To the students, families and community that have supported Olympic Continuation High School.
At the end of this school year I will be resigning-in-protest as Principal of Olympic, the Independent Study Program and the Adult Education Center. This was the only Principal job I ever wanted and the only one to which I applied. Believe me when I say that I would have gladly spent the rest of my career here and be as honored to serve on the last day as I was on my first. This is an agonizing decision, but I find myself complicit in a hypocrisy that harms the very students and families I have tried to serve for the last 20 years. My complicity is especially painful because I went along with the so called “reductions” I was asked to make, foolishly assuming other schools were doing the same, and that other students in the District would also lose access to the Arts and on-campus guidance counseling. I was completely wrong.
I now run the only secondary school in the Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District that has no Counselor on campus and no District funded Electives taught by a credentialed human being. If you know anything about my district, you would well be aware of the strengths of our visual and performing arts programs (VAPA). Unfortunately, the Board and Leadership have decided that Olympic students are not worth the expenditure. Worse, our students are forced to share a campus with a program the District obviously does support. While our now unused music rooms sit idle and student art from years past sadly adorn my office walls, the new program has a room with all kinds of high end expensive technology that is there solely to support their academic classes! And that is just an extra! Because midway through their school day, PPBL students walk over to SAMO High and enjoy the most amazing electives our District has to offer! And it’s not just the Visual and Performing Arts that our District denies to Olympic students: Career Technical Education classes are also for others. You won’t find any Olympic students in SAMO’s state-of-the-art Auto shop.
The next time you attend Stairway to the Stars, the amazing Winter Choir Concert, a sporting event or the District Art Show take a close look at those not included. Ask yourself, is this fair?
And the idea that “at-risk” or “at-promise” students would not need a guidance counselor on campus? It’s like some sort of dark comedy. I can’t understand the rational that decided this was ok (none of us were part of the conversation). To be fair, the expectation was that our students would access their Advisors on the SAMO campus remotely, but the decision was made without any understanding (or care) of the students that come to Olympic. It is most certainly not Equitable.
How cynical is this lack of belief in our students? While the District chose to create and expand the project based learning program, it also chose to take resources from our site. Olympic teachers must now teach all subjects, denying our students the expertise of a credentialed teacher working within their discipline. While it is legal to do so under state education code, it is a choice, and it has consequences for our most vulnerable student population. That fact alone should raise alarms, because it is evident that this Board and this Leadership team specifically chose to abandon their responsibility to our more vulnerable students while investing in those that are born with greater advantages. I base my allegation on the observation that the majority of the students in the PPBL are born to college educated parents. This is important because parents’ access to elite education is one of the leading indicators of whether or not a child will be successful in life and in school. Have we thus created a school to serve those more fortunate? Is this what is meant by “equity?” (By the way, we say “ours,” because most Olympic students are products of our school district, a fact some seem to want to forget when students are referred to our school.)
Believe it or not, there are school districts where the superintendent and the school board actually follow the students that wind up at their continuation schools, because they believe that they are ultimately responsible.
The new Principal for Olympic High School is one of the most talented and authentic leaders in our District, and the staff here, though diminished, is strong. I wept with gratitude when I learned of her selection. Our children will be in good hands, but you as a community must support Olympic High school students! Do not allow this inequitable disparity to continue!
If you believe the Arts save lives (they do) make sure this District provides VAPA education for Olympic students.
If you believe that Olympic High school students deserve a guidance counselor on campus, that they, like their contemporaries have a future worth planning, make sure this District provides an on-campus counselor.
To be clear, I am resigning because of the complete and total disregard of Olympic Continuation High School students and their families by the leadership of this school district. In the 7 years I have been Principal only 1 Board member, Ralph Mechur, ever bothered to email, call or stop by to specifically ask about Olympic High school students or our amazing staff. And thank you to Jennifer Smith reaching out and supporting graduating Olympic seniors this year. This issue is not new. There were articles published in the Santa Monica Observer in the 1990’s about the maltreatment of Olympic students and I have asked the Editor of the Daily Press to investigate my claims. Our stated values need to catch up to our most vulnerable students.
Thank you for trusting us with your children. For many of you it wasn’t easy, especially in light of the negative stereotypes that our District needs to foster and maintain about Olympic (the existential threat of being sent to Olympic, “where the Bad Kids are” begins in early in middle school, according to our students), but you came anyway. Many of you had already “gone to the Principal’s office” with your students so many times that you and your child probably began to believe that somehow your kid wasn’t cut out for College or a rewarding professional occupation. Yet you still believed in your child, and we did as well. With your trust and the hard work of a committed, dedicated staff we were able to hold your students accountable in a positive way that ultimately helped your child learn to believe in themselves. We now have students at Cal State Universities, UC Berkeley, UC Irvine, UC Santa Cruz and UCLA. We have helped students become clinical social workers, Linemen, scientists, chefs, contractors, professional artists, stylists, plumbers and small business owners to name a few. And we did it with little more than amazing, committed people.
Most importantly, Olympic graduates are engaged citizens, loving parents and supportive friends to those they love. I’m proud to know them, thankful I was allowed to be a part of their journey.
Anthony Fuller, Olympic Principal