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Two South LA High Schools Combine Efforts As They Fight To Save Themselves

Kevin Douglas Grant |
March 27, 2010 | 12:45 p.m. PDT

Senior Editor

Fired Fremont High School teacher Joel Vaca addresses the crowd at Centro
Pancho Villa in south Los Angeles. (Kevin Grant)

Marlon Silva, a junior at Animo Justice Charter High
School, learned suddenly last week that he will not be able to get his
diploma there. 

Green Dot Public Schools, which opened the south
Los Angeles charter school less than four years ago, will close Animo
Justice in June. 

Silva told a fledgling coalition of 70 parents, students, teachers and
activists Friday evening that he believes Green Dot, a company that has
been praised often by national media for its role in reshaping L.A.'s
public schools, is putting profit motive over the needs of Animo
Justice's students:

"As soon as we failed to rake in enough for Green Dot to profit and
prosper, we were pushed aside." Silva said. "Thrown aside like products
in a supermarket."

Silva had addressed a larger group Friday morning
after he and dozens of students walked out of class, marching eight
miles from the school to Green Dot headquarters.  

There they were hosted by CEO Marco Petruzzi and other Green Dot leadership, expressing their grievances along with parents and teachers.

"I don't want the future of other [Los Angeles] schools to end up with
the same fate as Animo Justice," Silva said.  He said Animo Justice
students' demands include a school "by the students and for the
students."

In a March 19 letter to the Green Dot community, Petruzzi wrote: "In this
difficult budget environment, Green Dot cannot afford to supplement the
costs of an under-enrolled school without impacting the quality of
programming."

Parents were particularly upset because they say Animo Justice is the
only Green Dot school that caters to English language learners.
Petruzzi did not return a call requesting comment.

Frances Martin, a member of the Coalition for Educational Justice, told
the packed, overheated room at the Centro Pancho Villa, a small community
space hosted by the socialist organization Union del Barrio: "Public
schools don't have that option: 'We don't have enough money so close it
down.'"

Attendees spent most of the two-hour forum working in both English and
Spanish to unite Animo Justice's struggle with that of another high
school undergoing dramatic change, Fremont High School in Florence.

Joel Vaca, a teacher at Fremont, told the group that Los Angeles
Unified School District Superintendent Ramon Cortines visited the
school in December to announce that it would be "reconstituted." Vaca
said Cortines visited Fremont in a rush, telling staff, "There will be a story in the L.A. Times tomorrow morning saying you're all fired. It's
true."

Reconstituion requires that Fremont's faculty be fired and asked to
reapply for their positions.  A Times article on December 9 confirmed
that Cortines visited the school a day earlier after the paper discovered
LAUSD's plan to reconstitute the school.  

Vaca said he has joined with a group of other Fremont teachers in an act of social resistance.

"We are not going to reapply to the positions that we are getting fired
from," Vaca said. 

Calling the relationship between teachers and the
LAUSD "abusive," Vaca expressed a bitter frustration evident throughout
the room at Centro Pancho Villa.

Many exhausted from the morning's march, speakers repeatedly railed
against the "privatization" of public schools. Both teachers and
activists criticized LAUSD's embrace of charter schools, which has been
opposed by teachers' union United Teachers Los Angeles.

Activist Robert D. Skeels
said: "We have nothing against the teachers, parents or students who
attend charter schools. What I do have an issue with is the wealthy
executives and the billionaires that bankroll charter schools."

Charter schools have been a hot-button political issue in L.A. for the
past several years, with Green Dot emerging as a champion of charters
in the city after taking over Alain Leroy Locke High School near Watts
in 2007. It was both the first time that an outside organization had
run an LAUSD school, and the first time in American history that an
organization had performed a hostile takeover of a school.

Cortines lauded Green Dot for turning Locke around in a New Yorker piece last year.

"It's night and day," Cortines said at the time.

But charter school critics say that indicators like Academic
Performance Ratings fail to demonstrate that charters work better than
public schools do. Jose Lara of Union del Barrio said the effects of
charter schools go beyond test scores.  

"They are not treating our students as human beings, but as commodities," Lara said.

With several weeks left in their respective school years, students and
faculty at Animo Justice and Fremont know they need to act fast if
they hope to fight the decisions that have been handed down.  

In the pale yellow room adorned with Pancho Villa and Che Guevara
T-shirts labeled "Not 4 Sale," the group formed a planning committee to
coordinate the process of staging sit-ins, attending LAUSD board
meetings, working the media and lobbying political leaders.

The group's next protest will take place April 13 at the LAUSD Board meeting.

Lara sounded optimistic: 
"We're just getting geared up," he boomed.  "We're just getting
started."



 

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