On October 20, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District’s Board of Education awarded commendations to ten members of the District’s Special Education Strategic Plan Steering Committee.
One of the ten, Craig Hamilton, the father of an autistic child, said he couldn’t “help but see this commendation for what it is. It is a memorial. It’s a funeral. I feel like I’ve lost a dear friend. I feel like the optimism that we had died. I don’t know whether to grieve, be angry, or what to do. At one point you [the Board] had so much courage. I hope that optimism can be reborn.”
Another of the ten, Hamilton’s wife, Claudia Landis, a doctor, lamented the lack of a District program, saying, “The complete lack of an Autism program was one of the main reasons the District called for a strategic plan for special education. It is your responsibility to the community to remedy this situation and follow through … to direct staff to create an academic program for students with this diagnosis.”
Julia Ting, the mother of an autistic child, said the committee “truly joined forces and provided the District with a measurable gift, a road map to bridge the educational gap of special education students in a cost-efficient manner. However, I stand here tonight unable to fully celebrate this moment. My work is not done and the work of this community is not done and your work and due diligence as a School Board is not done. Incredibly, there is no Autism program today for my child and his friends.”
The board didn’t respond to the parents because, according to Board Vice President Julia Brownley, the way in which the commendation was agendized prohibited a response.
And that was that. A year and a half after creating the committee and charging it with creating a special education strategic plan, the District had not implemented the plan, but, out of arrogance, guilt or remarkable stupidity, commended some of the people who made the plan.
Did the Board and District staff actually believe that the committee members would settle for praise rather than a program? If so, they are too out of touch to be in charge of our children’s education.
In April of 2004, reacting to criticism of the District’s special education program and services by its own staff, the state and parents of children with special needs, the School Board directed the special education district advisory committee to form a separate committee to create a special ed strategic plan. Working with teachers and staff members, the Committee had a comprehensive and workable plan ready to go in June.
The Board adopted the plan in August, but it remained in limbo. District Superintendent John Deasy had previously been directed by the Board to work with the committee and give high priority to the plan’s goals. In fact, collaborating on the plan was one of the “performance targets” on which Deasy’s yearly bonus would be based. Rather than implementing the plan, Deasy hired an assistant superintendent for special education, Tim Walker, who not only didn’t implement the plan, but rebuffed several attempts by committee leaders to put the plan into effect, and then fired the committee’s staff liaisons.
The committee finally got a response from the staff – in the agenda for the September 22, 2005 Board of Education meeting: “Staff wishes to acknowledge and thank those members of our parent and education community who helped craft the special education strategic plan.
“This plan is aligned with the existing framework of the District’s strategic plan that guides our overall work towards our goal of improving the achievement of all students while simultaneously closing the achievement gap…All strategic plans serve as a framework. It is not possible, nor is it the intention, that a strategic plan become a ‘to-do list’ in terms of direction to staff within the District. It is a general road map that is modified given specific financial, legal, economic, and social circumstances facing the district at any given point in a five-year cycle.”
And so, after the Board and staff ordered it, and a month after the Board adopted it, the staff dismissed it as a mere “framework,” which might or might not ever be used, and while special education now has its own assistant superintendent, the children with special needs in the District still do not have a comprehensive program, but some of their parents have commendations, and Deasy has his bonus.
On completing its annual evaluation of Deasy’s achievements in the three target areas it assigned him for the 2004-2005 school year, the Board awarded him a five percent bonus on his base salary. Specifically, it gave him a 1.7 percent bonus based on his “substantially achieving” his target in special education and a 3.3 percent bonus for fully achieving his target of improving teaching and learning at John Adams Middle School. His third target – development of intervention programs and plans for additional options for students in grades 6 to 12 – was deferred, according to the District staff report. “In view of other complementary developments in the District,” (i.e., the opening of the District’s Community Day School.)
Deasy’s performance targets for the current school year were approved unanimously by the Board after very little discussion. They are: 1: The analysis and development of a plan for the strategic improvement of math performance, including programmatic, assessment, and professional development considerations for K-12; 2: The construction of a set of strategies that will lead to the deep and sharp focus on the improvement of instructional capacity in the district: and 3: Undertake an analysis of the science curriculum, offerings, and instruction and then construct a plan for the improvement of our science program for K-12.”
The most striking thing about Deasy’s current targets is that the implementation of a comprehensive and workable, special education program is no longer a target, though the District still lacks such a program.
