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On paper, my school looks good: high test scores, 100 percent graduation rate, an award-winning journalism program (my humble brag) and the smallest comprehensive high school in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). But we fight a constant battle against low enrollment due to competition from charter schools.
Due to our school’s low enrollment, an English teaching position was cut halfway through the fall semester, leaving only two English teachers to teach some 330 ninth through 12th graders.
Inheriting a year-long class halfway through the school year isn’t ideal.
As the new spring semester began last week, I was assigned a new class to teach: 9th grade English. As a credentialed English teacher, I have been used to teaching a full day of introduction to journalism, newspaper and yearbook production. Teaching another course, which I haven’t taught in 10 years, brings me up to four different preps on top of an already demanding load.
I’m striking to stop charter schools from draining our schools. In addition to seeking lower class sizes, more counselors, nurses and librarians and a pay raise, the United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) is asking that LAUSD stop approving charter schools, which have seen a 287 percent increase in the district’s boundaries since 2008. The loss of enrollment across the district means a $600 million loss from our public schools every year.
Charter schools are publicly funded but are not governed by a local district. In other words, charters schools run more like private schools with little oversight. Most charter school employees are not unionized; therefore approving more charter schools is one way to weaken the UTLA.
Since not all charter schools are community schools that take all students in their area, charter schools can “cherry pick” students by not accepting students with learning disabilities, English language learners or students with low test scores. Public schools don’t have that option.
Or, as our union president Alex Caputo-Pearl recently wrote, the district superintendent and the pro-charter majority board members want “to starve our schools” in order to justify handing public school monies over to privately run charter schools.”
In 2016, the NAACP called for a moratorium on the expansion of charter schools until there was better oversight and transparency. Remember, this is an organization that monitors civil rights for students of color, the same organization that brought forth the Brown vs. Board of Education lawsuit that ruled racial segregation illegal.
Our English department isn’t the only one that has suffered. At the end of the last school year, a math teacher was let go due to decreased enrollment, bringing our math department down to two teachers. Two teachers to teach Algebra 1, Geometry, Algebra 2, Pre-Calculus and AP Calculus means they are teaching at least four different levels of math in five class periods.
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To meet the math needs of our students this school year, some students are taking their math classes online, with a teacher from a neighboring school coming in every morning to help students who need assistance. Another set of students are enrolled in a class from a local community college where the professor comes to our campus three days a week to teach it. That was ideal except that the students had nothing to do the other two days the class didn’t meet. Our guidance counselor sat with those students when the professor wasn’t there, even though she has an already demanding workload.
The need for more counselors (along with nurses, psychologists, social workers, librarians) is another reason I am striking. The district pays for a half-time guidance counselor. To meet the demands of our students, the school pays for the other half of our counselor’s salary from its limited discretionary funds so that she can be on campus full-time.
The district doesn’t provide a college counselor for my school. Did I mention that our school has 100 percent graduation rate? At least 97 percent of our graduates continue to college (both two-year and four-year university paths). A retired volunteer college counselor comes in and works with our students when she can. And when she’s not here, our guidance counselor steps in and helps students through the process of going to college, especially since many are the first in their families to go to college.
I am concerned about our enrollment in the upcoming school year. An LAUSD high school about a mile from my school converted to a charter this school year. Their recruitment efforts are better funded than LAUSD’s efforts. We’re already working a skeleton teaching crew at my school with 13 teachers teaching all the graduation requirements and electives. So if enrollment falls further, I wonder what’s next on the chopping block?
Adriana Chavira is a product of the Los Angeles Unified School District. She spent a decade as a newspaper reporter in Southern California before becoming a teacher 16 years ago. She is president of the Southern California Journalism Education Association. Adriana teaches journalism, advises the newspaper and yearbook at Daniel Pearl Magnet High School in Lake Balboa and is an educator with PBS NewsHour's Student Reporting Labs program. She holds a Career Technical Education credential and is a Master Journalism Educator (awarded by the national Journalism Education Association). When she's not teaching, she runs and hikes.
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