The Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education on Tuesday approved a Master Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the School District and the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools (PLAS). The vote is the first step toward reviewing a possible renewal of schools managed under the Partnership, often referred to as the “mayor’s schools.”
PLAS was established in 2008 to turn-around some of Los Angeles’ historically worse performing schools and has grown to include a total of 22 schools in Boyle Heights, South LA and Watts.
The group as a whole has made some academic gains, but critics say the Partnership has failed to dramatically increase student performance, especially at Roosevelt High School that is now composed of seven schools, each with its own principal and County-District-School code.
Lea esta nota EN ESPAÑOL: LAUSD Considera Nuevo Contrato con la Alianza que Gestiona Escuelas Locales 
The MOU was approved despite a motion by Board Member Marguerite LaMotte, who wanted to move the item to another meeting date to give board members more time to review the progress at individual schools currently managed by the Partnership.
United Teachers Los Angeles President Warren Fletcher also asked that the decision be delayed, saying this and other MOUs on the agenda should not be rushed. Teachers and other stakeholders should have a chance to have a say, he said. However, UTLA does not support or oppose the memorandums, he added.
Several students, teachers and Partnership representatives spoke in support of the Memorandum’s approval during the meeting.
“Five years ago we launched it [the Partnership] with the belief that if we took the intent and the strong resources and expertise that LAUSD had, we were confident that with the support of the Mayor’s Office, from the Philanthropic community, from our community leaders—if we put all these pieces together—that was in the best interest of the students in these schools in Watts, in South LA, in Boyle Heights,” Partnership CEO Marshall Tuck told the Board highlighting combined and individual school gains over the last 5 years while acknowledging a lot of work still remains to be done.
“We are going to do whatever we can to improve these schools. We are deeply committed and proud to be part of these schools,” he added.
The Partnership manages twelve schools in Boyle Heights: Hollenbeck Middle School; Stevenson Middle School; Sunrise Elementary School; and the two Felicitas and Gonzalo Mendez Learning Center high schools, Engineering & Technology and Math & Science; and Roosevelt’s seven small schools: School of Law & Government, Humanitas Art School, School of Science, Technology, Engineering & Math, School of Communications, New Media & Technology, Academy of Environmental & Social Policy, Academy of Medical & Health Sciences, Math, Science & Technology Magnet Academy.
The board vote came a few days after a town hall meeting hosted by LAUSD Schoolboard President Monica Garcia at Roosevelt High School.
Community activist Jose Aguilar criticized the meeting as a “pop-up town hall,” noting that he and other critics of the Partnership who had been demanding such a meeting for some time, were not invited, even though during a meeting earlier this year they got Garcia, in whose district the school is located, to agree to hold such a meeting.
“I’m shocked I wasn’t notified or emailed, and I was a member of the on-sight council for ELAC so they have my email…” Aguilar told EGP the following day.
The meeting was publicized and flyers were passed out to students and the community, Garcia’s Communications Deputy Lizette Patron told EGP.
While principals, parents and former students spoke in favor of the PLAS contract renewal, several teachers and parents voiced their opposition during the town hall.
Roosevelt STEM Teacher Steve Lopez questioned the justification of the MOU renewal when the academic goals had not been met. To which Garcia responded that there is evidence progress has been made at the school.
Robert Peñuela, a teacher at the school for 14 years, said the information about the MOU renewal lacks transparency. “I didn’t know it was going to be an infomercial,” he said about the meeting.
Another teacher said Garcia and PLAS should have instead held a series of meetings to give stakeholders the opportunity to be engaged and to determine if the Partnership is working.
Parents complained there was not enough parent engagement, technology is out-of-serve despite the Partnership’s efforts to update computers, and too many students were ditching school and seen loitering in the neighborhoods during school hours.
On more than one occasion, Garcia said the alternative to renewing the MOU is the application of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), under which schools are reconstituted and teachers must reapply for their jobs.
Reforming the schools under Public School Choice was not discussed.
According to Tuck’s presentation on Oct. 4, the Academic Performance Index (API) score for all partnership schools on average are up 80 points after four years, and there has been steady improvement across all schools in English, Math, Science and History. Other gains include increased graduation rates, improved attendance, and a reduction in suspensions.
The Partnership brought more than $72 million from outside sources to the 22 schools and has partnered with more than 55 organizations to bring resources and opportunities to students, Tuck said.
The Boyle Heights high schools’ API scores are up. Roosevelt’s seven schools combined have an API growth projected at 60 points higher compared to four years ago. Mendez Engineering & Technology’s API is up by 58 points, and Mendez Math & Science is up by 66 points, according to the presentation.
Roosevelt’s 4-year graduation rate has increased by 11 percent since the Partnership took over—they now have a 54 percent graduation rate, compared to 43 percent in 2008. The graduation rate for Mendez High Schools combined for 2011-2012 is estimated at 41 percent (The two Mendez schools opened in 2009 and have not yet graduated a 4-year cohort).
All but two of Roosevelt’s 7 schools are estimated to increase their API scores this year. The Humanitas Art School and the Communications API score are forecasted to drop by 5 points, and the New Media & Technology School API is anticipated to drop by 31 points, according to the Partnership. The other schools are expected to increase by 11 to 68 points.
Last year, Roosevelt’s schools individually and as a whole were teetering at or below 600 points—far from the 800 API goal under NCLB, critics have pointed out.