From 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., calculus teacher Arthuro Nunez doesn’t take a break. He walks into Inglewood High School an hour before school starts to lead a classroom of 10 academic decathlon students preparing for their upcoming competition.
Then Nunez, who is also the head of the math department, teaches six periods rather than the usual five, since there aren’t enough math teachers to cover all the necessary classes.
“If I don’t do it, no one else would do it,” Nunez said.
And after that, Nunez stays to coach both robotics and softball.
At Inglewood High, Nunez is just one of many teachers who dedicate time outside of teaching responsibilities to school activities, as Inglewood Unified School District deals with budget problems while continuing to try to improve academic programs at school.
Last year, the district — which has been under state control since 2012 — considered implementing a plan that would cut teachers’ pay by 7% and lay off 60 teachers, according to previous reporting in the L.A. Times.
In the end, the layoffs and pay cuts didn’t happen, but for years, students have complained about a lack of clubs and programs and about the rundown appearance of the school.
Over the last four years, Inglewood High School has lost six clubs and a class: the swim team, debate team, golf team, knitting club, Black Student Union, chess club and the Mathematical Engineering Science Achievements class, where students would work on engineering projects.
Meanwhile, the number of both students and teachers has declined by 60% in the last 14 years, according to data from the California Department of Education. The graduation rate at Inglewood is 85%. That’s 10% less than that of Culver City High School and 12% less than that of North High School in Torrance.
Students have complained, but teachers such as Nunez have stepped up.
In spite of the problems the school has, Inglewood teachers say they know what their students are capable of and that is what drives them. They point to signs of improvement in district communication and transparency but are also taking matters into their own hands.
Nunez, who graduated from Inglewood High School in 2000, knows just how limited resources are at the school, so he advises three teams and a club: the academic decathlon, robotics and softball teams, and the otaku club, where students play video games and watch anime during lunch.
He has also taken recent graduates twice to freshman orientations at Cal State Chico, which they would have otherwise been unable to attend because their parents worked full time.
“One student even offered to pay for the ride,” Nunez said. “[I said,] ‘No, you don’t have to give me money. I’m just doing it to help you guys.’ ”
For students, that has meant new opportunities.
“Robotics gave me the idea that I did want to go to college,” said Carol Marquez, a 2016 graduate. “I met a lot of people that were involved in the engineering community … I met someone who worked in NASA.”
World history teacher Shannon Ibarra tries her best to advise newer clubs, but her efforts are limited due to family obligations. Through her sophomore Advancement Via Individual Determination class this year, her students created new clubs — including a bookworm club, food club and community service club — as part of a semester project.
Ibarra hopes the clubs will become official this fall.
“I will probably end up having a few of them,” she said. “I think I have more unofficial clubs than official clubs.”
Nunez has also felt short on time. He briefly resigned as softball coach in 2017 due to the time commitment.
No one else stepped up to take over, and the team was not going to be able to compete.
“If it were to get canceled, I would feel unmotivated in a way,” said Luz Martinez, a rising senior and softball player who joined the team in 2018. “Because for a lot of us, it’s, like, we love playing. Good or not, it’s a good form of having free time but in a healthy manner.
“I know some girls may have problems at home, and that’s a getaway,” Martinez said.
So Nunez rejoined.
“They didn’t get a new coach,” he said. “So February came, and that’s when the season starts. They had no coach. They’re about to forfeit. And the girls came back and begged me, will I do it, and I said OK.”
Clubs require not only advising but also funding to keep going. Funding is coordinated by the Associated Student Body, an organization composed of students elected by the school.
Inglewood High School Principal Debra Tates, who has been working there for more than 10 years, said clubs are supported primarily through fundraisers and donations approved by ASB. All clubs must also have an adviser, which Tate said can be difficult to find because teachers don’t always have time to volunteer.
“The more teachers we get involved, the more activities we can have,” Tate said.
Steps toward progress
Social science teacher Dion Gordon is another teacher who volunteers extra time. Having grown up in Inglewood, he said he understands the need for leaders and role models who can relate to students.
“We have potential,” Gordon said of the Inglewood High School community “because I know the human being has potential, and when you’re in a more of an impoverished or a lower socio-economic class, a lot of times you don’t have a person that comes in there and says you have potential.”
Gordon, who is the head of the social science department, is also in charge of 12th grade AVID and APEX Learning social science. Despite all he does, Gordon feels like it is not enough.
“I don’t think it’s a lot — I’m almost a little embarrassed because there’s so much [that] needs to be done,” he said.
Gordon worked with the district and other social science teachers from across the district’s three high schools this summer to create curriculum for American government and economics for the district. He said teachers from all departments volunteered to work on their own subjects’ curriculum.
“[Being] able to participate like that, that’s what we like, you know,” Gordon said. “That’s what we love.”
He hopes the new curriculum will catch the attention of students and offer skills and knowledge they can use in the future.
According to Inglewood Teacher Association President Aba Ngissah, teachers are also working on other aspects of restructuring and reform for Inglewood High School.
“They’re looking at things from block scheduling, to the way they teach, to the different courses that are being offered — all of that is in play right now,” Ngissah said.
Ngissah also said that the district has been working with community partners such as the American Federation of Musicians to create more opportunities for students. Officials are also hoping to expand their partnership with nearby aerospace companies to bring STEM opportunities.
“Part of the work is identifying corporations through different partners,” said Thelma Melendez de Santa Ana, the Inglewood Unified School District’s state administrator. “We also have community partners that are interested in developing career pathways that will help address identifying opportunities.”
The root of encouragement
One of Ibarra’s reasons for teaching is seeing students excited to learn and feeling connected with students through teaching.
“You know when you finally get that one student — arms crossed, sits back in the room, hard to participate — to actually enjoy what they are doing, it’s very rewarding,” Ibarra said. “I think of these moments. This is why I’m still in the classroom.”
Nunez’s motivation comes from his fifth-grade teacher, Alana Raegen. She kept in contact with her students throughout middle school and high school and would often give them gifts such as dictionaries.
When Nunez applied to college, Raegen paid his admission fees.
“So I think back to that,” Nunez said. “She always helped us out and, you know, our parents can’t always do that.”
For Gordon, his care for his community drives him to motivate his students to overcome the stereotypes of Inglewood High School.
“I see beyond the conditions,” he said. “I’m not influenced by my environment. I influence my environment.”
U.S. history teacher Jacqueline Sparrow fell in love with Inglewood High School’s band as a student, in 1978. She would attend the football games just to see the band march with its 150-girl drill team on Kelso Street.
“My boyfriend was in the band,” said Sparrow, laughing. “He played the trumpet.”
She continues to support the school band as a teacher there. She shows up every Friday during football season in the band’s varsity jacket and never misses a game.
As the band walks down, she is always right along with it.
“I think it’s good that students see that you’re there to support them,” Sparrow said.
That kind of support affects students’ overall feeling about their city. Students like senior Yamira Romero see an Inglewood that doesn’t look like its statistics.
“You know what? Inglewood might have had a bad reputation,” Romero said. “But there are faculty who actually care, there are administrators who care about your well-being and want you to succeed.”
She said students can choose what to see and what to ignore.
“It just depends if you are willing to turn a blind eye,” Romero said. “Like, if you’re willing to listen, and to see that there are teachers that care for the students, there are administrators who want you to succeed and not fail. I am proud to be from Inglewood.”