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Filling in the Blanks

Harbor Commissioner Dave Arian leaves nothing unsaid at POLAHS State of the School address

By Terelle Jerricks, Managing Editor

In four minutes and some change, Harbor Commission member Dave Arian spoke clearly and directly about a new place the Port of Los Angeles High School finds itself. The former head of the ILWU International and Local 13 began his remarks by cracking a joke.

“I’m a little different from the other speakers,” he remarked during the State of the School address May 6. “Not too many people ask me how to get into POLAHS. They just ask me how to get into longshoring.”

Before Arian spoke, Principal Tom Scotti and Councilman Joe Buscaino both joked about how parents peppered them with questions and petitions, at restaurants or at their offices, for help in getting into the highly touted school.

To be sure, Scotti laid out the school’s successes and the milestones they—the teachers, students, community and board of trustees—were able to reach in 10 years.

In fact, three alumni and a current student of the school spoke about the impact the school has had on their lives, and Scotti was able to cite statistics indicating the areas in which the school surpassed both the state and the school district in narrowing the student achievement gap between that of white and Asian American students and that of black and Hispanic students.

Arian served as a counterpoint, and was blunt.

“I’ve never been a big supporter of charter schools,” he said. “I’ve always been a big proponent of the public schools system. I’ve never been fully won over by the charter concept. And I’m still not.”

Arian said he recognized that new examples need to be set about how to educate young people.

Scotti, who had been with the school since its beginning when temporary classes were held on Cabrillo Beach, spoke about how in a pro-labor and pro-public school community, POLAHS was viewed with skepticism and had much to prove to naysayers.

Scotti’s remarks covered all of the bases. He joked about the emerging, multi-generational student body made up of children of varying class grades from the same family.

He also spoke about the coming shift to Common Core and his desire to build on the school’s strengths and to guide student achievement along four pathways of success: maritime industry, environmental studies, digital media and geographical systems.

Scotti noted that these pathways would help students aiming to enroll at universities and would also put them on the front doorstep to getting a credential that could lead to an above-minimum wage job right out of high school. He even alluded to changes that still needed to be decided upon by the board of trustees at next month’s meeting.

And, Scotti said it all with hardly a mention of the activism that forced the changes in the first place.

Arian was the only one to address directly the campus turmoil that occurred seven months previously—a period that saw Scotti’s resignation, student demonstrations and board meetings packed with upset parents, students and teachers, and ultimately Scotti’s return.

Arian cast the campus struggle on a national scale and what it portends for the future.

“In this last year, the struggle that took place is the kind of struggle that we should exemplify in America,” Arian said. “Where teachers, students and the community rose up and said ‘No. We don’t like what’s going on. We want to go a different way.’”

Arian didn’t weigh in on either the board of trustees or the community side of the conflict, but rather on the necessity that there be a process by which all stakeholders in the school can have a voice and affect change.

“It’s either that or Baltimore,” said Arian, referring to the recent social upheaval in the Eastern seaport town. “That’s our choice today because these kids [at POLAHS] are becoming a part of something that’s possible…That community in Baltimore was not given that opportunity in America.

“When we look at POLAHS, and what POLAHS has begun to do—not only in San Pedro, but in Wilmington and other areas—these kids were given an option to struggle within the system against the system for a better system, rather than destroy it because they have no connection to it.”

Arian was also the only one to note that the teachers have unionized, something that many local opponents of charter schools didn’t imagine happening 10 years ago.

“When it came time to struggle, some of the teachers came to me knowing that I had organizing experience,” Arian said. “I did everything I could to help them organize and get into a union…It’s not just about a contract. It’s about improving the condition of the environment of your profession.”

POLAHS Board of Trustee President Jayme Wilson—the other locus of community ire aside from the school’s former chief executive Jim Cross—was noticeably absent from the proceedings.

Wilson has guided the board through this evolution. That has included the hiring of an auditing firm; initiating discussion on how to change the board’s bylaws to make it more inclusive of the parents and community members, and setting up systems and processes that conform to the California Public Records Act. And, he has done so despite vociferous calls for him to step down by parents and students over the past several months.

Wilson did not respond to Random Lengths News requests for comment.

 

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