We’re Off To See The Wizard… Near the Northridge Fashion Center!

[Note: I’m posting this on behalf of my daughter, nsshere, who is costume mistress for this production… and also has four lines as Greeter to Oz]

Ladies and Gentlemen!
For your enjoyment!
For your entertainment!
For your edifa- edifa, what’s that word?
Right, for your edification, what’s that mean?
Not now!
We invite you to our production of the WIZARD OF OZ.

Nobel Middle School is doing a wonderful production of the Wizard of Oz. It is an adapted script, with a combination of The Wizard of Oz, The Wiz, Wicked, and so much more. So if you happen to be in the San Fernando Valley (Los Angeles), please come see our show.

It will be at Nobel Middle School, 9950 Tampa Ave. in Northridge on

  • Thursday, May 31st at 6:30 PM
  • Friday, June 1st at 6:30 PM
  • Saturday, June 2nd at 2:00 PM and 6:30 PM

You don’t need to buy a ticket in advance; donations are accepted at the door.
Hope to see you there!

[Dad speaking again: You really should come see this great group of 85+ kids. They’ve been working their little tushies off, and look to be doing a great job. We all say we want to support the kids in our schools — here’s a way to do it!]

[Posted to city_of_la, los_angeles, socal_theatre, and my journal]


Influencing Young Lives

Today’s Los Angeles Times (the article also made it to MSNBC) has an article the oldest teacher currently teaching within the LA Unified School District: Rose Gilbert. Mrs. Gilbert (better known as “Mama Gilbert” to her students) has been teaching at Pali Hi (wikipedia) since the school opened in 1961… and before that, she taught at University High School.

The article says many complementary things about Mama Gilbert: her love for her students, her love for her school, and her love for UCLA. These things I know well about her, for I went to Pali in the 1970s. However, I never had Mama Gilbert for a teacher: she got the AP English classes, and I was never at that level. I had Russell Smith, who no longer teaches there. But I do know that Mama Gilbert had tremendous influence on her student’s lives, and it is teachers who influenced you in that way that is the topic of this post.

So, if during my time at Pali, Mama Gilbert didn’t influence me, who did? I can think of two. Bill Layton, a physics teacher, did to some extent. His was a wild-and-crazy physics classroom, with gigantic speakers in the back. He influenced me less on physics, and more in things like science-fiction, and having fun with science. After he left Pali, he went on to UCLA, where he started a project to prepare future physics teachers. He is currently a lecturer in the UCLA Physics Department.

Even more that Bill Layton, however, was the high-school teacher that supported my interest in computers. Mind you, this was back in the mid-1970s, when computers weren’t that common. LA Unified was using both the MISS System (an IBM 360 running WATFIV) and an HP 3000 running BASIC. This teacher was Lawrence Schoenberg.

Now, the name Schoenberg may sound familar. After all, there was a famous composer Arnold Schönberg. His son, for a while, taught Mathematics, Calculus, and Computers at Pali Hi. Although I never had a formal math class from him (I had other folks, such as Mrs. McGrath and Dr. Kay), I spent a lot of time in his classroom (E203) hanging in the Math Lab. This is where my friends and I formed our love of working with computers — and is one of the reason I am where I am today. So where is Mr. Schoenberg today. From all I can find, he’s busy running his father’s institute (in particular Belmont Music), together with his brother Ronald and his sister Nuria.

So here’s to the teachers that have influenced our lives. Thank you. To those of you reading this who are teaching, thank you also for sharing your love and passion with students. You do make a difference.

So, which teachers have influenced you?


Learning to Change Your Mind

There are certain things that impress me in politics. One of them is a clearly positive campaign approach: providing a statement of your position that is not focused on trashing your opponent. It is such an approach that got me to vote Republican the one time in my life that I did: it was the approach taken by presidental candidate John Anderson in 1980. Why am I mentioning this? Read on, McDuff…

Back in March, I wrote about the nasty school board fight that we’re having in our school district. This fight, primarily between the UTLA-backed incumbent Jon Lauritzen and the mayor-backed candidate Tamar Galatzan, was extremely nasty in the primary. The mailers we were receiving were almost entirely mud-slinging back and forth: trashing the other candidates, not clearly stating what was going to be done. At that time, I tended to back the incumbent because I was turned off by the negative ads, and he was a former Math/CS teacher.

I’ve changed my mind.

