Tuesday, October 21, 2008

One of the Biggest Reasons I Sent My Son to Port of Los Angeles High Charter School Over San Pedro High; The Overcrowded Conditions Will Cost the Larger High School – Especially When No Relief Is in Sight for the Building of Another Campus

By Diana L. Chapman

“How do they do it?” I quizzed my friend, a long-time teacher at San Pedro High School who the students adore. “How do they keep calm and not get into riots on a 90 degree day?”

I was, of course, referring to the students attending the miserably, overcrowded conditions at San Pedro High where I found myself becoming unnerved when visiting the school for meetings last year. As time went on, I was becoming more and more alarmed about sending my son, who should have started there this year as a 14-year-old freshman.

Instead, he’s at the Port of Los Angeles High Charter school. There are many reasons that factored into it, but the major one that came up again and again is simply the overcrowded conditions which made me feel like I was in a prison – and the threatening storm that the campus will turn year-round as the school becomes perplexingly even more overcrowded.

Year round has proved disastrous for families and the study behaviors of students – so much so that Los Angeles Unified – has worked on dismantling all of its year round schools. I shudder when I think of San Pedro High going year round – a threat many residents are taking lightly – but perhaps should not.

Here’s a snapshot for those who haven’t been there lately during school hours: I’m coming onto the campus for, ironically, a safe and civil meeting, and the bell rings. Students storm out the doors, racing as fast as they can to get to their next class. They are pushing and shoving in hallways that are thick with so many bodies, there’s no room to breath – and as an adult, I found myself getting picked up in a tidal wave of kids desperate to get to their next class.

Having gone through this bitterly uncomfortable rigmarole many times, I couldn’t understand why the students weren’t having fist fights in the hallway.

“They just go with it,” my teaching friend said. “They know how it is ,so they keep a cap on it.”

But here’s my question of the day: Why should they have too????????????? In a school where there’s 3,500 students made for a campus of about 2,000 – and in a community that keeps rejecting the building of a new high school or even a small satellite – my fears for my son increased. While his personality fits San Pedro, his safety appears to me much better at the charter school, since it’s much smaller, the staff is close and the Port police station is being built right next door.

We already know that we have many racial hostilities going on in this town. We already know that student LaTerian Tasby, who became a popular football and basketball player at San Pedro High and turned his life around, was shot to death by gang members at a high school party last year around this time. Many kids in the know will tell you it was because he was an African-American – and an easy target due to his height, six feet, six inches.

Call me a nervous Mama, an overly dramatic mom, or whatever you want. But I just think showing students that they are worth so little, meaning we won’t allow a new high school or even a satellite campus to relieve the stress, tells the kids exactly what we think of them.

Then they, in turn, sure show they feel: I’d walk in the hallways at San Pedro and find trays of discarded food just strewn along the floor – because I guess the students couldn’t bother to find a trash can. Why should they? If we have no respect, why should they?

Kids can read us far better than we think – more than we would ever admit. They take the cues from the adults that surround them – and most of all, they are not stupid. They get it – and they get it well. They know who cares; They know who doesn’t.

Don’t ever underestimate a kid – because they will return what we hand out with glee. For example, my son recently was lucky to be called to a press conference held by our smiling-Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, whose teeth I’ve come to know more than anything else by his repeated photo ops.

The mayor’s office needed kids to wear T-shirts and show that they wanted clean air in our overly polluted Harbor Area when there was a launching of clean truck initiative in town.

But when my son arrived with a group of other students, there weren’t enough T-shirts to go around – and so the kids who couldn’t wear the shirts weren’t allowed in the photographs.

My son seethed.

Then, the mayor’s staff was rude to one of the school officials and the mayor said, according to my son, “Oh, I was supposed to say something about their school. Oh, well,” and turned around and walked away.

Ryan came home that night with the fastest political education he could have ever received. In that short period of time, he summed it up like this: the whole thing was staged, the mayor didn’t care an ounce about the kids and wasn’t even friendly – and he will never vote for Villaraigosa if he runs for governor. Four years from now, Ryan will be able to vote.

I’m not going to say yet that my son is happy at the Port of Los Angeles. He’s only been there for less than three months and admittedly, he feels somewhat disenfranchised as all his friends are at San Pedro High – and the school’s rules are markedly different from other schools. But just like college, where kids call home crying in the first several months after leaving, they tend to wind up happier than they’ve ever been.

I’ve come to greatly admire the current assistant principal, Gaetoni Scotti, and just wish he was principal everyday. The last principal left and Mr. Scotti is acting in the interim.

