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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A big blue barrier comes between a Mt. Washington parent and her neighborhood school

It was not uncommon on school days for the front doors of Mt. Washington Elementary to be swung wide open, a welcoming symbol for kids as well as neighbors of this hillside neighborhood. But when the school reopens after the summer break, students won't be greeted by those open doors. Instead, they will encounter a big wrought iron gate that was installed a few weeks ago for reasons that have mystified and angered some residents and neighbors.

Why the school district spent an estimated $20,000 on the fence has never been made clear to parents and residents, said former Mt. Washington Elementary PTA board member Roberta Tinajero-Frankel. Tinajero notes that there is already chain link fence surrounding the rest of the campus. Vandals still managed to break into a school building over the winter break, but this new fence would not have prevented that, said Tinajero. The principal told Tinajero in May that the fence would probably not be installed because of budget cuts. But apparently the district found the funds.

"This is a school that does not have a functioning photo copier," said Tinajero. "This what our very limited resources are being spent on? It's the wrong message at the wrong time."
* * *
What bothered Tinajero, whose son attended the school, and other neighbors the most was that the decision to install the barrier was done without input from parents despite their request to get involved. One Mt. Washington resident, in an email Tinajero forwarded to principal Sosie Kralian, said the lack of community involvement about the fence could hurt the school:

"It is counterproductive to push forward with a fence without parental and community input. It is creating controversy where there needn't be any, and it's making many parents and community members feel shut out of the process and therefore upsetting them. I'm not arguing for or against a gate. I am arguing in favor of healthy communication and an atmosphere of inclusiveness."

The principal did speak about the fence in a meeting in June - after the project was already approved. There was apparently some concern about providing additional protection for kindergartners students located near the entrance. But, if there was a security concern, shouldn't residents have been notified, asks Tinajero.

The school is closed for the summer break, and principal Kralian could not be reached for comment.

Tinajero is no longer involved with the PTA since her son will be attending a charter school this fall. But she walks past the school nearly every day and the new fence serves as a reminder of the long way the school district has to go to keep parents and residents in the loop.

"I feel like the elementary school is one of the top schools in the district - it's the pride of the community," said Tinajero, a longtime Mt. Washington resident. "We should have been able to work collaboratively on this decision."

Top photo by Roberta Tinajero-Frankel; bottom images from Mt. Washington Elementary website


  1. Another fine example of consensus building by the faceless LAUSD bureaucracy. And butt-ugly to boot.

  2. And not only that. It's BLUE!!

  3. This is an outrage. Parents and neighbors should have been notified, not barridaded from their beloved. I believe this a very unhealthy message to send to the community and I am truly saddened by it.

  4. This seems like a slap in the face for our struggle to direct funds towards our children's education. The iron gate makes the school look overbearing and unwelcoming. This is the wrong message for the local tax payers and students! Is LAUSD that oblivious to our concerns for this community?

  5. sadly, this seems to also be a gate that puts more distance between parent and principal communication who hasn't been available from the start and a very bad communicator. One wonders if the fence was put up there to shut the parents out even more. The combination of Principal Kralian and the budget cuts has been a lethal dose for Mt. Washington Elementary and I'm glad that my son is going to a magnet. Quite a number of kids won't return this year. It's time we tell it as it is, because everybody has been very polite about this issue.

  6. The school has no effective leadership like it has in the past. Ms. Kralian was invited so many times to participate/collaborate with the local PTA that they are to be lauded for their efforts. Unfortunately this fence is perceived by many to be a monumnet to failed communication between the local PTA Board and Principal Kralin -- this state of affairs is in sharp contrast to past principals of MWE. Why? I would like to understand Ms. Kralian's reasoning for needing to spend this much money at this moment. I could understand if it is in reaction to documented burglarys or other active threats to student safety but I doubt it. I think there needs to be additional and immediate oversight for any new proposed building maintenance expenditures at MWE to insure that the priority of educating children is met first.

