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Letter to the Editor: LAUSD School Board Election

An open letter to my fellow, locally-politically engaged neighbors:

I'm writing because many of us Mar Vistans have lived and worked alongside Kate Anderson these past few years on local political issues and I see that her list of endorsing co-volunteers is lengthy, in many cases replete with a yard sign.  I'm writing because I feel that supporting her in this school board election against Steve Zimmer is a mistake.  I hope you will hear me out.  This is a mostly personal argument and plea; but the personal is always political and this decision matters as deeply as anything can.  I am heartsick to witness the slow-motion undermining of Steve Zimmer's incumbency.

Just for some anchoring perspective, my family comes to the public school educational game from private school.  My two girls attended the well-regarded private lab school at UCLA alongside some stratospherically rich and famous folks.  It was an education indeed.  For middle school they rolled back down the hill to Palms Middle School, a really interesting educational setup with a high proportion of relatively scholastically advanced kids learning alongside kids not thus-identified.  Our experience in this school has been overwhelmingly positive for its superior academics and true, deep opportunity for integration of socioeconomic status, class, color, nationality, learning skills, social skills - this public school in the heart of our community educates a mixture of children so diverse that I never really thought it could be possible to address such disparate needs adequately.  It is an existential breath of fresh air to interact with teachers and administrators steeped in professionalism and competence.

At the same time the deprivation in our academic (and social) system is breath-taking.  Comprehending the why, how and ramifications of all this provides its own well-spring of educational learning.  At some point I was so upset with the Los Angeles Unified School District I even thought of running for the school board myself.  I really know next to nothing about the complicated nexus of academics and politics, but it seemed that there was a need for some practical eyewitness experience.

The relevant question in addressing this step was:  who is our school board member; the system may be broken but is our explicit contribution to it as well?  And the answer is:  no.  It is not only "no", but it turns out the man representing us, Steve Zimmer, is uncommonly good at this thankless job of LAUSD school board member (salary:  +/- 47K, district, ~ 300 square miles? Š that's a guess; it is vast for sure).  He is extremely thoughtful and knowledgeable, well-versed in a vast ocean of issues and quite frankly a deep, independent thinker.  One with whom I might not even agree on some of the vast panoply of hot issues.  But one I can trust to have considered very carefully an issue from all sides and developed a morally-anchored, reasoned opinion.  Committing to binary yeah-nay decisions on such complex issues - never mind how many there are - is not easy.  It is in fact monumentally difficult to choose yes or no about a complicated question come the end of the day.  Steve Zimmer is a principled thinker and he comes to decisions through a circuitous route that includes priorities that are aligned properly:  with kids - ALL kids, independent of color, class, even educational achievement.  He is weighing a multitude of complex, competing interests toward an end of maximizing fairness and educational excellence for the whole community.  This is huge.

And I very much fear it is not the case for his opponent.  She is on record and takes money from big, deep-pocketed individuals and organizations, supporting a fractious system that would divide the education of our children into "separate but equal" camps.  We have done that experiment, it did not and does not work and it was even ruled illegal, a long time ago now.  Charter schools and providing "choice" to parents turn out to be just another way - in practice at least - to segregate and sequester resources for one sector of society at the expense of the rest.  This is no way to engage in building and sustaining community, it is divisive and simply put: unfair.  It is a repudiation, to my mind, of what makes our country great:  the open and available opportunity for all.  Without a good, publicly-supported education, young people stand no chance of securing a satisfying place for themselves in the social hierarchy.  Closing the doors on certain classes of society to schools where the most resources are husbanded, does exactly that:  it dooms those on the outside to inferior opportunities.

Please make no mistake that this is exactly and precisely what the charter schools are doing in reality.  They are excluding the hard-to-educate, the needy, the resource-intensive pupils in ghettos of inferior quality.  Conversely, the white-lining of certain schools where only a certain slice of society is allowed to matriculate, is quite simply hiding all the cookies in a drawer to which you control access, countenancing only your own.  That is the narrow solution proposed by Kate Anderson and the lock-step corporate bloc that supports her.

