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The Battle for Santee High School – The District Reacts – UPDATED


The LA Weekly version of the story I first reported here
about the battle going on at Santee Education Complex, came out on Thursday. Yet, even before the paper hit the news stand, there were new developments:

On Wednesday, popular Santee AP teachers, Anthony Marenco and Alexandra Avilla
held a press conference to announce that they had resigned—essentially because of principal Vince Carbino, whom they said created an extremely hostile work environment. The same day, LAUSD officials issued their own statement about the whole mess, saying they were bringing in the city’s human relations commission to mediate the Carbino/Santee issue. The district made the unusual move at the urging of City Council member, Jan Perry, who has been a strong supporter of the beleaguered principal.

These two events finally got the LA Times
to take notice of the story.

The district’s announcement
was a move that many Santee faculty viewed with cynicism. “In other words, nothing’s going to happen,” said one teacher.

In response, a group of Santee faculty members issued their own press release Thursday stating that, if the district doesn’t make a very strong move regarding Carbino, they’ll look to converting Santee into a charter school.

The discussions, says the release, “are centered not on the removal and replacement of our ineffective Principal Carbino…..but in the removal and replacement of our ineffective Los Angeles Unified School District.”

Meanwhile, various teachers and school administrators
who have worked with Mr. Carbino at this three previous school assignments, have been contacting me with their own unhappy Carbino experiences.

Most are quick to say that that principal Carbino
is not without talents. But, the consistent message is that his liabilities greatly outweigh his advantages.

According to Jordan Henry, a Santee English teacher
who called me today (as I was speeding across Montana), right now at Santee the faculty, sentiment against the principal is running high. When UTLA queried them about a week ago, 79 percent said they disapproved of the way Mr. Carbino was doing his job. “I think you can safely say that number is growing,” he said.

UPDATE: The district has reversed course and, late Friday afternoon, following a “hurried investigation,” has reassigned Carbino pending the outcome of mediation. Here’s the LA Times take on the district’s latest move.

NOTE: The LA Times also has a good story on the personal hardships created by LAUSD’s massive payroll screw-ups, which have been going on since early February after the new computerized system was put in. I’ve been hearing absolute horror stories on this issue myself (including word that one teacher is reduced to living out of his car). But over all, this is one more tale of the Gang…er…school district… that Couldn’t Shoot Straight. Good grief.


  • … who called me today (as I was speeding across Montana)…

    If this road trip was supposed to have been a vacation, you will need another vacation to recover from it. Press on our intrepid road warrior.

  • I heard Johnathan Kozol the other day discuss his new book “Letter to a Young Teacher” and it is the rare uplifting book from him. Kozol is so optimistic because he sees so many new teachers from America’s elite universities now working in inner-city schools and dedicated to making a difference. And then this.

    Maybe the district knows something the teachers and parents at Santee don’t. Maybe no one wants tough love. Then again how likely is that? Guess we’ll find out. One thing is certain. If this were Uni or Birmingham do you think there would even be an issue?

  • It really is hard to reconcile Carbino the disciplinarian, which the school badly needs, with the needs of the more gifted kids you’ve profiled, who need AP and advanced classes to get into college. There are two very, very different demographics at that school, apparently. He seems to be right for the vast majority of that school — if their parents who are complaining had disciplined their kids and gotten them to do basic schoolwork, the school wouldn’t be among the two lowest-performing and rife with behavior and gang problems. Maybe some of the teachers who don’t like him are just not used to that kind of tough housecleaning, but PC touchy-feely tactics haven’t proven effective so far.

    They should put the “smart” ambitious kids in a separate program within the school. It sounds like there are plenty of teachers willing to work with them on that.

  • Looking forward to reading the Kozol book, RLC. Santee has a slew of terrific teachers, who are well educated, dedicated, idealistic and willing to work their butts off for the kids. As for Marenco and Avilla, they’re both going to work for other South LA schools that serve the same constituency of kids, and are still continuing to work for change at Santee, but not from the inside anymore. The stress was causing Alex some fairly alarming health issue. I read some of the written documentation of some of the stuff the principal has done with these and other teachers, which makes the choice to leaver VERY understandable.

