Parents Ask: Where Are the Burbank Middle School Pilots?

Pilots won’t open until 2011-2012, some parents unsatisfied with PSC reform at the school.

By Gloria Angelina Castillo, EGP Staff Writer

Carmen Sanchez (center, wearing flowered shirt) wants the school reconstituted, the more time passes the more the students lose out on educational opportunities. (EGP photo by Gloria Angelina Castillo)

Luther Burbank Middle School in Highland Park is undergoing a transformation. Not only is the campus under construction but it is also beginning to implement instructional changes approved through the first round of the Public School Choice (PSC) reform.

A more radical change could also become a reality: if the school fails to meet expectations this year it could be reconstituted—an extreme reform strategy under the No Child Left Behind Act in which all the school’s staff are laid off and replaced.

Some parents say they are tired of the school’s weak plans and compromises and don’t want to waste time turning the school around.

“We want the state to take over the school now,” Carmen Sanchez, speaking in Spanish, told Burbank Principal John Samaniego during a meeting on Monday. “Because, ya basta, enough is enough with going in circles, and going year after year [without improvement] and the children are the ones suffering.”

Sanchez’s eldest daughter attended Burbank in 2008. She has another daughter at a feeder school and has been involved with Burbank since 2003. The whole time it has been a Program Improvement school, she said.

Samaniego and a representative for LAUSD School Board Vice President Yolie Flores on Monday met with Sanchez and a handful of parents and community members at Burbank’s Parents Center. The meeting was the third discussion during the summer on the status of the school after it was submitted to the first round of PSC last year.

Principal John Samaniego shows the parents and community members the schedule for the small learning communities (Humanities and Environmental Studies) and the magnet school on campus. (EGP photo by Gloria Angelina Castillo)

Burbank was unchallenged in the PSC competition and the school’s proposal for pilot schools was approved with reservations by the school board. The plan was revised but the school’s reform has now slowed to an uncomfortable pace for these parents.

Beginning this September, Burbank Middle School’s campus will operate as small learning communities, setting up the infrastructure of the autonomous pilots to open next September for the 2011-2012 school year, according to Samaniego. The middle school will only have 7th and 8th graders this year. For the first time the local elementary schools will offer 6th grade.

“This is a year of transition,” Samaniego explained, but it was exactly what some parents didn’t want to hear.

“Who at the District gave the recommendation to transition for one year?” Sanchez demanded to know. “They don’t have children who come here,” what do they care? she implied.

On Aug. 6, EGP met with Sanchez, Monica Lara and Fabiola Sanchez. The mothers explained their concerns with Burbank, saying that progress has been hampered by the dismissal of key design team members who were pink slipped. Now Samaniego has even less support to implement the changes that the teachers don’t want, they said.

They also say that no one from the school has been attending the district’s workshops on pilot schools, but mainly were concerned that Samaniego, despite his best intentions, is hesitant to lead the charge. At one meeting he said there wouldn’t be pilots despite their advisory vote, and later began discussing LEMA, a completely different pilot model, which would take the school back to square one with PSC, they said on Aug. 6.

Conversely, Samaniego says despite this group’s resistance, most parents are not as interested, and only 47 parents voted during the PSC advisory vote.

At Monday’s meeting, Sanchez didn’t blame Samaniego noting that when he arrived at the school it was already drowning in problems. Instead Sanchez blamed the teachers and district for not caring enough about Burbank students, for not supporting Samaniego, and for not taking the parents into consideration.

School Board Vice President Yolie Flores, who represents Burbank, told EGP on Monday that she’s met several times with the parents who say they feel betrayed because Burbank’s revised plans excluded the pilot schools.

“Originally the plan included the school becoming two pilot schools and two small schools, using the pilot governance structure and in the end when Burbank had to go back and rewrite the plan because it was quite weak, it came back without the pilots,” Flores said. “But with the much stronger emphasis on instruction and instructional practice in the classroom.”

The parents were sold on the idea of pilots, and the sentiment is that the focus team composed of teachers already at the campus only created the pilot proposals because they had felt threatened that a charter school may compete for the campus, Flores told EGP.

The result was a proposal that showed “very little understanding of what a pilot school would be” and how to implement it, they didn’t put their hearts into the pilots and later they took them out, she said.

Although the parents want the state to reconstitute the school, Flores says it is LAUSD Superintendant Ramon Cortines who would initiate and take-on the task, and that option hasn’t been ruled out.

“He [Cortines] and I have an agreement that if the current plan does not move forward and we don’t see the improvements that we want to see, or at least the commitment to implement the plan in the way he is expecting it to be—specifically the robust nature of the instruction that we want to see—then he committed to me that he would be willing to reconstitute the school,” Flores told EGP on the phone. “And I told him very clearly that I’m going to stand behind the parents 100 percent if that’s what they called for.”

If the parents (called the ‘parent trigger’ in PSC) demands more drastic measures, the school could be reconstituted over the next nine months, Flores said.

While it was a challenging year, Samaniego says the school is making gains since it began to implement the new instructional program last year. The school’s CST scores show a 13 percent increase in students who are proficient or advanced in English and Math, and an 8 percent reduction in the number of students who were “below basic” or “far below basic” in the subjects, he said.

Samaniego has his work cut out for him this year but it is unclear if he will be back to implement the autonomous pilots he is building.

In an interview on Aug. 13, Samaniego told EGP he wrote himself out of a job with the pilot school proposals and is not sure if he would still be at the campus when the pilot schools opened.

He has signed-on to the PSC 2.0 Letter of Intent for LEMA at Central High School #13, and while he expressed support for the program, he denied being interested in leaving Burbank for the new high school in Glassell Park that will open next year.

Samaniego could choose to become a principal at one of the pilot schools, Flores said, noting that she still has faith in him and feels confident that the new local district leadership will offer Burbank more support than the previous local superintendent.

“The message that we are trying to send through Public School Choice is: we are not there for our selves, we are there for the kids…you got to do what is in the best interest of the students and the children,” Flores said.

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August 19, 2010  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.


5 Responses to “Parents Ask: Where Are the Burbank Middle School Pilots?”

  1. karen monte on August 20th, 2010 12:30 pm

    You do not have the facts regarding Luther Burbank Middle School.

  2. Magdalena Godoy on August 22nd, 2010 5:43 pm

    I would love to know what kind of facts Karen is talking about

  3. Magdalena Godoy on August 22nd, 2010 5:47 pm

    I would love to know what kind of facts is Karen talking about?
    please feel free to contact me maybe you know something that I don’t know . sisepuede75@hot I think this article is great.

  4. carlos martinez on August 23rd, 2010 11:33 am

    i think this meeting had every one mad because many were not happy on what the school district wanted to do .although the parents fought for what they wanted. they did not get it because the school district just told Mr Samaniego what he had to do. the parents didn’t like what the district said but they had to come to there scenes and say what was on there mind about the school becoming pilot. i just think the school is better in pilot even though its great already .

  5. Paul Esparza-Andalon on August 23rd, 2010 12:06 pm

    After all the work that parents, Yolie Flores Aguilar, LA Parents Union, community reps and government did to be promised a 2010 date it is unconscionable that this is being moved back. Is there a political reason for 2011-2012? Cortines and Yolie who have been in support will be gone will we be left with anyone in downtown that wants to see a good school in Highland Park?

    The parents, community and the teachers voted-who’s slowing down democracy? Politics before the future of the kids….

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