Tuesday, September 14, 2010

BUDGET CUTS SHORTEN YEAR: Back to school ... finally


By Connie Llanos, Staff Writer | LA Daily News | http://bit.ly/9TOxJi

Children line up for their classes on the first day of school at the new Valley Region Elementary School #12 in North Hills on Monday. | See photo gallery. (Photo by David Crane/Staff Photographer)

09/13/2010 08:29:33 PM PDT -- About 500,000 Los Angeles Unified students returned to school Monday, a week later than usual thanks to state budget cuts that shaved off five instruction days this year.

District officials shortened the school year to save teaching jobs and preserve class sizes. While students were happy about the extra week of summer, educators noticed many were excited to be cracking open the books.

"It seemed like everyone was anxious to come back," said Vivian Cordoba, principal of Enadia Way Elementary in West Hills.

As Los Angeles Unified celebrated the start of another year, it also opened the doors of 17 new schools, including six elementary schools in the San Fernando Valley and the $578 million Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools complex, the nation's most expensive campus.

All of the district's new schools – and a dozen existing LAUSD schools – also opened Monday after going through the district's "School Choice" reform plan, which allowed charter operators, nonprofit groups and district teachers to compete to operate the public campuses.

"With a focus on personalized and high quality instruction, these schools mark the beginning of a new way at LAUSD," said LAUSD board member Yolie Flores.

"Each school will provide an academic environment tailored to, and supported by, the community it serves. Our expectation is that these schools will produce outstanding results and lead to the expansion of educational excellence throughout the District so that all of our students have equal access to high performing public schools."

Among the new "School Choice" campuses was San Fernando Middle School, which on Monday opened as two separate schools on one campus.

Now the oldest campus in the San Fernando Valley will also house the San Fernando Institute for Applied Media, which is a small pilot school run by teachers and a local nonprofit, the Youth Policy Institute.

"Today was truly a testament to the amazing things that can happen when a community, teachers, a school district and a nonprofit organization come together because they want change," said Pearl Arredondo, a teacher at the new SFiAM campus.

The School Choice plan is one of several reform efforts that are being planned for LAUSD in the coming years – however several leadership changes at the district could shift the direction of at least some plans.

LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines has already announced he will retire in the spring, leaving the district's top position in limbo.

While many speculate that new Deputy Superintendent John Deasy could replace him, that decision will be up to the school board.

With school board elections scheduled for the spring, the politics of LAUSD's governing body though could shift significantly.

Four of seven board seats are up for election including Local Board District 3 which covers most of the Central and West San Fernando Valley.

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