    Carbino presents himself as Mr. Tough Love, but the on-the-ground reality is quite different. His tactics are NOT working. The early problems at the school were due to some utter idiocy on the part of the district, which allowed three or even four surrounding schools (Jefferson, Manual Arts, Locke and Fremont) to dump their most problematic kids on an unprepared Santee, and surprise, surprise, all these displaced kids fought with each other and the thing blew up. Once a certain number of those kids were transferred out, things settled down. It wasn’t rocket science.

    In addition, there are some positive programs having to do with peer counseling and the like, that have been highly praised. But those are not Carbino’s doing—although he claims credit. (And this is not guess work on my part.)

    Yet, when all is said and done, he has a very unhappy student body which is not getting what it needs academically, a faculty with morale in the toilet because, even according to one of his Assistant Principals whose job it is to defend him, he conducts faculty meetings in which he simply berates people for 45 minutes at a stretch (her description). His way of administrating the faculty is to criticize, threaten and humiliate….as if the teachers are bad children in need of discipline. And keep in mind, a lot of these folks are young, smart, tough-minded teachers who specifically chose Santee because they loved kids and wanted to make a difference in the city’s poorest areas.

    The proverbial straw was this thing around the books, and the changed classes. But rather than address it, Carbino has refused to meet with any of the students. Period. The front office has become a barricaded lair that no one—students, faculty, parents—may enter without permission. In addition, to bolster his I-get-it-and-you-don’t form of governance, Carbino makes up fantastic stuff about his CV, to a degree that would be laughable if it were not so bizarre and unsettling. This latter habit, by the way, goes back throughout his school career.

    There’s much, much more.

    In short, this is a guy with some talents, and deep, deep personal problems that make him unsuited to run a high school.

  • I agree with Maggie, I have heard about and seen the results of placing a good or average kid in a bad school. The problems in the LAUSD require unique approaches to education. In an ideal world a parent wants his poor performing kid in a “good” school. But I have seen many good or average students driven to gangs and drugs. It may not be the politically correct thing to do but maybe there should be separate schools for students which are performing at or above average. I have seen too many average kids become the rebellious problem student because that is the conduct of the majority of his peers. I remember the first month a friend’s son went to Belmont High school and he would come home and tell stories of gang fights and drug sales at school. It did not take this kid very long before he was a problem kid and hanging out with 18th street gang members. The mother saved her money and moved out of Los Angels as soon as she could. It has been a slow process but her son is now attending classes and getting back on the right track.

    But if a kid’s neighbors are gang members the school environment will not protect him from the influence of gangs and drugs.

  • Its sad, but to some degree, us kids that grew up in the inner-city areas of LA are bound to get into some sort of trouble, wheather we like it or not. It might be normal adolescent deviance, cutting classes (ditching), or getting arrested, but we are all prone on seeing and hearing the worst that gangs, drugs, and sex has to offer. It all depends on who you have at home and what are their morals and values that will keep you from not getting involved or lost. The temptation is like the story of adam and eve. The first killing in front of my eyes was at age 8, second one – around 12, and third at 15, the forth by 17 and so on and so on….Imagine that, I wasn’t even a gang banger…

  • Carbino was reassigned to an admin. desk job while the investigation continues, so Celeste will be happy. He may not get back a principal’s job ever. As a former cop, behavioral issues are naturally more his forte than the intellectual process or education per se.

    My interest in this is partly as a taxpayer: how could we better use our resources instead of wasting them, for fiscal responsibility and to actually educate the kids; and, tied to the second issue, along the lines that poplock and l a resident are saying and I’ve heard from others who’ve been though it, recognizing that kids who are motivated to learn and want away from gang culture, should be put in separate schools or at least sections of schools. For the rest, a tough-love environment, more stick than carrot, may work better. Along with more practical, not necessarily college-track courses. Well- meaning P C “idealistic” educators who treat everyone the same, are just not realistic (which IS the opposite of idealistic, right?)

