Former Fremont High teachers join charter school movement

By Elizabeth Warden

imageJohn C. Fremont High School, located in South Los Angeles, recently underwent reconstruction, a process that allows the Los Angeles Unified School District to make teachers at low performing schools, evaluated by a consecutive high dropout rates and low standardized test scores, reapply for their jobs. Some Fremont High teachers, at the time, decided not to reapply for their jobs as a symbol of opposition to the school district.

“It definitely [does not have] a community in mind,” said Joel Vaca, a 10-year Fremont High veteran during an interview in spring 2010 after the school district had approved the reconstruction process in Dec. 2009.

“Every other neighborhood in LA had a voice in their opinion: East LA had a choice with the public school choice initiative, the beach harbor area had a voice when their schools went up for vote, and it’s the disenfranchisement of South Central and neglect of what happens here in South Central,” he said.

Fremont’s reconstruction and the maelstrom that ensued speaks to the politics of culture and change that often make school and community reform exceedingly difficult.

But just around the time reconstruction at Fremont High began happening, the LAUSD public school choice 2.0 options sprouted up in the spring of 2010 and the district announced nine new campuses. The district intended to use one of the campuses – South Region High School #2 – to relieve overcrowding at Fremont High and neighboring Jefferson High. This gave a team of former Fremont High teachers, and some from Jefferson High, the opportunity to send in a letter of intent and draft a proposal for the South Central Region #2 High School campus that the school district had already started constructing.

Some former Fremont High teachers – like Erica Hamilton who taught at the school for six years – had been looking at alternatives for Fremont High students far before this. She had explored the option of charter operators as early back as 2006, which was the only option at the time.

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Preschool: A possible answer to Los Angeles’s academic troubles

By Alex Abels

The final story of a four-part series on Jefferson Park and the changing urban neighborhood.

At 1 p.m. on a Thursday in April, four-year-old Tony Williams appears to be living every kid’s dream – whizzing down the slide at the Leslie N. Shaw Park with a goofy smile plastered on his face. Most kids stuck in a classroom would envy Tony on this warm afternoon in Jefferson Park. Unfortunately, Tony is actually the envious one – he wants to go to preschool but can’t.

Tony’s father, Paul, who was recently laid off, thought he had explored all of his preschool options in the Jefferson Park area. He could find nothing in his price range or with an open seat for his child. “There’s only so much I can do,” says Williams. “He should be at school learning to read and count and making friends.”

This is a common problem, not only for residents of Jefferson Park, but for all of Los Angeles. Preschools, especially quality preschools, are out of reach for about half of all four-year-olds in Los Angeles County, mainly due to lack of availability. With 10 million residents, LA County is one of the most heavily populated in America. There are currently more than 155,000 four-year-olds living in Los Angeles, but only about 70,000 licensed spaces exist for them in preschools.

Jefferson Park faces these problems and is even worse off than the average neighborhood in LA. The proportion of residents under the age of 10 – almost 20 percent – is among the county’s highest, according to census data. So with a multitude of children ready for preschool and severe lack of facilities, residents of Jefferson Park have a dilemma.

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Jefferson Branch Library: Never judge a book by its cover

By Alex Abels

The third of a four-part series on Jefferson Park and the changing urban neighborhood.

imageThe Jefferson Branch Library, open for nearly a century, is a building that has witnessed the changing landscape and make-up of the Jefferson Park community. It is one of the few buildings in the neighborhood placed on the National Registrar of Historic Places, recognizing its early 20th century Spanish-style architecture.

Over time, the functions of the American public library have changed, particularly found in urban communities. In some locations, patrons use the library’s computers to look for jobs. Homeless people use it as a respite from the elements. Some locations increasingly use it as a community center. Virtually all libraries have expanded their scope in one way or another, and the Jefferson Park branch is no exception.

Named in honor of Vassie D. Wright, founder of the first Black History celebration in Los Angeles in 1949, the library has long offered the surrounding community a rich menu of activities. Wright began the Our Authors Study Club, devoted to studying Black History which later launched California’s first Negro History Week, later transformed into the Black History Month that is nationally recognized today. The Our Authors Study Club still meets at the Jefferson Branch Library the third Saturday of every month, often working to raise money for college scholarships for students, one of a library’s newer functions in a new century.

