The Great Dorsey Teachers Need Our Support
A Profile of Sharonne Hapuarachy: Dorsey High School Teacher/Organizer
“Our first objective is to take Reconstitution off the table. It should not be considered a legitimate school reform strategy.”
Sharonne Hapuarachy is a dedicated teacher at Dorsey High School in Los Angeles, an active member of the Coalition for Educational Justice (CEJ), and part of a movement focusing at Dorsey and Crenshaw high schools to beat back the plague of “reconstitution” led by LAUSD Superintendant John Deasy. It has been 50 years since the Civil Rights/anti-Vietnam war revolution of the 1960s, when a social movement put the system on trial. Since then the system has launched an ideological counterrevolution against the Black and Latino community, labor unions, abortion rights, and any challenges to the empire. The latest front has been, “weeding out the bad teachers and the teachers unions that protect them” as part of a plan to privatize public schools and take over the school system in the interests of corporate capital.
So let’s shine a light on the many great teachers who devote their lives to their students and who are devoted union and community members. In this case, they are the frontline struggle in Los Angeles to save inner city high schools like Dorsey and Crenshaw and standing up to the corporate educational agenda.
Sharonne Hapuarachy has been at Dorsey High School for 15 years and is the chair of its English Department. (You can hear our interview with Sharonne and CEJ organizer Taylor Broom here). Sharonne is constantly innovating her curriculum and spends extra time tutoring students and staying in constant touch with parents. She has always been a member of the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) but observed, “I became active in the union when the new leadership went beyond discussing our wages and benefits to give greater emphasis to lowering class size and fighting for better educational conditions for the students.” She realized that besides a progressive union there was a need for a strong movement of teachers, students, and parents to fight for a more comprehensive program for the schools. She helped to build CEJ with Noah Lippe-Klein and other dedicated teachers at Dorsey and other L.A. city high schools.
As they were working to improve the schools they were hit by a reactionary tsunami—a concerted national campaign in favor of privatization, charter schools, “high stakes testing,” “life as a business,” and attacks on liberal education. A campaign that wanted to restrict life choices for inner city Black and Latino students to “school to corporate America” for some, “school to low wage labor” for the majority, and “School to prison” for many others. This national campaign involves former Chicago Public Schools CEO (now Secretary of Education in the Obama administration) Arne Duncan, the William and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation, and a cadre of administrators trained by them who share a common ideological orientation. John Deasy, the Superintend of Schools in Los Angeles worked at the Gates foundation for several years before coming to L.A.
Superintendent Deasy is threatening Dorsey High School with “Reconstitution” and Crenshaw High School with the imminent cancellation of its cooperative relationship with Greater Crenshaw Educational Partnership as a step towards its reconstitution. What is reconstitution? A school closing plan implemented by the Superintendent whereby he would be able to dismiss all the teachers in a school and then “re-open” the school with no more than 50% of the former teachers “re-hired.” Who would not be rehired? The most militant, dedicated teachers with the strongest ties to the community and UTLA, who would be seen as threat to the corporate re-organization plan. “Reconstitution.” At the core of this fight are teachers, parents, and students willing to stand up for an alternative and better vision. Sharonne explains, “Our first objective is to take Reconstitution off the table. It should not be considered a legitimate school reform strategy.”
Last Thursday there was a big rally at Dorsey to stand up to this plan. Hapuarachy explains, “We have a very positive and concrete vision.”
1) To allow teachers and students to provide work experiences, diverse electives, AP classes, internships, after school activities in addition to sports and test prep, cultural relevance, and to teach critical thinking.
2) Small learning communities and magnet programs, individualized instruction, tailored instruction in mathematics that will allow students to succeed, with quality teaching from educators committed to this community.
3) New technology.
4) Better social services.
She continued, “It is an outrage that the district does not acknowledge that so many of Dorsey’s students are in foster care, living in group homes, and in working families facing low wages, immigration attacks, poor nutrition, no room or quiet at home in which to study–the most unbearable conditions from which young people are expected to “show up and perform.” It is so unfair for the district to blame the teachers when our schools are so underfunded and we have to work so hard to generate the smallest visible changes in student performance.”
This Thursday, October 4, there is a critical meeting about the future of Crenshaw High to stop Superintendent Deasy’s plan to cancel Crenshaw’s very positive relationship with Greater Crenshaw Educational Partnership. (Click here for more information about Thursday’s action). The hope is that Superintendent Deasy would reconsider his actions and support the important work that the Dorsey and Crenshaw movements are carrying out and drop any plans for reconstitution.
As I say in my book, Playbook for Progressives: 16 Qualities of the Successful Organizer, “the organizer is the smallest single unit, as part of an organization, around whom you can build a project, a campaign, or even an entire organization.” As the fight for the future of L.A. Education and the future of the Black and Latino communities continues, we are lucky to have teachers like Sharonne Hapuarachy and organizations like Coalition for Educational Justice.
I plan to attend this Thursday’s meeting to learn more and find out ways that Voices from the Frontlines, EricMannSpeaks, and our Action Center can continue to be of help to this movement.
Crenshaw High and the Future of South LA Public Schools
Thursday, October 4, 2012 5:30 to 7:30 PM
African American Cultural Center
3018 W. 48th Street LA 90043 (Corner of 9th Avenue)