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Michellene DeBonis Will Miss Those Walks to School

Read all of the all-star parents being honored this weekend at Carpenter.

A few answers coming from about her important memories and contributions to are a bit surprising, at first.

You’d expect, after all, for her to list that her Number One greatest contribution to Carpenter Community CHARTER SCHOOL is that the school (and its name) would not even exist were it not for her combined efforts with fellow mom , of . They helped spearhead the move for the school to become a Los Angeles Unified School District affiliated-charter school, and now she’s become somewhat of a regional hero and informal consultant about how schools can follow in Carpenter’s footsteps (the school hosted a training session over the summer to help other schools with the laborious process.)

When her daughter was in second grade, DeBonis halted a demanding fulltime job as the vice president of a grand strategy company. She had to travel a lot.

“I stopped work, and started volunteering,” DeBonis says. Little did she know, her work had just begun.

“Some people want to volunteer at school and be with kids every day, but I was more into the adult stuff,” DeBonis says. “I wanted to use my skills to help the school, and the charter stuff was a way to do that. It was rewarding for me.”

Now that doesn’t mean that she didn’t get her hands dirty by doing things like putting in the Reading Garden, or attend field trips, or have kids throw up in her car while she’s carpooling.

GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENTS: “I know that when we filled out the form where we’re to put our greatest accomplishments, I know I’m supposed to say the charter but it wasn’t,” she laughs.

“I was on the hiring committee to pick Mr. Martinez,” she says about “After our interview and when he left the room ‘I said if we lose this guy I don’t know what I’ll do,’ because he was so obviously the one. So that was probably the best. I was on committees for hiring about six other teachers.”

Martinez whipped out his computer to show some of his accomplishments during his interview. He was perfect for a school that was emphasizing technology and arts. And, with his leadership, and the support of the rest of the faculty, the school moved quicker than most to become an affiliated charter school.

The last straw for convincing DeBonis that a charter system was necessary was when her daughter’s fifth grade class grew to 41 students. “It’s so important that we can chose our own way to spend that chunk of money and if it is to spend the money on another teacher to bring class size down, that helps. We now have a mandate that we want them to work in smaller groups and figure out ways to creatively manage the numbers in the classes.”

There is a legacy being left behind. “We have a legal document we have to adhere to and that will be continuing. That will mean that maybe 20 years from now we can stop by and see the same programs that we started or the programs that started well before us, and they are still being implemented.”

DeBonis became the charter school’s first Governance Council president last year—a mix of teachers and parents that make all decisions for the school. “Governance is very challenging,” she says. “We are learning together, and there are big growing pains. Some wonderful core teachers and staff are involved . . . there’s a great collaborative effort and it took a lot of time and energy to govern and figure out longterm goals.”

This year, became president of the Governance Council, and that was fine with DeBonis.

“When you are really involved and active you think the world will crumble without me here, and actually I don’t think that at all,” she says. “It helps that we have Heather Tonkins as president while I’m still here and I’m not the head of things. She’s got her footing. I don’t worry like that, I’m not irreplaceable.”

Volunteers seem to be plentiful at Carpenter. “There are always people stepping in,” DeBonis says. “I’m in my own bubble with Governance, but I know that the bake sale will get volunteers, and there is always someone to pass the mantle to the next guy. There is strong community here.” 

She smiles and says, “I’m leaving behind a lot of fat binders. I’m the holder of a lot of documents.”

A personal issue for DeBonis is her hope that by improving Carpenter, all the successive schools will improve in an “upstreaming effect.” So, the and work habits developed at Carpenter will trickle up to public feeder schools like and and then .

Her daughter is already at Reed, and DeBonis doesn’t see herself as involved at that school. “Middle school is different, you can’t walk on campus and linger,” she says. “Kids are pushed out of the car and off you go. You have to make a big effort to be more physically involved.”

That being said, as DeBonis posed for photos for her awards at the upcoming Bootlegger’s Ball at Carpenter, she was already playing a behind-the-scenes role for Walter Reed Middle School by writing a letter to the LAUSD superintendent on behalf of Reed. 

WHAT WILL I MISS MOST? Ironically, (or maybe not) this month DeBonis returns to the work force with a new job. It gives her a chance to reflect on her volunteerism, and the school.

 “Of course I will miss the people—the administration, the teachers and the other parents—it’s all about community,” DeBonis says.

But that’s not really what she will miss the most.

“I’ll miss the walk to school,” she sighs. “My best memories are in the morning when I get to walk my son to school, or my daughter when she was little, just over the bridge at Shadyglade where we live, and walking past Peet’s and meeting other families at the intersection and seeing Mr. Martinez at the gate before you go in. He's always out there with a smile or sweeping or something.”

“I will miss that—that’s probably the big one.”

martin May 17, 2012 at 10:56 PM
Terrific person who helped make Carpenter one of the leading schools in the area public or private. I am sad to see her go because she will be taking her great family with her! All the best

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