SID THOMPSON on HIGHER EDUCATION at WVRC on 29 July
STEVE LOHR led the Pledge. PP TOM LENEHEN provided the Invocation, from R.I. President Ray Klingensmith. “Building Communities - Bridging Continents: I hope you agree that those four words aptly reflect who we are and what we do as Rotarians. We are a unique organization and certainly one of the best in the world in building the resources of our local communities in an important way, and we are a prominent player on the world stage with Polio Plus and our international service projects.
Rotary has changed the world, and Rotarians will continue to change it in the future. The formula is simple: For us to succeed, all we need to do is to focus our best efforts in doing what Rotarians are the best in the world in doing, which is Building Community - Bridging Continents”. A good choice, TOM Thanks. The Song, words by RICK BROUS and directed by himself, was “Rotarians Clap Their Hands”. It was rousing.
We had several guests but before that, we welcomed back MIKE YOUSEM, who took some time off for back surgery. Doesn’t recommend it, by the way. PDG ANDY ANDERSON brought his wife, PAT. While not formally introduced, past member DICK LITTLESTONE was with us, accompanied by lt. Col Shawn Phelps, who is the incoming Commandant of the Army ROTC at UCLA. I introduced Pom Chandrakulsiri, since we had spoken on the phone before.
POM is a student at UCLA, from Thailand, and is looking for accommodations. You can reach her at (714)869-8865, or PCPOMME@gmail.com. Several members were talking to her afterward, so let’s hope we can help her get located. PATRICIA BUMPAS, widow of BRIAN, was with us. PEGGY BLOOMFIELD’S helper, Roberto was also present.
Seated at the Head Table were PDG ANDY ANDERSON, his wife, PAT, Speaker Sid Thompson, PP TOM LENEHEN and VP ED JACKSON. DON NELSON passed out another edition of his wonderful Roster, and we know and appreciate how much work goes into that production. DON also pointed out that we had a new billing system, and he will reprise it (that means, sending it out again) since initial results were not complete. Pay up, please!
Prompted by GORDON, I asked PP ED GAULD to stand he was at my table and I presented him with a notebook containing all the Windmills during his term.
At this point, jokes began to appear. First was about a student, President of Pakistan, Zardari's son (Bilawal) goes to Germany to study. A month later, he sends a letter to his dad saying: "Berlin is wonderful, people are nice and I really like it here, but I'm a bit ashamed to arrive to school with my gold Mercedes when all my teachers travel by train." Sometime later he gets a letter from his dad with a ten million dollar check from a Swiss Bank account saying:"Stop embarrassing us, go and get yourself a train too"
Next came a story about a mother waking up her son, to go to school. Early one morning, a mother went in to wake up her son. "Wake up, son. It's time to go to school!" "But why, Mom? I don't want to go." "Give me two reasons why you don't want to go." "Well, the kids hate me for one, and the teachers hate me also!" "Oh, that's no reason not to go to school. Come on now and get ready." "Give me two reasons why I should go to school." First, you are 52 years old, and second, you’re the Principal.”
This was followed by another story A student comes to a young professor’s office. She glances down the hall, closes his door, kneels pleadingly. "I would do anything to pass this exam. "She leans closer to him, flips back her hair, gazes meaningfully into his eyes. "I mean..." she whispers, "...I would do... anything!!! "He returns her gaze. "Anything???" "Yes...Anything!!!"His voice turns to a whisper. "Would you...study?"
Last one was The little boy wasn't getting good marks in school. One day he surprised the teacher. He tapped her on the shoulder and said ..."I don't want to scare you, but my daddy says if I don't get better grades, somebody is going to get a spanking."
President GORDON suggested that we could submit our comments on the website so please do!!
PDG ANDY ANDERSON introduced our Speaker, Sid Thompson. Some of us will remember that Sid was a member of WVRC for awhile, and his background is quite impressive. He began his teaching career by teaching Math, and went through all the steps in the ladder of advancement at the Los Angeles Unified School District, serving as Superintendent from 1992 to 1997. Since then he has done some writing and consulting, plus finding time to get his Law Degree. Besides all this, we all remember him as a nice guy!
