Wednesday, January 05, 2011



Howard Blume/LA Times |

December 30, 2010 | 12:52 pm - In a letter to staff, the principal of the 1-year-old arts high school in downtown Los Angeles pledged this week to get answers to questions raised by a Los Angeles Times article about the school’s enrollment policy. (“WHO CAN ATTEND L.A. UNIFIED’S ARTS HIGH SCHOOL?”/follows)

“As of now the policy remains the same, but if it needs to change then so be it,” Principal Luis Lopez wrote in an e-mail to staff. The as-yet-unnamed school is still referred to as Central Los Angeles High School No. 9.

The article, published Dec. 26, reveals that Los Angeles Unified School District officials have been enforcing an enrollment policy that contradicts a 2006 decision by the city’s Board of Education. At the time, board members voted to open the school to district-wide enrollment as soon as local classroom overcrowding eased in exchange for approving a more ambitious and expensive design and program.

2cents  smf: Principal Lopez’ son attends HS#9 as a student residing outside the  attendance area and has since the school opened.  This also reopens the unresolved controversy over the unexplained removal of Suzanne Blake, the school’s original principal.



The policy that 70% of students be from the downtown area was designed to be temporary until overcrowding at nearby schools was relieved. But some officials say that figure is permanent.

Taking a look

Parents and prospective students walk through the theater lobby on a tour of the $232-million campus in downtown Los Angeles. L.A. Unified board policy called for the school to be open equally to youths districtwide once overcrowding at other schools in the area was relieved. (Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times / December 9, 2010

By Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times |

December 26, 2010 - You can't miss the distinctive 140-foot stainless steel tower of the city's year-old downtown arts high school from the adjacent 101 Freeway or from anywhere else nearby.

But figuring out how to enroll in the still-unnamed Grand Avenue campus can be elusive, and Los Angeles Unified School District officials are ignoring a school board policy regarding who should attend the $232-million, state-of-the-art school.

The drill for getting into Los Angeles Central High School No. 9, the campus' temporary name, adds one more wrinkle to the ever more complex process of picking a school in L.A. Unified.

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Students, for example, can apply to a magnet school and will get in based on their ethnicity and a detailed point system. They can also apply to charter schools, where they must win a lottery to enroll at the popular ones. Families also can consider nine new schools, although details about their academic programs won't be available until at least February.

Some schools will make room for gifted students or athletes who don't live in the area. Then there are local neighborhood schools where leftover classroom seats are available for the asking.

These offerings, and more, have different rules and different deadlines. Many are listed in the district's "Choices" brochure. Charters, public schools that are independently run, are listed separately on the district website.

Even though students from across L.A. Unified can apply to the arts school, which opened in September 2009, the campus isn't mentioned in that brochure. Nor is the process explained on the school's multimedia website — though it did list three dates in December for tours aimed at prospective families.

Mostly it was word of mouth and independent sleuthing that brought Ted Bernstein and his son, Adam, 13, an avid ballet student, to a tour.

"The only reason I knew about it was that we were researching high schools and looking for a specific thing for our son," said Bernstein, who lives in the mid-Wilshire area. "I read about it in the newspaper when it was getting ready to open up."

Shawin Gonzalez, a 30-year-old college student who lives with her parents in Hollywood, was helping her younger sister find a school other than their neighborhood campus.

"I see it when I drive on the freeway," she said. "I Googled: new, high school, Grand, California."

During the tours, which drew nearly 200 students and parents, Principal Luis Lopez explained that students who live near the school apply through a lottery to fill 70% of classroom seats. Students from elsewhere will be accepted first-come, first-served starting Feb. 7 to fill the remaining 30%.

Administrators told parents that the 70-30 ratio is the school's permanent enrollment policy, based on a decision made by the Board of Education.

But that explanation is incorrect, based on the actions of the board in March 2006.

The neighborhood advantage was supposed to be temporary until L.A. Unified relieved overcrowding in nearby schools. And now, the construction of schools and declining enrollment near Belmont High School has left area campuses less crowded than in other portions of the nation's second-largest school system.

According to board policy, the arts high school should be opened up equally to non-local students, including middle-class students with an arts background as well as low-income students who happen to live farther away. The board voted to start with a minimum of 500 outside students.

Current school board President Monica Garcia, who represents the local area, did not participate in the 2006 decision; she joined the board months later.

She has "raised hell," in her words, about enforcing a permanent 70-30 ratio, saying that no more than 500 outside students should ever be allowed.

For decades, overcrowding had forced thousands of students in that area to be bused out of the Belmont neighborhood west of downtown. And those who remained attended packed campuses that operated year-round on shortened schedules.

Community leaders and district officials, such as Garcia, regarded Central Los Angeles High School No. 9 and other new area campuses as partial payback for decades of insufficiency. The district is also developing performing arts training to benefit that area's low-income elementary and middle-school students.

Former board member Marlene Canter, among others, sees an unfair, unauthorized revision of the rules on who can attend the high school. She said the board agreed to create a world-class arts school at nearly triple the original cost in exchange for districtwide enrollment.

