September 2, 2022

Carl J. Petersen: “All Students Matter”?

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Carl Petersen is less than impressed by the new LAUSD superintendent’s opening of schools address, which somehow left out special education. Does a superintednet need to put on a good show? Reposted with permission

Using the money he earned through his creation of Microsoft, Bill Gates is among those in the billionaire class that has used their fortunes to finance the attempt to destroy public schools. While his children had the advantage of a very expensive private school education, Gates has saddled the less fortunate with endless standardized tests, charter schools that are too often corrupt, and a Common Core standard that was created without the input of education professionals.

With this history, it was surprising that the LAUSD decided to celebrate next week’s opening of schools at a theater emblazoned with the “Microsoft” name. Still, that is where politicians, school district administrators, and other invited guests found themselves gathered during Monday’s Superintendent Carvalho’s Opening of Schools Address.

After a series of student performances that included a remarkable acapella version of the National Anthem by Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja, the opening act was a short speech by Board President Kelly Gonez. Considering Gonez’s status as a candidate for reelection in the November election against Mavin Rodriguez, her inclusion in the program without equal time for her opponent was surprising. Had she simply welcomed everyone back from their summer break and introduced the Superintendent, the appearance could have been passed off as part of her duties as Board President. However, the over-the-top awards show-like introduction by an off-stage announcer detailing her accomplishments and the campaign-like speech made her inclusion something that the ethics department should examine.

Kelly Gonez

After another performance by a group of talented students from Garfield High School, the awards show announcer brought the Superintendent on stage. This introduction made Gonez’s seem modest. The phrase “most accomplished superintendent” was used.

Instead of starting his speech when he walked on stage, Carvalho stood and watched a video with the audience. It was clear from the beginning that this presentation was going to include a lot of flash, but would there be any substance?

Carvalho’s delivery was a cross between former Lakers coach Pat Riley and motivational speaker Tony Robbins. He wore a hidden wireless mike and paced the stage without a podium. The speech was read from screens placed below the stage. A smoke machine highlighted the lighting.

The superintendent lived up to his nickname of “Mr. Hollywood,” as he sprinkled cultural references, both current and outdated, throughout his speech. These included Stranger Things, Top Gun, the Squid Game, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. He dropped the names of numerous celebrities including Selena Gomez, Kylie Jenner, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ice Cube, Oprah, and Tupac Shakur. Ironically, he also name-checked LAUSD graduate Ray Bradbury and his book Fahrenheit 451 while ignoring the fact that his $6 million payment to the Florida Department of Education helped to subsidize the censorship of textbooks in that state.

Despite the speech being 7,398 words long, the phrase “special education” was not mentioned once. As with his 100-Day plan, his presentation was devoid of any goals aimed toward improving outcomes for the approximately 64,500 students in the district who have a need for special education services. Those with severe needs were completely left out of the equation as Carvalho declared that “being ready for the world means many things, but first and foremost, it means that all students graduate from our District fully prepared and inspired to thrive in college, career and their lives beyond our classrooms.” The superintendent (and the bureaucrats that he leads) need to recognize that not all students are college bound. Some with severe disabilities are not capable of moving into this setting. These students still have a right to an education that is appropriate for them.

The one mention of the word “disabilities” was to recognize Timothy Sweeney, the principal of Miller Career and Transition Center. Having had a daughter graduate from this program, I personally know how important this school is to the community. However, if Carvalho was really “inspired” by Sweeney’s work he would realize that the ultimate goal of this program is not to develop “young adults with disabilities into employable…members of the community”, it is to ensure that they reach their full potential.

There was also one mention of the word “disabled”: The focus of the district is “for every student who is neurodivergent or disabled who never felt like they mattered.” To achieve this focus the district needs to listen to parents who are advocating for placement in protected environments that have shown proven results. Instead, Carvalho has accelerated the elimination of programs like Aut Core over the objections of parents. School starts next week and these parents still do not have an acceptable placement for their children.

Also largely absent from the speech were any plans to stem the exodus of teachers from the district. As Antonietta Gm, a parent who watched the speech, notes: “We are losing awesome teachers that have the love and passion to teach.” Carvalho bragged about the number of new teachers the district has hired, but these rookies cannot replace the qualities experienced teachers bring to the classroom. He also stated that he wants “just and swift negotiations of collective-bargaining agreements”, but this contradicts reports from the negotiations that say the district is stonewalling.

One solution to stemming the flow of teachers from the district is to reinvigorate the district’s COVID-19 mitigation protocols. While Carvalho’s predecessor, Austin Beutner, established the LAUSD as a leader in protecting school communities, the pandemic was barely mentioned in Monday’s speech other than to say it is something that we have moved on from. Ms. Gm noticed that “safety was not mentioned in the five pillars” that the superintendent detailed. This is of great concern to her as her family includes members with health risks.

The ability to wow the audience and engage in theatrics may make for an interesting speech, but it will not help the students of the district. The Superintendent needs to spend less time jumping out of airplanes and pursuing other photo opportunities and start leading. As he noted in his speech, our children have no time to wait for results. It is time to get to work.

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