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A neighborhood icon survives the swirl of urban change

By Alex Abels

This is the second of a four-part series on Jefferson Park and the changing urban neighborhood.

imageAlmost every community has one – a place to hang out, grab a bite, see friends and feel safe – think Central Perk in “Friends” or the Regal Beagle in “Three’s Company.” Places like these aren’t always portrayed in the media for predominantly black and Hispanic communities, but Jefferson Park has what many in the community call their “black Cheers”: Harold and Belle’s, a family owned Creole restaurant.

“The people here, it’s almost like family, ok. Everybody sitting at this bar, we know each other, we look after each other. We buy each other drinks, we buy each other food, it just depends what day it is. It’s almost like our cheers,” says Tony Sargent, who has lived in Jefferson Park for 40 years and has been a regular at Harold and Belle’s for most of that time.

Harold and Belle’s opened where it stands now in Jefferson Park in 1969 by Harold and Belle Legaux, a Creole couple who moved to the Los Angeles area from Louisiana. Many other Creole families from the seventh district of New Orleans were moving into Jefferson Park at this time, and the restaurant served as a small gathering place with a juke box and go-go dancers. The Legaux’s son took over in 1979, expanding the restaurant and making the Creole menu a bit more upscale. The restaurant has recently transitioned to the care of their grandson, Ryan Legaux, the current general manager of the restaurant.

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Jefferson Park’s evolution tells urban America’s story

By Alex Abels

This is the first of a four-part series on Jefferson Park and the changing urban neighborhood.

imageSouth Los Angeles has changed drastically over the past 150 years with many events adding to the changing face of the area. Jefferson Park, an area just west of USC’s campus, is one area of Los Angeles that underscores these changes.

The neighborhood – a microcosm of urban America – is bound by Adams Boulevard on the North, Western Avenue on the East, Exposition Boulevard on the South and Crenshaw Boulevard on the West, as can be seen on the map below.
Boundaries of Jefferson Park

Today, Jefferson Park houses a mix of blacks and Latinos. More than half of the community speaks a language other than English at home, and 35 percent were not born in the U.S. The median household income is about $23,000, and approximately 30 percent of individuals live below the poverty level. Although those outside of the community know it as an area ridden with crime and drugs, similar to the opinion of South LA in general, Jefferson Park is more than just a stereotype.

The area has more than a dozen pre-schools and elementary schools, more than 20 churches and other places of worship and several active community service centers. Children can always be seen relaxing or skateboarding in Leslie N. Shaw Park and adults can be seen chatting through barbershop windows. A handful of intricate murals can be seen from Jefferson Boulevard, reflecting the lives of Jefferson Park’s families, most of whom have lived there for decades.

Any neighborhood – especially one that is so intertwined with South LA’s rocky history – can only be fully appreciated when the past is considered. Though many of its residents have lived there for years, Jefferson Park once looked much different than it does today.

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A book store that offers more than books

By Anita Little

image‘Eso won’ is Yoruba for ‘water over rocks’ and symbolizes the reservoir of knowledge that the Eso Won Bookstore in Los Angeles provides. However, lately it has come to represent the troubled waters that Eso Won and other black bookstores across the nation are facing.

“We’ve had a lack of sales and have been struggling for a number of years,” said James Fugate, the co-owner and founder of Eso Won Books, a staple of the black community in Los Angeles that has faced a decline in revenue.

The recent closure of Karibu Books was the death knell for black bookstores as it was the nation’s largest black bookstores chain with six locations in Maryland and Virginia. The untimely end of Karibu is a story being played out coast to coast as large mainstream chains and internet book selling take over.

Becoming the Starbucks of the book-selling industry, Barnes and Noble and Borders have become the go-to place for books, leaving independent bookstores coughing in the dust.

“Barnes and Noble didn’t use to be a major issue, but now their stock of black literature has grown,” said Fugate. “On top of that if a person can go online and pay less, that’s what they’re going to do even if they want to support you. That’s the death nail.”

Another problem plaguing black bookstores is the stigma attached to black novelists that all they write about is hardship and oppression. Part of saving black bookstores is convincing black readers that there are black novels that bare relevance to their lives.

