Animo Watts Under Scrutiny by Parents and Teachers
Since 1999 when Steve Barr established Green Dot Schools, a non-profit organization, as an alternative to substandard and failing schools under the Los Angeles Unified School District umbrella it has been a hot topic educational conversation.
When Jefferson High School was under student strife and turmoil, Green Dot came in with its method of creating smaller individual schools within the walls of Jefferson and the turmoil and strife vanished, test scores improved and harmony was restored.
Again in 2004, when only 14 of more than 500 African American students graduated from storied Locke High School in Watts, Green Dot’s formula for success intervened and divided the school population into eight separate schools. The drop out rate declined, test scores went up and Locke became a model school.
Earlier this week during and exclusive interview with Green Dot CEO Marco Petruzzi at Animo Watts Charter on south Avalon nestled between the Urban League Work Source building and Magic Johnson Park north of El Segundo, Petruzzi consistently highlighted the Locke story.
“There are many reasons for the failing of Locke, but those kids didn’t have a chance because the teachers did not care enough,” he said.
However, the primary reason that Petruzzi came to meet with the reporter at Animo Watts was because of alleged complaints that students, parents and teachers lodged against newly hired principal James R. Marin.
Animo Watts is just 4 and a half years old, but already is working on its third principal at a school with 554 students and a ethnic ratio of 78 percent Hispanics and 22 percent African Americans.
Only two of its 27 teachers are African American, not including the assistant principal Chrystie Edwards who is also Black.
Ironically, many of the complaints regarding the principal and school are from non-Hispanic or Black teachers who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.
A notion that was quickly dismissed by Petruzzi, citing union bylaws and legal ramifications.
Among the charges sources alleged at Watts Animo are racism where African American students are treated different than their Hispanic classmates.
A parent contends that Marin lied to African American parents about establishing a parental group where they could participate activities that pertain to their child.
Additionally, it was alleged that Watts Animo does not adequately allow for excelling students to increase their grade point average beyond 4.0 because the school only has one API course.
Green Dot officials counter that offering more API courses than students meet, that criteria would diminish their GPA and hurt their collegiate opportunities if the school offered such courses and they refused to enroll in them.
Nine teachers have quit according to sources and have been replaced by full-time substitutes, some of whom are qualified to become full time teachers, but have yet to be hired on a permanent basis.
Others have been reprimanded. Green Dot officials say the teachers are disgruntled because Marin is demanding more of them to the benefit of the students.
However, according to one teacher: “Our grading system is why a lot of the teachers have quit. It is impossible for students to receive a failing grade because if they write their name and answer one question they get a D, but also impossible to earn an A.”
Teachers complain that since Marin has arrived they no longer have control of their grading books.
The confidential letters from the teachers detailed a significant high level of stress since Marin has been principal at the school for just more than four months. Green Dot officials are not allowed to comment on personnel matters.
The teachers who quit are all members of the AMU Green Dot teachers union and not LAUTA, which have a contentious relationship with Green Dot.
Green Dot officials admit they are not perfect, but point to their record of improving schools. They say it will take some time to get there at Animo Watts.
One of the funding sources for Green Dot includes The Bill Gates Foundation and another is the W.M. Keck Foundation, which just forked over a $400,000 donation to the organization.
Such elaborate revenue streams allows for Green Dot to hire the best educational professionals, but this formula has not resonated at Animo Watts, according to sources.
“They have been receiving the funding under the assumption that they would keep the growing successful schools, but it appears their efforts are to force closure of Animo Watts to justify to the donors why they are increasing class sizes at other schools,” said one source.
Would Green Dot sacrifice Animo Watts students for profit? Are their powerful donors aware of Animo Watts situation? Does anybody care?