Thursday, February 18, 2010


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 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.”


Anonymous said...

It makes me so sad the principal can play GOD and decide for all the students, teachers and parents what is best for him or her for whatever reason. That is a serious problem. I think site councils should have voted first at least getting input from a group that was elected to represent the school.

Anonymous said...

Maturity is a problem as well in the 9th grade; if LAUSD wants to actually help increase achievement, they should make ALL elementary schools go k-6 and make ALL middle schools back into the Junior High model of high-expectations 7th - 9th grade. Placing 9th graders in high school was a HUGE mistake and is in large part responsible for the high dropout rate and the decline in overall achievement at the high school level. San Pedro High would have 1200 fewer students if Junior Highs were brought back ... TOTALLY easing overcrowding and allowing the school to more able serve the much lower population.

It worked for 80 years. Of course this district is led by people who know little of educational research, follow trends to a fault and worse. LAUSD's and SPHS' forced foray into Small Learning Communities is but one embarrassing example ..... dropped by almost all districts throughout the country because they are proven by research to lower achievement ...... but because LAUSD is 5 years behind the times they are still pushing them. No wonder the district stinks. I am glad I work for another district ... I would never work for or send my kid to a school that has Small learning Communities.

Now if San Pedro would just get out of LAUSD than I would feel better about living here.

M Richards said...

During the debates over the need for South Region High School #15, several of us opined that for the 12 elementary schools and the two middle schools that eventually fed students into S.P.H.S., had this area gone back to K-6, 7-9, and 10-12, there would have been no need to spend money on a new campus because there would be no 9th graders at S.P.H.S. and they continue to make up the largest grade on that campus....usually due to the high dropout rate in the higher grades.

But alas, a 'cadillac' campus is under construction for a school that may end up being taken over and we all watch our property tax dollars get wasted more and more.

Now the Board is considering another Parcel Tax to boot! With our current electorate which approves ridiculous bond measures left and right for a failing system, unfortunately voters will probably pass another increase in property taxes.

I wonder what the percentage of renters to property owners have children attending LAUSD schools. But renters may see their rents increase too, if the Parcel Tax gets on the ballot and approved.

Anonymous said...

Wow. That letter could have been written by me.

I do think some 9th grade students are well served at the high schools, but overall I think it was better when 9th grade students had that extra year of maturity in junior high school. From what I understand, Dr. Vladovic was very vocal about the problems with the change before it became policy ... and a main reason was the "bubble" of overcrowding that was eventually placed on the high schools. Remember, it is much more expensive to build a high school than an elementary school, so when they made the switch to k-5 elementary schools and 9-12 high schools, they only temporarily solved a problem -- and created a much bigger one.

Don't get me started on SLCs. I know it has nothing to do with the original story, but in response to the earlier response, the writer is right: All verified research, and especially that of the Gates Foundation which once pushed them, shows that they lower achievement in English and math. But it's the "reform du jour" in LAUSD. So even though Gates admitted they don't work, and they no longer fund them at all, LAUSD is going though the expensive process of creating SLCs. Money well wasted. In these times of budget problems and layoffs, the millions of dollars being spent on reconfigurations of high schools is nothing short of criminal.

But getting back to the original story ... how the heck can it work when it is "optional?"

Anonymous said...

I was at a meeting and the issues is there isn't enough space on all the elementary schools to make k6 mandatory. It is a choice. This isn't rocket science.

Anonymous said...

These posts, still shed a light that the middle schools had a role in this, which they did not. Dana's principal found out the Friday before it was announced, and was told that it "might be coming down the line". The staff of the school did not find out until the news until the article published in the Daily Breeze. I understand the need for change, and I respect that. However, there is more at stake here. Do people really want their second and third graders exposed to sixth graders? Does the elementary school really think it is going to be that easy? Open COurt, as a curriculum, is a joke and does not teach anything about comprehension and does very little to prepare children for middle school. There is a lot of ideas that need to be brought up prior to the shift.