  7. Our library is slated to be closed to the students several days a week, the full time librarian of 15 years has been transfered to allow for a very part time person, the copy machine does not work, every year parents buy the students supplies that are provided for students in other schools, teachers have been dismissed and class size raised and we don't know if we will have music and art as usual unless we somehow beg plead for it and someone generously volunteers however, we have a $20,000 fence to lock the children in and the parents out. I am sure LAUSD expects the test scores that make them proud to remain high and continue to rise, are they also sure this fence instead of other necessary educational tools will do the job? LAUSD BLIND BUREAUCRACY ONE MORE TIME

  8. When I was a parent, classroom volunteer and active PTA member there anyone was physically able to walk past the school office and through the double doors of the building nearly any time school was in session. Do you think this was a good thing? Does anyone have any sensitivity to the aggravations to the staff there? Parents with legitimate reasons to be in the classroom will still be able to enter after checking in with the office. Does that not make sense to you?

    Student safety is a high priority in the district's business. Are you aware of the instances of kindergartners wandering off after school? Approving and installing these gates are usually a long process possibly pre-dating the budget crisis. Twenty thousand dollars is a small amount of money to the LAUSD and maybe not part of the budget allocated to teachers, teaching assistants, classified staff, special education, gifted funds, equipment or instructional materials. Do you know what the annual budget is for that little elementary school?

    I don't expect the parents of students in a remote, sheltered, little elementary school to have much of a perspective on the whole district but if your child ends up in an LAUSD middle or high school you can experience the obscene amount of money spent on one-on-one attendants, free and reduced price meals, IEPs, 504s, and other entitlements that the federal government requires but make NO difference in student achievement. People ought to open their eyes to that!

  9. in reply to the Aug. 1, 2009 12:01 PM post:

    Sir/Madam: The school ALREADY has double doors to keep out meandering and unannounced visitors to the school. Now we have TWO doors ostensibly used for the same reason. Why? The rule has always been that visitors are to announce themselves and get a Visitor pass at the front office first before going on to the campus. Many parents that I have spoken with agree this rule is not well enforced by the school staff. Will a second gate help implement this rule? Why do we need a second gate placed just yards in front of the other front door when the school administration can just keep the existing double doors to the foyer and gate to the kindergarten yard locked during school hours? In fact I though the original front doors were kept locked during school hours.

    And yes I think we all realize that not all budgeted money comes out of the same bucket. I too would like to know if the plan for the blue gate pre-dated Sosie Kralian's administration because it raises the question of why now? I have been a parent with a child in the school for the past 6 years. Past principals have always been more engaging with the community about big decisions. Ms. Kralian’s style is a noticeable departure from that of past principals. I think I get the sense that many parents feel there is a cloak of secrecy in the principal’s office where there wasn’t before (and needn’t not be). The PTA asked her about the gate many times and even added it to the agenda at a Board meeting only to have Ms. Kralin redact out the item as soon as she was made aware of it. If the gate is of such value to the school community it seems to me that Ms. Kralin would want to make her reasons known. Unfortunately, given the way this gate has come to be, Ms. Kralin’s style has raised more questions than it has answered.

  10. I agree, there is an alarming lack of communication between Sosie Kralian and the parent community. As Roberta Tinajero-Frankel says in the article, "I'm not arguing for or against a gate. I am arguing in favor of healthy communication and an atmosphere of inclusiveness." I applaud this sentiment. It's appalling that Ms. Kralian refused to discuss the topic at the Board meeting.

    Controversy and confusion could have been avoided if Ms. Kralian had just decided to come out of her customary stance of hiding, for once, and just talked to the parents about this topic.

  11. I agree with the previous poster. The gate, which seems rather pointless once you see it, is not the issue. The Kralian administration cloaks itself in secrecy and creates an atmosphere of confusion and anger for us parents with children who attend MWE. Granted I have had 2 children who attend the school and have had my issues with the previous principle, however one could actually see and talk to Mrs. Poole whenever the need arose. She attended functions with the PTA and seemed to genuinely care about the education and well being of the kids of MWA. Kralien is an unknown after her few years at the school. As a parent who picks up and drops of a child every day and is a (semi) regular attendee of events I can honsetly say that I have no idea who she is and what she stands for and am extreamly dissapointed that LAUSD continues to allow this behavior to continue.

