By Diana L. Chapman
Teachers, parents and school officials balked over the past week calling the return of sixth grade students to many local elementaries an action that was not planned carefully and leaves many teachers and parents bewildered and confused.
Los Angeles School Board Member Richard Vladovic -- who always opposed sixth graders marching off to middle school – plans to launch a pilot program in the fall in which ten Harbor area schools, many in San Pedro, can convert to the configuration – if they desire.
Parents of the selected schools can still have the option to send their children to middle school.
While some parents bounced with joy about the news, critics called the move too quick and unorganized to usher in and understand all the consequences. With the district wilting under financial crises, it was unclear what it would mean for teachers’ jobs at either the elementary or middle school level. In addition, Seventh Street School elementary parents – who make a huge investment in their school on a daily basis -- said they were devastated to be left out.
“The majority of the parents just want that extra year for their child to mature,” said Jeannie De La Cruz, president of Seventh Street’s Parent Teacher Organization. “My son was 10 when he went to Dana (Middle School). He was so shy and timid. Parents have said if they don’t get this, they will take their child to a school where it does go to sixth grade.”
Some sixth grade teachers at the two middle schools will be relocated to elementary campuses, school officials said.
David Kooper, Vladovic’s chief of staff, explained that as an educator for 40 years, Vladovic believed sixth graders were to young to be shunted off to middle campuses– and placed it high on his list of change along with taking students off year-round schools.
School officials, Kooper said, did not conduct this in secrecy.
“Decisions are complicated and some of these schools are not
ideal locations for k-6 because of their dependence
on… bungalows, lack of auxiliary space, and
the Dodson Magnet has no guarantee policy from the magnet
office,” Kooper explained. “This is difficult and an
important decision to make and I am glad it is happening at
the school level rather than a mandate.”
About 19 South Los Angeles elementary campuses have no choice
but to go with the new configuration due to overcrowding
at their feeder schools, he said.
While some accused the district of not consulting with teachers – and either principal at the two local intermediate campuses – Dodson and Dana Middle schools – district officials said all principals were notified early on about the upcoming possibility, said Shannon Lee, who heads intermediate schools for the region where the pilot was launched.
“ They knew pretty quickly,” Lee said. “I made the calls. They were brought to the table, but they didn’t have all the information yet.” As far as sixth grade teachers fearing for jobs, she added, it all comes down to seniority and not the configuration.
The district undertook a survey and called elementary school principals throughout the region asking if they were interested in becoming a k-6 program and if they had enough space.
Those that responded with interest, and had room, were included in the pilot program to begin in the fall -- once their School Site Council approves it.
The ten schools that were targeted for the pilot are: Crestwood , White Point, Bandini, Barton Hill, Taper, Leland, Park Western – all in San Pedro – and 156 Street in Gardena, Annalee in Carson and Van Deene Avenue in the Harbor Gateway.
Still, some teachers and parents claim middle school principals and teachers were not consulted enough and that sixth grade teachers at both Dana and Dodson could lose their jobs. They also argued that keeping children at the lower-tiered schools overly coddles students and doesn’t allow them to grow.
Seventh Street parents, however, are still fighting to become part of the plan.
“We are a California Distinguished school,” contended De La Cruz, the school’s PTO president, who added that the parents would give up their Parent Center just to keep their children one more year at Seventh Street. “We have great test scores. We have a lot of parents involved. We’ve earned it.”
Despite that, the principal and other school officials were not encouraging. Should Seventh Street join in the pilot now, it would deplete the numbers at Dana and make it difficult for the intermediate campus to run any sixth grade program.
As it is, Dana will drop to about 330 sixth graders and Dodson to around 270, about half the numbers that existed before, Lee said. The principals at both schools have been invited to go to the elementary campuses and explain their program.
That’s “public school choice,”Kooper added
The selected ten schools include: Crestwood , White Point, Bandini, Barton Hill, Taper, Leland, Park Western – all in San Pedro – and 156 Street in Gardena, Annalee in Carson and Van Deene Avenue in the Harbor Gateway.
Even though ten schools have been targeted, they can still opt out of the programs, said Mike Romero, who supervises elementary schools in District Eight, which stretches throughout the Harbor area and includes Lomita, Gardena, and South Los Angeles.
More will be known by the end of the week, he added, once all the school site councils have voted on the plan.
“You understand that this is a pilot program,” Romero explained. “We wanted to start on a small basis and process it…We just couldn’t have all the elementary schools in Local District Eight,” change all at once.
While some Seventh Street teachers and parents desperately want to be included, South Shores Elementary instructors seemed to turn back the tide when parents were initially excited about the possibility – even though it was not one of the ten targeted schools.
“As a parent of a 4th and a 5th grade student, I would not like to see South
Shores go k-6,” said one parent, who asked to remain anonymous. “The first I heard of it, I was excited and all for it.
“After looking at the plan, (which was pretty much up in the air) I don't think it would be a good idea. Of course our family would love one more year but it wouldn't be the same environment as it has been. There would be overcrowding, traffic overflow and the auditorium hardly has room for families as of now…
“I would like to see my son enjoy his last year at South Shores, cherish his good memories, take all his good experiences, and move on to Jr. High school.”
Sixth grade teachers, fearing for their jobs during a reign of layoffs and the sizing down of many departments, left several anonymous postings on the http://www.theunderdogforids.blogspot.com stating that both Dana and Dodson Middle Schools have programs that the sixth graders would not receive – such as joining an award-winning band at Dana and other electives.
They also fumed that staff instructors had no voice in the planning. As the debate rages – with many unanswered questions according to all sides – one parent asked that no matter the emotions “for the sake of everyone concerned, I hope this change can take placed smoothly in a dignified way.”