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Letter to the Editor: LAUSD School Board Election

An open letter to my fellow, locally-politically engaged neighbors:

I'm writing because many of us Mar Vistans have lived and worked alongside Kate Anderson these past few years on local political issues and I see that her list of endorsing co-volunteers is lengthy, in many cases replete with a yard sign.  I'm writing because I feel that supporting her in this school board election against Steve Zimmer is a mistake.  I hope you will hear me out.  This is a mostly personal argument and plea; but the personal is always political and this decision matters as deeply as anything can.  I am heartsick to witness the slow-motion undermining of Steve Zimmer's incumbency.

Just for some anchoring perspective, my family comes to the public school educational game from private school.  My two girls attended the well-regarded private lab school at UCLA alongside some stratospherically rich and famous folks.  It was an education indeed.  For middle school they rolled back down the hill to Palms Middle School, a really interesting educational setup with a high proportion of relatively scholastically advanced kids learning alongside kids not thus-identified.  Our experience in this school has been overwhelmingly positive for its superior academics and true, deep opportunity for integration of socioeconomic status, class, color, nationality, learning skills, social skills - this public school in the heart of our community educates a mixture of children so diverse that I never really thought it could be possible to address such disparate needs adequately.  It is an existential breath of fresh air to interact with teachers and administrators steeped in professionalism and competence.

At the same time the deprivation in our academic (and social) system is breath-taking.  Comprehending the why, how and ramifications of all this provides its own well-spring of educational learning.  At some point I was so upset with the Los Angeles Unified School District I even thought of running for the school board myself.  I really know next to nothing about the complicated nexus of academics and politics, but it seemed that there was a need for some practical eyewitness experience.

The relevant question in addressing this step was:  who is our school board member; the system may be broken but is our explicit contribution to it as well?  And the answer is:  no.  It is not only "no", but it turns out the man representing us, Steve Zimmer, is uncommonly good at this thankless job of LAUSD school board member (salary:  +/- 47K, district, ~ 300 square miles? Š that's a guess; it is vast for sure).  He is extremely thoughtful and knowledgeable, well-versed in a vast ocean of issues and quite frankly a deep, independent thinker.  One with whom I might not even agree on some of the vast panoply of hot issues.  But one I can trust to have considered very carefully an issue from all sides and developed a morally-anchored, reasoned opinion.  Committing to binary yeah-nay decisions on such complex issues - never mind how many there are - is not easy.  It is in fact monumentally difficult to choose yes or no about a complicated question come the end of the day.  Steve Zimmer is a principled thinker and he comes to decisions through a circuitous route that includes priorities that are aligned properly:  with kids - ALL kids, independent of color, class, even educational achievement.  He is weighing a multitude of complex, competing interests toward an end of maximizing fairness and educational excellence for the whole community.  This is huge.

And I very much fear it is not the case for his opponent.  She is on record and takes money from big, deep-pocketed individuals and organizations, supporting a fractious system that would divide the education of our children into "separate but equal" camps.  We have done that experiment, it did not and does not work and it was even ruled illegal, a long time ago now.  Charter schools and providing "choice" to parents turn out to be just another way - in practice at least - to segregate and sequester resources for one sector of society at the expense of the rest.  This is no way to engage in building and sustaining community, it is divisive and simply put: unfair.  It is a repudiation, to my mind, of what makes our country great:  the open and available opportunity for all.  Without a good, publicly-supported education, young people stand no chance of securing a satisfying place for themselves in the social hierarchy.  Closing the doors on certain classes of society to schools where the most resources are husbanded, does exactly that:  it dooms those on the outside to inferior opportunities.

Please make no mistake that this is exactly and precisely what the charter schools are doing in reality.  They are excluding the hard-to-educate, the needy, the resource-intensive pupils in ghettos of inferior quality.  Conversely, the white-lining of certain schools where only a certain slice of society is allowed to matriculate, is quite simply hiding all the cookies in a drawer to which you control access, countenancing only your own.  That is the narrow solution proposed by Kate Anderson and the lock-step corporate bloc that supports her.

And it is unnecessary.  It is my personal experience at least, that it is possible to educate huge swathes of amazingly disparate people excellently.  They do it at Palms MS.  It's the teachers, quite frankly, though I personally define the term "teachers" to include the entire community of adults in my children's school.  They all work together as a team toward educating their charges, my children and I wish yours:  librarians, vice-principals, bathroom cleaners.  I couldn't learn without all these separate needs attended to and neither can your children:  they are all 'teachers' in a learning community as far as I am concerned.

So I am writing to my fellow local stakeholders, because it has not been my impression, working alongside many of you in various neighborhood issues, that any of us is really in the business of excluding some.  All the more reason, then, that supporting Kate Anderson seems misplaced for the values it was my impression that most of us do hold.  We currently have a person working tremendously hard to steer a fair line through a very complicated field of competing interests.  The solutions proposed by Ms Anderson are not fair, are not reasoned, are not democratic.  They are not supportable.  Why, therefore, would any support her?

