South East High School in South Gate opened in Fall of 2006, to help relieve overcrowding in nearby South Gate and Huntington Park High Schools.
It did not seem to help much, because the average class had 42 students. The first ten weeks of the school year, there were 48 students in a class, on average! Still, the new high school offered a lot, at first. New buildings, a state of the art library.Soon, though, the same problems that had plagued nearby schools were making themselves felt at South East High. It makes no difference how new the buildings, how state-of-the-art the technology.
I complained to the Assistant Principal in charge of counseling. He promised to bring the numbers DOWN to 42. 42 students! The first week, one young students saw almost every chair taken, including the makeshift fold-out chairs. He told me what I was already thinking: Go back to the counselor and switch classes. Insanity! I sent the kid back, but the counselor wrote a detailed note, one explaining that I was to let the students stay in class until the classes could be normalized.
The numbers in my class dwindled down to 45, but that was still way too much. I could barely move around the room without tripping on desks. By law, every class had to have two computers available. I had to put away one of them because I needed the desk for a student. On one side of the room, I had two doors, but at least five students were trapped behind other students. I have no idea how those students would have left the room if a fire broke out.
I put up with this overdworing for ten weeks. When the first quarter was about to end, I confronted my union rep, telling him about the overcrowding which had not gotten any better in my classroom. He told me that other teachers were thinking about circling a petition, demanding that either the class sizes would have to shrink, or someone was going to call the fire marshall. After I told him what I was going through, he agreed to speak to the Assistant Principal. The next day, three students were suddenly transferred from my class, all headed for PE. Pulled from one overcrowded class, dumped into another -- that was the shuffle that defined my experience at South East High School.
Why build new schools if they are just going to be filled up with more students? Why bother? Sure, the whole investment is a nice little sop to a construction company, but what about the well-being and welfare of the students and the education that they are supposed to be receiving? I still cannot understand why there has not been enough outraged top down to deal with this nonsensical and frustrated waste of time, energy, and opportunity.
If students have nothing but a big class full of kids and little else, then why force kids to go to school in the first place? An education comes in all shapes and sizes, not just in a classroom, not just under the hollow behest of a hurried teacher and overwhelmed facilities. I do not want to hear or read any more about reform. Years of politicking and transfers, changing leadership with no change in class and curriculum is hurting everyone. The youth in our schools do not need one more set of experts planning their way out of problems which defy centralization and intellectual construction. I believe, like former New York Teacher of the Year John Taylor Gatto that genius is as common as dirt, and that our students know full well that they are getting taken for a ride in substandard schools that do not protect them, that do prepare them, that do not parent them as needed. The increasing size of classrooms is just one of many symptoms of a government monopoly that serves bureaucrats and politicians, not the students or the parents.