  • When we first came to Santee we were excited and full of hope in changing the social conditions that many in South Central LA face through education. This was the mission of my fellow classmates and I as we graduated from UCLA and all decided to teach at Santee. There was a cohort of 20 of UCLA graduates who went to Santee together. However, LAUSD not only failed the students but the teachers as well. Teachers got NO support from administration and although there was plenty of money for supplies, due to mismanagement of the funding many teachers were forced to buy there own paper for photocopies. The school opened terribly and a dictator of a principal came in and further alienated many of the staff. Good schools start with good teachers. Out of the twenty intelligent, bright eyes UCLA grads that went to Santee, only 6 are left. Many left to Charter schools that serve the same population of students, but were teachers are appreciated and are allowed and supported in doing what teachers love to do best: Teach. Now two more GOOD teachers have left Santee and LAUSD.

  • Thanks, Jose. That sounds sad, such a loss to have teachers like you and your colleagues move on. But that’s why I had to put my child in a private school, much as I would have liked to keep him in a public school had that been possible.

    As for the mismanagement of funding for supplies, much of that comes from a really messed up and inept computerized inventory system that LAUSD bought many years ago, while Alatorre and his buds were still influential on the City Council. Ditto with the current failures of the payroll software (although I can’t say that Alatorre’s cronies are having influence on that, someone’s appear to be from what I’ve read.) The L A Times ran exposes on Alatorre and the failed inventory system, by the way. As I recall, the story was that the company’s messed up system was blamed on this and that, and every time the School Board considered dumping it and starting from scratch, the counter-argument was: But if you give us another million, we’ll fix it and you won’t have to write off the $30 million or more you’ve paid us so far.” I wonder what system is being used today. Another case of mismanagement was reported in the L A Times just within the last month or so: there were more printer cartridges stacked up somewhere than could be used by the exp. date, but due to lack of coordination, someone bought a whole lot more. This alone amounted to some $1.2 mil waste.

    Laura Chick needs to look into this mismanagement of how funds are spent for software, AND the process for selecting vendors. The repercussions of this are way beyond whatever the actual waste on the systems, too — as you have told us, in loss of morale that comes from feeling disrespected.

    Another thing that struck me from reading the transcripts of the 5 students asked to give feedback to the LAUSD and city officials like the Mayor (also available on the LAT website) was that at least 3-4 of the 5 emphasized that they didn’t feel the anglo/ Eurocentric cultural influence on their schools, as set by Sacramento, had relevance to their cultures, where maybe 1% of the student body was white.

    At least one of the students argues that he feels Hispanic culture and its positives are ignored or dissed, and that however educated and “qualified” the teachers are in terms of traditional academic standards, the kids won’t respect them unless/ until they bring “real issues” like brown/ black relations into the classroom study.

    THAT really concerns me: no matter how much money we spend, no matter how “qualified” the teachers to teach the 3 R’s, many of these kids — and these 5 were selected for their leadership qualities — just brush it all off. Opinions?

  • I personally don’t think the LAUSD schools can solve the “education” problem alone, there are just too many social problems in Los Angeles. There are just too many broken families, absent parents, gangs, drugs, poverty etc. Now add a society in which the “gang culture” has grown into its own industry with music, clothing, video games and movies glamorizing this lifestyle. We are not living in the 1955 “Happy Days” of The Fonz, Richie Cunningham and Ralph Malph anymore.

    Part of the solution begins with the education of parents, 99.9% of whom never received a parenting class. Who here received a parenting class as part of a general education curriculum? Now add gang violence and drugs to the already difficult task of parenting your kids.

    The “education” problem requires more parent participation, more mentoring of kids, more outside activities. A young man especially, needs to have many activities football, baseball, soccer, wrestling, mountain biking and etc. In an ideal situation there would be more YMCAs, Boys Clubs, parks, soccer fields, baseball fields to occupy a kid’s time and energy. A young man hanging out on the corner with his friends will always find trouble. I don’t ever remember my friends saying let’s go to the library and study or aren’t you glad we learned our multiplication tables. A young man needs good role models to learn from and to guide him. Someone who is going to explain why he needs to learn math what is used for etc. The only solutions I have heard from LAUSD is extending the hours schools are open, the parents need to become more involved, the government just doesn’t have the resources to raise the kid of every absent or over-whelmed parent.

    I will never forget an episode of National Geographic, where a group of young male elephants formed a “gang” and were killing lions and other animals in an animal preserve. This started after the adult male elephants were separated from the young elephants. Even young animals need to be socialized by their adults.

