Monday, March 29, 2010

It's hard to lose something you were so involved and invested in"

Interview with a Green Dot Animo Justice student and a teacher

I spoke with a teacher and a student from Green Dot's Animo Justice Charter High School, to gather material for a larger piece I'm working on. Green Dot founder, Steve Barr, had earlier told me that the school has been marked for closing by Green Dot's board of directors, on recommendation from the management team, on grounds that it's not cost effective to run the school with 450 students and that the school has been the "lowest performer" among a cohort of Green Dot schools.. The announcement has led to ongoing student protests and an angry response from parents.

Ismael is a 17 year-old senior at Animo Justice and vice-president of the senior class. He's on his way to college in the fall and doesn't have to worry about where he will attend high school next year. But he still sounds angry and frustrated about the closing of his school and was a participant in the student sit-in.
"I was one of the students who built this school from the beginning. I felt like it was my school," Ismael said. "They should have consulted with us and our parents and not just told us they were closing our school. If they told us earlier, maybe we could have come up with some alternatives."
On of the things that angered Ismael the most was that, "the CEO didn't even come to tell us face-to-face, but sent someone else to tell us the school was closing."

When I asked Ismael his thoughts on Animo Justice's "low performance." He responded with praise for Green Dot's teachers and pointed out that the school had been moved three times in three years and had a string of principals. "It's true that our scores should be better, but we aren't a bad school. We could improve if we were given the support we need."

One of Ismael's favorites is science teacher Judy Riemenschneider, who is in her third year at the school. Judy told me that she chose to teach at Green Dot because she wanted a small-school environment, teachers being involved in decision-making, and a union contract. But like Ismael, she was dismayed at the lack of consultation with teachers, parents and students over the decision to close Animo Justice.
"The biggest issue for me was lack of input by teachers, parents and teachers on the decision to close the school. Green Dot says that we are critical to the decision making process. But things don’t happen overnight. By involving people in advance we could have worked to resolve the situation."
While students and teachers have been told they will all be placed at other Green Dot schools, Riemenschneider is not so sure:

"Animo students are guaranteed a spot. There’s a process in place. But they’re laying off teachers from Locke [Green Dot's other cohort]. They’re going to lose some teachers. We'll all be notified on April first who will be lay-ed off and who will stay. So to say that we will all have jobs is somewhat misleading."

When I asked her about the school's dwindling enrollment and lagging performance, she responded:
"We came together. We built the school. But how can a school stay enrolled if you move around so much and have 3 principals in three years? And with all that instability, how do you make an accurate assessment of the school's progress?"
She pointed out that Animo Justice was now competing for students with a rapidly multiplying group of charters. There are now six others in the neighborhood around Jefferson High.

"But I’m passionate about this community we've built. It's hard to lose something you were so involved and invested in," she said.


  1. i totally agree. im ismael. i talk to green dots ceo on friday as other students and parents along with me marched to green dot's office. i asked him if we raised the money necessary if our school would stayed open and he got upset and said he doubt that in our community we can do that. i asked him again and told him if it was a money issue or all he cared about was the building to construct their middle school and he responded by raising his voice.

  2. Judy RiemenschneiderMarch 30, 2010 at 5:52 AM

    Thank you. That is a great blog. I really appreciate the way you have helped our school community be heard.


  3. Aside from observing how Green Dot is abandoning this community, there are additional, far reaching conclusions to draw from this tragic incident.

    Animo Justice was the only school with sufficient ELL and Special Education resources, both in the Green Dot chain, and in the school's attendance boundary (Jefferson excepted). This dearth of CMOs serving Special Ed and ELL is critical in understanding the gravity of the closure. All those I spoke to said Animo Justice had been a CMO "experiment" to prove that they really could serve similar populations to public schools, while still paying astronomical salaries to their executives, and running schools in their trademark heavy handed top down fashion. Animo Justice was going to serve as a bastion against corporate charter critics in order for Green Dot and other CMOs to claim that they weren't "skimming," and could educate every child.

    At the same time Petruzzi and Green Dot Public [sic] Schools' private, unelected board was scheming to get a piece of the shiny new Estaban Torres campus, they were also planning in secret to close Animo Justice. While we're all relived that the rest of the LAUSD board didn't follow Yolie Flores Aguilar, Inc.'s lead in giving the campus to a CMO already teetering on the edge of fiscal problems through their mendacity and sheer mismanagement, it speaks volumes to Green Dot's mentality of trying to increase market share even when they can't manage the schools they have. As for Marco Petruzzi's assertion that Animo Justice was their worst performing school, an out and out lie. That "distinction" belongs to Animo Watts II. Petruzzi's well earned reputation in Los Angeles as a pathological liar was pretty much cemented with this latest round of mendacity.

  4. i fully agree with Ismael although i have only attended this school for two years but i feel strongly about the community our school had. we all united together as one because this is OUR school and we love it. We are terrified of this news agony was bestowed upon us. we all had something to say but let justice be served the right way!

  5. Thanks to Ismael and Nayelly. I would love to hear from more Animo Justice students. Let me know how you feel about the announced school closing?
    Mike Klonsky

  6. Mike

    Thanks for this post. I will be telling our story as the opener to my upcoming film.


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