Sunday, December 23, 2007


by Paul Clinton, Staff Writer | Daily Breeze

December 17, 2007 - Hoping to stem the tide of sixth-graders abandoning Los Angeles Unified elementary schools on the Westside for private schools, trustee Marlene Canter is stepping up recruiting efforts for seven middle schools.

Canter wants local parents to take another look at LAUSD, so she's offering tours of higher-achieving magnets, hosting an open house and extolling the virtues of Los Angeles public schools in speeches.

"Many families in the areas that I represent send their children to LAUSD elementary schools, but opt for private schools when their children get older," said Canter, who represents schools from Westchester to the San Fernando Valley.

"But as the district opens new schools in overcrowded areas, we now have the opportunity to increase local resident enrollment."

Her case should be bolstered by the decision of two Westchester schools to opt out of LAUSD bureaucracy and partner with Loyola Marymount University in a "family" of campuses.

Last week, parents and teachers at Wright Middle School and Kentwood Elementary School agreed to a five-year experiment to bring decision-making powers over curriculum, hiring and budget issues to school communities.

Parents often switch from LAUSD to private schools, because they perceive them to be safer and believe they offer higher quality academics, parents and educators say.

Or they'll search out homes in places like Torrance or El Segundo just for access to quality public schools.

"You get a heck of a lot more house for the dollar in Westchester than you get in El Segundo," said Terry Marcellus, a member of the Westchester-Playa del Rey Neighborhood Council. "In El Segundo, you get less house for the money because you get to send your kids to the El Segundo schools."

The tidal outflow may be starting to reverse itself.

Stephen Rochelle, principal of Wright Middle, said he has captured more local residents in the past two years. He also acknowledged the district must improve its academic program.

"We need to reform schools, so we can do a better job of educating all children," he said. "When we do a better job, we will get the results we're looking for. Those results will be higher test scores, lower suspension rates, higher attendance rates and high rates of parent satisfaction, teacher satisfaction, student satisfaction."

At Wright, about half the incoming sixth-graders arrive from five local feeders - Cowan Avenue Elementary, Kentwood, Loyola Village Elementary, Paseo del Rey Magnet and Westport Heights Elementary schools.

Of the crop of 306 entering in 2005-06, 162 arrived from local feeders. Another 109 arrived from other LAUSD schools. The remaining 35 moved into the district or transferred in from a private school.

When they leave LAUSD, parents often enroll their sixth-graders in private schools such as the Westside Neighborhood School or Westchester Lutheran School.

Nancy Timmons removed her son from Cowan Avenue Elementary midway through second-grade and enrolled him in Westchester Lutheran.

Her son had been identified as gifted and was often bored in class.

"In LAUSD schools, there's a particular curriculum they have to abide by," Timmons said. "If your child falls outside of that, they will not tailor the curriculum to your child's needs."

The LMU Family of Schools has set a goal of repairing the broken feeder link. Only a small group of students attend LAUSD schools from kindergarten through 12th grade on the Westside.

Drew Furedi, executive director of the LMU Family of Schools, said keeping students on one education path would provide them better continuity in instruction and likely raise achievement.

"The overall thing we're seeing is that parents, now going back several years, are making other choices," Furedi said. "If you're creating those linkages (between the schools), there's greater support for those students going through the pipeline."

Parents have until Jan. 11 to apply for enrollment at LAUSD magnet programs.

Wright and Loyola Village both house magnets, which typically offer smaller school environments and can be attended by any student in the district.

After Jeanette Salazar's son leaves Loyola Village in the spring, he'll likely head to Wright Middle's aerospace magnet.

"Private schools are so expensive," Salazar said. "If they improve the academics at the public middle school, that could be a good decision for me."

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