Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times, December 11, 2009
L.A.’s top school official on Thursday unveiled his plan to shut down Fremont High and start over from scratch–a move denounced by the teachers union but applauded by city leaders and the nation’s secretary of education.
After quietly alerting the Fremont staff Wednesday afternoon, Los Angeles Unified School District Supt. Ramon C. Cortines spoke separately with students, parents, city leaders and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who was in town to promote such school turnarounds.
The plan for Fremont, located in Florence south of downtown, includes dismissing the entire staff as of June 30. Those interested in returning would be interviewed before then by hiring committees that will probably include parents, instructional specialists, skilled teachers and Principal Rafael L. Balderas, in his first year at Fremont. Cortines himself would help develop an “elect to work” agreement for all hires. Under the union contract, Fremont’s displaced teachers have the right to a district job elsewhere.
Such reconstitutions are new to the nation’s second-largest school system.
Boston College education professor Dennis Shirley called the reconstitutions harmfully “disruptive,” and said “policymakers seem to think there’s this limitless pool of people who want to work in the most impoverished and struggling communities.”
At Fremont, distressed students refused to go to class during an afternoon sit-in.
“Why do you say Fremont High is a bad school?” senior Cristal Guizar asked during Cortines’ visit.
“The data shows this school is not successful academically,” Cortines responded.
Only 1.5% of students are proficient in math; 13.9% are proficient in English.
Talking to parents, Cortines also laid out plans for accelerating what students learn before getting to Fremont. He talked of shared accountability that would include imposing a dress code.
“I don’t want the pants hanging down around the ass of the young men on this campus and I don’t want the midriff showing,” he said as some parents nodded their approval.
[Editor’s Note: Fremont High is 91% Hispanic and 9% black.]