Thursday, December 10, 2009



By Diana L. Chapman

San Pedro High School – one of the 12 Los Angeles public campuses that needs to dramatically improve or it could be passed off to charter control – unveiled a three-pronged approach this week to nurture students in their own smaller, personalized learning campuses, often called houses.

San Pedro educators expect the move to raise grades, test scores and student confidence – a must if school officials want to continue operating the campus and win against four other entities vying to take it over under the district’s new “public choice option.”

At the lightly attended meeting – where more students then parents appeared – several students criticized the report – an action that the principal embraced. She plans to have students aid in the development of the houses.

Jeanette Stevens, who took over the overcrowded school in August, remained optimistic about the proposal – especially after a private staff vote received an overwhelmingly majority to agree to the restructure -- that in the past often met resistance. She vowed to thwart the competitors – one of which is the UTLA, the teacher’s union.

In a surprising outcome, the high school staff voted 98-26 for a block schedule with similar numbers for other parts of the overhaul as “some teachers are stretching out of their comfort zone to make decisions that will help us win this bid for our school,” Stevens said. “Our teachers have stepped up to the plate to compete in this process.

“We are still a little bit nervous, but the energy is high and the ideas are flowing. It’s a great place to be right now,” she added.

Calling the plan a “work in progress,” at Monday’s meeting, she added that the executive summary will move forward to the Los Angeles School board in mid-December due to the upcoming holidays.

While some students – severely jaded by lack of direction of the 3,300 students campus over the past several years– openly criticized the report, few community members or parents showed up at the Monday night meeting.

“I don’t agree with small learning campuses,” said senior Paige Dovolis, president of the school’s Youth and Government program in a later interview. “It separates the school instead of bringing us together. Currently I’m in the business house and it’s not even my choice.”

She later complained – while speaking at the meeting – that the summary was splattered with jargon that neither she, other students or parents could understand.

Another student contended that in her school years if she received money for every time she heard the district was in a severe budget crises, she would have “enough money to fix the budget.”

In the meantime, school officials plan to promote a “safe haven” at the school and add a much more “personalized” atmosphere. The campus accreditation report – which gave the school a poor rating -- criticized the staff for not engaging students and other reports indicated that the staff sometimes lacked respect for its charges.

For the last several years, the campus has battled severe overcrowding, inconsistent leadership and a near loss of its accreditation.

What the new plan includes:

--A block schedule with seven periods to provide for more student bonding with their teachers as well as enhancing “intervention,” for students who need more guidance and providing more opportunities for advanced students. Seventh period will be held every day and one day of the week – which has not been decided yet -- will hold all seven periods.

The remaining six classes will be split into block schedules with odd days including periods 1,3, 5 and 7 and even days classes periods 2,4,6 and 7. With the new sessions, each will run about 100 minutes each.

--Hooking the six houses into “real world experiences,” by using the many resources in the community and bringing professionals into the school or students to the work site to observe. In addition, all students with academic struggles would in essence receive case management to connect them to the additional resources that currently exist in the community.

--In order to draw teachers and students closer, all six houses would have “contiguous” spaces to ensure bonding and enable teachers and staff to work more closely with the youth. For instance, each house would have its own counseling office, own eating area and the classrooms would be kept close to each other – so students will no longer have to criss-cross the large school to get to classes.

San Pedro’s overhaul stems from the school board’s decision to allow 24 new schools and 12 beleaguered public campuses go out to bid to charters and other non-profit entities. Board members believed the competition would launch major improvements within the ailing district, which currently has a near 50 percent dropout rate.

Los Angeles School Superintendent Ramon Cortines has the final say which agencies – including charters and non-profits -- will win the bids.

According the summary, San Pedro has a rich cultural diversity combined with poverty. Nearly half the students are on the free lunch program and 19 percent are gifted, according to the report. The attendance rate remains about the 91 percent mark, but nearly 33 percent of the students drop out.

Only 12.7 percent of the students, however, are proficient “and advanced in mathematics, mimicking a devastating trend across the state of California,” the report said.


Marie Nordhues said...

Thanks for keeping everyone updated on this issue! Did you see this story on Gompers Prep in San Diego? Different (much worse) situation but they have made it turn around and it seems mostly because they got control of it away from district.

Anonymous said...

San Pedro HS and Gardena went today to see them. Great changes are coming.

Russell Jeans said...

The Gompers article is very enlightening and interesting, and lengthy. Again, the driving force here was the principal. The charter school concept succeeded because they replaced the district and union interference that was counter to the changes needed to improve the academic acheivement and general atmosphere of the school. The lesson for the LAUSD or any other district is that rules and regulations have to be structured so that principals have greater reponsibilities in their campus oversight. And that better procedures need to be implemented to find the same high quality principals for all of the schools.

Anonymous said...

Students will still have to travel across campus for physical education, science and elective classes. "Contiguous space" is a joke that will destroy the learning environment, and as a student I am angry that it is happening. ONE SPHS FOR ALL. STOP THE MADNESS. I may transfer to Palos Verdes since I am able to do so where I live. They don't have stupid ideas like this.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to hate next year. SPHS will suck.