Sid first contended that he was worried, since he might not remember what he said to our group in the past but I suspect that his memory is better than ours mine, anyway. He is happy to be working at UCLA, and enjoying what he is doing. However, he is concerned with the debt that he sees everywhere, and what it will mean to our children and grandchildren. He feels that our schools have lost focus there are all these ideas out there, with little progress on what will work. In several school systems which he has known about personally, he hasn’t seen any noticeable improvement after a change of administration.
He is a supporter of No Child Left Behind, though it has problems. There are just too many ideas out there again, without enough focus. What do we expect that our students will know, and what can we insure that they know? We need a consensus, which is lacking today. He noted an Op Ed piece by a woman named Zablonsky in the LA Times recently, who had found five large school systems that WERE working. We must focus on what they are doing right. Sid grew up in the British system, which believed that if you spare the rod, you spoil the child. He was what you might call the target as he went along, and he insists that it really isn’t a good idea.
You must have accountability, and that involves five things. First, establish a clear curriculum, which includes math, science, English, social studies, and geography, plus he always includes music and art. Today, when they aren’t doing well in math, the students get yet another hour of math the same subject, which doesn’t really help. And this also means they are getting less of one of the other curriculum basics. And on goals you might handle three, but five or six is simply too many to be productive. And each time you change superintendents, the ‘goals’ change, so you flit from one to another.
Sid found that copying what was working produced results, whereas what can we do differently is a poor approach. Get rid of what’s not working. On goals, OUR goal is good, but MY goal may not be best be flexible. When he took over as Superintendent, the average tenure was two years it’s better now, but too-rapid change is not helpful. If you set goals based on a score, the whole focus is on that and it doesn’t work the same for each child. The salary range is certainly a problem it doesn’t attract competitive people. The good teachers cause change, for the better.
How do you keep good teachers? Every teacher has to be supportive to new teachers it really is a lonely profession. There is very little interplay between teachers today. If a particular teacher shows good results teaching fractions, for instance, they should be allowed to specialize in that. This shows up in data, but the data we often get is not what we need. It was during the first part of his supeintendency that the budget crunch hit, and he had to deliver the message it wasn’t well received, of course.
So we start with curriculum, moving on to what we would like to see in incoming teachers, use data selectively, and actively encourage teachers to work together. Something that is still lacking is a better connection between schools and the community. The PTA is excellent that’s not what he is talking about... If you can create an educational connection between parents, community and schools, the results will be impressive. But there seems to be an almost hidden reluctance on the part of the schools to involve parents after all, they ask all those questions, etc. The parents must feel welcome. Looking at No Child Left Behind, the blame always seems to come down to the school districts, teachers, and principals. What do you hear about the responsibility of parents? And what should we expect from the students themselves? It is not up to politicians to run schools they should be telling their audiences what they need to do to improve the system. We should hold schools accountable, of course, but remember that there is no quick fix. We can do better, and we must.
Q&A I asked if Belmont School was operating. Yes, it is functioning well. And now that we only need a majority to pass bond issues, more schools are being built. The good news here, even keeping in mind that enrollments are down, is that the mega-schools (5,000 students) are now down to 3,000, which is a much more teachable number. What about Charter Schools? LAUSD has several hundred schools, and only about twenty charters. They vary, and the good ones bear watching. Sid notes that we have to deal with the whole school population, including special education, handicapped, etc. Why is there such a disconnect between our excellent Universities and public high schools? We have to recognize that we are in a real battle here to provide the kind of graduates that we need the students from outside the US come here with firm intentions, and they are focused. It is certainly true that not everyone needs to go to college, but everyone does need to be educated. It is important that they WANT to be educated. And we now separate real behavior problem students from others, since they are simply too distracting to the group as a whole. What’s right with the system? The move to smaller enrollments is very helpful. There is more emphasis today about teachers being well trained. Final question what about the size of the District? It is too large, period.
Sid Thompson, thanks for your views of the State of Higher Education in LA.