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At Manual Arts High, a caring teacher is at the end of his rope

Jeremy Davidson, an art teacher at Manual Arts High, walks off the job because of unruly students. Many share his sense of frustration.

September 24, 2011|Sandy Banks

Teachers knew the change would be challenging. "But we saw this calendar as [a way of] raising scores," he said. "I think there are many of us who, if we could, would go back to a three-track schedule in a heartbeat now."

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I've followed Manual Arts' ups and downs for years. It's an institution in Los Angeles, with 100 years of history. And it's a reflection of the challenges of educating this city's least advantaged kids.

The school was handed off two years ago to LA's Promise, which has built a culture of success at the nearby, newly built West Adams Prep.

But Manual Arts is a bigger project. The school has had 10 principals in 10 years. Its faculty long has been considered a combustible mix of firebrand activists and holding-out-for-retirement deadwood.

LA's Promise deserves credit for pointing the school toward success: a big jump in the percentage of 10th-graders passing the exit exam, and a 43-point increase in Academic Performance Index scores last spring. But improvement seems so fragile, help so fleeting. "It's like we're bombarded with change, but nothing ever changes," Davidson said. "Everybody wants this to work, but what will it take to make it?"

That's a question for my Tuesday column. In the meantime, Davidson's decided not to resign, but instead ask for a leave of absence. "I still love teaching," he insists. "And I've got some very talented kids."

sandy.banks@latimes.com

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