They have to give a speech, be interviewed by judges, write an essay and take part in the Super Quiz, a rapid-response trivia relay. The competition's theme this year is the Great Depression.

The teams begin preparing before school lets out for the summer. But the trick, coaches say, is to take a measured approach: Academic Decathlon is a marathon in which a competitor wants to have the most energy at the end of the race, not get burned out by regionals.

They spend the year poring through guidebooks the size of a dictionary. The coaches will also sift research materials of their own. And they bring in teachers with particular expertise to help students learn the material.

An intense competition has emerged between high schools in Los Angeles, as cross-town rivals strive to beat each other at the regionals and pass them up at the state level.

"We've formed this tradition to take this very seriously, more so than other schools in California," said Arthur Berchin, who led Taft to three national wins. "It's become a rivalry in our district. As a result, we've done well."

Coaches often share tips, and veterans take rookies under their wing. Coaches of teams that had been Granada Hills' rivals just weeks ago came by recently to work with students who needed help.

In a district that gets a fair share of criticism, winning the Academic Decathlon adds a level of prestige, said Spencer Wolf, a Granada Hills coach.

Eugene Lee, a Granada Hills senior and a top scorer in math, spent his spring break working on his weaker areas: drilling for the Super Quiz and practicing his speech. He said the team is focused now on one thing: winning.

"It's always in the back of our minds," he said.

CAN JOHN DEASY FIX HUNTINGTON PARK HIGH? LAUSD superintendent faces his first test at a disastrous, fractured school

By Jason S. Mandell | L.A. Weekly |

Thursday, Apr 28 2011 - Two weeks ago, as John Deasy took over as superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa called for tearing up the teachers' union contract, the latest chapter in one school's ongoing tragedy was quietly unfolding.

"It has been a war," says Phil Keller, a longtime English teacher at Huntington Park Senior High, one of L.A.'s oldest and most overcrowded schools.

The campus is almost bucolic, a quintessentially Southern California spread dotted with palm trees and sand-colored buildings. But inside the walls of "HP," whose 4,200 students are mostly Latino and from low-income families, a fight rages.

"I think this is an especially urgent situation," Deasy says. He's referring to, among other things, the fact that 43 percent of HP students drop out and only 5 percent are proficient in math. That means 95 percent of the community's teenagers can't handle geometry or even, in many cases, basic algebra.

Debate over how to reform the school has, by most accounts, turned troublingly hostile and deeply dysfunctional. In one infamous confrontation, students cheered as a teacher shouted at reform-minded LAUSD school board member Yolie Flores. The dustup was recorded and posted on YouTube with the title "Parent Center Smack Down."

A disturbing flier created by teacher Keller declares that HP's failure has nothing to do with the teachers but is "all about the students."

"They waltz through school until they turn 18," Keller tells L.A. Weekly. "And then we've got to start throwing some of them into jail."

Keller blames the students' apathy and bad grades on the community. But students fare markedly better at some nearby high schools serving the same heavily Latino, low-income population.

Bell Senior High, in the notorious city of Bell, scored a 9 out of 10 on the statewide "similar schools ranking" — an important measure designed to correct for poverty, ethnicity and other demographics.

The ranking shows Bell is one of the top schools in California among heavily Latino, low-income campuses. HP, nearby, is not.

HP, with nearly the same poverty and ethnicity levels, scored a meager 4 on its similar schools ranking. At Bell, 27 percent of kids are proficient in math. That's more than five times as many students as at HP.

Reformers like Flores say it's not the community or the kids who have driven Huntington Park Senior High's academics into the ground.

A few weeks ago, parents at HP had good reason to believe that real change was around the corner. Three competing plans to fix the school, drafted by teachers and administrators, were in the hands of then-Superintendent Ramon Cortines.

On April 6, three mothers at the school's parent center were cautiously optimistic, even though the sloppy reform-planning process had driven away many parents. Community meetings led by LAUSD staff were unorganized, with nasty battles between cliques of teachers and administrators, says Martha Contreras, whose daughter attends HP. The plans also weren't properly translated into Spanish, she says.

