- Reporters Desk
By Dennis J. Freeman, Contributor
United Teachers of Los Angeles is working to get factions of the Los Angeles community more involved in its efforts to be able to provide a better learning experience for students attending the Los Angeles Unified School District.
Representatives from UTLA hosted a town hall community forum for parents, teachers and residents on Aug. 29, in Wilmington.
The issues and the focus are plenty, said UTLA Secretary Arlene Inouye.
The rapid take over of students from charter schools, the improvement of school safety, reducing classroom sizes, the need for more staff and upgrading working conditions are just some of the topics that was broached during the hour-and-a-half meeting.
Inouye pointed out about two dozen issues that UTLA members would like to see get addressed. If not, LAUSD and other public schools in Los Angeles County won’t be the same, she said.
“We have to keep building and creating these opportunities for us to come together to have people join us,” Inouye said. “It’s building; it’s not like a one-step thing, but it’s growing as we continue to work together. The issues are why we are fighting for, what we are fighting for and as we continue to get people to join us, I feel like it’s part of a national movement — that public education is under attack…. This is a critical time. So, it’s growing every day.”
Inouye went on to say that while UTLA has a boatload of things that they would like to see changed within the district, there are several concerns that members see as pressing to get done immediately. According to UTLA, some LAUSD classes balloon up to 50 students per classroom. That’s not just an LAUSD problem, but a statewide issue. California is near the bottom of the list of states when it comes to teacher-to-student ratio. That’s a big deal, Inouye said.
“We are fighting for students’ learning conditions, which are also our working conditions are indicators,” Inouye said. “So, we feel there is a need for smaller classrooms; that’s a big one because we’re 48th in the nation in class size. But we also need more professionals in human services like having a nurse at every school five days a week…. A kid cannot break her arm or need insulin only on certain days of the week. It’s a huge issue for parents. We have socially emotional needs. We need things like psychologists and social workers. So, we’re asking for more staffing. That’s a key one.”
For Inouye and UTLA members, these matters, including the increase of charter schools, are just the tip of the iceberg of laundry list of items they are hoping to see change.
“We’re also looking at issues such as special education and adult education and early education,” Inouye continued. “We have about 23 issues we have on the table because we have a diverse school district and diverse members as well. So, we are trying to meet the needs of all of our students. But what’s also exciting about our proposal is that we’re addressing not just non-economic issues like over testing and more learning that’s needed. … Students between pre-K and sixth grade take 100 tests. We also addressed school safety and school discipline plans and we want to have more of an educator’s voice at the local schools in those plans. Our members have been asking for that and the district has said ‘no’ to that.”
Louis Mora is a health and science teacher at Harry Bridges Span School. He’s been a teacher for a decade. His biggest concern is the direction or lack of direction that education is going-not just in Los Angeles County, but across the country as well. To Mora, the narrative regarding teachers and public schools seem to be playing out everywhere with the same results.
“I’m really concerned about the direction our country is going, in terms of education, especially here in Los Angeles,” Mora said. “We’re not going the right way and we’re short-changing our kids. We’re hurting them. People are just looking for short-term ideas and nothing long-term.”
For LAUSD to right the ship, things are to have to flip, Mora said.
“It’s got to be turned upside down from where it’s going right now,” Mora said. “They’re focusing on tests instead of overcrowded classrooms and tests. Us teachers, we can’t even survive where we live because we’re getting pushed out of our neighborhoods because we can’t pay rent, can’t pay our bills because our wages suck. Meanwhile, the cost of living is increasing. What’s happening teachers are leaving the profession to just to be able to survive. That’s going to hurt everyone in the long run.”
Teresa Harnage has been teaching school for three-and-a-half years. Her husband is an educator as well. Harnage decided to attend the town hall meeting not as an educator, but as a concerned parent.
“Public education is super important to my family,” Harnage said. “We are invested in our community. My son is a Boy Scout; we go to community events together. So, I believe in my community. My husband is a teacher as well. We’re invested in education. My son goes to school, so it’s important for me that he has the education he needs to be successful. I’m here to support whatever we need to do to make sure we have equity and have all the resources we need to make sure our students are successful.”
Harnage, who teaches at Dodson Middle School in Wilmington, thought the meeting was productive for the community.
“I believe it’s going to be helpful to make parents more aware of what’s going on in the school system and let them have a voice can in what they want,” Harnage said. “I want to see fair and equitable resources given to our students. I want the students to have the resources they need at school every day.”