Friday, January 15, 2010


By Diana L. Chapman

Tapped as targets to become potential charter campuses, two local Los Angeles high schools -- Gardena and San Pedro -- appear to have avoided any take-over of their public facilities, school officials reported this week.

No outside operators – charter or otherwise – turned in completed proposals to run either campus or any of the other ten currently operating schools considered to need overhauls. Only 84 applicants were submitted to the district by the Monday 11:59 pm. deadline, said David Kooper, chief of staff to LAUSD school board member Richard Vladovic.

Vladovic showed little concern that no finalized applications came in, but expressed his pleasure that both schools had worked for the past several months extraordinarily hard to come up with solutions to overhaul the campuses.

"With over 40 years of educational experience, I can say with certainty, that when faculty, community, and students work together with a common focus there is nothing that can stop them in achieving their goals,” Vladovic announced in a statement. “Both San Pedro High and Gardena high schools have quality staff and administrators. They will make a positive difference in student achievement."

The school board -- frustrated with poor educational operations at 12 of its current schools -- placed them out to bid under its “public school choice option” adopted this summer. That action forced their own faculty and staff of all 12 which led the schools to revamp their sometimes slumbering and outdated teaching practices that failed to interest students.

Many of the 24 new schools did receive bids, Kooper said. About 84 applications were turned in.

Despite that no competitors turned in proposals to operate the targeted campuses, however, doesn’t completely let any of the schools off the hook. Other organizations can apply again next year – and every year hereafter --having had more time to prepare for the bidding process.

The public school option forced San Pedro and Gardena to revamp their current systems. Both will present their new, invigorated plans to the community, next week. Gardena presents its efforts Jan. 19 and San Pedro High on Jan. 20, both in the school auditoriums at 6 p.m.

Interested residents will be able to vote on the plan. The proposals will then go before the school board in February.

San Pedro High Principal Jeanette Stevens says not only will instruction change,

but the entire campus will become a more personalized effort that will focus on
nurturing its students.
“This process has brought our staff together to examine and adopt school reform 
initiatives that will elicit change for our students,” said Stevens

who has guided the restructure since she started in July – a job she was
hand-picked for. “We’re committed to initiatives that will reshape the way
instruction is planned, restructure the time and format used to teach the content,
and reorganize our campus in order to create a more personalized and
individualized learning experience for each student.”

Brought in to run Gardena High School in November, principal Rudy Mendoza just began the process, but said he’s encouraged.

“As the new principal of Gardena High School, I have been impressed with the collaborative effort of the school staff, students and community in developing the Public School Choice Plan. I am confident that the plan is a "living document" that will be a framework for improving student achievement, and ensuring that each student is college and career ready when they graduate from Gardena High School.”

Both campuses have undertaken plans filled with dramatic changes to beat outside organizations. Vladovic has watched their efforts and found both local schools marching toward success, Kooper said. The facilities, he added, have at last summoned together academic blueprints to reenergize the education it offers.

“Dr. Vladovic is elated,” Kooper explained. “The schools have grown so much. People are having conversations. These schools are creating a new academic identity. We finally see a mutually agreed upon academic framework.”

Linda Del Cueto, superintendent of the region, called the effort intense,

grueling and difficult, but applauded the way her students, parents, faculty
and administrators worked to resolve the struggles at both campuses.
 “Though it's great to know that we will not be competing 

with an outside entity,” she explained, “it's even greater to know that

through this process we have a blueprint to implement strategies that will deliver

high quality instructional programs at both of these campuses. The real

work lies ahead as we continue to improve our partnership with all

stakeholders including community and business leaders.”

It also reflects, however, how difficult it is to operate and maintain such campuses, both overcrowded and faced with a litany of problems from inconsistent leadership to a more than 35 percent dropout rate.

Fearful that the charters would “cherry pick,” the school board recently put severe restrictions on charters or other operators -- which included that they must serve the neighboring children – including special education students – and could not be a for profit-organization. Some charters resisted serving all of the youth in their areas.

The district also demanded access to oversee the way charter’s spend their money. This may be part of the reason the list of groups that applied in the beginning failed to submit final bids. The applicant numbers dropped from 220 initial bids to less than half.

“The reality is, it’s really hard to do,” Kooper said of taking over such large public schools. “It’s a lot of hard work. They (the charters) have to serve all the kids.”

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