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Letter: Why Zimmer Is A Wise Choice For School Board

Mar Vista resident Sara Roos writes a letter to editor about the Los Angeles Unified School District District 4 school board race.

To the editor:

I'm writing because many of us Mar Vistans have lived and worked alongside Kate Anderson these past few years on local political issues and I see that her list of endorsing co-volunteers is lengthy, in many cases replete with a yard sign. I'm writing because I feel that supporting her in this school board election against Steve Zimmer is a mistake. I hope you will hear me out. While I live in Mar Vista, this race is every bit as pertinent to folks in Brentwood, too. Mine is a mostly personal argument and plea; but the personal is always political and this decision matters as deeply as anything can. I am heartsick to witness the slow-motion undermining of Steve Zimmer's incumbency.

Just for some anchoring perspective, my family comes to the public school educational game from private school. My two girls attended the well-regarded private lab school at UCLA alongside some stratospherically rich and famous folks. It was an education indeed. For middle school they rolled back down the hill to Palms Middle School, a really interesting educational setup with a high proportion of relatively scholastically advanced kids learning alongside kids not thus-identified. Our experience in this school has been overwhelmingly positive for its superior academics and true, deep opportunity for integration of socioeconomic status, class, color, nationality, learning skills, social skills - this public school in the heart of our community educates a mixture of children so diverse that I never really thought it could be possible to address such disparate needs adequately. It is an existential breath of fresh air to interact with teachers and administrators steeped in professionalism and competence.

At the same time the deprivation in our academic (and social) system is breath-taking. Comprehending the why, how and ramifications of all this provides its own well-spring of educational learning. At some point I was so upset with the Los Angeles Unified School District I even thought of running for the school board myself. I really know next to nothing about the complicated nexus of academics and politics, but it seemed that there was a need for some practical eyewitness experience.

The relevant question in addressing this step was: who is our school board member; the system may be broken but is our explicit contribution to it as well? And the answer is: no. It is not only "no," but it turns out the man representing us, Steve Zimmer, is uncommonly good at this thankless job of LAUSD school board member (salary: +/- 47K, district, +/- 300 square miles? That's a guess; it is vast for sure). He is extremely thoughtful and knowledgeable, well-versed in a vast ocean of issues and quite frankly a deep, independent thinker. One with whom I might not even agree on some of the vast panoply of hot issues. But one I can trust to have considered very carefully on issues from all sides and developed a morally-anchored, reasoned opinion. Committing to binary yeah-nay decisions on such complex issues - never mind how many there are - is not easy. It is in fact monumentally difficult to choose 'yes' or 'no' about a complicated question come the end of the day. Steve Zimmer is a principled thinker and he comes to decisions through a circuitous route that includes priorities that are aligned properly: with kids - ALL kids, independent of color, class, even educational achievement. He is weighing a multitude of complex, competing interests toward an end of maximizing fairness and educational excellence for the whole community. This is huge.

And I very much fear it is not the case for his opponent. She is on record and takes money from big, deep-pocketed individuals and organizations, supporting a fractious system that would divide the education of our children into "separate but equal" camps. We have done that experiment, it did not and does not work and it was even ruled illegal, a long time ago now. Charter schools and providing "choice" to parents turn out to be just another way - in practice at least - to segregate and sequester resources for one sector of society at the expense of the rest. This is no way to engage in building and sustaining community, it is divisive and simply put: unfair. It is a repudiation, to my mind, of what makes our country great: the open and available opportunity for all.  Without a good, publicly-supported education, young people stand no chance of securing a satisfying place for themselves in the social hierarchy. Closing the doors on certain classes of society to schools where the most resources are husbanded, does exactly that: it dooms those on the outside to inferior opportunities.

Please make no mistake that this is exactly and precisely what the charter schools are doing in reality. They are excluding the hard-to-educate, the needy, the resource-intensive pupils in ghettos of inferior quality. Conversely, the white-lining of certain schools where only a certain slice of society is allowed to matriculate, is quite simply hiding all the cookies in a drawer to which you control access, countenancing only your own. That is the narrow solution proposed by Kate Anderson and the lock-step corporate bloc that supports her.

And it is unnecessary. It is my personal experience at least, that it is possible to educate huge swathes of amazingly disparate people excellently. They do it at Palms Middle School. It's the teachers, quite frankly, though I personally define the term "teachers" to include the entire community of adults in my children's school. They all work together as a team toward educating their charges, my children and I wish yours: librarians, vice-principals, bathroom cleaners. I couldn't learn without all these separate needs attended to and neither can your children: they are all 'teachers' in a learning community as far as I am concerned.

So I am writing to my fellow local stakeholders, because it has not been my impression, working alongside many of you in various neighborhood issues, that any of us is really in the business of excluding some.  All the more reason, then, that supporting Kate Anderson seems misplaced for the values it was my impression that most of us do hold. We currently have a person working tremendously hard to steer a fair line through a very complicated field of competing interests. The solutions proposed by Ms. Anderson are not fair, are not reasoned, are not democratic. They are not supportable. Why, therefore, would any support her?

Thanks for hearing me out. I am of course more than willing to communicate privately about this; I really, really hope you will reconsider any hastily made or incompletely understood endorsement. I do not think non-content-driven endorsements does anyone any credit but in fairness, I think it is easy to be insufficiently familiar with the reality of the code being bantered about regarding all of this. My own experience with children in public schools has opened my eyes to some fairly ugly truths about what is happening silently, in practice. It may not be what any of us would subscribe to knowingly, but that is the point:  reality happens regardless of the words ascribed to it. Roses smell the same no matter what they are named. Please do not throw any weight behind a faction that intends to exclude another from their fair share of public education resources.