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Image courtesy of Eso Won Books

Inglewood oil field controversy near an end

By Natalie Ragus

imageAn end to the 2.5-year-long legal battle over the Inglewood Oil Field may be in sight.

Superior Court Judge James Chalfant recently ordered the Culver City and other parties involved in a collection of lawsuits against Los Angeles County and the field’s operators, the Plains Exploration and Production Company, to settle by June 29 or go to trial this summer. Under Chalfant’s order, the trial— which records indicate the court delayed on at least four occasions to give the parties more time to reach a settlement—won’t be delayed any longer.

The cases center on whether the Baldwin Hills Community Standards District, or the rules that govern field operations, violated the California Environmental Quality Act by not going far enough in protecting the environment and the health of residents in surrounding neighborhoods.

As the parties look forward to finally closing the books on one of the costliest and lengthy CEQA litigation processes in Culver City’s history, the field’s future remains uncertain. What happens next largely depends upon whether the parties settle or whomever Chalfant rules in favor of following the trial.

But regardless of whether the case reaches a resolution through a settlement or a trial, the parties involved in the suit will eventually have to heal the rifts that have come between them in order to move forward.

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Homeless Healthcare Los Angeles: The Dignity of Choice

By Laura J. Nelson

The second of a two-part series on the services provided by Homeless Healthcare Los Angeles.

imageThe gravelly squeak of a shopping cart’s wheels against the cracked sidewalks of Skid Row pierces the hot silence of a March day in Los Angeles. In the middle of the handful of streets called the epicenter of the Los Angeles homelessness epidemic, only a handful of cars pass by, and no pedestrians.

Inside the Center for Harm Reduction a block away, it’s even quieter.

The building, next to the Los Angeles Needle Exchange, houses an array of programs designed by non-profit Homeless Healthcare Los Angeles to help the homeless cope and adjust to their new lifestyles once they’re off the streets.

“We see people on the streets at the Beverly building, we meet people coping with drug issues at the Needle Exchange, and here, we’ve progressed to people who are in the aftermath of all that turmoil,” said Delia Mojarro, the Community Assessment Service Center director for HHCLA. “We saw this program as a missing piece to all the services that we offer.”

On opening day at the end of March, almost no one came in. But in the two months since CHR’s annex opened, more than 15 people have begun working with a case manager. Once the center is in full swing, case managers predict a load of more than 100 clients.

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Homeless Healthcare Los Angeles: The Stages of Change

By Laura J. Nelson

The first of a two-part series on the services provided by Homeless Healthcare Los Angeles.

imageThe clients who walk through the doors of Homeless Healthcare Los Angeles share many of the same stories: homeless, jobless, struggling with addictions, estranged from family or friends who could support them through addictions and medical crises.

They’ve come on court orders or hospital referrals or their own will power, hoping one of the city’s most unique homeless support programs can give them what they need.

That raw need is what empowers the employees of HHCLA. They hope that instead of shoehorning their clients into a certain plan or program, they can help them with whatever they need. HHCLA dreams of getting rid of homelessness someday, but in a city where one in 100 residents is a transient, that won’t happen soon.

So instead, HHCLA attacks the problem of homelessness with a uniquely holistic approach called “harm reduction” — addressing the immediate needs of the homeless, whether that means medical care, education or drug treatment.

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South LA coalition pushes for foster care improvements

imageThere were about 15,600 minors living in out-of-home placements in Los Angeles County at the end of last year, according to the Department of Children and Family Services. This means that these children are living in group homes, foster homes, shelters or homes of relatives or non-relative extended family.

Nearly half—about 7,600 total—are living with extended family, in formal Relative Care, placements that allow children and youth to remain in the care of an extended family member.

Most of these minors living in foster care reside in South Los Angeles, According to the Community Coalition of South LA, (CoCo), with about 25 percent of these minors in the care of relatives reside in South LA, though it comprises around 10 percent of the county’s population. CoCo has been running a campaign called Kinship in Action, to get more support for these caregivers, as they make everyday sacrifices to take in the children and are an integral element to stabilizing their community, said CoCo community organizer Doniesha Young.

Young said Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) doesn’t give enough financial support to relative caregivers, even though they take on a large part of the foster care system’s burden and are instrumental in providing the best care for the children.

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