LAUSD students start the new school year

imageParents, teachers, administrators and even students were in a mood to celebrate the beginning of the new school year. Students in the Los Angeles Unified School District not only started their 2010 summer break a week early, they also ended it a week late. School traditionally starts right after the Labor Day holiday. But this year, budget cuts and furloughs pushed back the first day of school until September 13th.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa kicked off the school year by applauding gains in Academic Performance Index (API) scores, which were released Monday morning. One of the school that saw an increase in its API scores was Santee High School in South Los Angeles. The mayor went there for a morning pep rally. Click to hear about his visit and the pep rally in a story by Ruth Frantz of Annenberg Radio News.

The Academic Performance Index charts the progress made by public school students throughout California. Schools are rated on a scale of 200 to 1000, with a state target score of 800. In the Los Angeles Unified School District, 28 more schoos got an API score of at least 800 this year, up to a total of 173. And, more than half of all LAUSD schools have an API score of 750 or above this year.

imageSeveral schools in South Los Angeles recorded increases in their API scores. For the second year in a row, 99th Street Elementary School in Watts has raised its API, this year by 52 points. In addition to Santee High School, Markham Middle School in Watts recorded growth. All three of those schools are operated by the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, a collaboration between the City of Los Angeles and LAUSD to turnaround the city’s lowest performing schools.

In addition, the ICEF (Inner City Education Foundation) Public Schools, which operates a network of 15 public charter schools in South L.A. announced today that six of their schools topped the state’s target score of 800. ICEF serves a student population that is 89 percent African-American.

According to a news release put out by ICEF:

“At the elementary level, 4 out of 5 schools exceeded 800, with ICEF Inglewood Elementary scoring a 768 in just its first year in operation. ICEF’s View Park Prep and Frederick Douglass elementary schools are rapidly closing in on 900 points with scores of 891 and 877 respectively … The results show that the ICEF academic model works system-wide and is replicable. The first API score for Frederick Douglass Elementary, which opened last year, was an impressive 877, in a school with a 94 percent African-American and 74 percent free-and-reduced lunch student population.”

Low income schools search for gifted students

Some Los Angeles schools have put a new emphasis on finding gifted students, especially those who are minority or from low income families, Los Angeles Watts Times reported.

The Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, a non-profit organization, launched the initiative. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa oversees the program. Last year, about four city schools began testing almost every second grader for exceptional abilities.

The search turned up Emariye Louden, a student at 99th Street Elementary School. Since he could speak, he has been debating subjects with his mother. He also knew a number of birth dates, phone numbers and words by the age of 4.

But in 2008, the district determined there were no other gifted students at his school. The school is 75 percent Hispanic and 25 percent black. About half of the students do not know much English, and almost all of the students are from low income families.

The purpose of the partnership is to give students the attention they need. The program will also demonstrate that neglected schools have extraordinary students.

“It has allowed us to ramp up our expectations for children,” Angela Bass, the non-profit’s superintendent of instruction, said. “We’ve missed the fact that our children are really talented. We need to make sure our teachers know that, our parents know that and our students know they are gifted.”

Gifted students will participate in additional activities in their classrooms, receive bigger campus projects and partake in discussions with scientists. Some will also go on field trips to museums.

“In the second grade, Emariye now has something not everybody has,” Tynesha Warren, Emariye’s mother, said. “And it is going to follow him for the rest of his life. It could expand his life and open doors. It gives him the opportunity to be noticed.”

Los Angeles Unified Superintendent Ramon C. Cortines said racism is one reason most Latino and black students have gone unnoticed. However, Cortines also believes the district focuses its efforts on middle-class white and Asian students who are possibly more likely to leave the district for a better one, or for a private school.

In the district, white and Asian students make up 12 percent of students enrolled, but about 39 percent of students designated as gifted.

If a student is designated as gifted, his or her school does not receive any additional funding.

Left behind by the LAUSD, parents get organized

By Martha Sanchez, a parent and community organizer at 28th St. Elementary School

imageTwenty-Eighth Street Elementary School is one of the most overcrowded schools in the LAUSD. The school was built in 1800s to accommodate a maximum of 800 students. In 2003, it housed over 2,300 students turning the school calendar in to a multi-track system with four tracks. In 2007, the LAUSD facilities department invited me to participate in the process of selecting two sites for the construction of two new elementary schools to relieve overpopulation. Since then, I have participated in all phases of the construction, including site selection, cleaning of soil, and architectural design.

Historically our community has been victim to stereotyping and lack of support. Since 2004, I have been organizing at the grass-root level parents, teachers and community members to improve education, bring economic resources to the area and sustain the environment. After years and years of struggle I was relieved to know that we would finally have new schools and could return to a traditional calendar.

However, it appears that once again we have been left behind.

Since the approval of the School Choice Resolution, our community has requested that the LAUSD allow us to participate in the process by giving us access to accurate information in a timely manner. The LAUSD called on us to choose a plan for the new building at site #18 that would take our overflow. But apparently, as was soon revealed, the LAUSD has not yet finished the design of the new school boundaries. “We cannot tell you who will be attending the new school until the process is completed,” LAUSD officials said.

But we were missing vital information. Who can vote? Who are the affected families? What alternatives do parents have if the new school turns into charter and they don’t want that option? What if parents want their children to stay in a regular school system instead? A community meeting was held at John Adams Middle School but no answers were given by the LAUSD. The translation services were so poor that many of our Spanish-speaking parents no idea what was being said. Everyone left disappointed.

imageTherefore we decided to organize a grass-roots effort to involve most of parents at 28th St. School. On January 22, 2010, I began a campaign to organize and obtain the authentic opinion and desires from parents about who they want to control school site #18.

For that reason, we organized a survey to ask parents to choose among the options that they felt could best improve their children’s education. Out of 900 surveys, 739 parents voted for the Local District 5 Plan. Just 9 voted for the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools to take over.

So, on Monday, a group of parents headed for the LAUSD head quarters to deliver the surveys, and try to encourage the board members to support the community voice. As a result, the board not only ignored the advisory vote (566 votes) but the surveys as well (788 votes) that favored the Local District 5 Plan. Parents and teachers are astonished at the LAUSD decision to support the Partnership for L.A. Schools instead.

But we won’t give up.

We will re-organize to make clear what we expect from the partnership in the following days. We will not let our schools fail again in hands of people that haven’t showed results in our community.


The South Los Angeles Report will be publishing regular updates from Martha Sanchez as her organizing effort continues.