Thanks for hearing me out.  I am of course more than willing to communicate privately about this; I really, really hope you will reconsider any hastily made or incompletely understood endorsement.  I do not think non-content-driven endorsements does anyone any credit but in fairness, I think it is easy to be insufficiently familiar with the reality of the code being bantered about regarding all of this.  My own experience with children in public schools has opened my eyes to some fairly ugly truths about what is happening silently, in practice.  It may not be what any of us would subscribe to knowingly, but that is the point:  reality happens regardless of the words ascribed to it.  Roses smell the same no matter what they are named.  Please do not throw any weight behind a faction that intends to exclude another from their fair share of public education resources.

Please note as well that those of us near the 405 happen to live on an LAUSD district dividing line.  Palms MS happens to be outside of Steve Zimmer's district; my older child's local school, Venice High School, is in his district.  Because we are new to this school my own personal knowledge of it is more limited.  But it is clear that Steve Zimmer has thrown his weight and support behind this local High School and is very, very well-liked by parents there; it is equally clear that he offers this sort of support indiscriminately - his support and weight goes to students, all over.  While I understand he has "helped out" Venice High School, it is not my impression that he has done so in a way that means any other High School has not been "helped out".  And that is (my definition of) the meaning of democracy for the people; all the people.

In short, Steve Zimmer's incumbency is not broken: this school board member is not the problem.  Electing Kate Anderson would - to coin words she uses in a slightly different context - be a 'solution in search of a problem'.   Yet our current school board representative is not a problem.  He happens to have done a fine job last term.  IMHO.

Please feel free to email me.

But please, most of all, please take the time to watch this debate between Zimmer and Anderson in which he demonstrates superior familiarity with educational issues, experience, a laudable, morality-driven motivation and true, deep engagement with the needs of all members of our local community:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dShAAODskKA

- Sara Roos, roos@biology.ucla.edu 

Troy Toshio Takaki February 13, 2013 at 12:26 AM
No where in her letter does she reference "new school west". She references "charter schools". A very unfair generalization. I think we can both agree on that.
concerned parent February 13, 2013 at 01:15 AM
Sara, did put up the debate with her letter. Ms. Anderson uses New West Charter as her example in the debate. And Ms Anderson uses the community of Del Rey as another successful venture of cohabitation between charters and public schools . Both situations work well and better than most schools because they do not look like most schools. They are unique situations.
concerned parent February 13, 2013 at 01:16 AM
I am glad you are happy with your students charter school, that's the most important thing. I just think we need to figure out as a community where we are going because honestly we are not preparing any of our students well. I don't think other outside groups should make our decision for us. My niece went to a charter in the valley and could only take 2 years of language when most top private colleges want 3. My niece could not take AP courses which even though she took the most rigorous course load for her charter hurt her when applying to the most competitive colleges. And my son. when attending Venice High School, his senior year, had to go to SMC ( I had to drive him) as well as take on-line classes at Venice that Venice High School use to offer only a few years ago when we had more students and more teachers so we could offer more classes. All our kids are losing and we are being divided by this issue of charter vs public It's a smoke screen. I am voting for the Mr Zimmer who has proven to me to fight for keeping teachers ( yes with less seniority) and programs at my school. When asked about Venice high school in the debate Ms. Anderson new nothing. Why so much knowledge on the "best Charters" but not the local school?
Troy Toshio Takaki February 13, 2013 at 01:32 AM
to concerned parent, Just to be clear. I like Zimmer, I have personally dealt with him a few times and might be voting for him. I just have a real problem with the letter writer's inaccurate description of Local Charter Schools. She clearly does not identify any single Charter School and lumps them all together. She is spreading completely false information. I have asked her to give me her references that prove statements like "Please make no mistake that this is exactly and precisely what the charter schools are doing in reality. They are excluding the hard-to-educate, the needy, the resource-intensive pupils in ghettos of inferior quality." She has not responded to my request.
Glyn February 13, 2013 at 04:36 AM
Do you think it's okay for the union to spend huge amounts of pac money on this race but leave the candidate in favor of reform with just private contributions to run a campaign on? Make no mistake, many outside the neighborhood union groups are pouring money in on behalf of Zimmer. The "outside" money that is supporting Kate comes in the main from westside citizens who are worried about the future of our city if our kids don't get a decent education, at which LAUSD is failing miserably. As to the lab for Venice High School -- I would happily support more funds for such programs if ithey came with more accountability. Funding for schools has gone up and down in the thirty years since I arrived in L.A. and the results have stayed consistently bad. When teachers can be fired for not performing (currently over 90% get good grades by the administrators), when good teachers are celebrated, when results improve, people like me will happily vote for new taxes. It's like a company failing because of poor management and saying, "Just give me more money and things will get better." It makes no sense.

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