When a LAUSD bureaucrat says that the District will call parents before a phone survey begins so that they will know when to “wait for the phone call,” it becomes apparent how little touch the bureaucracy has with reality. The J. F. Kennedy High School Theatre was more empty than full during a meeting asking for input, but somehow the District believes that parents will wait by the phone like a high school senior who does not yet have a date for the prom so that they can express their opinion? If they had any contact with these parents, the District would realize that they have so bombarded them with robocalls that they instinctively know to let them go to voice mail. These calls are the boy who cried “wolf.” It will be surprising if enough of these phone calls get answered to give the District any meaningful results.
The District moved the start of the school year away from the traditional start after Labor Day without the input from their stakeholders. Without hearing from those who actually learn and work in our schools, they made a change that negatively affected child care plans, family vacations, teenage work schedules and the budget for air conditioning. The change also contributed to the feeling of disenchantment that is felt throughout the District as parents grew tired of fortress Beaudry and their top – down management style. One online petition asking for a change to the schedule currently has 3,557 supporters. The District should be commended for attempting to get input from the public before setting the school calendar for the next three years. Unfortunately, the process does little to inspire confidence that the public’s voice counts. For this to happen the District needs to more than let the public speak, they need to show that they are listening.
The first problem with the process is that five scenarios for the calendar were developed before the public was invited to participate. No matter how unpopular the weeklong break for Thanksgiving is for parents who have to scramble for childcare, it is included in all of the calendars. The four scenarios that start before Labor Day all include “Admission Day” as a holiday, even if no other working person gets that day off and the actual event that is being celebrated does not occur until September 9. Having outside input from the beginning could have also helped compensate for the lack of creativity that is inherent in a bureaucracy.
As another example of how the education “reform” movement is a slave to tests scores, the calender was originally changed to give students who take AP tests the opportunity for more education time before they take their tests in May. Ignoring the fact that these tests were originally designed around the traditional school schedule that started after Labor Day, there are other ways to accomplish this goal for the “nearly 18 percent of students in grades nine through 12” who take these tests without changing the schedule for all the other students in the District. For example, one participant in the Kennedy meeting suggested that just these students could start these classes early with the costs of doing so offset by the amount that could be saved by not air conditioning all of the District’s schools in the heat of August.
Whether by design or by oversight, the information being provided to the public is, at best, not complete. The “Modified Early August” scenario extends the winter break into February so that the District can “provide 4-week winter interventions.” What is left unexplained is that this will reduce the number of courses that students can take during summer school. No mention is made of how this will affect knowledge retention for those elementary and middle school students who will have no opportunity to participate in these interventions but will still have a seven week winter break. It is also unclear how this will affect special education students whose IEP provides for an extended school year. Once again, creativity could have provided other options for solving the problem. For example, resources could have been diverted to programs that would help students struggling in a class before they need to recover the credits!
Finally, there seemed to be a feeling that the District has already made up its mind and that the entire process was just a show. When an organization has ignored public input for so long, it is inevitable that it is going to be a while before the resulting anger and distrust dissipates. However, the District needs to listen more actively if they really want to win over the public trust. Too much of the time during the Kennedy meeting was spent defending past actions or trying to counteract statements from the audience. In particular, statements about temperatures in August seemed to be brushed off despite the relevance of this problem in the Valley. Instead of letting stakeholders blow off steam, Local District Superintendent Vivian Ekchian, admonished the audience that they should “treat our invited guests better.” While it was great that this bureaucrat had left the confines of Fortress Beaudry, it would have been more appropriate to refer to her as a member of the team or a facilitator rather than a guest.
Once again, we the stakeholders are left with an imperfect system for engagement, but it is better than none at all. If we want to encourage the District to continue reaching out, we must participate. If you miss the phone survey, the online survey will be available from November 18 through December 6. Familiarize yourself with the information available at http://achieve.lausd.net/schoolcalendars and make your opinion known. If we participate and still end up with the Modified Early August Scenario, we will know that our voices did not count. At least we will know it was not because we did not speak at all.