By Naush Boghossian | Op-Ed in the Daily News -- Naush Boghossian, a former education reporter for the Daily News, is senior media consultant for Larson Communications, a communications firm specializing in public education reform.
May 4, 2010 - IF you don't drive a stick shift, would you spend more than $300,000 on a Ferrari and insist on driving out of the dealership because you think you'll learn as you go?
Sounds senseless, right? That was Los Angeles Unified's approach with its $232 million performing arts campus that opened downtown last fall. An architecturally stunning school that is also one of the most expensive in the nation, Central L.A. High School No. 9 neighbors the Walt Disney Concert Hall, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and the Ahmanson Theatre - an intentional location aimed at bolstering the school's arts offerings.
But the district scrambled to get the school ready for September, hastily hiring its leadership just months prior to opening, in spite of serious reservations quietly expressed behind the scenes by district and community leaders. Philanthropist Eli Broad, a vocal champion of the school, even recommended allowing a public charter onto the campus, but to no avail.
Now, two months shy of completing its first year, the school might not be accredited due to concerns raised about "professional development and internal teacher culture," as reported in the Daily News, leaving seniors next year in a bind since many public universities prefer diplomas from accredited high schools. The accreditation flap will probably be resolved, but it is symptomatic of problems with the way the district has handled the development of the arts high school.
Why didn't the district pursue out-of-the-box ideas, including the charter option proposed by Broad, to ensure a steadier launch? Did district leaders mistakenly believe they were "giving away" a $232million campus? Did they not want to publicly admit they weren't prepared to open the school on schedule?
Since leaving my former job as a reporter, I have performed communications work for clients that have included ICEF Public Schools, which operates 15 high-performing campuses in South L.A. I've had to abandon my reporter's natural cynicism as I became impressed with what ICEF has accomplished, including its record of sending all of its graduating seniors to college.
ICEF had proposed partnering with LAUSD to open a world-class performing arts school at the site. Their proposal envisioned a real performing arts institution that included starting at lower grade levels, since in reality, you can't give a sophomore a violin and expect her to master it by graduation. While LAUSD is trying to build such a performing arts program, ICEF has established one already and has one of the most celebrated arts teachers in the nation, Fernando Pullum at its helm. What ICEF lacks is a world-class facility. LAUSD has the facility, but lacks the program. In fact, they tried to lure Pullum to head up the performing arts school.
But the district would not allow Pullum to operate the school free from district constraints as an independent charter, forcing ICEF to put its own new performing arts high school into a small church downtown.
Despite this facility challenge, the new Fernando Pullum Performing Arts High School stands as a testament to what can be done well for comparatively little money and more vision. Pullum's industry connections have created opportunities for students that many spend years trying to achieve.
Pullum has established extensive partnerships throughout the city and in Hollywood, creating a dynamic arts environment that is exactly what would have been expected for a performing arts school in the town that is home to the entertainment industry.
He has partnerships with UCLA and the powerhouse talent group, Creative Artists Agency. His students record music and learn sound engineering in their on-site studio. Recently, two of Pullum's students sang backup for Sade on "The Tonight Show" and "Dancing with the Stars," and one returned from the set of "Lost" after working closely with the director. The kids travel domestically and abroad, including to Cuba next month to perform. They are living their passions.
LAUSD will spare no resource in getting the performing arts school accredited since there is so much immediately at stake. But, this tale of two performing arts schools on opposite ends of town shows, yet again, that it can be done well for far less money. While art programs are diminishing during difficult budgetary times, ICEF spends about $375 per student each year to provide performing, visual and media arts instruction with a current ratio of arts teachers to students of 1:93 (compared with 1:1,200 in L.A. County).
More importantly, this story highlights the importance of always operating with a sense of urgency. LAUSD should proactively operate as if things are immediately at stake - because they are. There are more than 600,000 lives at stake each and every day.
Perhaps the accreditation mishap will give the school board reason enough to allow a more established and successful program into the beautiful facility.
Even though LAUSD Superintendent Ray Cortines has reached out to charters to bring them together with traditional schools, some in the district have adopted an increasingly combative stance toward charters. LAUSD must learn that it can benefit from what these innovative models are doing.
It's OK to ask a friend who knows how to drive stick shift to teach you to drive. Until LAUSD gets that, things will remain business as usual. And that's not good for our students.
to the readers and editors of the Daily News:
If you don't drive a stick shift, would you spend more than $300,000 on a Ferrari and lend it to someone else for five years with little or no accountability because they say they drive it better than you? Would the bank who lent you the $300K let you?
As a longtime reader of Ms. Boghossian in this paper I appreciate her " abandon(ing) my reporter's natural cynicism as I became impressed with what ICEF has accomplished".
My cynicism is confirmed by her words. Naush is a paid advocate for ICEF and the charter community; Eli Broad's signature might just as well be on her paycheck in her current job.
To learn more what Eli Broad has in mind I suggest reading the "Billionaire Boys Club" chapter in Diane Ravitch's current bestseller The Death and Life of the Great American School System.
Naush asks: "Did district leaders mistakenly believe they were "giving away" a $232million campus?" As a district leader I am unconvinced that that thinking is so mistaken; the conspiracy isn't theoretical, it's documented. The hidden agenda is not.
I feel a great need to thank the superintendent and the board of education for keeping the promise they made to the voters for the school bonds and the residents of the school's community in the Belmont High area: to keep the High School for the Fine and Performing Arts aka Central High School No. 9 mainly a neighborhood school - not the elitist "Fame" arts school that Broad would prefer …and continues to want to have named for himself.
Good job! :-) have visited the school and seen exceptional teachers teach engaged and talented students - not the professional actors and performers already working in the industry - traveling "domestically and abroad…. and to Cuba" (since when was Cuba anything but abroad?) that attend ICEF's arts school.
I attended Hollywood High School back in the day. Professional actors with their stars already on Hollywood Boulevard attended class with the rest of us - and some of us went on to earn our own stars, on the boulevard and on other walks of fame and pathways of life.
Charter Schools are public schools. But they are public schools - spending the public's money - with a private agenda. ICEF makes a great deal about sending all its students to college. Though commendable, this is proof that they don't really serve all students because in real life all kids don't go on to college! This is probably even more true about kids in the Arts and Entertainment Industries.
The kafuffle over the accreditation of The High School for the Fine and Performing Arts (known on campus simply as "#9" - think about the Beatles*) is another play in the charter community's gamesmanship to take over the school.
- Scott Folsom, member of the LAUSD Bond Oversight Committee
*none of whom went to college!