It’s late May, and students at Venice High are celebrating the end of AP exams, preparing for finals, and eagerly anticipating summer. We have already submitted our course list for the 2015-2016 school year and most of us are preparing for extracurricular activities and college applications.
Then we find out some terrible news: several teachers and one counselor from Venice High will lose their jobs. This includes the school’s only Mandarin teacher, Timothy Liang, award winning and only graphic arts teacher, Art W. Lindauer, and the only college counselor, Nilou Pourmoussa.
The cuts to staff are particularly damaging to the school’s World Language and Global Studies magnet. The magnet school has a high API score of 891 and was yet again named an “Excelling Magnet” in 2014. One of its most attractive programs is its Mandarin language program. The World Language and Global Studies magnet is a major player in Venice High’s fight against its reputation for gang violence, sending students to schools such as MIT, Stanford, Yale, and top UC schools on a yearly basis.
Reasons for the displacement include a decrease in projected World Language and Global Studies magnet enrollment based on numbers from 2013 and cuts to Title 1 funding. So far, the magnet has recruited nearly 40 new students, overcompensating for the projected decrease. Numbers will be reevaluated in the fall semester.
Timothy Liang, the school’s only Mandarin teacher, will be displaced, which entails the loss of the school’s Mandarin program. Students will be robbed of the opportunity to win the district’s bi-literacy award for completing four years of the same language, which provides scholarship opportunities and recognition. Other current students will have a blemish on their college applications for not completing three or four years of the same language. Venice was formerly one of the few schools in LAUSD that offered four years of Mandarin classes to its students, and it will now be unable to provide this amazing opportunity.
The loss of Mr. Liang is also very personal to his students.
“Mr. Liang is the most influential teacher I’ve had as a student. He’s inspired me to admire a whole different culture and take a passion for something like I’ve never had before,” says current Mandarin 2 student Ruben Garcia. “Mr. Liang is a very empathetic teacher. He’s young and understands how hectic a student’s life is. In addition, he’s quite a jokester and it’s great to have humor in a learning setting. We grasp concepts in a fun way.”
Liang organized and chaperoned a trip to Beijing in 2015, and his classes previously participated in a student exchange program with Shanghai.
“He took me on my first international trip to China and made the best and most memorable experiences in my lifetime,” says Garcia.
Art W. Lindauer is an award winning graphic arts and design teacher who will also be displaced. Lindauer teaches graphic arts and design classes at the school, and sponsors the after school graphic arts club. Without Mr. Lindauer, Super Shop 9, the school’s graphic design studio and the highest ranked shop in the district, will be shut down. The shop took more than ten years to establish and has a $3 million grant attached to it that will be lost.
Students rely on the shop for free printing and design services provided to Venice High clubs and teams. Other students were able to launch their careers in the arts right out of Super Shop 9 by printing and selling their work.
“[Graphic arts] is a really nice trade because you can always get hired for it,” says graduating senior Njeri Gachoka, a member of the graphic arts club. Gachoka also relied on Super Shop 9 to print t-shirts for the school’s FIRST robotics team.
With no graphic arts class, the equipment will be packed up and removed from the school. Students will have to look elsewhere for these services.
Lindauer has faced displacement many times before. He is at increased risk because of his unique role as a technical art teacher, which has a different contract from other teachers in LAUSD.
Nilou Pourmoussa is the college counselor at Venice High School. Pourmoussa’s job is to write letters of recommendation for all students applying to colleges that require counselor recommendations, recommend students for scholarships, bring college representatives to the school, administer the PSAT and Advanced Placement examinations, and offer guidance to students lost in the college admissions process and career counseling to students who are choosing not to pursue higher education.
The news that the school will lose its only college counselor is frightening to parents and students.
“I don’t want my daughter to go to a school without a college counselor, because I know that’s the reason I couldn’t go to college,” says Linda Patterson-Salib, parent of a sophomore at Venice High. Pourmoussa recommended her daughter for a scholarship award. “It really breaks my heart.”
Without Ms. Pourmoussa, students will struggle when applying to college, and other counselors, who have no experience in this area, will have to divide up the work she did. In the past, other counselors have refused to write letters of recommendation for students applying to college.
Venice High lost its German program two years ago under similar circumstances and the graphic arts shop has been threatened numerous times before. Sadly, Venice is not alone in this struggle. Other schools across LAUSD are currently threatened with staff displacement.
Students delivered a petition with over 500 signatures to Steve Zimmer, a district official, during a school board meeting, begging LAUSD to keep current teachers and staff at Venice High. Concerned students and parents can also write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Many students are attempting to organize protests and create new petitions.
It is unclear how cutting staff members and programs will help Venice High School attract high achieving students, decrease class sizes, and promote student success, thus solving some of the problems that made these cuts seem necessary. Loss of staff and classes puts a burden on current students and damages the future of the school.