And it is unnecessary.  It is my personal experience at least, that it is possible to educate huge swathes of amazingly disparate people excellently.  They do it at Palms MS.  It's the teachers, quite frankly, though I personally define the term "teachers" to include the entire community of adults in my children's school.  They all work together as a team toward educating their charges, my children and I wish yours:  librarians, vice-principals, bathroom cleaners.  I couldn't learn without all these separate needs attended to and neither can your children:  they are all 'teachers' in a learning community as far as I am concerned.

So I am writing to my fellow local stakeholders, because it has not been my impression, working alongside many of you in various neighborhood issues, that any of us is really in the business of excluding some.  All the more reason, then, that supporting Kate Anderson seems misplaced for the values it was my impression that most of us do hold.  We currently have a person working tremendously hard to steer a fair line through a very complicated field of competing interests.  The solutions proposed by Ms Anderson are not fair, are not reasoned, are not democratic.  They are not supportable.  Why, therefore, would any support her?

Thanks for hearing me out.  I am of course more than willing to communicate privately about this; I really, really hope you will reconsider any hastily made or incompletely understood endorsement.  I do not think non-content-driven endorsements does anyone any credit but in fairness, I think it is easy to be insufficiently familiar with the reality of the code being bantered about regarding all of this.  My own experience with children in public schools has opened my eyes to some fairly ugly truths about what is happening silently, in practice.  It may not be what any of us would subscribe to knowingly, but that is the point:  reality happens regardless of the words ascribed to it.  Roses smell the same no matter what they are named.  Please do not throw any weight behind a faction that intends to exclude another from their fair share of public education resources.

Please note as well that those of us near the 405 happen to live on an LAUSD district dividing line.  Palms MS happens to be outside of Steve Zimmer's district; my older child's local school, Venice High School, is in his district.  Because we are new to this school my own personal knowledge of it is more limited.  But it is clear that Steve Zimmer has thrown his weight and support behind this local High School and is very, very well-liked by parents there; it is equally clear that he offers this sort of support indiscriminately - his support and weight goes to students, all over.  While I understand he has "helped out" Venice High School, it is not my impression that he has done so in a way that means any other High School has not been "helped out".  And that is (my definition of) the meaning of democracy for the people; all the people.

In short, Steve Zimmer's incumbency is not broken: this school board member is not the problem.  Electing Kate Anderson would - to coin words she uses in a slightly different context - be a 'solution in search of a problem'.   Yet our current school board representative is not a problem.  He happens to have done a fine job last term.  IMHO.

Please feel free to email me.

But please, most of all, please take the time to watch this debate between Zimmer and Anderson in which he demonstrates superior familiarity with educational issues, experience, a laudable, morality-driven motivation and true, deep engagement with the needs of all members of our local community:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dShAAODskKA