"We made it clear that as soon as overcrowding was relieved, the arts high school would be open to the entire district," Canter said.

Canter challenged the six current board members representing other areas to demand that families receive equal access.

The district's demographer said 70% of seats must remain restricted for local students indefinitely. Other, nearby schools have cut class sizes, reducing the capacity of those campuses, said Rena Perez. And the arts school itself lost more than 200 seats when it added offices.

The district is actively recruiting arts high students only from the local area. In its inaugural year, the school had trouble luring such students. Most came from outside the area, including about 50 from beyond L.A. Unified entirely.

That prompted Garcia to complain behind the scenes that officials, including the principal, who was subsequently removed, weren't doing enough to attract local students.

This school year, local interest soared. In fact, the school had room for only 85% of the local students who applied.

Non-local students faced much longer odds. More than 400 applications were submitted for 144 spaces before the school stopped accepting them.

Much of the demand from outside the area is from parents who, like Bernstein, have provided arts training for their children, and who were resourceful enough to learn about the school.

The school district, Bernstein said, "spent a tremendous amount of money on the facility, so it should be available to all the kids in Los Angeles."

But officials, including school board President Monica Garcia, have said the school’s permanent policy is to enroll 70% of students from neighborhoods near the school. Garcia represents that area on the seven-member Board of Education.

That article was followed on Wednesday by a Times editorial on a separate but related issue. (“HOLD THE APPLAUSE”/follows)  The editorial urged the school district to enroll students by audition; currently, students are selected without regard to their talent or training in the arts.

“These two articles raise important questions, and I will certainly make all efforts to get answers to them,” Lopez wrote. “I am not at the level to make this decision, but I do have a charge to request for it to be clarified and clearly stated.”

A veteran district administrator, Lopez moved over from Franklin High after the district removed Suzanne Blake, who had been principal during the school’s first year. Garcia had criticized Blake for not enrolling enough local students, although the district has declined to state what factors prompted them to replace Blake, who was popular at the school.

In his e-mail, Lopez urged staff to stay focused on the school’s educational mission.

“I suggest that we all keep focused on what our number one charge is: to teach the kids that we do have,” he wrote. “We are already a model school. Our students are showing their learning in many more ways than one! It is our responsibility to highlight their learning and lead the discussion rather than be reactive and defensive.”

In 2006, the school board decided the school should be “open to all district students, beginning with a minimum of 500 students from outside the residential area to grow as space permits,” according to the board resolution.

The school cost $232 million to build. An additional $190 million was spent to relocate district headquarters from the Grand Avenue site. When both those figures are taken into account, the school is, by far, the district’s most expensive, at a cost of nearly $281,000 per seat. The school also costs about 30% more to operate on an ongoing basis than a typical high school, officials have said.


HOLD THE APPLAUSE: L.A. Unified's downtown arts high school could become a model, but first it needs to get its admissions process right.

LA Times Editorial |

December 29, 2010 - If it is to become a great institution and a model for others around the country, the new downtown arts high school should train the most talented students within its reach, based on fair auditions and portfolios of their work. That's how it is at the Orange County High School of the Arts, a charter school in Santa Ana that was the training ground of "Glee" star Matthew Morrison. That's how the Fiorello H. La Guardia High School, the successor to the arts school of "Fame" fame, operates in New York City. Yet school board politics have kept the same formula for success from applying at the showcase arts campus in downtown Los Angeles.

Times are hard enough for Central High School No. 9, which doesn't even have a permanent name yet. Because of the district's wrongheaded rush to open the $232-million campus in 2009, the school's first year was rockier than it should have been. It struggled to gain accreditation, both of its top administrators were reassigned, and it hasn't yet attracted hoped-for financial support from the entertainment industry. The district's abysmal financial picture means that it cannot put the kinds of resources into the school that it had planned.

There were bad decisions all around, but the worst were policies pushed by school board President Monica Garcia that have kept the school from enrolling L.A.'s top arts students, who would draw attention and donations that in turn would help future students succeed. As Times staff writer Howard Blume recently reported, the school is required to accept 70% of its students from the immediate neighborhood, and none of its admissions are based on merit. Local students are picked by lottery; those from other neighborhoods in the district are enrolled on a first-come, first-served basis. The district doesn't even let parents know about the program in its materials on school choices.

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Students who get in will no doubt have a fine experience, but that's not the same as building a great arts school. Garcia is right to demand that the long-underserved students from this impoverished neighborhood should have special access, but her formula is upside down. Thirty percent of the spots should go to students living nearby, and the rest to students from throughout the district. And all students should be selected by audition or portfolio review. Admission to a potentially unique school should not happen by chance or by which parents heard of it first.

School overcrowding in the central city is no longer a problem; the area has several beautiful new campuses. The school board should muster the common sense and political will to insist on a change in the enrollment formula and show that it can create an arts school that deserves nationwide applause.

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