by Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times |http://lat.ms/aOuei9
November 6, 2010 - Less than two months after it celebrated a sharp rise in student test scores, Huntington Park High School has returned to academic limbo because of a closer, more critical review of those same scores.
The result is that the school, one of the largest in the Los Angeles Unified School District, will be divided into six small schools, four of which will be offered to groups inside and outside the district.
Parents learned the news from a top district official Friday; teachers had received an explanation Thursday.
The development was an unwelcome case of déjà vu for the school's staff members, who thought they had escaped possible takeover by outside groups, which could include charter school operators.
Independently run charter schools that take control of a campus are not obligated to rehire its existing staff.
The school's history of low scores on state tests had exposed it to possible takeover last spring, but this year's scores initially changed things dramatically. The school's score on the state's Academic Performance Index increased 35 points, easily surpassing its target goal, set by the state, of 12 points. The overall score, 603, was still low, but above a crucial threshold of 600 set by L.A. Unified Supt. Ramon C. Cortines.
In August, after the release of the 2010 scores, Cortines removed the school of 4,000 students from the list of those eligible for takeover.
"They told us we had to get 600 to get off this list, and we achieved it," said one teacher, who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak. "People were elated. It was just a tremendous weight off our shoulders."
But Board of Education member Yolie Flores, a Huntington Park High graduate who represents that region of the district, remained dissatisfied. She asked Cortines to examine the school more closely. Flores had authored the resolution that made schools available for takeover.
In an interview, Cortines said he found that most of the school's progress was concentrated in a single program, Libra Academy, which was launched recently
The rest of the school, if scored separately, achieved an Academic Performance Index score of 546.
"I am pleased to hear about the culture of high expectations and the collaborative nature of the staff at Libra Academy," Cortines wrote in a letter to the high school's staff. "It is clear on why their students are achieving. However, I have been concerned that there seems to be a lack of urgency at the rest of Huntington Park ever since the release of the new API results."
"Our members feel a sense of urgency," responded Julie Washington, a vice president of United Teachers Los Angeles. "UTLA is very disappointed that the criteria has been changed."
Leaders of the teachers union also expressed concern about another move by Cortines. In a separate letter, the superintendent threatened to make all staff members at low-performing Jordan High School in Watts re-apply for their jobs unless he sees immediate and sweeping improvement.
The union, Washington said, "does not feel that the threat of punitive punishment is the way to engage teachers and motivate people to make positive school change."
Cortines was unapologetic.
"The problem in that school is the lack of instruction in the classroom," he said. "It is the content that is not being covered."