- Sara Roos, roos@biology.ucla.edu 

Kristin Duerr February 08, 2013 at 04:51 PM
wow! Thank you Sara! Thank you very much from the bottom of my heart. I am reading your words and I am passionately in support of them. Why anyone cannot see the good in keeping Mr. Zimmer in place is beyond me. I am down "the hill" in the trenches and I thank Steve Zimmer for knowing it and being there with me. Kristin Duerr President VENICE PTSA
kristin duerr February 08, 2013 at 04:51 PM
wow! Thank you Sara! Thank you very much from the bottom of my heart. I am reading your words and I am passionately in support of them. Why anyone cannot see the good in keeping Mr. Zimmer in place is beyond me. I am down "the hill" in the trenches and I thank Steve Zimmer for knowing it and being there with me. Kristin Duerr President VENICE PTSA
Troy Toshio Takaki February 09, 2013 at 04:08 PM
Leaving the Zimmerman vs Anderson argument aside... (The fact is they both support charter schools) Please don't disparage charter schools with misinformation. I have children in walgrove elementary (LAUSD). And Animo middle school (green dot). In both cases the schools have a high minority and free and reduced lunch population. Both schools take care of the needy and hard to educate. Charters are definately not case of white people starting their own schools and leaving the minorities to fend for themselves which is what you are saying. Please come to Animo Westside middle school and educate yourself if you are going to be polically active. You are making extremely uneducated, generic statements about charter schools. I have no problem with you supporting Zimmerman. I have always liked him. But please learn a bit more about your local charter schools. I think you will be quite surprised at how green dot schools are educating our disadvantaged children.
Karen Wolfe February 09, 2013 at 04:37 PM
You had me at "true, deep".
Troy Toshio Takaki February 09, 2013 at 06:30 PM
Sara, Can you please site your reference for the following statement: "Please make no mistake that this is exactly and precisely what the charter schools are doing in reality. They are excluding the hard-to-educate, the needy, the resource-intensive pupils in ghettos of inferior quality. Conversely, the white-lining of certain schools where only a certain slice of society is allowed to matriculate, is quite simply hiding all the cookies in a drawer to which you control access, countenancing only your own." By using the terms "separate but equal" and "segregate" you are equating Charter School Parents, students and educators in Westside LA to White separatist in the South in the 50s. Is this what you meant to do? Did you mean to call me a segregational racist? As the son of a UC Cal professor that taught ethnic studies and wrote several books about race and ethnicity in the US I find this deeply disturbing. If you did not mean to make this comparison I believe you should clarify your statement.
barbara einstein February 09, 2013 at 10:41 PM
Sara Your article, quite frankly, saddens me. I would urge you to disclose your sources regarding charter schools, as well as name these organizations “with deep pockets” who support Kate Anderson. And, as a general matter, I would also urge you to divulge any information about Steve Zimmer's financial support and potential conflicts-of-interest. As long as our local public schools operate at sub-par levels, parents from all backgrounds will continue “gaming” the system in order to give their children a fair shot at a decent education. Historically, these strategies have included: enrolling children in outside school districts, playing the magnet points game, paying for private schools, or moving into neighborhoods with "good" public school. Charter schools, on the other hand, present the most honest and well-designed alternative for parents who truly believe in public education (not all of us live near Palms MS, and even fewer of our children qualify for the well-known Palms magnet program). (continued on next post due to word limitation)
barbara einstein February 09, 2013 at 10:41 PM
(continued from previous post) I invite you to visit the charter school that our four daughters attend. I will contact the administration for the precise statistics regarding our school’s socioeconomic make-up, but I dare say we serve a hugely diverse group of children. I have met with Mr. Zimmer many times. I think he is a nice man. However, he completely and utterly lacks the urgency underlying the current situation in many of our schools. My kids (and everyone else’s kids) don't have time to wait and see what happens down the line; they need access to a decent educated today! Mr. Zimmer personally promised us that he will support our efforts to create a Middle School in Venice, but has consistently failed to keep his word. The middle school my daughters attend is situated in Westchester. We serve families from all over (Inglewood, Carson, Venice . . . just to name a few). We are the most diverse group of families one can possibly find in Los Angeles. It is our common frustration with sub-par local public schools that has united us. The leadership at our Charter School is outstanding, the teachers are amazing, and the program is very rigorous. We are getting for our kids what we want: an amazing education and I challenge you or any other reader to tell me what is wrong with that! The status quo is simply unacceptable. Barbara Einstein
Amy Weinman-Sobajian February 09, 2013 at 11:38 PM