He’s been responsive to many of my requests, such as when my Mom’s twin brother died, he was able to help me arrange quickly with the teachers that Ryan might be gone for awhile. I also loved it at Back to School night, because the teacher’s were fun and zany, which often helps keeps students attention when they learn.

I’m not going to say yet that it’s a better school than San Pedro High. I also can’t even say I’m 100 percent sure that it will be safer, because we all know of the tiny Amish school that was attacked by a ruthless man, who killed all the girls he held hostage. No one could ever have predicted that.

And I am going to say I have wonderful friends on the SP High Lady Boosters – who surprised me when they took the “fix San Pedro first,” stance, as many in town have before building any other schools.

I respect their opinion as I know how hard they do work for the kids. But all those things just didn’t make me feel comfortable with the same issue that keeps coming back to haunt me. It’s this: an overcrowded school, a few hot days, a few agitated students and the whole place could blow.

This is what happened at Locke High School last year, and my friend who was working there as an assistant principal, said it was one of the most shocking and distressing things he’d ever witnessed in his life. The worst part: he felt helpless to stop it.

As a reporter, I can recall many stories where the schools were under lockdown, including Banning High, when skirmishes broke out on campuses. That meant, the kids couldn’t get out and the parents couldn’t get in.

I watched on TV and saw the photos of parents screaming and trying to climb fences to reach their kid. And I saw kids trying to climb over to reach their parents. Somehow, I don’t mean to be so negative, but I can see this happening at San Pedro until we relieve the overcrowding.

And I’ll admit right here and now – I’d be one of those parents climbing the fence.

Making SP High better is a good concept – and no matter what – still needs to happen, because there are good teachers there. There is an excellent staff. The real question though is: how long will it take and how much longer will the kids have to endure the current sardine-can setting they are in?

I didn’t want to wait long enough to find out the hard way. That’s the simplest explanation I can give you as to why my son is now enrolled in a charter school.


Porfirio said...

I am not surprised by Ryan's story of Villaraigosa. I think it was a mistake when Jim Hahn was not re-elected. Jim has the qualities and attributes one wants to find in reasonable leadership. Unfortunately, he seems to lack that knack for beating up on the other guy.

Your position on the issues surrounding the new high school that is going to be built at Angel's Gate has merit. I hope your post incites others to see the light.

M Richards said...

I am glad you took the local choice to send Ryan to a High School in San Pedro,

Let's look at the number of high schools already in San Pedro.
San Pedro High School
Port of Los Angeles High School
Mary Star of the Sea High School
Angel's Gate Continuation High School
J.F. Cooper Community Day School (grades 7-12)
Rolling Hills Prep.

So San Pedro has four public or private high schools and two schools for students who cannot attend the four other high schools.

If my calculator is correct, that is SIX high school campuses in San Pedro and folks are claiming that is not enough for OUR community?

We also need to acknowledge that a portion of OUR community, almost 2,000 households, many with school-age children, send 80% of those students to Palos Verdes Unified School District schools.

We also need to take into account the "200" San Pedro residents who are bussed from the area to attend public high schools in other areas. (According to Mr. Steve Walters, a past San Pedro High School Principal and currently at the Local District Superintendent's office.)

It is wondered if 'fixing' San Pedro High School would take less time to do, rather than building an entire new campus, a SEVENTH in the San Pedro area.

Students deserve the best education they can get. They also deserve the best education we can offer.

Can or should we really spend money, at this time, offering a whole new campus when we still don't know whether LAUSD deserved the bond measures already passed by voters or the one now being considered?

We should be provided information from LAUSD on the number of schools recently built at or under budget and ontime before we vote on whether to grant to LAUSD and specifically their Facilities Division bond money we all eventually have to pay back.

Recent events in the economy and our own personal budgets has strongly suggested we all need to review our expenditures more closely.

Too many of us are facing real problems with our own personal economy and many are taking measures to economize in their own financial dealings and when thinking about other places where economization is needed.

Perhaps the students deserve a new campus that we might not be able to offer at this time.

Whether student enrollment will begin to grow in 2013 is in debate. Some people think it may not start increasing until 2017 and that was before this current economic condition got to where it is right now.

There have been alternatives offered to building an entire new campus that just might ease suggested overcrowding at San Pedro High School that could probably be implemented sooner and at less cost than building SRHS 15 at the Preferred Site.

