Written by Alex Garcia, Dan Fernando Valley Sun Contributing Writer
Eduardo Solorzano, principal of SFMS, speaks with parents during a meeting over the School Choice Plan at the campus earlier this week.
Wednesday, 21 October 2009 -- The ongoing meetings about the future of San Fernando Middle School [SFMS] under the School Choice Plan, which could mean converting the school and dozens of other campuses into independently run pilot or charter schools, continued this week, with parents divided on the idea. About 50 parents showed at the school for the meeting held Tuesday night.
"I'd like for it [SFMS] to become a charter," said Veronica Rodriguez, whose son Daniel and daughter Denisse Cuellar attend the school.
She said she favors this because that would mean changing many of the teachers, whom she said are not doing a good job, and would bring improvements to the school.
But Catalina Martinez and Maria Elena Lemus are against the school going under charter control.
"I would like it to continue under the LAUSD [Los Angeles Unified School District], but with some improvements," said Martinez, who has a daughter at SFMS.
She said a previous experience with a charter school was not positive and left her with doubts about their efficiency.
"One of my daughters attended a charter and when she transferred to San Fernando High School they didn't count many of her credits," said Martinez.
Lemus said she had heard charter schools don't accept special education or English as a Second Language students and was concerned about this.
"I want it [SFMS] to continue under the district, because it will be only way for us to have equality," she said. "We just have to find a plan B to improve the school under the current plan."
In August, the LAUSD board approved 6-1 the School Choice Plan, which would allow non profit agencies to apply to run 250 new and underper forming LAUSD schools. Existing schools under the plan include those that have been in the program improvement status for more than three years, have had zero or negative growth in their Annual Performance Index [SFMS API went down three points in 2008- 2009 from 627 to 624] and where students have 21% or less proficiency in English and Math [SFMS is 20.5% proficient in Math and 24.1% proficient in English].
"If some kids would have gotten a few more points in math, we wouldn't be here," said SFMS principal Eduardo Solorzano during a meeting held Tuesday night at the school that was attended by some 50 parents.
But he said, development of a new plan gives the school community an opportunity to identify what is working and what is not.
However, he noted he would like to expand the current plan with implementation of "best practices" instead of opening the door to a charter or a pilot school.
However, outside groups, including Project GRAD, have already expressed an interest in running the school. A letter of intent must be received by the LAUSD by November 15th and a plan must be presented to the district by January.
Despite the future of the school being in play, many of the parents at the meeting did not seem to understand this. When parents split into different groups to express their wish list of improvements for the school, some of them mentioned they wanted more parent participation, better teachers and better traffic management around the campus.
Yolie Flores Aguilar, the school board member who proposed the School Choice Plan, said in a previous interview that the plan responds to the frustration she's felt with the way the LAUSD has run schools.
"My only interest is that all children have a good education," she noted, adding that competition is healthy and that agencies that take over schools will get a five-year commitment, but their progress will be reviewed annually and their contract can be rescinded at any time if things are not working.
Veronica Hermosillo and Maria Lemus want SFMS to remain under the control of the LAUSD since they say charter schools exclude especial education and ESL students.
"When you create competition, it leverages change and creativity and the need to do things better," said Flores Aguilar.
She also said charter schools selected to run LAUSD campuses would not be allowed to exclude special education or English as a Second Language students and would have to take children from their neighborhood first.
Ben Austin, executive director of the Parent's Revolution, a campaign organized by several charter institutions and a newly formed group calling themselves the Los Angeles Parent's Union, is also in favor of the School Choice Plan.
"We want to transform public education in Los Angeles because the status quo is broken," said Austin in a previous interview.
He recognized that not all charter schools are good, but added public education needs to improve.
"The real value of charter schools is that they promote competition. If LAUSD is running schools that are failing, charters give parents leverage and power to force the district to compete and run good schools."
However, some parents likeAna de Jesus and Laura Baz, who are part of the Parent Community Advisory Committee for District 2, which SFMS is part of, are weary of charter and pilot schools.
"They want to bring a plan they've implemented somewhere else, but they're not paying attention to our specific needs," said de Jesus, who attended this week's meeting at SFMS. "We want the schools to continue with the LAUSD and that they give us the opportunity to modify some things."
"My kids all went to public schools and are now in college.
Public schools do work, you just have to find a way to make them work," she said.
Newly elected school board member Nury Martinez, who represents district two and who is a proponent of pilot schools, has required that parents and community members be involved in the school plan. Community members and parents will meet again to discuss the plan this Friday at San Fernando Middle School starting at 8:30 a.m. The next meeting will take place on November 4th, when different agencies, including charter schools, will make presentations to the parents.