Mr. Zimmer has been a tremendous asset to Venice High school. He and his staff have always supported the parents and students. As a parent, I appreciate that he has always been available by phone, email, or in person. Both my kids have had direct contact with Mr. Zimmer and are amazed by how he continues to value their opinions and that he takes their concerns seriously. As our LAUSD board member, Mr. Zimmer has also taught my children that they have a voice in their education and that they can make their community a better place. I applaud Mr. Zimmer for his hard work and for putting our kids first. And I thank him for treating my kids like equal partners in their education.
Troy Toshio Takaki February 10, 2013 at 12:39 AM
Here is the statistics for Animo Westside middle school (my daughter's charter school) vs Palms Middle School (Sara's children's middle school). Both are in similar areas of West LA. As you can see our charter school has more minorities, less parents with a college degree, significantly more children that are economically disadvantaged (on free or reduced lunch). Sara, Please explain how this fits into your hypothesis that Charters are taking the advantaged White children and leaving the disadvantaged minorities in public school. (continued on the next post)
Troy Toshio Takaki February 10, 2013 at 12:39 AM
Palms Middle School Ethnic/Racial* (STAR) Percent Black or African American 26 American Indian or Alaska Native 0 Asian 12 Filipino 3 Hispanic or Latino 39 Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander 0 White 19 Two or More Races 1 Parent Education Level (STAR) Percentage with a response*** 53 Of those with a response: Not a high school graduate 11 High school graduate 20 Some college 23 College graduate 29 Graduate school 18 Participants in Free or Reduced-Price Lunch (STAR) 48 Animo Westside Ethnic/Racial* (STAR) Percent Black or African American 33 American Indian or Alaska Native 0 Asian 2 Filipino 0 Hispanic or Latino 54 Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander 1 White 10 Two or More Races 0 Parent Education Level (STAR) Percentage with a response*** 99 Of those with a response: Not a high school graduate 16 High school graduate 23 Some college 34 College graduate 18 Graduate school 8 Participants in Free or Reduced-Price Lunch (STAR) 78
Suzy February 10, 2013 at 12:49 AM
1 of 2 While I appreciate your effort to support Mr. Zimmer I could not disagree with you more. I have fought the good fight for 8 years at my much loved local public school. While I walk away from the experience with many positive feelings and consider it a great gift, I am equally as grateful to have a charter school as an option for middle school for my kids. Without it I would have to move. LAUSD and UTLA spend a great deal of time protecting the rights of adults and not kids, and simply I am tired of it. I sit blocks away from a gorgeous middle school campus that I will not send my child to because simply... it stinks and little real action has been done to change that for DECADES . My daughter attends a Green Dot middle school and how you can even write the blanket statement that charters are "are excluding the hard-to-educate, the needy, the resource-intensive pupils," is so completely off base that it is almost funny. Clearly, you have not done your homework OR you have looked only at examples that serve your point. I chose to apply to a charter because I want my child to continue to her experience of going to school with kids from every walk of life, both racially and socioeconomically. I need her to be properly educated by well trained, accountable teachers that are simply not "entitled" to their jobs because they were lucky enough to be hired in the first place.
Suzy February 10, 2013 at 12:50 AM
2 of 2 I get that it is very difficult to watch charters gobble up students and the funds come with each kid. The reality is we as parents are forced to make these choices because LAUSD and UTLA are not cutting it. UTLA is throwing $$$ behind Mr. Zimmer and honesty I think they are the biggest evil of all. Mr. Zimmer has a tough job, and I'm sure he really wants to do what is best. Sadly, he plays both sides against the middle, and like his partners at UTLA he does not always make decisions that are best for kids. I just want a school board member that will be honest with me and I am hoping that a change will bring that.
Claudia February 10, 2013 at 01:10 AM
So Sara you enrolled your two daughters in a private school for elementary, de facto denying your local traditional public elementary school the revenues that your daughters would have brought to the school, but if families that cannot afford private school choose to attend a public school other than their local one because they feel that’s the best option for their kids, then according to you “it is divisive and simply put: unfair”. Aren’t you just a hypocrite? As someone who has "put their money where there mouth is" and committed to our local public school even before our kids were in kinder I find you "private school converts" who now want to limit my kids' public charter school choices a joke.
Claudia February 10, 2013 at 01:13 AM
Could not agree with you more Suzy. Zimmer is directly in the "pocket" of UTLA and hasn't tried to hide it. This is truly what is ruining LAUSD for our kids. We need to put kids first in practice, not just in talk!!
Richard Landers February 12, 2013 at 03:34 AM