Beyond that, we would be hard put to set vaguer, more general or more meaningless “targets.” To hit his new targets, and win the bonus, Deasy doesn’t actually have to do anything substantive, he simply has to develop “strategies.”
Like every school district in California, this district suffers a chronic budget crunch, but, unlike many other districts, this district receives financial help from both of the cities in the district, district residents have approved two parcel taxes, and energetic PTAs regularly raise funds.
The education of children is society’s most vital and profound task, and our schools need talented, dedicated, serious people even more than they need money. On the basis of their record on special education to this point, the school board and Deasy and his administrative staff flunk on all counts.
The committee was formed because the District didn’t have a coherent, comprehensive special ed program. The committee created a worthy program and the Board adopted it, but it remained on the shelf. Rather than ordering the implementation of the program, the Board chose to commend some of the committee members, and give Deasy a bonus. A year and a half later, the District still lacks a coherent, comprehensive special ed program, and children with special needs throughout the District are still waiting for the programs they need and are entitled to.
Talented, dedicated, serious people do not behave this way. They do not play games with children’s lives, or insult their parents. If the Board and the Superintendent can’t or won’t put the special education program in place now, they should get out of the way so that talented, dedicated and serious people can get on with the vital profound work of educating our children – ALL of our children.For half-a-century, Lincoln Place was the ideal made real, a hemi-, demi-, semi-paradise in the heart of Venice.
Built in 1949-1951, under Section 608 of the National Housing Act in response to a post-World War II housing crisis, it was the largest development of its kind in California, and, thanks to its very talented architects, Ralph Vaughn and Heth Wharton, it was fresh, original and well-made, and bore no resemblance at all to the standard low-cost housing development. Having doubled as MGM set designers, Vaughn and Wharton gave as much thought and attention to its parts as they did to the whole and made a low budget masterpiece that consisted of 52 elegant two-story garden apartment buildings, containing 794 airy apartments, that rode very lightly on 33 beautifully landscaped acres.
For nearly 50 years, this garden community flourished. It was meticulously maintained, lovely, serene and affordable, and it was eight blocks from Venice beach.
Today it looks like a ghost town.
It was home to well over 1,000 people and integral in and vital to Venice, which suffers a chronic shortage of affordable housing. In addition, it is so historically, socially and architecturally significant that it qualifies on several counts as a historic landmark.
But a bigtime developer, Apartment Investment and Management Company (AIMCO), which is second only to HUD in the quantity of apartments it owns or controls in this country, has set out to replace this singular gathering of garden apartments with one more ordinary condominium complex that Venice neither needs nor wants.
To that end, the developer has demolished some of the buildings, “relocated” most of the tenants, and is now in the process of evicting the remaining residents. That a developer would willfully destroy an entire historic Venice neighborhood is horrifying.
But equally horrifying is the City of L.A.’s apparent inability or unwillingness to protect and preserve this significant piece of the city.
In all the years that Lincoln Place has been under siege, the L.A. City Council and the City Attorney have done virtually nothing to help the beleaguered tenants.
The crassness and crudity of AIMCO’s plan to make hash of a uniquely valuable L.A. neighborhood and its treatment of the tenants are deplorable. The Denver-based company has some rights, of course, but, as anyone knows who has set out to build an addition to his house, property rights are anything but absolute.
The mighty City of the Angels has rights, too, as well as powers. It also has responsibilities and, chief among them, is serving and protecting the city’s residents and its assets.
With virtually no help from L.A. City Hall, Lincoln Place tenants and the 20th Century Architecture Alliance’s Amanda Seward, have held off AIMCO and its predecessor for more than a decade, in the belief that, sooner or later, L.A. would come to their defense.
But, to this point, it has done little or nothing. Last Friday, the tenants were finally granted an audience with the L.A. City Council. At the appointed hour, the tenants arrived at the Council chambers, and were treated to an extended and boisterous debate between several Council members and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on the respective merits of the USC and UCLA football teams that included the tossing of a football and some wagers on Saturday’s big game.
Three hours later, when the Council finally got around to hearing from the Lincoln Place tenants, several of the Council members left, a quorum was lacking, and no action could be taken.
A while ago, a bumper sticker that read, “If the people lead, the leaders will follow” was popular in Lincoln Place.The problem is, L.A.’s alleged leaders would rather play ball than lead.