Beutner has a successful background primarily in finance -- not in education -- and is an unconventional and controversial pick to some. Others feel he's just what LAUSD's large and complicated budget needs right now.
Either way, parents seem to agree that change within the district is sorely needed. And change is what Beutner called for following his appointment two weeks ago.
What does change mean to LAUSD parents?
Take Two brought together three parents of children enrolled in LAUSD schools:
- Maryam Zar, Pacific Palisades
- Brenda Miller, Highland Park
- Justin Alvarado-Brown, West Hollywood
Equal opportunity across the district
Maryam Zar, Brenda Miller, and Justin Alvarado-Brown come from different communities and schools across the district, but they all agreed that LAUSD falls short when it comes to providing equal resources and educational opportunities.
Navigating a complicated system
Justin Alvarado-Brown: My oldest is on the spectrum. He has in Individualized Education Plan, or IEP. My wife and I are both attorneys. We live ten minutes away from the school. I can’t imagine how you would navigate the process if you didn’t live close to the school, if English wasn’t your first language, if you didn’t have the resources that we had. I know that’s the case with respect to charters and magnets. It is a complicated process for us to navigate. I can’t imagine under different circumstances.
From our perspective, we are very much looking at charter schools. There are a number of families in our neighborhood who are sending their kids to Paul Revere, which for them means they’re on buses at least 45 minutes each way. I’d like to see some efforts on the part of LAUSD to bridge gaps in terms of equality issues and what school you go to and what quality it is isn't dependent on your zip code.
At West Hollywood Elementary, the parents association raised about half a million dollars a year that is allocated for teaching assistants and lot of things that when I was growing up were part of a public education. At the end of the day, too much is asked of teachers without the support of the parents. And it is a luxury that we have a group of parents who are able to supplement whatever little money we receive from LAUSD so that instead of a ratio of thirty to one, teachers are managing fifteen to one. That’s not the reality for most people, so there is a real disparity that has to be addressed. And if the answer is to depend on parents, then inevitably, you’re not going to be able to bridge that.
When parents are able to shape their kids' education
Maryam Zar: My home school is the Paul Revere you’re talking about. It’s a charter and a magnet. One of the things we often brag about is the fact that we bring in kids from about a hundred different zip codes across Los Angeles. The reason that people come is because there’s a presumption the education is good. It always comes down to the involvement that parents have. Now that may be a luxury to have parents who are able to be involved. But the reason the charter works is because the parents put in resources. We do a lot of fundraising. We hire extra teachers. As a result, the classrooms become smaller. The quality of the teachers becomes a little bit better because we have a say as parents.
It’s not the quality of the traditional education at LAUSD that’s different. They’re still learning math. They’ve got basic grammar. It’s the ancillary things. It's the extra layer of stuff that prepared kids better for their future. And so a lot of LAUSD schools are a little bit behind. There isn’t really a technology infusion into these classes. Everything looks stale, and I think it impacts the experience that the kids are having…. We’re really dropping the ball and we really need to step up the complete experience of the human child that we’re giving to these kids as they go through the process. Quite frankly, it should be the district that can distribute resources in a way that evens the playing field for every school.
Putting the burden of responsibility on the district
Brenda Miller: At my school, we’re struggling with parent involvement. People are stretched so thinly just taking care of household responsibilities and trying to make ends meet, we can’t raise that kind of money. We’re doing chocolate sales and things like that but just for field trips. We can’t raise money for teachers or teaching assistants. We have to make the budget that we are given by the district work. That’s where I think the disparity comes in. And so I find it frustrating. I wish we could do that, but I don’t see us being able to rally enough parents to be able to do that.
We’re struggling with what parent involvement looks like. For some parents at my school, they think you have to physically be there in the classroom, helping out. But when you’re working, it’s really difficult to be there during the school days. So, what does parent involvement look like? Does it have to be a physical presence? Can it be other ways of giving to the school because that’s just not a reality for everybody.