So Cal education, LAUSD, the Cal States and the UCs

Pasadena Unified suspends top construction official in billing investigation

Pasadena Unified’s school board suspended its top school construction official Wednesday as it looks into allegations of overbilling by building contractors.

The board also cut short contracts with two construction firms and three consultants in connection with the investigation. The discrepancies could be in the “tens of thousands of dollars,” said Pasadena Unified board member Scott Phelps. "This is a very serious issue. That’s why we took the action that we did. Which is dramatic action,” Phelps said.

Chief Facilities Officer David Azcarraga, who has overseen the district’s program since 2011, has been placed on paid administrative leave. He could not be reached for comment.

Phelps said board members expect a complete investigation into the matter by the middle of next month.

This is the second time the school district has struggled with timecard discrepancies in its $350 million bond-funded construction program. Two years ago, a consultant was let go after billing for 28 days in a month, which Phelps said raised questions about the "quality" of his work.  


Long Beach charter school models learning on 'intellectual virtues'

A dozen Southland educators met recently to learn how to instill "intellectual virtues" in their students.

Long Beach school district officials gave the green light to a charter school that'll open next year with the mission to teach “intellectual virtues,” a concept with roots in classical Greek philosophy.

Two Southland philosophy professors launched the charter school effort; public school teachers and parents have joined in. Their goal is to instill critical thinking skills they believe are woefully underrepresented in public schools.

The study of how people develop life-long intellectual traits is called virtue epistemology. It's become a branch of philosophy research in the last two decades.

Loyola Marymount University philosophy professor Jason Baehr has made it his expertise for more than a decade. But just researching and writing about the topic left him unfulfilled — especially after he saw the way public schools value rapid recall, high IQs and high scores on multiple-choice tests.


Mayor Villaraigosa tours Partnership for LA Schools

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa got a chance to show off several of his Partnership schools today. He toured the campuses with the State Superintendent of Public Instruction and ended the visit with a commendation. 
Villaraigosa and Superintendent Tom Torlakson took short tours of 99th Street Elementary School and Gompers Middle School, and ended the morning at Jordan High School in Watts.  
Together with LA Unified School Board president Monica Garcia and Melanie Lundquist - who’s given $50 million to fund the partnership - they visited classrooms and held a roundtable discussion with seniors.

The Partnership of LA Schools took over Jordan in 2010. The school had the highest Academic Performance Index score jump in the state this year – up 93 points from last year's 551 API.
Torlakson commended the staff for their dedication.


4 more Miramonte school students file lawsuits in child abuse case

Miramonte Elementary School in Los Angel

Krista Kennell/AFP/Getty Images

Miramonte Elementary School in Los Angeles, California February 6, 2012.

The list of plaintiffs in the case over alleged child abuse by teachers at Miramonte Elementary School is getting a little longer. Attorneys representing four students who say a teacher performed lewd and lascivious acts against them announced they filed a lawsuit against L.A. Unified.

The four children are all under 11-years-old and are former students of veteran Miramonte teacher Mark Berndt. He is accused of feeding some of his students cookies laced with his own body fluids and then taking pictures of it.

In addition to damages, attorney John Manly – of the law firm Manly and Stewart – is demanding that L.A. Unified release all reports of abuse by teachers throughout the district.

Without those documents there’s no way to “understand where the failure happened and who’s responsible,” Manly said. “Because if you just pay money and you don’t fix that, other kids are going to get hurt."


Billboards promote law that lets students leave low performing schools

Photo courtesy of Ed Reform Now

The Open Enrollment Act became California law two years ago with the goal to give kids a way out of the worst schools in the state. The law compels the state to develop a list of the 1,000 worst public schools based on each one's Academic Performance Index. Parents must fill out applications by December 31 if they wish to leave their current school and enroll in any other higher-performing California public school.

The receiving district must accept the student unless that would lead to overcrowding, or would undermine school diversity. The student's family is responsible for transportation to the new school.

Billboards have sprouted recently across the Southland to promote the law. The non-profit Ed Reform Now raised the money to put them up. The author of the law, former state Senator Gloria Romero, is the group’s director.