A meeting with about 40 pilot school educators from a couple dozen L.A. Unified schools yielded some interesting discussion points on teachers' hope for longterm investment in the program and the huge toll budget cuts have taken on these small themed schools.
The teachers and principals spoke with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and school board president Monica Garcia Monday evening at an event hosted by Educators 4 Excellence. Here's some more of what they said:
"I came here tonight because this is my first and honestly probably last year at a pilot school," said Audrey Greene, a frustrated math teacher at South Region High School #2. "I came to hear what other teachers said about what made their schools successful and how long, why."
Greene has taught at LAUSD for seven years. She said it was important for pilots to provide "differentiated roles and compensation for teacher leaders."
"I understand it's a lot of work [to work at a pilot], it has been a lot of work. But at some point, second semester, going into the end of the year knowing that furloughs are coming up, RIFs are coming up, without compensation, I can't buy into it anymore."
Ricardo Martinez, a teacher at Sonia M. Sotomayor School of History and Dramatic Arts, is worried that pilot schools will merely become "the next educational fad."
"I have this fear within me...I hate for pilots to turn into the next educational fad, and I need some assurance from LAUSD that this is going to be longterm," Martinez said.
Ingrid Fey, who teaches social studies at the Academic Leadership Community High School on the Miguel Contreras Learning Complex campus, said it is up to the staff to ensure this doesn't happen.
"The concern that I have as a teacher in a pilot school that is pulling itself together is if you suddenly open the flood gates and say the pilot school is the new reform. Making your school a pilot school is not a reform, it is a path toward seeking the autonomies that will allow you to make meaningful reform," Fey said.
"Where does that come from? That comes from a staff, and a vision and a clear program, and an idea of what they're gonna do that's different...We don't want pilots to become this new fad that will collapse crash and burn...we want to make sure that there's a support network and that also there's some oversight."
John Lawler, a principal at ArTES, the Art Theatre Entertainment School in San Fernando said he visited New York with a colleague a nearly two weeks ago and visited some schools for an arts partnership.
"For a school of our size, where we have 16 teachers, they have 35," Lawler said. "That's reality. California has just given up on education."
Lawler said it was frustrating to see such a difference level of investment, and he questioned why L.A. didn't do more.
"At pilot schools we're supposed to be small schools, we're supposed to be under 500," Lawler said. "We represent 2 percent of the population of LAUSD. Why not just fund them all a little bit more to give them a chance to succeed. We're already showing successes, but if we can't get off the ground because we're being funded on a model that works for 5,000, where to have a 10 percent cut can be absorbed much more readily than we can in a school where there are only 450 kids, I just think it's such a small investment for a major revolutionary kind of change. And I think, without that, what's the point?
"We're barely going to make it through our second year, if. And we're not going to be able to offer arts electives. And our name is ArTES. It's just embarrassing."
Lawler finished speaking to loud clapping and Josephine Scibetta, a principal at STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Medicine) Academy at Bernstein High School, followed up in agreement.
"The pilot schools are the diamond in the rough for LAUSD," she said. "If you mayor are going to shine, and L.A. Unified is ever going to go up to what it was, the pilot schools are your hope. And there are obstacles. We can't hire teachers unless they have three credentials because our schools are so small."
She added: "I've been doing this 34 years and I've never seen a more functional school than a pilot school I'm at now. These are the people that work late, that tutor their kids for free. A special kind of person is in a pilot school...These are the people that are going to make the district shine, but the obstacles keep getting thrown in front of us, that's the sad part."