By Barbara Jones, Staff Writer, LA Daily News | http://bit.ly/RNMYiP
Twins Cameron, left, and Delion McDonald, 13, live in South Los Angeles but travel by bus to their school at Woodland Hills Hale Charter Academy. Their mother transferred them out of an underperforming campus closer to their home in a move made possible by the Los Angeles Unified School District’s Choices program. (Michael Owen Baker/Staff Photographer)
10/19/2012 08:40:42 PM PDT :: Most of the parents who sign up for LAUSD's Choices program hope to send their child to a specialty magnet - a performing arts program for an aspiring actor, perhaps, or a medical academy for a would-be doctor.
Sharette Arnold simply wanted a safe place for her twin boys.
Fearful of gangs trolling her South L.A. neighborhood and dismayed at her sons' falling grades, Arnold took advantage of a less-publicized part of Choices. She pulled her sons out of the underperforming Barack Obama Global Prep Academy and enrolled them in Hale Charter Academy, a high-achieving campus in Woodland Hills where Cameron and Delion McDonald are thriving.
"Our neighborhood school is new and named for Obama, but it's in a very bad area," Arnold said Friday. "My kids had to walk past prostitutes and gang members, and there were a lot of issues at the school that made it hard for them to concentrate.
"My babies deserve better."
Obama Academy is one of nearly 450 Los Angeles Unified campuses designated as Program Improvement Schools because they've fallen short of academic targets for two consecutive years.
●●smf notes: Obama Global Prep is a Public School Choice School and as such – and because of its PI status - is operated by the Superintendent Intensive Support and Innovation Center, the superintendent’s special district. If the pejorative “failing” in the headline has weight, that burden belongs there – not with the school or even with the prostitutes and gang members.
And “Choices” or not, the answer is not busing (voluntarily-or-involuntarily) all the kids from Obama Prep to Woodland Hills; I think John Greenwood – who as board president reversed busing students in the ‘80s – and passed away this week – would agree.
As part of the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act, the 428,000-plus students at those schools are eligible to transfer to a non-PI school, with bus transportation provided by the district.
The deadline is Nov. 16 to apply for Choices programs, and district officials are putting out the word about the options available.
"We want parents to know that they shouldn't feel trapped," said Luis Aguilar, who oversees the district's No Child-PI transfer program. "Those in low-income, low-performing areas have access to schools that are doing better academically."
The number of LAUSD youngsters taking advantage of the No Child-PI program has plummeted in recent years, from 867 in 2008-09 to just 311 last year. This year, 383 kids switched schools.
Compare that to the Choices magnet program, which has thousands of students on waiting lists for seats in theme-based academies and small learning communities.
Aguilar speculated that some parents looking for an alternative to their local PI school may be enrolling their child in a magnet or independent charter school. Parents also may be opting to stick with their PI campus as the district works to implement reforms and improve student performance.
But it also can't be denied that distance is a factor in deciding whether to pursue a No Child-PI transfer.
The No Child-PI program provides parents with a list of schools with available seats. There are 92 elementary and 16 high schools, but just four middle schools from which to choose.
Arnold had hoped to get her sons into Paul Revere Charter in Brentwood, but there wasn't room for both boys. So she enrolled them in Hale, on the western edge of the San Fernando Valley and more than 30 miles from their home.
"We get up at 5 every morning and eat breakfast and get dressed, and I walk with them to the bus stop and tell them I love them. They get home at 5 or a little after and I make it a point to pick them up," said Arnold, who works nights as a private caretaker.
"Being a parent means you have to make sacrifices."
And those early mornings and long bus rides are well worth the effort, she said. Hale scored 845 on the state's Academic Performance Index, compared with 611 at Obama Academy.
Thirteen-year-old Delion and Cameron are thrilled with the change, delighting in the more rigorous lessons and the tougher discipline at their new school.
The deadline is Nov. 16 to apply for one of Los Angeles Unified`s Choices programs. Information and applications are available at local schools or at echoices.lausd.net.
"At our old school, the kids were smoking and ditching, but they don't allow that here," said Delion, the chattier of the identical twins. "The teachers make sure you do your work and you can't be in the hallway after the bell rings."
Cameron said he and his brother have always been early risers so they're undaunted by the 5 a.m. wake-up call. And they put their time on the bus to good use, he said, doing homework, reading and "just watching the road."
English and history teacher Lynda Escalante said the brothers are adjusting and seem to appreciate their new surroundings.
"They're doing a good job," she said. "I know it's a struggle, but you can see that it's worth it by their enthusiasm."