Ms. Roos’s defense of Steve Zimmer and attack on Kate Anderson seems to be a genuine expression of her personal experience, preferences and values. Unfortunately, however, her personal perspective is not representative of that of most Angelenos and, in my opinion, has led her to the wrong conclusions about LAUSD’s performance and its political leadership. Ms. Roos’s core observation is that her children are prospering at Palms Middle School, which apparently includes students with a wide range of academic abilities from a wide range of socioeconomic circumstances, an experience that she believes is good for both her own children and society as a whole. The flaw in this thinking, however, is that her experience doesn’t even begin to describe what life is like for most families, especially poor families, in LAUSD schools. An informed policy prescription for LAUSD must begin with the recognition that the district has failed the vast majority of its children and their families for decades. Exceptions to this fact, such as Palms Middle School, can serve as “success stories” to be shared with other district schools, but they don’t change the harsh reality of LAUSD’s generally poor performance. Similarly, Mr. Zimmer’s defense of the status quo may have benefitted Palms’ successful practices, but that posture has not served the children in the vast majority of the district’s underperforming schools. See more below...
Richard Landers February 12, 2013 at 03:36 AM
I have been a volunteer and supporter of five or six different charter school organizations in non-Westside Los Angeles and my view of LAUSD is very different from that of UCLA Lab/Palms Middle and Mr. Zimmer. In the Los Angeles that these charter schools serve, there is no “white-lining of certain schools where only a certain slice of society is allowed to matriculate”, there are only poor immigrant families whose only choices are the charters or indisputably failed traditional LAUSD schools. These charter schools provide a superior education to as many families as they can, limited not by any cherry picking - academic, ethnic or otherwise - but only by the resource constraints imposed by people like Mr. Zimmer, who see change to the status quo as threatening. More below...
Richard Landers February 12, 2013 at 03:36 AM
In addition to urging Patch readers to take the time to get acquainted with the realities of public education beyond the Westside, I also want to protest the ad hominem attacks on Ms. Anderson and her supporters that are often made by anti-reformers. It is truly reprehensible to assert that the fact that Ms. Anderson has supporters who have contributed to her campaign is proof of evil intentions. I am a supporter of Ms. Anderson as are many of my friends. All of us are committed to public education – most of us grew up in it, many are personally active in supporting it – and I have not met a single individual in this group who favors “a fractious system that would divide the education of our children into "separate but equal" camps”. Yes, just like Mr. Zimmer’s supporters, all of us want good educations for our children. (Indeed, many of us tried – albeit unsuccessfully – to get our kids into the highly sought after Lab School at UCLA that Ms. Roos’s children attended.) Further, as citizens, and, in many cases, business people in Los Angeles, we are acutely aware that we have large stakes not just in our own children’s education but the education of all of children. And yet one more piece below...
Richard Landers February 12, 2013 at 03:37 AM
From Ms. Anderson’s perspective, the issue in the District 4 election is better schools, whatever their organizational structure. She doesn’t see charters as some kind of silver bullet but recognizes that they have proved that they can be part of the solution. Voters should look for candidates who support the changes that will give every child a good education, whether they attend a successful traditional middle school in Palms or a successful charter school in South Los Angeles. I think LAUSD is broken and needs political leaders like Ms. Anderson who are prepared to embrace change. Ms. Roos thinks it is doing well and supports Mr. Zimmer and its other defenders. You be the judge. That's it. Thanks for reading. Richard
Suzy February 12, 2013 at 03:34 PM
Well said Richard, Troy, Barbara and Claudia. Still waiting for Sara to respond to her HUGE blanket statements. It kills me that this is what people walk around thinking and worst of all saying to others about charter schools. Yes, they take $ away from LAUSD and it impacts neighborhood schools but LAUSD needs a kick in the pants. LAUSD- without the $ and efforts of wonderful educators, parents and reformers you are a mess. Clean up your act and we will happily come back to you, stay the same and you are sunk.
concerned parent February 12, 2013 at 04:37 PM
Sara pointed out that Mr. Zimmer works endless for our children. Mr. Zimmer isn't anti charters, he is for accountability- not a review every 5 years and not at the expense of kids that actually want to attend their local schools. The LA Times says there is a lot of outside money involved in this race that supports Anderson. If this is a local board seat, why isn't the election being treated like a local school board election by these supporters? What about those outside sources spending money on the children attending LA schools to make all the schools in Los Angeles better- which I assume is their true desire. One place a small sum of this election money can be spent is at Venice High School. Venice needs a language lab and some of these funds would really help an already great local program. Any supporters for funding a language lab?
concerned parent February 12, 2013 at 05:51 PM
Steve Zimmer is his name
Troy Toshio Takaki February 12, 2013 at 05:57 PM
OK let's let readers read the article for themselves: http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-school-board-money-20130211,0,6181164.story Both candidates are getting outside money. Zimmer from Unions (LA Country Fed of Labor, The teachers union, etc). Anderson from the "Coalition for School Reform" a group that supports Supt. John Deasy. Both are getting lots of money. Read the article yourself. Basically the seat has become a de facto election between supporters of Deasy/ Villaraigosa VS. the teacher's union. So pick a side and vote.
