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06-21-2010 - Lawndale/Leuzinger: Transferring Problems


Transferring Problems

Daily Breeze - June 19, 2010

The two sides in the fight over teacher transfers in the Centinela Valley High School District have two things in common. One, they have the same interest at heart, the right to a good education. Two, neither can win a pure victory, no matter the outcome.

If district officials follow through with plans to move teachers from high-achieving Lawndale High to limping Leuzinger High as part of efforts to increase achievement at the latter, Lawndale students and programs will lose valued mentors and stability. And if that proves detrimental to Lawndale's performance, it will be detrimental to the district.

If the transfers are not carried out, Leuzinger High could miss out on the opportunity to benefit from the mentoring that Lawndale students have and resources that could create, in the words of superintendent Jose Fernandez, "a challenging and rigorous education" for all. And though the loss might be most acutely noted at Leuzinger, which could be at risk of a state takeover if its academic achievement does not improve, it again drags on the entire district, Lawndale included.

Lawndale High last year earned the long-struggling Centinela Valley its first California Distinguished School Award; Leuzinger is one of the lowest-performing schools in the state. It's the spot where education officials say the district still needs to make considerable progress. Thus the transfers, a Robin Hood-esque tactic that takes from the strong and gives to the weak.

The virtue of the teacher redistribution is debatable, though it falls in line with County Office of Education recommendations and federal Race to the Top guidelines. It's also similar to some of the ultimatum options given to schools placed on the state's list of the "persistently lowest-achieving" schools, which include shutting down and sending students to higher-achieving schools, or replacing the principal and at least half the staff. But those intervention models seem based on turning around lone campuses, not maintaining multiple campuses and building up an entire district.

Some in the public have criticized hundreds of Lawndale students for walking out of class Wednesday to protest the transfers, saying it reflected poorly on the students and the teachers they were defending. But while you can debate whether the walkout was appropriate, the frustration that prompted it most certainly is. It's the responsibility of students and parents to watch out for their personal educations. However, it's the responsibility of the district to watch out for all of its students, and sometimes those greater interests trump individual wishes and even needs.

That said, it's not clear the transfers will serve that greater interest. If new teachers at Leuzinger are part of the solution, are the current teachers part of the problem?

If officials believe teachers at Leuzinger aren't leading the school where it needs to go, transferring them to other schools in the district is a self-defeating move that risks dragging down one school to build up another.

If it's not a teacher-specific problem, the disruption to the district as a whole could be mitigated and achievement still boosted through collaboration between the staffs of both high schools and the sharing of best practices

The upside to the controversy is that comes from a proactive community that - judging from the protest, Tuesday's raucous school board meeting and even Daily Breeze online forums - includes administrators, teachers, parents and students. And that's involvement that bodes well for the schools and the district, again, no matter the outcome.

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