LBUSD Meeting on New City School Escalates Into Civil Disobedience

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Protestors outside of the LBUSD offices. Photo courtesy of Marcos Aguilar.

New City Public School (NCPS), a chartered educational institution that has been in operation in Long Beach since 2000, has faced an uphill battle over the past year in order to keep operating.

In early May, the Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD) issued NCPS a “Notice to Cure” that threatened the revocation of the school’s charter if academic and financial deficiencies continued. This followed a previous threat to revoke the school’s charter via the state.

The defense for New City reached a pinnacle at yesterday’s LBUSD Board meeting where those in attendance–ranging from the executive director of the school to parents of students–expressed deep concern with not only the charter possibly being revoked, but with LBUSD’s interpretations of their troubles.

“[Part of] the recommendation for the notice of intent to revoke the charter claims we are in default on the Westbrook Loan when in fact they provided New City with a forbearance agreement for the entire ’12-’13 school year,” stated NCPS executive director Sabrina Bow, who also pointed out that the school’s other major loan was also approved for forbearance.

Bow’s allotted speaking time was the least emotionally or philosophically driven, focusing on how she plans on directly handling the school’s financial and academic burdens. Her defense of the school attempted to point out that LBUSD’s accusations were either ill-grounded or entirely misinformed.

This was also similar to Middleton, Young & Minney attorney Michelle Ruskofsky’s speech. Ruskofsky represented NCPS’s legal counsel and simply stated she was “here to introduce a proposal to discontinue the revocation process tonight in exchange for of a memorandum of understanding (MOU),” where the only way to truly handle the problem is to sit down in a face-to-face meeting.

“This action plan [in the MOU I submitted] will be worked out between both [the LBUSD and New City] following tonight’s meeting and will be included and signed into the agreement,” Ruskofsky said. “This action plan shall hold New City specifically accountable to specific timelines and benchmarks, special auditing in compliance reporting and ensure an implementation of all items listed in the school’s management report.”

However, the defenses proffered for the school were not all entirely practical or systemically driven through financial and legal speak. A host of speakers highlighted one single major philosophical approach in which New City implements: critical thinking. Some of the defenses were hyperbolic–with one parent, local artist Gregorio Luke, angrily stating to “not kill this flower. What is at stake is the future of our children. What is at stake is the future of America”–while many, despite one’s views on standardized testing as true and valid measurement of a student’s academic capability, were well-stated.

A check from real estate investor Morrie Golchech.

Joshua Host, co-CEO of Urban Village Development, pointed out not only NCPS’s transformation of the surrounding neighborhoods into a cleaner and more family-oriented space, but also public education’s current lack of getting children to think critically.

Morrie Golcheh, a real estate investor who appeared with a $7.1 million check for NCPS, emphasized how the school’s bilingual and cultural diversity programs that are incorporated into their academic curriculum prepare students for business and work with the rising economic powers in Central and South Americas.

Dr. Dean Toji, a professor at Cal State Long Beach who’s two children attend NCPS, pointed out that NCPS successfully teaches English to ESL (English-as-a-second-language) students two-to-one. And Teo Veliz, an incoming sixth grader, became too choked up to even speak of his own defense of his education, leaving the podium in tears.

However, if it was anyone who emphasized the values of education that New City attempts to embody most eloquently, it was Stephanie Lee, the school’s co-founder and current Director of Academic Programs, who began her speech with children offering each of the board members a basket of fresh vegetables from NCPS’s urban farm.

Students offering the Board fresh vegetables from NCPS’s urban farm during Stephanie Lee’s (left) speech.

“Shame on anyone who thinks he or she can sum up the work of our school with a spreadsheet or calculator,” she said to cheers from the audience.

She was not entirely philosophical, though. Lee countered LBUSD’s request to alter their English Arts program with evidence of their bilingual submersion’s success, claiming the school holds a “rich literacy program” that not only teaches them language but makes students enjoy the act of reading.

“As you consider your vote on whether or not New City should be allowed to continue to operate within this city,” she said, “I ask that you set aside the notion that measuring student progress with the widely-discounted, outdated, unreliable, prejudiced Star Test and that you continue instead with most powerful assessment tool there is: parent satisfaction and the ability of parents within this community to make an informed decision about their children’s education.”

Then civil disobedience took hold of the meeting.

NCPS parent Madeline Holler being escorted following disruption of the meeting.

Following the allotted 30 minutes provided to speakers and defenders of NCPS, the Board opted to move on with other matters when Madeline Holler, a NCPS parent and Long Beach resident, said she had a staff report that was supposed to be on the agenda which permitted her to speak.

Dr. Felton Williams, president of the Board, insisted that all requests to address the Board were for New City’s revocation, while Holler insisted she was not wishing to speak on that matter, but her dissatisfaction with LBUSD Superintendent Christopher Steinhauser. Without another single word, Holler approached the podium and began to speak her mind on what she felt was the inept and unethical performance of Steinhauser.

“[We] have no confidence in the ability of Long Beach Unified School District Superintendent Christopher Steinhauser, nor his staff,” she loudly stated. “Steinhauser has shown a pervasive pattern of prejudice towards charter schools, one that is systematically denying educational choice to families in Long Beach.” She was eventually escorted out of the room.

NCPS parent Carlos Angeles being escorted.

Then another NCPS parent, Carlos Angeles, continued her speech from where she was cut off, leading to his removal by police. Soon, six parents attempted to finish Holler’s anti-Steinhauser manifesto when the Board officially ended the meeting while parents were forcefully removed and the crowd was asked to vacate the building entirely.

Luke, the parent who spoke earlier, began to scream “Pigs!” at the officers (see video above) while students and NCPS supporters outside began to loudly bang drums and chant (see video below).

It unclear where New City will go from here until their final meeting with the LBUSD on August 20. 

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