And many parents didn't have time to attend meeting after meeting.

Not surprisingly, a March advisory vote among all parties was a disaster. Only one-quarter of HP teachers, 6 percent of students and less than 1 percent of parents bothered to vote.

So the three mothers espouse a dream that is exceedingly modest: "I just hope that whatever plan wins, they implement it," Maria Elena Gomez says.

But Cortines stunned everyone by dumping all three HP reform plans as inadequate.

"Why have they been telling us since October to go to meetings?" says Gomez, whose four children have attended the school. "This seems like a circus to me."

Janet Valenzuela, a senior at HP, says, "For Mr. Cortines to say these plans weren't enough, I think it's an insult."

To many parents, it appears nobody is in charge at LAUSD.

Now the problem falls to new Superintendent Deasy, especially since the strongly pro-reform Flores, who was recently profiled by L.A. Weekly, is leaving the school board in July.

Flores' demand for a dramatic overhaul of HP put some teachers on the defensive. And because she's taking charge of a new education organization funded with startup money from the Bill Gates Foundation, she has become an easy target for those who say public education is being corporatized.

But many parents relied on Flores, praising her for taking the bull by the horns. "There was nobody else who was going to change things," Contreras says.

Now, Gomez, one of the involved mothers, says, "I think there should be someone who really stays for a long time and works with the school community."

Deasy says he might appoint a special supervisor whose only job would be to oversee the reform process at HP — an unusually personalized step for the LAUSD behemoth.

The most divisive issue is a plan to carve the school into small learning academies, which teachers and students have loudly opposed. Instructor Claire Martinet insists on maintaining the school's "100 years of unity." Keller argues that small schools would raise administrative costs and stretch resources.

Lots of kids worry about something else: losing their football team, cheerleading squad and school colors. Flores insists none of those is at risk.

One student told Flores, "We want a public education."

But no one is proposing privatizing HP. There's not even a nonprofit charter operator in the mix of ideas.

"I guess they don't understand it," Contreras says.

Deasy, who has instituted small schools in Malibu and a couple of East Coast school districts, is expected to offer a new plan that, if accepted by the school board, will take effect July 1.

But veteran teacher Laurie Woerfel warns that one or two months is not nearly enough time for a major restructuring. "It's literally impossible," she says.

The one thing everyone seems to agree on is that regardless of which path to reform is chosen, what matters most is the individual teachers and administrators who will be given the power to execute it.

And in that area, insiders and observers say, HP has a long way to go. The school has had three principals in five years, and Principal Al Castillo, who was transferred in last year, has been criticized for absentee leadership.

"Castillo is here in name but not in person," says parent Marta Escobedo, who says Castillo often "doesn't bother to come" to parent meetings.

Castillo says he has attended every meeting about reforming the high school.

Parents also say some HP teachers leave a lot to be desired. "They tell [students], 'You won't make anything out of your lives,' " Gomez says. "Or they tell a boy, 'You won't get into that university.' We don't need these kinds of teachers."

But Keller argues that improving education at HP starts with the kids, not with the staff. "You know what would make things better?" Keller asks. "They start doing their homework. That might help."

Deasy likely will insist that HP teachers reapply for their jobs. If that happens, Keller says, many teachers won't bother. "We haven't done anything wrong," he says. "You don't want us? Fine."

In this ugly atmosphere, can Deasy turn around a troubled, factionalized school, using methods such as small schools that LAUSD then can apply to other failing campuses? For now, Deasy has his work cut out for him.