Please note as well that those of us near the 405 happen to live on an LAUSD district dividing line. Palms Middle School happens to be outside of Steve Zimmer's district; my older child's local school, Venice High School, is in his district. Because we are new to this school my own personal knowledge of it is more limited. But it is clear that Steve Zimmer has thrown his weight and support behind this local high school and is very, very well-liked by parents there; it is equally clear that he offers this sort of support indiscriminately - his support and weight goes to students, all over. While I understand he has "helped out" Venice High School, it is not my impression that he has done so in a way that means any other High School has not been "helped out".  And that is (my definition of) the meaning of democracyŠ for the people; all the people.

In short, Steve Zimmer's incumbency is not broken: this school board member is not the problem. Electing Kate Anderson would - to coin words she uses in a slightly different context - be a 'solution in search of a problem'. Yet our current school board representative is not a problem. He happens to have done a fine job last term. IMHO.

Please feel free to email me.

But please, most of all, please take the time to watch this debate between Zimmer and Anderson in which he demonstrates superior familiarity with educational issues, experience, a laudable, morality-driven motivation and true, deep engagement with the needs of all members of our local community.

Sara D. Roos
Mar Vista
roos@biology.ucla.edu

Lisa Chapman February 11, 2013 at 06:33 PM
I could not disagree with you more. We have all watched Steve Zimmer over the past few years, and I, like thousands of others, are not impressed. Steve Zimmer may stand up for the disadvantaged students, but he in NO WAY stands for the above average or gifted student in the LAUSD system. Those students have a right to a quality public education just as much as any disadvantaged student, and right now, there are so many areas in this district where our acacdemic needs are not being met...and that is partially to blame on Steve Zimmer and his attitudes/ beliefs. He is not a transformative school board member and sees only from the disadvantaged perspective. We parents of above average students are forced to attend charter schools, not in our own neighborhoods, in order to obtain a quality education in a diverse environment for our children. He does not stand for us, or our children...he does not fight for us, so saying that he fights for all kids is just baseless and false. His opposition to charters and charter growth speaks for itself. My vote and thousands of others in this same situation will be for KATE ANDERSON.... ALL THE WAY!!!!!!
Richard Landers February 12, 2013 at 03:39 AM
Ms. Roos’s defense of Steve Zimmer and attack on Kate Anderson seems to be a genuine expression of her personal experience, preferences and values. Unfortunately, however, her personal perspective is not representative of that of most Angelenos and, in my opinion, has led her to the wrong conclusions about LAUSD’s performance and its political leadership. Ms. Roos’s core observation is that her children are prospering at Palms Middle School, which apparently includes students with a wide range of academic abilities from a wide range of socioeconomic circumstances, an experience that she believes is good for both her own children and society as a whole. The flaw in this thinking, however, is that her experience doesn’t even begin to describe what life is like for most families, especially poor families, in LAUSD schools. An informed policy prescription for LAUSD must begin with the recognition that the district has failed the vast majority of its children and their families for decades. Exceptions to this fact, such as Palms Middle School, can serve as “success stories” to be shared with other district schools, but they don’t change the harsh reality of LAUSD’s generally poor performance. Similarly, Mr. Zimmer’s defense of the status quo may have benefitted Palms’ successful practices, but that posture has not served the children in the vast majority of the district’s underperforming schools. First of 4 bites...
Richard Landers February 12, 2013 at 03:39 AM
Second of 4... I have been a volunteer and supporter of five or six different charter school organizations in non-Westside Los Angeles and my view of LAUSD is very different from that of UCLA Lab/Palms Middle and Mr. Zimmer. In the Los Angeles that these charter schools serve, there is no “white-lining of certain schools where only a certain slice of society is allowed to matriculate”, there are only poor immigrant families whose only choices are the charters or indisputably failed traditional LAUSD schools. These charter schools provide a superior education to as many families as they can, limited not by any cherry picking - academic, ethnic or otherwise - but only by the resource constraints imposed by people like Mr. Zimmer, who see change to the status quo as threatening.
Richard Landers February 12, 2013 at 03:40 AM
Third of four... In addition to urging Patch readers to take the time to get acquainted with the realities of public education beyond the Westside, I also want to protest the ad hominem attacks on Ms. Anderson and her supporters that are often made by anti-reformers. It is truly reprehensible to assert that the fact that Ms. Anderson has supporters who have contributed to her campaign is proof of evil intentions. I am a supporter of Ms. Anderson as are many of my friends. All of us are committed to public education – most of us grew up in it, many are personally active in supporting it – and I have not met a single individual in this group who favors “a fractious system that would divide the education of our children into "separate but equal" camps”. Yes, just like Mr. Zimmer’s supporters, all of us want good educations for our children. (Indeed, many of us tried – albeit unsuccessfully – to get our kids into the highly sought after Lab School at UCLA that Ms. Roos’s children attended.) Further, as citizens, and, in many cases, business people in Los Angeles, we are acutely aware that we have large stakes not just in our own children’s education but the education of all of children.
Richard Landers February 12, 2013 at 03:40 AM
Last piece... From Ms. Anderson’s perspective, the issue in the District 4 election is better schools, whatever their organizational structure. She doesn’t see charters as some kind of silver bullet but recognizes that they have proved that they can be part of the solution. Voters should look for candidates who support the changes that will give every child a good education, whether they attend a successful traditional middle school in Palms or a successful charter school in South Los Angeles. I think LAUSD is broken and needs political leaders like Ms. Anderson who are prepared to embrace change. Ms. Roos thinks it is doing well and supports Mr. Zimmer and its other defenders. You be the judge. Thanks for reading. Richard

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