For one day last month, Christopher Thornberg was principal at one of Los Angeles Unified School District’s most infamous schools.

Instead of going into the office at Beacon Economics, where he is a founding partner, he walked the halls of Crenshaw High School, a South L.A. school with a consistent history of academic underachievement and athletic overachievement.

He visited classrooms, computer labs and the cafeteria. He talked to teachers, students and staff about issues such as attendance problems, technology in the classroom and the efficacy of “mainstreaming” kids with special needs.

Made possible by a program run by the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, Thornberg said the experience was eye-opening.

“A lot of the complaints people have are justified; I still think we allow too many incompetent teachers to stay in the system for too long,” he said.

“But it was clear to me that LAUSD is not sitting still,” he continued. “This is an organization that is really busting their butts to do new, better things for the students. I found that very heartening.”

Back in Step

Sweeney Mae Montinola was a dancer earlier in her life. At Foster High School in Tukwila, Wash., she put the pep in the football team’s step as a dance captain. Later, at Washington State University, she shook her stuff in Eclectic Dance Group, a diverse troupe that performed at campuses across her home state.

But Montinola, now 31, moved to Los Angeles, entered the corporate world – she is the marketing manager of SouthBay Pavilion Mall in Carson – and found that she had fallen out of touch with her passion.

That is, until the Zumba craze hit Carson. When Montinola plotted how to bring the Latin dance-inspired workout to SouthBay on a limited budget, she realized that she was her own most valuable resource. So she took a Zumba teacher training course at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

These days, her Saturday morning classes bring 100 to 150 dancing participants to the mall before it opens. Montinola and two other volunteers guide the aerobics from a stage – much like the ones she danced on in her salad days.

“Since the stores are closed, we blast the music and it’s like a party,” she said. “After it’s over, they go shopping.”

Staff reporters Bethany Firnhaber and Hannah Miet contributed to this column. Page 3 is compiled by editor Charles Crumpley. He can be reached at

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