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Locke, out

Putting students first, the high school's principal and teachers cast their lot with Green Dot.

May 11, 2007

THREE CHEERS for Locke High School.

Three cheers for its courageous teachers and stalwart principal, who have chosen to break with the dithering Los Angeles Unified School District and a hidebound teachers union to become a Green Dot charter school.

Three cheers for the fed-up parents who showed up at Locke on Thursday morning to lob the first volleys in a revolution that only begins with the school's emancipation.

By signing petitions to become the first school to secede from L.A. Unified, teachers at long-suffering Locke have jeopardized their own livelihoods and careers. They have no guarantee of employment under Green Dot, but they are putting the needs of their students first.

Principal Frank Wells has already paid the price for demanding change. He was escorted off the Locke campus Tuesday as punishment for working to create a bright future for his students. His crime? Allegedly permitting teachers to use class time to sign the charter petitions. He denies this impropriety happened. Helping students sounds so simple, but look what it's taken: a rogue school, secret petitions, a career damaged.

Green Dot had been negotiating with the school district over converting Locke, but a major sticking point was the charter organization's refusal to have teachers remain district employees, covered by the teachers union contract. And so, the bleating of the teachers union trumped the needs of students. Is anyone surprised?

Supt. David L. Brewer said the district's goal was, and remains, to work with Green Dot to reform not just Locke but also its feeder middle and elementary schools. But the district wanted more time, so Green Dot is going solo.

The time to quibble and negotiate is not while the house is on fire. And no rational observer disputes the fact that the LAUSD is fully engulfed. There can't be a timetable. Teachers want action. They would rather have better, merit-based pay with Green Dot than the end-of-career benefits provided by their current contract. They want support, order, real input on how to teach and enforced standards of behavior. They want, in fact, the same things that parents and students want. But they're stymied by the same foe: a district bureaucracy that pledges allegiance to reform and then locks out a principal who pursues it.

The events at Locke give clarity to the real struggle for Los Angeles public schools. On one side are devoted teachers, brave administrators and long-suffering students and parents. On the other are narrow and defensive interests, dedicated to protecting a failed system. There should be no doubt about who deserves to win.

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