On April 14 I listened as CEO/ Principal Ilene Straus described Samo as a school with minimal tension and many safeguards against violence to a tour group of prospective students and parents. On April 15, I saw the exact opposite.
Not only did the tension grow into something much bigger, but it was obvious that Samo’s teachers and administration had little control over the student body as a whole. Administrators made their way from group to group practically pleading for people to go to class, while Straus projected her agitated voice over the P.A., trying to do the same. Yet for the most part, the students did not respond.
It wasn’t until the Santa Monica Police Department made the trek from their headquarters a block away and Straus threatened students with arrest that people actually began to move towards their classrooms. But by then it was clear: as students, we were for the most part indifferent to the urgent requests of our faculty and staff.
Perhaps one reason some of us didn’t go back to class when asked was that we don’t really know our administrators and advisors. Despite what has now been almost four years of promises that Redesign will foster a more personal environment for students, there is still very little connection between many students and administration, especially juniors and seniors. Many students routinely feel that they are ignored, and I think quite a few of us enjoyed having the chance to actually ignore Straus and crew. After all, who were those people, those administrators and advisors, telling us to disperse? To a lot of us, their titles hold little value because we’ve never had the chance to interact with them regularly.
Creating “small schools” was supposed to change that. One of the pillars of the house system was creating a more personal environment for students. It is unreasonable to expect that Redesign would correct Samo’s problems overnight. But, after two years of it, is it reasonable to expect the administration and advisors to have formed the kind of connection with the majority of students in which they can take control of them without having to call the cops? I’d like to think so, but it is obvious that this has yet to happen.
At a true small school, the students know their advisors and administrators well. At a true small school, the administrators and advisors know their students well. At Samo, some students are pals with their advisors, and that’s about it. Practically the only way students can have contact with their house principal is if they are being disciplined. Samo is one big school. Having six house offices does not mean that there really are six small schools.
At last count, there are now nine administrators (the ninth being Ernesto Leon, formerly of Edison Elementary), and just one student resource officer. Where are our school’s priorities? As a school community, we need to face the fact that the house system has not brought a more significant personal feel to the campus. People like Roberto Morales and Tiffany Tyler, Samo’s Student Outreach Specialists, actually connect with students. We need more people like them, yet money is instead allocated for our 9 administrators. There is a large community of young Samo graduates who were positive forces on campus when they went here, and who could be a great asset to students today. They can form meaningful relationships with students and be liaisons between us and administration. This campus needs fewer PhDs, and more people who have time to work through the daily tension on campus that exists between students.
There’s not much motivation to listen to Administrator A or Advisor B if this is the first and maybe only time they will talk to you. Let’s face what happened: it took the threat of arrest, and nothing less, to get many people to class. Until the administration realizes that students do not know, and therefore cannot possibly respect, many of them, it is highly possible that students will continue to ignore their commands. Straus needs to stop sending strangers to do her bidding. Instead, she should send bright, motivated young adults whose priority can be to relate to students. Some administrators may want to make a connection, but they are so bogged down with work that it will never happen. Only when our priorities shift, can Samo truly start to become the personal school we were promised.Adam Siegel is a student at Santa Monica High School. This column originally appeared in the April 26 edition of The Samohi and is reprinted here with its permission.