Why? A single mailing. Recently, Tamar Galatzan sent out a mailing with her plans for reforming Los Angeles schools. I read through this closely, and I have to say that I agree with it (although she missed a thing or two–such as the fact that magnet school parents shouldn’t have to foot the bill for technology refreshes). The other camp? Still no website, still a relatively-detail-free position statement.

I mention this now because the election is rapidly approaching (May 15), and because the LAUSD is back in the news. The new Superintendent, David Brewer, commissioned a Diagnostic Report of the district when he was hired. Phase 1 is in. This report states that LAUSD is disorganized, lacks financial controls and suffers from a “pervasive” lack of accountability. It notes that “The current culture in LAUSD is one typified by not responding to priorities and deadlines, and there is no sense of urgency among managers”. The report found a district run by a school board that is too involved in management, but that also operates with nonexistent or outdated policies. Much of the findings seems to echo was Galatzan was saying in her position paper.

I know the LAUSD can produce good results. I’ve seen it in the past (I’m a product of LA Unified), and I’ve seen it in the schools that my daughter has attended. But I also know that the success is based on parent involvement. There are many many schools that simply do not make the grade. Some are improving slowly, but the district still has problems. So this mailing, and Brewer’s report (and his reaction thereto) is encouraging to me.

Let this be a lesson to candidates: Some voters react to positive campaigns.

Updated 4/26 to add: It appears I’m not the only one swayed by the mailer. Louis Pugliese has also been swayed, according to the Daily News, which said,

“Pugliese said he was swayed by Galatzan’s detailed proposal for reforming the district – which was sent to voters in a 23-page mailer – while Lauritzen had not drafted any such plan.”


The Valley Rules!

Today, the California Distinguished Schools in LA Unified were announced. The winners? According to the Los Angeles Times:

George K. Porter Middle/Gifted Magnet
Harbor Teacher Preparation Academy
High Tech High (on the campus of Birmingham High)
Nobel Middle/Nobel Math Science Technology Magnet
Robert Milliken Middle School & Performing Arts Magnet
Valley Alternative Magnet

Five out of the six schools are in the San Fernando Valley, and my daughter’s school is one of them!


Politics and Poker / Shuffle up the cards, and find the joker…

Politics and Poker, Politics and Poker
Shuffle up the cards, and find the joker
Neither game’s for children
Either game is rough
Decisions, decisions
Like who to pick, how to play,
What to bet, when to call a bluff.

Yup, it’s that time again. Tuesday we have a Primary Election here in Los Angeles, and for a local election, the phone lines have been really busy with political calls. What office you ask? Nothing of national import… congress is even numbered years, and the mayoral election isn’t until 2009. Our city councilman (Greig Smith) is running uncontested. No, the furor is about the Los Angeles School Board.

Right now, there is a big fight in the city between the Mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa and the Los Angeles Unified School District Board. Hizzoner wants to run the school distict, and although he had a bill passed by the legislature to allow him to do this, the courts declared it unconsitutional. This has resulted in a nasty battle

Politics and Poker, Politics and Poker
Playing for a pot that’s mediocre
Politics and Poker, running neck and neck
If politics seems more predictable…
That’s because, usually,
You can stack the deck

So, turning to the ballot, we have three candidates for the school board for this district, two of whom have substantial financial backing (to give you an idea how nasty the battle is: when I did a Google search on the incumbant… the link for his primary opponent came up as a sponsored link):

  • Jon M. Lauritzen, the incumbent. Backed by the Teachers Union, although according my wife, the administrators don’t like him that well. A former math and computer science teacher, who has taught at numerous schools in the valley, and whose kids are all products of LAUSD. His daughter is currently teaching in the district. Lauritzen is in favor of class size reduction, noting it is already in UTLA’s contract. He also wants to increase parental involvement in schools and improve school safety. According to his position paper, he wants to cut wasteful spending and ensure spending is intelligent. He also wants to fight to keep valley school money in the valley.
  • Tamar Galatzan, Hizzoner’s candidate. Backed by the mayor and the political establishment. A former prosecutor, her only experience in the educational system is as a parent and one-time LAUSD student. She believes that increasing safety for students, teachers and staff, decentralizing decision-making, improving graduation rates, and preventing truancy should be top priorities of the L.A Unified School District. She has also been the most vigorous on the phone banks… in fact, as I was typing this, I received yet another recorded call from her that talked trash about Lauritzen. She is endorsed by the Daily News.
  • Louis Pugliese, backed by, ummm, no one in particular, but endorsed by the LA Times. He is currently a lecturer in Educational Psychology for CSUN’s teaching credential program, as well as an LAUSD teacher and education writer. He’s not the product of LAUSD, but his kids attend LAUSD schools. As for his positions, perhaps his website sums it up best: “I will be the voice that says “Hey, wait a minute! Aren’t we supposed to be talking about TEACHING and LEARNING?””. Specifically, he wants to focus on student academic motivation and modernizing curriculum. He seems to be the only candidate with a blog, for what that is worth.
Politics and poker, Politics and poker
Makes the average guy a heavy smoker
Bless the nominee, and give him our regards
And watch while he learns that in
Poker and politics
Brother, you’ve gotta have
That slippery, hap-hazardous commodity
You’ve gotta have the cards