I wish and hope that everyone takes the chance to review some of the alternatives that were not presented by LAUSD in their Draft Environmental Impact Report for the Proposed Project.

In these tougher times it should be apparent that we all need to consider things more openly and more thoroughly to try and deal with the issues.

San Pedro MAY need a new campus, but it doesn't necessarily need it so soon and/or on the Preferred Site.

porfirio said...

Gee, the post above makes his own case for building the school at Angel's Gate. His numbers of OUR community students attending school elsewhere and Chapman's account of the current situation and the SPHS principal's assurance that the new campus would be built with funds specific for that purpose certainly argues for beginning construction today. Let's do it!

Gayle said...

I graduated from San Pedro High School in the largest class that has ever graduated previously or since. We attended high school on a campus that was SMALLER than the current campus with just a few less students than are attending now. So, although I have no children attending Pedro High, I have my own recollections of what the school was like with approximately the same amount of students on a smaller campus, which leads me to distrust the sentiments that the school is overcrowded.

I wrote to Diana privately and she challenged, or rather suggested, I come up with some solutions. Well having limited knowledge of public school administration, here goes:

1)return to graduating 2 classes a year, one in January and one in June. Annual promotion was instituted in the late 1960s because the LASUD believed that enrollment would be decreasing and having 2 graduating classes a year would be a waste. I skipped 9th grade, graduated with the Summer 1972 class, when I would have graduated in Winter 1973.
2)return to a 3 year high school and 3 year junior high. There are predictions that incoming enrollments will be dropping, making more room in elementary schools. Going back to a 3 year high school (for which the original San Pedro High School was built) would eliminate 875 students.
3)find a way to use the funds that are designated to only build a new school so that the funds can be used to build new buildings on existing schools. I'm sure that if they can figure out how to completely construct a new high school on contaminated land (Belmont High) that the administrators at LAUSD can finagle the law to use the funds for new buildings at Pedro High. After all they found the funds for a new stadium and gym.
4)use eminent domain and build a new high school across Western from the cemetery. Traffice will increase but not as much as the proposed development. I understand that here is concern about rival gangs from Pedro, Wilmington, and Harbor City attending, but if this were a magnet school as proposed at Fort MacArthur Upper Reservation that might mitigate most of that problem. (I'd love to know whose favorite charity got the donation to drop the high school on that land.)

Well that's four suggestions.

Anonymous said...

San Pedro is TOO crowded. There has to be a compromise. I have wanted a 9th Grade Academy that will leave overcrowding but not be a "new school". That wouldn't be too much for the citizens around Angel's Gate to handle and would alleviate the overcrowding.

Why not?

As far as the mayor, he has some good ideas; however, his #1 priority is to get to the NEXT level, instead of doing a good job as mayor. Too bad...

Neal Kleiner

Russell Jeans said...

The solutions offered my be serious to their creator, but they run up against serious difficulties when more is known about reality.

1) I'm not sure how the first solution would mathematically relieve overcrowding. In a decreasing enrollment I can see where money might be saved by eliminating the costs of operating double classes when the shrinking enrollment makes the cost of the mid year class marginally unacceptable.

2)The shift up a grade to the middle and high schools was propagated by the law passed under Pete Wilson to have maximum enrollment of 20 in a classroom at the second grade and lower. The additional classroom space needed to comply with the law would require building additional classrooms. The alternative was to move grades within the system up a grade to the higher schools because there you saw drop out rates that required less space due to lower attendance. It may not have worked very well in some instances, but the alternatives would have placed a greater burden (especially financially) on the school districts.

3) The suggestion that the school district can "finagle the law" is just odious. Many may suggest they do that already, but that comes from people who already are personally partisan in a very negative way against government or bureaucracies or school districts, generally and specifically. That solution is not even tenable.

4) The use of eminent domain is an area so near to where property is already owned would be irresponsible and nonsensical. Moreover, applying eminent domain is expensive and creates more community opposition than the current strategy.

Again, the school district is acting logically, reasonably and responsibly in its current process. Even more so when compared to the alternatives offered and the objections made by opponents.

Diana is on the mark and that is supportable.

gayle said...

Mr. Jeans, my suggestions were mostly tongue-in-cheek, I accepted Diana's challenge to come up with solutions and threw those out there. What a pleasant surprise that you took the time for a complete analysis. However I do stand behind putting a new high school on Western Avenue across from the cemetery. The location would be on a major street in a more central location than the one currently planned. That spot makes more sense than putting it at the southern most end of Los Angeles. Just so you know, although I live in San Pedro, I'm nowhere near Fort MacArthur. Loved the use of odious!