Please Join Us for
LAUSD School Board Runoff Election
Candidates Forum
With Candidates

Bennett Kayser
Louis Sanchez

Running for District 5 School Board Member

in the election on May 17

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Eagle Rock Elementary Auditorium
2057 Fair Park Ave
Entrance to Auditorium at Chickasaw & Caspar Aves
(Parking available in Faculty Lot off of Chickasaw)

Brought to you by The Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council
The Eagle Rock Elementary PTA &
The Eagle Rock Association (TERA)

May 24th Day of Action Parents & Community: “WAKE UP, CALIFORNIA”

Hello from the Educate Our State team:

Yesterday, we hosted a great call with over 50 excited and engaged parents and community members asking how they can help bring awareness to the budget crisis facing our schools and apply pressure on the state legislature to support public education funding. The call was the kick-off meeting for “Wake Up California!” a day of action organized by Educate Our State.

On Tuesday, May 24th events will be held to “Wake Up California!” to the disaster facing public education.
Parents are planning rallies in front of schools and in city squares while others are working on larger scale plans with speakers and maybe even a local celebrity. All with the same message to our legislators: Save public education funding! Support our schools!

Are you interested in getting involved?
Want to host an event? Please email us ( and we’ll invite you to the next planning conference call on Tuesday, May 3rd at 8:30am.

Wake Up California!” event details:

  • On Tuesday, May 24, 2011 local rallies are in the works in Sacramento, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Silicon Valley, San Diego, Lafayette, Santa Cruz, Long Beach, Modesto and many many more!
  • Detailed information is available on our website at
  • Email us at to get involved and follow us on facebook for updates.
  • Can’t attend? Donate $10 to support the planning and execution of these events at

Together we can “Wake Up California!” and let our voices be heard.

Thank you,

Educate Our State

Twitter: Educateourstate


The Associated Press |

4/27/2011 08:09:29 AM PDT - The superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District says he wants to stop offering chocolate- and strawberry-flavored milk to students as part of an attempt to curb childhood obesity.

Superintendent John Deasy appeared with celebrity chef Jamie Oliver on Tuesday's "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" and said he will recommend the ban to the board of education by July.

The second-largest U.S. school district clashed with Oliver last fall when the British chef wanted to shoot his reality TV series "Food Revolution" at Los Angeles schools. The ABC program is focused on making kids' lunches healthier, but the district objected to having TV cameras in schools.

Deasy says he is concerned about serving flavored milk to students because of its additives.


Howard Blume |LA Times/LANow |

April 27, 2011 |  7:31 am - TV chef Jamie Oliver applauded L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy's announcement that, starting next fall, LAUSD will no longer offer chocolate- and strawberry-flavored milk.

Deasy made the proposal during an appearance with Oliver on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" Tuesday night.

Deasy's announcement was met with applause from the studio audience. Oliver said that flavored milks have more sugar than soda and that removing them would make school lunches healthier.

The policy change is part of a carefully negotiated happy ending between the Los Angeles Unified School District and Oliver. The chef has made his confrontations with the school system a main theme of the current season of his reality TV show, "Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution." Both Oliver’s and Kimmel’s shows air on ABC.

L.A. Unified had already been considering doing away with flavored milk. District officials, in fact, had asked suppliers if they could formulate a flavored milk with no added sugar, said a district source. If they succeed, flavored milk could reappear.
District officials have an unhappy recent history with reality TV shows. The district paid for an estimated $100,000 in repairs after the show "School Pride" spruced up Hollenbeck Middle School. The reality shows haven't fared that well with L.A. Unified either -- both "School Pride" and Oliver's series had unenviable ratings.


The new superintendent says his focus is on instruction, but some question the salaries of the administrators and the district's use of financial gifts from philanthropists.

By Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times |

John Deasy

Supt. John Deasy said that "we're pretty dead serious about parent and community engagement." (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)


April 27, 2011 - New Los Angeles schools Supt. John Deasy has assembled an executive team that he says will assert a laserlike focus on instruction, but some have assailed the cost as well as ties to outside groups and philanthropies expected to pay for many of these positions.

The superintendent's picks for top staff shed light on his priorities for the nation's second-largest school system. Three top administrators will play key roles in revamping the training and evaluation of teachers and in helping students who are learning English. The makeup of his new team also suggests increased attention will go to using data and to supporting charter schools, which are operated independent of direct district control.