So, who do I endorse. Pugliese has some interesting ideas, but I’m not sure he is going to win. I’m not in favor of putting a lawyer (Galatzan) in the office, particular one who has harnessed the phone banks to annoy me — this strikes me as someone looking for future city office, not working for the kids. So, I think go for Lauritzen.

As for the other offices: I’m inclined to go for the incumbents for the Community College District seats (Scott-Hayes, Field, Mercer, and Furutani). There are two city measures on the ballot:

  • Measure L, which would establish contribution limits and additional disclosure requirements for School Board campaigns; have local enforcement of School District campaign finance rules; provide campaign finance training for School Board candidates; create term limits of three terms (twelve years) for School Board members; and establish a School Board compensation review committee. One thing this might do is change the school board from part-time positions to full-time positions.

    Position: For

  • Measure M. Establishes a voluntary program to allow members to purchase service credit with the Fire and Police Pension Plan for full-time service with other public agencies, provided the member pays the full actuarial cost for the service purchased.

    Position: For

So that’s it for this election. Somehow, in this game, I’m not sure that I’m a winner….


If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar… Come in!

If you are a dreamer, come in,
If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar,
A hope-er, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer…
If you’re a pretender, come sit by my fire
For we have some flax-golden tales to spin.
Come in!
Come in!

And with this, the Nobel Middle School Theatre Arts department started their first production, An Evening of Silverstein, which was a combination of The Giving Tree with a number of Shel Silverstein poems. This was the first production of the reincarnated Theatre Arts Department, with 62 super-energetic kids. So, first and formost, how did they do? In my opinion (as I said yesterday), they did excellent. They all projected well, they all moved, they all spoke to the audience. No one forgot their lines, no one cracked up on stage, no one bumped into anyone else unintentionally, no one fell off the stage. More importantly, they danced, they conveyed emotion, they acted, they sang. They had fun. They became a theatre family. In the words of George Gershwin, “Who could ask for anything more?”

Were there things I would change? Yes. I wasn’t that enamored of the rap version of Unicorn, perhaps because the movement kept the kids from the microphone. Some of the poems that were selected were not ones I would have chosen — I wasn’t that crazy about Thumbs or Hot Dog, but that was more the poem, not the acting. I did find the acting in Tug of War a little creepy (and I can’t quite say why). I do wish they had included The Little Boy and the Little Man and Polar Bear in the Frigidare. I also wish nsshere had a larger part, but isn’t that always a parent’s lament?

Most importantly, unlike Thursday night, we had two Vice-Principals there for the performance, so they got to see the talent of the kids… plus the magnet coordinator saw all the performances during the day. Supposedly, they raised over $2K over two nights, which says something, as they sold no ads and publicity was primarily word of mouth.

I think they did great!

By the way, for those who think Shel Silverstein is only a kid’s poet, you’re wrong. Take a look at this site, which has Shel’s adult works. So let’s end this post with a few lyrics you don’t often see from Grizzly Bear:

Yeah, they call me Grizzly Bear.
They say I’m kooky and square.
They can say anything they want about me I don’t care. (I don’t care.)
Because I’m takin’ it day by day,
And I’m livin’ my own sweet way.
Let me tell ya’ that I howl, yowl, growl like a Grizzly Bear.

Gather ’round fellas, I’ll tell you some tales / About murder and blueberry pies…

… well, maybe not murder… at least yet.

The title of this post is from a poem by Shel Silverstein; the full verse is:

Gather ’round fellas, I’ll tell you some tales
About murder and blueberry pies
And heroes and hells and bottomless wells
And lullabys, legends and lies.

Why am I quoting Shel Silverstein to you? Because last night was the first performance of nsshere‘s drama class, and the reviewer in me must speak.