Mark said...


To Gayle and others, the Ponte Vista site was the "Preferred Site" for a 2,025-seat high school to relieve overcrowding at both Narbonne High School and San Pedro High School.

That planned changed to become two different "Proposed Projects", one being South Region High School #14 with '810-seats' being built at the Ponte Vista site to relieve overcrowding at Narbonne High School and the other being South Region High School #15 with "1,215-seats" being built on the Upper Reservation of Fort MacArthur.

In December, 2007 plans were modified to pull back SRHS 14 from further consideration based on a claim of lack of funds to go forward and a redetermination about how 'overcrowded' Narbonne High School may actually be.

HOWEVER, not only are plans being considered to bring back SRHS into consideration on a site somewhere other than the Ponte Vista site IF Measure Q is passed, the project currently remains in 'mothballs' if you will and still its "Preferred Site" is on between "6-8" acres of land at the Ponte Vista site.

Basically with SRHS 14, IF it goes forward, it won't be built at Ponte Vista.

On June 24, 2008, by a vote of the majority of the members of the LAUSD Board of Education, the projected number of seats under consideration at the "Preferred Site" for South Region High School #15 was reduced from 1,215-seats to 810-seats.

When the Draft Environmental Impact Report for South Region High School 315 was published, there were four basic Alternatives listed in the document;

"No Project" is a mandated Alternative and it basically means that the project does not go forward.

There was an Alternative that merely removed the proposed 'Wind Turbines' from the "Proposed Project"

One Alternative called for the reduction of seats on the site from 810-seats to 500-seats.

A fourth Alternative is placing the campus on the Ponte Vista site.

I was asked to think about the Alternatives and provide my thoughts for possible inclusion in the set of comments being written for Neighborhoods Involved and Organized to Support Education.

I have not read the set of comments that NOISE provided for the DEIR, but I did include comments about Alternatives with my personal set of comments to the documents.

I suggested fourteen Alternatives that could have some form of consideration.

Some of the Alternatives I suggested fall along the lines of what Gayle was thinking and I cast a long net out over a great area.

Having two classes graduate during a calendar year was not one of my Alternatives and I side with Mr. Jeans on his comments about that.

The use of emenint domain was central in considering SRHS 14 and the Alternative that proposes moving the Proposed Site of SRHS 15 to the Ponte Vista site.

As anyone who was knowledgeable about the fight Bob Bisno continued on with LAUSD concerning access to his property to do site studies at Ponte Vista and the inclusion of hundreds if not thousands of individuals who objected to the placement of any high school with more than 500-seats at the Ponte Vista site knows, there will not be any high school built on the Ponte Vista site as long as Bob Bisno and others like myself and many, many others have any say in that matter.

With Gayle's point number 3 about LAUSD, LAUSD needs to follow the laws whether they choose to or not.

Many individuals believe that LAUSD does have monies they can tap into to 'fix' problems at San Pedro High School even without having Measure Q passed.

LAUSD claims that if Measure Q passes, there will be plenty of money to 'fix' San Pedro High School.

Since 2007 I have been attending meeting after meeting on several projects dealing with proposed or current LAUSD schools.

My experiences with LAUSD allows me the observation that, especially with regard to the Harbor Area, I find little to trust from the bureaucrats and administrators within the central LAUSD entities.

Russell Jeans said...

I want to add something to this. I try to attack the message, not the messenger. I think that is a good practice in public discussions. Unfortunately, in politics (especially in a general election) that principle dissolves quickly.

Lots of people like to attack the LAUSD. From my viewpoint, the school district is operating in the diseconomies of scale range. The large bureaucracy has some systemic failures while simultaneously hardly benefiting from economies of scale. A characteristic of the former is where very competent people have a difficult time being efficient and effective. I am also surprised at schools paying for supplies at the same price I can buy them individually at retail or sale prices in a regular office supply store. I don't see where there is any economies of scale benefit like I see in my own field of work, wastewater treatment.

I remind anyone reading this that you are seeing a personal observation and personal conclusions. They have not the merit to drive a public discussion that could directly result in pressuring changes. Where they have merit is to see if they are real questions by asking them and then seeing how the questions get answered.

Unfortunately now, too often we are becoming more willing to engage issues in a public discussion that is less self-criticizing than of those to whom the discussion is directed. An impolite way to put it is we are holding the objects of our disdain to a higher standard than we hold ourselves. That is a flawed practice.