"This is a system that is going to lead with instruction," Deasy said. "The biggest moves are on developing teachers and leaders and focusing on accountability. And obviously we're pretty dead serious about parent and community engagement."

The Board of Education approved five of Deasy's appointments in a closed-door meeting Tuesday.

In assembling his own team, installing outsiders in key posts, Deasy is acting on assertions by critics that L.A. Unified needs overhauling at the top. He is replacing, for example, the head of instruction and a senior aide relied on by two predecessors.

And he'll do without a fulltime chief of staff to save money that will help pay for new positions, with the assistance of philanthropic donations.

About 20 senior jobs — so far — will be paid for by philanthropists and others. Eli Broad and Casey Wasserman, both charter school backers, had funded some positions for previous Supt. Ramon Cortines, who retired in mid-April. They will continue to assist Deasy.

"The agenda we've laid out is our agenda, and we invite people to join us," said Deasy, who is courting additional foundation support for his team. "We don't accommodate a funder."

The outside funding strategy worries Judy Perez, head of Associated Administrators of Los Angeles, which represents principals and midlevel administrators.

"My concern always is where do the loyalties lie?" Perez said. "Broad basically has said a number of times publicly that he wants to dismantle Los Angeles Unified."

A Broad Foundation official, Gregory McGinity, said the outside funding would "ensure that as many public dollars as possible go to the classroom."

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa also expressed his backing for Deasy's moves.

"We cannot leave the work of transforming our schools to government alone," said Villaraigosa. "In the new economy, it will take a commitment from public, private and nonprofit sectors.... John has earned my confidence and my full support."

Broad initially paid for one of Cortines' top aides. Under Deasy, that aide, Matt Hill, will move to the district payroll — with a raise from $175,000 to $196,000 — as "chief strategy officer."

Broad also recently paid $250,000 for McKinsey & Co. consultants to assist with Deasy's transition.

A Gates Foundation-funded grant from Harvard will pay for a data specialist. Deasy is a former top official at Gates.

One new team member is widely regarded as a mayoral ally who shares his interest in charter schools. Maria Casillas, a retired senior L.A. Unified administrator who runs the nonprofit Families in Schools, will be Deasy's top parent and community liaison in a new position that pays $170,000 a year.

Under Cortines, instruction was overseen by chief academic officer Judy Elliott, regarded as a rising star when she was hired at $200,000 a year. Elliott recently oversaw the selection of a new districtwide reading program. She will now report to newcomer Jaime Aquino, who will earn $250,000 annually.

Aquino, a native of the Dominican Republic, is a former bilingual classroom teacher. As chief academic officer for the Denver public schools, he was credited with improving programs for students learning English. A third of L.A. Unified students are classified as English learners.

Another newly hired outsider added to the instruction team is Donna Muncey, with whom Deasy worked during previous stints as a superintendent in Santa Monica-Malibu and Prince George's County in Maryland. Her areas of expertise include teacher evaluation and she will be paid $171,000. In L.A., she'll take over some of the special projects handled by Sharon Robinson, an aide for both Cortines and, before that, Supt. Roy Romer.

Robinson elected to retire shortly after Deasy's April ascendance, and Muncey's arrival could be two months away, leaving Deasy scrambling to reassign key initiatives. They include the experimental division of low-performing Jordan High in Watts among three groups, including one team headed by the mayor's nonprofit.

The fifth person hired Tuesday was Thomas Waldman, who will succeed Robert Alaniz as director of communications and will be paid $139,000.

"I was quite frankly astounded" by some of the salaries, said Connie Moreno, a representative for the California School Employees Assn., whose members, like other school employees, have experienced paycuts and layoffs during the ongoing budget crisis. "Where's the philanthropic funding to assist the struggling schools?"

Another recent hire, as deputy chief of staff, is Tommy Chang, a former charter school administrator, who adds to a growing list of managers with charter school backgrounds. These public schools have clashed with the district over facilities, funding and other issues. Los Angeles has more charter campuses than any other school system in the nation.