The show? The show was blueberry pie. Sweet and tasty, with lots of juicy bits. It was a collection of Shel Silverstein poems, together with a performance of The Giving Tree, the famous co-dependency story everyone knows far too well. Alas, they didn’t include my favorite Shel Silverstein (the ABZ book), or even my favorite kids poem (see the end of this post). But it was great nonetheless. How did the kids do? I was very impressed. This was a collection of enthusiastic 11-13 year olds. They spoke clearly, cleanly, and projected. They conveyed emotion. They made the poems come alive. A few were silly, but for an initial drama performance of a new drama program, they were excellent. I look forward to them doing even better tonight.

So where does the murder and the hell come in? That, dear friends, is reserved for the school administration. They provided this program no support. There wasn’t an article promoting it in the school newsletter (but they did promote the band and pep squad). There wasn’t anyone videotaping the program (but they do video the band and pep squad). There was no one from the administration there last night to encourage the students, tell them how proud the school was of them. I’m sorry, but I think that is the role of the principal and vice-p’s: build that school spirit, make the students want to come to school and enjoy learning. You don’t promote some programs and not others. Here you had a bunch of kids bonding, doing excellent work, learning skills that will serve them well in real-life even if they don’t go into the LA Media world — for the public speaking skills are critical in every field. They should be encouraging these kids, and I know there was disappointment that the administration wasn’t there.

Today, the drama class is doing presentations for the entire school. Tonight is the last performance. I have written a note to the one administrator’s address I could find on the web. Let’s see if they redeem themselves this evening.

Oh, and my favorite Shel Silverstein poem?

Said the little boy, “Sometimes I drop my spoon.”
Said the old man, “I do that, too.”
The little boy whispered, “I wet my pants.”
“I do that too,” laughed the little old man.
Said the little boy, “I often cry.”
The old man nodded, “So do I.”
“But worst of all,” said the boy, “it seems
Grown-ups don’t pay attention to me.”
And he felt the warmth of a wrinkled old hand.
“I know what you mean,” said the little old man.

Building A School

[Yes, I know I’ve been a little quieter of late. That’s because I’ve been busy. Don’t worry… I’ll make up for it eventually…]

The Daily News is reporting today that the Los Angeles Unified board voted unanimously Tuesday to build an $89 million high school at the site of the defunct Granada Hills Community Hospital. The Los Angeles Unified School District bought the 11-acre property at Balboa Boulevard and San Jose Street for $22.5 million in 2004, after the owners closed it in bankrupcy.

This proposed new high school has been a point of controversy in the community. Residents don’t want the new high school because of the traffic it will bring, and because they don’t feel it is necessary. I should note they also resisted plans to spare the hospital and take houses instead for the school. The school board counters that it is needed to relieve overcrowding at Monroe, Polytechnic and San Fernando high schools, and to return those schools to a traditional calendar. The new high school will support 1,215 students.

It is this latter claim that bothers me. To understand why, you need to understand the area. Consider the larger northern and eastern valley. West of I-405, high Schools in this area include Chatsworth, Granada Hills (near Zelzah and Devonshire), Kennedy (near Woodley and Mission), and Monroe (near Nordhoff and Woodley). The new high school would be in the “West of the 405” area, near Balboa and Devonshire. E of the 405 you have San Fernando (up near Laurel Canyon and Fox, if memory serves correct), the new Arleta High School (near Van Nuys and Woodman), the new Panorama High School (on Van Nuys S of Roscoe), Polytechnic (on Roscoe near Laurel Canyon) and farther to the south, Van Nuys High. You can get a rough idea of this area by going to the boundary change list at LAUSD, and clicking on a school such as Monroe.

Here’s the problem. If you look at the map, with the exception of Monroe, all the schools they are talking about the new high school relieving are significantly E of the 405: San Fernando and Polytechnic. It is unclear how a high school in Granada Hills will relieve them of anything. Even for Monroe, it is difficult to see how the relief will come, given where the schools are situated. What helped Polytechnic was Arleta and Panorama High Schools. Arleta will also provide relief to San Fernando. But the school in Granada Hills? No. I can’t see them moving any San Fernando or Polytechnic students there. Perhaps they will offload students from Kennedy and Monroe, thus making a ripple effect. But I think it is a stretch.

I think, if LAUSD really wanted to provide relief to Polytechnic and San Fernando, they should have bought land to the east: perhaps near Hansen Dam.

It will be interesting to see how this all plays out. My big hope is that it doesn’t affect the boundaries for Granada Hills Charter HS, which is where my daughter will go. But we’re near the western boundary, and that shouldn’t be changing.