    I had to laugh at the comments by the Jose Lara(sorry Jose no offense meant). Because it reminded me of the parody I see on the Mad TV comedy show “a nice white lady”, which parodies movies like Dangerous Minds with Michelle Phifer as the “nice white lady.” I really hope the teachers of LAUSD prove me wrong and I look like a fool making my comments.

    Here is a video of the new savoir Brewer discussing the magnitude of LAUSD woes and rallying his troops. At least he seem to be a dynamic speaker.

    Boy what a grim and bleak picture I’ve painted, I even depressed myself, but wait there maybe hope.

    I believe the “gentrification”/construction boom of Los Angeles is going to help, at least in the downtown Los Angeles area. With the increased housing prices in Los Angeles and California many poor families will be forced to move to other states to find affordable housing. This migration may be part of the solution to the social problems of Los Angeles, and also provide better living conditions for many leaving Los Angeles. I just don’t see the “middle class” factory jobs ever returning to California which is another social problem.

  • Thanks for commenting, Jose. The sense of opportunity wasted is….very upsetting. But maybe it’s going to change somewhat, at least at Santee. I sure hope so.

    And Maggie, interesting stuff. About “…mismanagement of how funds are spent for software, AND the process for selecting vendors…”

    Boy, no kidding. Teachers tell me—particularly English teachers—tell me they’re suffering from program fatigue, that there’s a new one once every two years, sometimes more often. And each of these new programs is a wildly expensive purchase from a vender and requires teacher retraining (provided by the vender). In short, I think your point is one that merits an investigative story of its own.

    Poplock, your note about the number of deaths witnessed even by the non-gang kid, is so upsetting, and I know, all too true. And to think that this sort of thing doesn’t have a huge impact on kids is crazy. Its hard for children to thrive in a war zone.

  • Growing up with cousins and relatives being gang members is probably the hardest to have in any family. Traditionally, a kid didn’t have to get courted in or jumped-into the gang. If your relatives had put in some serious work in and well respected, you got a free pass into the family’s multigenerational based gang. Your local gang would grant you the pass as well too. The local gang knew that you didn’t have to join them and they couldn’t pressure you to do so – in other words, you were somewhat connected.
    I hear this rule is somewhat disappearing these days but it was strictly based on mexican traditional values of respecting the family. Every once in a blue moon, I hear a so-called gang expert say it was copied from the Italian Mafia – which is total bullshit.
    Now, aside from all the violence, I look back and still enjoy my years growing up in my old neighborhood. I based my memories only on the good times because the majority of us decide to ignore the bad ones. I disagree that Mexicans or latinos in general have poor parenting skills. The problem is that most parents are from low-income areas of Mexico or Latin America, low level of education, and just never had this problem with gangs in their hometown or ranch. In their countries its the old fashion belt to the butt approach which really works because all the negative contributing factors are absent.
    Nevertheless, one of the major factors that contributes to gang membership is that in the mind of a kid, he really believes that violence, the gang lifestyle, the robberies, drug usage, and the shootings are all just a normal part of their life. Things are just like this, they have no other reality. This is the reason that most at-risk programs see such great success on the few gang members taken out of their normal environment for extended period of times. A simple field trip really works too. How many of us have heard a gang member kid say, “I cant see beyond the corner street of my house.” The kid is not lying.
    This is where the rap music comes in….their reality is re-enforced and it sells like hell. I can not tell you how many gang members I have seen jump up and down banging their hood and singing songs from The Game or Tu-Pac. Its all adrenaline. At this point, the brain washing is beyond the reach of any good MSW counselor, positive role model, or ex-convict scare straight tactic.
    Now, when you get this type of thinking and gang factors into your local school classes. What do you think your going to get?
    Teachers now have to play social worker with these kids. Its taking about more than 50 percent of their time and its not benefitting the rest of the students that really want to learn and enjoy what a school has to offer.
    Probation Charter schools are solving these problems, but where do you sent them beyond that? Then you have independent studies that was orginally set up strictly for the Hollywood movie kids, now you have gang members and taggers on independent studies because they earned the right due to being expelled from all schools together with their gang banging or tagging qualification. The Independent Studies program is teaching a gang kid to stay home and have more free time with his homies, play Play-Station all day, and down a 40 oz of miller high life at noon. Indep. Studies just teaches a gang banging/tagger kid not to wake up at 5-6am, get his ass to school and do some real head problem solving solutions. Instead, he just has to finish a certain number of book chapters by a certain deadline and he passes. This does not teach the fundamentals of why people go to work and earn a paycheck. Now that is pathetic.
    You keep adding up all these issues with LAUSD incompetency, mismanagement of monetary funds, and break down of numerous policies….what do you expect. When a person wants to devote his life on becoming a teacher, which I think is the most important and repected work someone can do, right behind a policeman or fireman, he/she should be supported to do what their number one job is to do – to teach. Not to play dean.
    I dont blame LAUSD teachers of returning to school, getting a Masters and jumping ship to a school district that hands out nothing less than repect, support, and a nice starting 50,000 to 60,000 a year job.

