Friday, November 02, 2012


By Colin Stutz, lOS fELIZ Ledger Contributing Writer |

Thomas Starr King Middle School's new principal, Paul Naulls.>>

1 November 2012 - SILVER LAKE—Los Angeles Unified School District’s (LAUSD) Thomas Starr King Middle School will start the 2013 school year as an all-magnet campus, transforming its “home school” to a cinematic arts-focused magnet, while maintaining its current gifted and environmental studies magnet programs.

For Tomas O’Grady, founder of the non-profit “Friends of King” this transition is an accomplishment of fairness and equality.

O’Grady, who has two daughters enrolled in the school’s current magnet programs, said he noticed a division around the magnet schools and the feeling that kids who attended the magnets were getting better educations and resources than the students enrolled at the home school.

“[Magnet schools have] become centers for excellence,” said O’Grady, who helped establish King’s environmental studies magnet in 2009. “They’ve become the jewel in LAUSD’s crown. They’re considered to be the successful part of LAUSD. They’re the exception in LAUSD. So why should my daughter have a good education and someone else have a slightly less than good education?”

Touting King’s improvement Academic Performance Index increase from 628 in 2007 to 805 this year, O’Grady said the move is another step of progress for the school.

In entering the LAUSD magnet program, which makes the school open to students from across the entire district and not just the neighborhood, King’s principal Mark Naulls, who is new this year, said the school would benefits from “economies of scale.” By providing an attractive and competitive program, he said, the school should be able to keep a steadier enrollment that means more funding for teaching and support positions.

Naulls said that estimated enrollment for the new all-magnet campus is between 1,500 and 1,600 students, roughly the same as it is now.

While some magnet schools currently exist with an emphasis on film, Naulls said King’s will be the first to focus on all cinematic arts, including animation, digital graphics and imaging, documentaries, full-length features and shorts, as well as then entire arc cinema’s history, in addition to the required standard education subjects.

“We’re right in the back yard of a full panoply of studios and industries that are geared towards entertainment,” he said. He said he hopes the new magnet can prepare a new generation of filmmakers that will, in turn, recapture some of the production industry that has been lost to other regions.

“It seems early to start but if you’re 12 or 13 now, 10 ten years from now [these students will be] those persons entering that workforce. . . and I think that our kids are going to be very, very well positioned to be a part of trying to stabilize and re-grow the cinematic arts industry in Southern California.”

Some King teachers and parents have expressed concerns that the change could mean students whom are not local could edge out those from the neighborhood. Another concern, by some, is whether some students’ parents can or will fill out the required paper work to enter their children into the magnet system.

Linda Guthrie, an 8th grade language arts teacher and King department chair said the new magnet program would be “a disruption of a neighborhood school that has been progressing.”

But Naulls said this fear is unsubstantiated.

According to Naulls, there will be “assurances that every child that lives in the immediate area will have a seat honored for them,” he said, and additional students from outside the neighborhood will fill the seats that remain.

For those parents who may have difficulty with enrollment procedures, the school, he said, will offer parents assistance—even giving students classroom time to fill out preliminary paperwork so their parents will only have to sign off and approve it.

If that fails, Naulls said, the school would have a “soft cap enrollment base” with a cushion that allows additional residents.

According to Estelle Luckett, Director, Student Integration Services for LAUSD’s magnet program, neighborhood students will be given enrollment priority because the surrounding area fulfills LAUSD’s magnet diversity requirements for encouraging integrated schools. She added, creating a stronger, magnet school, could help keep King an integrated neighborhood public school.

“We want those people in the neighborhood to continue to go to their neighborhood school,” she said. “We found that a lot opt out and we want to encourage them to go back in.”

Some of the misunderstanding and misinformation should be attributed to a lack of parent meetings.

“This was done pretty much in secret,” said Guthrie, the 8th grade teacher. “There weren’t meetings held for the parents, we weren’t told what the consequences were of this plan, and I don’t think the community was well served by this discussion.”

Naulls said, rather than hold large, town hall-style meetings, he approached smaller stakeholder groups and was limited by time constraints. After conceptualizing the program with a management team and group of certified staff, he said, “there was a very short window to submit it,” to the LAUSD, or else wait another year.

If some teachers are wary of this transformation, it may also be because of a United Teachers Los Angeles rule that says in such instances, when a school becomes a magnet, a small percentage of teachers must reapply for their jobs.

“Basically we’re unemployed at this point,” said Ann Holtzinger a 6th grade English, history and creative expression teacher at the King home school. “I don’t want to speak for any other teachers, but I’m looking at myself as unemployed at this point and we haven’t really been informed about the process of application to the new school, what the requirements are. So I’m just waiting to find out what happens next basically.”

For worried teachers, O’Grady had a straightforward message.

“If you’re a teacher, if you have a good reputation,” he said, “you’d better believe that you will get your job. However, if you are a bad teacher and you have not been pulling your weight and you have not been part of this King push towards excellence, there is a possibility you will get left out in the cold. But hey, these are our children and that’s the way it goes.”

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