concerned parent February 12, 2013 at 06:10 PM
Watch the video of the debate that Sara posted on the bottom of her opinion. You will see Mr Zimmer is a very independent member of the school board. He demonstrates how well he knows the issues and the local schools. Look at Mr. Zimmer's record. He has been the champion for the Arts on the board even though one of Ms. Anderson's ads states the opposite. If Ms. Anderson would win and become the incumbent in four years, would you vote against her because she would be the establishment? Mr. Zimmer is far from being the establishment- We need someone who votes as an independent. Please attend a few board meetings and you will see.
concerned parent February 12, 2013 at 11:51 PM
Troy, Sara was referring to New West Charter the school Ms. Anderson referenced in her debate. Can you explain to me how New West Charters student demographics looks like a Venice/Mar Vista/WLA neighborhood public middle school ( Mark Twain, Webster, Mariana, And Palms) ? I believe the New West Charter school is over 60% white, which would not match LAUSD local schools demographics. New West Charter is the school Ms. Anderson speaks of ( at the debate last month at the Boys and Girls Club) as being the best middle school in the area. I wonder how many of their students are on free lunch? I wonder how many students with disabilities attend the school? I wonder how many English Leaners are at the school? I am not against charters, but we need to look at how each new school effects the big picture in the local area. As a parent of a kid in high school and one in college , I can tell you from experience that as we create so many small schools ( at the high school level) that unless we track students, all of the schools, Charter or public, can't offer all the academic classes needed at each level for students to be competitive at top colleges. The variety and depth of classes at all high schools are compromised.
Troy Toshio Takaki February 13, 2013 at 12:26 AM
No where in her letter does she reference "new school west". She references "charter schools". A very unfair generalization. I think we can both agree on that.
concerned parent February 13, 2013 at 01:15 AM
Sara, did put up the debate with her letter. Ms. Anderson uses New West Charter as her example in the debate. And Ms Anderson uses the community of Del Rey as another successful venture of cohabitation between charters and public schools . Both situations work well and better than most schools because they do not look like most schools. They are unique situations.
concerned parent February 13, 2013 at 01:16 AM
I am glad you are happy with your students charter school, that's the most important thing. I just think we need to figure out as a community where we are going because honestly we are not preparing any of our students well. I don't think other outside groups should make our decision for us. My niece went to a charter in the valley and could only take 2 years of language when most top private colleges want 3. My niece could not take AP courses which even though she took the most rigorous course load for her charter hurt her when applying to the most competitive colleges. And my son. when attending Venice High School, his senior year, had to go to SMC ( I had to drive him) as well as take on-line classes at Venice that Venice High School use to offer only a few years ago when we had more students and more teachers so we could offer more classes. All our kids are losing and we are being divided by this issue of charter vs public It's a smoke screen. I am voting for the Mr Zimmer who has proven to me to fight for keeping teachers ( yes with less seniority) and programs at my school. When asked about Venice high school in the debate Ms. Anderson new nothing. Why so much knowledge on the "best Charters" but not the local school?
Troy Toshio Takaki February 13, 2013 at 01:32 AM
to concerned parent, Just to be clear. I like Zimmer, I have personally dealt with him a few times and might be voting for him. I just have a real problem with the letter writer's inaccurate description of Local Charter Schools. She clearly does not identify any single Charter School and lumps them all together. She is spreading completely false information. I have asked her to give me her references that prove statements like "Please make no mistake that this is exactly and precisely what the charter schools are doing in reality. They are excluding the hard-to-educate, the needy, the resource-intensive pupils in ghettos of inferior quality." She has not responded to my request.
Glyn February 13, 2013 at 04:36 AM
Do you think it's okay for the union to spend huge amounts of pac money on this race but leave the candidate in favor of reform with just private contributions to run a campaign on? Make no mistake, many outside the neighborhood union groups are pouring money in on behalf of Zimmer. The "outside" money that is supporting Kate comes in the main from westside citizens who are worried about the future of our city if our kids don't get a decent education, at which LAUSD is failing miserably. As to the lab for Venice High School -- I would happily support more funds for such programs if ithey came with more accountability. Funding for schools has gone up and down in the thirty years since I arrived in L.A. and the results have stayed consistently bad. When teachers can be fired for not performing (currently over 90% get good grades by the administrators), when good teachers are celebrated, when results improve, people like me will happily vote for new taxes. It's like a company failing because of poor management and saying, "Just give me more money and things will get better." It makes no sense.

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