Layoffs mean city schools will lose a new breed of teachers

By next school year, 2,100 Los Angeles teachers and another 400 support staff are expected to lose their jobs–a 5-percent hit to the nation’s second-largest school district behind New York City.

Worse still, some observers say, is that the layoffs are concentrated in some of the city’s grittiest neighborhoods. L.A. Unified’s inner-city schools have higher turnover and tend to hire more new teachers, and the state education code mandates that layoffs be issued based on seniority.

"This is about civil rights and education for inner-city children," said longtime English teacher Sean Leys.

The National Education Association estimates that some 34,000 teaching jobs will be eliminated nationwide this year. California–with L.A. Unified in the lead–faces the largest loss, of nearly 18,000 teachers.

Some inner-city middle and high schools in Los Angeles could lose up to 40 percent of their teachers, according to an analysis by UCLA’s Institute for Democracy, Education, and Access.

By contrast, many schools in the district’s more affluent areas, such as the San Fernando Valley suburbs, will be less affected, because only up to 10 percent of their teachers are new, the analysis found.

At schools such as John H. Liechty Middle School, located in gang-riddled central Los Angeles, more than half the teachers are losing their jobs. Their classrooms will be filled by transferred senior teachers and administrators whose positions were eliminated, and students also will have larger class sizes.

Administrators say layoffs are spread throughout the district, but Liechty has a large number because it opened in 2007 and was filled with new hires.

District officials acknowledge that staff turnover is a problem at certain schools and that layoffs will cut into the new hires the district has worked hard to recruit in recent years –including those who requested to work in urban areas.

Teachers who lose their jobs can join the substitute pool and are placed on the re-employment list, officials said.

"Our hope is to keep them involved in the system," said Vivian Ekchian, the district’s chief human resources officer.

Critics of the layoffs say the district’s newer teachers bring sorely needed enthusiasm to the problem-plagued campuses, as well as new teaching methods and ideas–including a willingness to use technology and other 21st-century tools.

Many of the district’s newer hires also are minorities who can relate to the majority of the district’s 650,000 students.

"I share a lot of my life with my students," said L.A. native Christian Aguilar, a Liechty seventh-grade math and science teacher who’s facing layoff. "I tell them there’s an opportunity for you to grow up and get out of here. I tell parents I want their kids to get out of here. I can only hope I made an impact on some of them."

Students said they like the empathetic ear that the younger teachers can provide.

"They’re easy to talk to," said Marilyn Ann Flores, an eighth-grader at Liechty. "They understand you. It wasn’t that long ago that they were teenagers. They tell us their background. Some teachers went through the same things we’re going through. We see if that person made it, we can, too."

School board member Marlene Canter said the experienced teachers and administrators who will fill the gaps after the layoffs are also capable of motivating children. What’s really needed, she said, is a way to reward higher-performing teachers and a simpler process to weed out poor ones.

"Just because you’re a senior teacher doesn’t mean you’re a bad teacher, or if you’re a younger teacher, you’re automatically good," she said.

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