  12. I have had no experience with Ms. Kralian. It sounds like she could employ better management skills. Maybe this is an extreme case, but I have not known a school principal who did not at all times have a parent or group of parents speaking out strongly against them. When my children were at Mt. Washington, over a period of 10 years, we had several principals. Some were delightful, some enigmatic, one dreadful until I found she had debilitating family problems. I just wouldn't sweat this issue so much. Be glad your children are in such a nice school. The real problem is what to do with them after elementary when they have to come down off the hill and mix it up with the general population. Oh, yeah, there has always been a contingent up there that wants to extend Mt. Washington through the eighth grade.

    Does someone really have to say this? Some parents are a nuisance. Come on now, is it a surprise that there are so many people up there that think they are super special and above the law? THE STAFF WANTS THE GATE. Parents are coming into the school without following this rule that has been mentioned several times above. They always have. I admit from my own experience that it's a big drag to sign in and out. Who do you think is going to stop people or send them back to the office for a visitor's pass? It's awkward to confront people, and especially those with whom you'd like to maintain a good relationship. Is it possible the staff is quiet about the gate because people will be offended? And, aren't there students being sent to the office throughout the day, which is outside those "pointless" double doors? If there's no money for a full time librarian, do you think anyone would approve funds for a security guard to sit at the front door?

  13. I do not know what you mean by 'nuisance.' My understanding is that the staff
    is very divided over the value of the 2nd gate. The staff can always lock the front
    doors and enforce the existing rules. That is their job. That is what your tax
    money pays for. The point that I hear is that the PTA wanted to understand why
    the gate is needed now -- and at such a huge expense. Ms. Kralin may very
    well be a rebel without a cause as she is too unexperienced to deal with such
    an active PTA. I have also heard some rumors of Ms. Kralin's
    arbitrariness in her decision making process and this has alarmed some parents
    and teachers alike. We will have to wait and see how effective she really is in
    this role.

  14. I have been a parent of a Mt. Washington Elementary child for the past 8 years and currently have a Kindergarnarder there. I base the current principles performance on it's past principles, and my own life experinces and higher education. Ms. Kralin lacks the communication skills and the effectiveness to lead that is required to run a top rated school like Mt. Washington. The previous principal was at every PTA meeting and expressed genuinely, concern about education and the kids. Ms. Kralin's best interpersonal skill is to tell the parent what they want to hear at the moment or simply brush them off.
    It appears she is more often worried about her "JOB" than the education of the kids. I think the time to wait is over. Four years of ineffective, divisive, non-commital participation with the PTA is long enough to prove that she is incapable of dealing with an active and involved PTA like the one at Mt Washington Elementary.

    We are all concerned about our childrens saftey but the blue gate is not a credible deterrent. Lets face it, someone truly hell bent on malice would focus on a child out of sight of others. The gate offers a false sence of security. It does impress the image impenetrability, "for parants". The staff quietly encourages parents to complain about the gate, and the principle. Cat out of the bag...
    Walls and gates all over the world have come to stand for many things intolerance, segregation, dispite best intentions. The big blue gate at Mt Washington Elementary is a blunder in so many ways.

    "Nuisance parents"? To whom is a parant a nuisance? Ms. Kralian? So be it, if she would rather spend time with her own three year old than do her job. Rather than lable a parent, wouldn't it be better to advocate for us!

    LAUSD is a monster with too much bureaucracy, and our school is small and "hidden". But, make no mistake I chose Mt Washington because of the school and support it in every way. We do not blindly educate our children with a utopian belief that LAUSD is not spending frivolously on unproven programs elsewhere. So to the commenter above, lets focus on our great "little school" and let the middle schools be met with our highly educated Mount Washington Kids...

    Nuisance Parent, Voter, Taxpayer...