Going Off The Deep End: PALI Pool Part 2 (With Response)

Remember when we got that tip about the somewhat murky goings-on at Pali Charter? Well someone named "Amy"  responded. Hmm, for starters, this Amy's comment was so robotic, so LAUSDesque, so non-sequitur and completely void of any substantive information that we almost have to entertain the idea that it really was none other than Amy Held, Executive Director of Pali Charter. And if it wasn't her? Let's just pretend anyway....

Sometime after the story we received this response (keep in mind what the original tip alleges):

"The vision of the future for charter schools is one that is coming all too fast for LAUSD. PCHS is a model example of how people outside of the "old guard" who have run the traditional school setting and now find themselves unable to meet the needs of a ever changing society. It is quite evident that teachers cannot govern themselves in a charter atmosphere. The executive director must charter a course that can elevate the position of PCHS in the community. Every major corporation has a CEO that is responsible for the ultimate direction of that organization. PCHS is no different. The Executive Director must have the full control of every element accessible to her in order to compete with the other private schools within the Palisades and surrounding areas. The community is abundant with local students who are being denied a great public education simply because PCHS is not visualizing the future of education. Education is a business and PCHS is in the business of educating. The charter management structure provides that the Executive Director has the complete and ulimate control over the school. By this document alone, the Exectutive Director should have the office in the Main Office where the Principal sits. The need to visualize a progressive attitude in improving the standards must be taken by all teachers at PCHS. PCHS is a frontrunner in the establishment and growth of the charter system of the future.

Almost immediately after we received a comment from "Rene" (presumably her friend and/or assistant), essentially combating the accusations against PCHS by -- sigh -- touting the very same accomplishments that are being called into question in the first place:

"...under the tremendous leadership of its Executive Director, PCHS has accomplished significant achievements in the past few years: -Increasing API scores
-Academic Decathlon Championship
-California Distinguished School
-Six-year renewal of WASC Accrediation
-Upgraded technology and phones in every classroom
-New artificial turf field and synthetic track
-New bungalows for increased classroom space and lower class sizes
-Balanced budget in every year with reserve funds in excess of $2 million
-Higher salaries than LAUSD
-Bonuses for merit performances by employees
-State of the art swimming pool for the community

If your still awake out there, allow me to decimate both responses, point-by-point...