  • LA Res, I too found the National Geographic story on the adolescent male elephants instructive and unforgettable.

    Poplock, the picture you paint of what its like to be a young male in certain of our LA communities is terrifically vivid. And, as you’ve said (except in other words), with the absence of alternatives that seem real to the kid, the street will always win.

    On one hand, you’re so right, this is beyond the reach of some well intentioned MSW. But on the other hand, after nearly 20 years of seeing it demonstrated over and over again, I’m convinced that much of the answer IS caring adults—be they teachers, mentors, MSWs, gang intervention folks, or the nice guy/woman next door. (It sounds like Pokey’s doing some of that with his neighbor kids.)

    I have yet to meet a messed up kid who didn’t respond to an adult who genuinely thought he/she was a worthwhile human being deserving of a good future. It doesn’t always save ’em. I’ve been to enough funerals, and get enough collect calls from prison, to know that. Sometimes the worst happens anyway. But, if there’s one silver bullet, in my humble opinion, that’s it.

  • Ms. Fremon, I respect your opinion because Ive worked with people that see things the same way you do. A stranger walking up to a kid and telling him that he is “fucking up” means a lot more and affects him drastically than even his own parents.
    The billion dollar question and answers…
    How did we get here in the first place?
    How can we not reach this point?

  • Today’s Daily News does have a front-page story on the failure of the expensive payroll system, and the scenario is the same as I described above: a debate over do they scrap the thing and start all over (favored by teachers’ union) or salvage it because it’s already been so costly (Brewer/Monica Garcia and the Board). It doesn’t address the process of seeking vendors although Deloitte and Touche is a huge one, shouldn’t be a political issue no matter who recommended them. Something is just wrong here: maybe it’s D & T having been too careless with a seemingly endless source of funding, allowing them to charge more to “fix” systems which weren’t developed carelessly to begin with.

    A hundred million bucks ought to take into account the variables of teacher salaries mentioned, like summer vacations meaning salaries still need to be spread out over 12 months instead of the 10 actually worked. Using that and seniority as an excuse sounds pretty lame. There are far more complicated systems addressing the needs of hospitals, for example.

    However, this article doesn’t mention the equally faulty inventory system which forces teachers like Jose Lara to buy supplies that already exist somewhere, in conditions far more cluttered than grandma’s attic, or the other systems.

    By the way, the UTLA/Duffy come off as fiscally irresponsible, typical union-style. I have the utmost respect for a lot of individual teachers, but the way their union wants to spend taxpayer money like it’s going out of style reflects badly on individual teachers, unfortunately.

  • An ERP software lesson just for Celeste readers.

    I will actually defend/forgive/understand the LAUSD for the problems they are having with their new Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) i.e. payroll system.

    When you are trying to completely automate and connect all the functions (payroll, inventory, manufacturing etc.) of any large organization using an ERP system this is a major undertaking. I have worked at two fortune 500 companies when they were in the process of automating using SAP, the same software system LAUSD is using, and it a was a major problem at both companies.

    These two companies were experienced in managing hundreds of muti-million dollar construction projects very successfully. But when it came to automating their processes using SAP they were having the same problems as LAUSD. There are only a few companies which supply large ERP software systems which can be used by organizations the size of LAUSD. The few vendors of these ERP systems all have unhappy and angry as hell customers, so the dilemma is which ERP system is the lesser of two evils. That is why LAUSD can not just drop the current system and start over, it is not as easy as finding somebody else to paint you building. And there are very few large ERP software systems integrators i.e Deloitte and Touche.

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