What is best for the students and teachers is addressing the primary reason Pali went independent charter in the first place: To lessen teacher to student ratios, so that even students who arrive at Pali with academic deficits might improve. Pali has spent the vast majority of its independent charter monetary windfall on everything but this fundamental and promised expenditure. Superficial words like "faithfully and diligently" avoid addressing the very specific malfeasance that has created a mini-LAUSD, top-heavy administration, heavy with salary and perks, which could clearly be better spent elsewhere. Let me be specific:
1. Increasing API scores by cutting Black student enrollment in half is an illusion of academic progress. In moving toward the creation of a white middle class suburban school in open derogation of the 1954 Brown case, Pali is not doing too well when judged by that standard. Suburban schools have in the HIGH 800s and 900s on APIs.
2. Academic Decathlon Championship, while fun to watch and bask in the reflected glory of an elite group of students is not money well spent. We all know that it is just a show case in which a handful of students participate.Instead, a better measure of excellence of Pali's success would be raising the API scores of the bottom half of the student body -- this takes the money that is being squandered elsewhere.
3. As to the WASC Accreditation, your statement only shows that you are not well familiarized with WASC's formalistic procedure. I presently teach at a continuation school that got a 6-year WASC Accreditation, although it graduated 79 students in June of 2009, the vast majority of whom had elementary reading levels according to their STAR Reading scores- some having reading abilities as low as 2nd grade -- this didn't stop WASC.
4. Upgrading technology and phones, artificial turf and a synthetic track, and a new $5 million swimming pool, when there was a YMCA pool across the street that could have been refurbished for $100,000 or so, continue the LAUSDesque screwed up priorities in a top-down model of education that puts extra-curricular expenditures before those that would increase the basic literacy, math, and other academic skills. How about classes with 40 or more students that your board imposed on the teachers, thus increasing their overload without additional compensation -- so why did Pali go independent charter?
5. While Pali teachers have somewhat higher salaries and benefits...for now, than LAUSD teachers, the future doesn't look too rosy in a governance process that gives no real voice to teachers, who are brushed off by a self-righteous administration. Is it suspicious that this is done in the first year that Pali teachers, who were formerly LAUSD, have lost their right to return to the District?  Amy Held's philosophy in this string of opinions only confirms her arrogant belief in her autocratic role in the school. However, the voices that come from the school are highly critical of her inability and lack of experience to make good decisions. But, all voices give her credit for her exceptional demagogic tirades that justify her contempt for other people's opinions, which she rarely gives a substantive response to. In a classic expression of top-heavy, overpay and inexperience Pali's administration, whose shortsighted leadership is not unhappy to see the expertise and higher salaries that come with long educational experience and tenure replaced by less paid and generally more compliant younger teachers who from now on are not entitled to lifetime benefits, according to the Amy Held Labor Contract -- this will prove to be a false economy. Ask any successful American business about the importance of institutional memory and experience.
6. Bravo for the bungalows and the balanced budget, but as the Clinton to Bush budget transition has shown us, surpluses can turn to deficits very quickly with ill-considered projects like the swimming pool or an excessive number of office positions. I am sure balancing the new budget will require pay cuts, which will be done at the expense of the silenced faculty, instead of getting rid of the out-of-classroom employees.

7. Authoritarian top-down administration with no checks and balances on its power shows its contempt and misunderstanding of basic legal concepts, when it cannot separate its own self-interest from the fiduciary duty it owes to Palisades Charter High School as a legal and separate entity. What else could be the explanation why Ms. Held thought that she was entitled to the fully paid maternity leave, and your board was about to give it to her even though there were seven other pregnant women whose interest were never taken into equal consideration. 
8. Now, when it comes to breach of fiduciary duties, what I've cited already doesn't take the cake. Teacher Maggie Nance's mother, who also happens to be Treasurer of the Pali Booster Club, has her construction company picked to build the pool -- what a coincidence! Mom's brother-in-law is then hired by the Booster Club to raise money for the school. And of course, someone is even able to collect money for services on Rose Gilbert's generous and unsolicited gift that got the whole pool fiasco started in the first place.
9. Well, let's not stop here. My lovely and sweet ex-student Maisha Perri -- I want to disclose my own lack of objectivity in this matter -- was recently promoted to be the school's Operations Director. Well, that's not quite true. First, Ms. Perri sat on the Pali Board as a campus aide and enthusiastically promoted everything Amy Held wanted without question, instead of protecting the interests of the school as her fiduciary duty would require of her as a Pali Board member. Then Ms.Perri, as a member of her boss' performance committee presented a perfect evaluation to give Amy Held a new extended contract and a salary raise. In return, Amy Held promotes Maisha Perri, who had only a high school diploma from a continuation school and questionable technology experience, to be Technology Coordinator.

Finally a year ago, Ms.Perri was selected as the Operations Director of the school over 84 highly qualified candidates. Who decided this? Why Amy Held and Sandra Martin -- Ms. Held's secretary -- quite a sophisticated and business savvy methodology for assuring Pali of the best candidate. Cronyism at its finest.

As a teacher, I would like to take a break for an educational moment: In the Italian language and culture, there is an expression: Una mano lava l'altra. Translated, one hand washes the other. I guess it's not just the street names in the Palisades that are Italian or should I say Machiavellian.


Flickr: House of Sims


01 2010

1 Comment

Rene would be Rene Rodman, a well-connected community member who's buddy buddy with Amy Held, and against accountability. She recently left the board of directors at Pali, I believe.

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