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Garfield High among 12 schools available to outside bidders

September 25, 2009 |  4:31 pm

Garfield High, which became nationally known as the real-life setting for the film “Stand and Deliver,” will be among the first group of local schools eligible for takeover because of persistent academic failure, a high-level district source has told The Times.

Garfield’s selection means that the nation’s second-largest school system will invite bidders — from inside and outside of the district — to run the East Los Angeles campus of 4,600 students.  This “request-for-proposal” process could apply to more than 250 schools under a Board of Education resolution passed last month, but the initial set of schools will number 12, sources said.

Included are Jefferson High in Central-Alameda, Lincoln High in Lincoln Heights, Burbank Middle School in Highland Park and Maywood Academy High in the southeast L.A. County city of Maywood.

[UPDATED: In addition to the schools named above, the following schools also are on the list: Gardena High in Gardena, San Pedro High in San Pedro, San Fernando Middle School, Carver Middle School in South Park, Griffith Joyner Elementary in Watts, Hillcrest Elementary in Baldwin Hills/Crenshaw, Hyde Park Elementary in Hyde Park.] 

Sources supplied the information on a confidential basis because they did not have permission to disclose it. In an interview Thursday, district Supt. Ramon C. Cortines said he would release the list today, but only after notifying senior officials of the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Garfield High, which for decades has served a largely immigrant population east of downtown, reached its recent high-water mark in the 1980s, when math teacher Jaime Escalante built a famed calculus program that became the subject of a book and subsequent movie. Under his leadership, dozens of students passed the Advanced Placement calculus test every year, a rare feat even at the nation’s elite high schools. 

Last year, only 5% of Garfield students tested as proficient in any math class. The school qualified for possible takeover as one of more than 250 that had consistently failed to meet federal benchmarks and thus was designated as falling into “Program Improvement” status. The board resolution applied to any school with that designation for three or more years.

Cortines later refined the criteria. “Focus” schools, as he called them, would have to meet additional criteria: Less than 21% of students proficient in math or English and schoolwide improvement of less than 10 points on the state’s Academic Performance Index, which is largely based on standardized test scores. In addition, high schools would have a dropout rate greater than 10%.

Garfield qualified easily. Moreover, the school has the lowest rank, 1 of 10, when compared with schools statewide.  But that does not make Garfield’s selection noncontroversial or uncontestable.

When compared with schools that serve similar students, Garfield rates a 6 of 10, which puts it in the upper half of state schools by that yardstick. An independently operated charter school, for example, would be eligible for renewal if it achieved a 4 of 10 in this category. Charter schools are exempt from some rules governing traditional schools, including adherence to the district’s union contracts.

And although Garfield dropped three points on this year’s Academic Performance Index, it had improved by 44 and 25 points the previous two years. That gives the school a three-year average gain of 22 points annually, far surpassing the level of improvement that Cortines sought for just one year.

“It’s hard to have constant progress each year,” said social studies teacher Brian Fritch. “We’re doing our best. People here really care about their jobs and they’re trying to do well.”

These efforts have included a recent intervention program that includes Saturday school and after-school tutoring and faculty collaboration that entails reviewing data to refine teaching strategies, Fritch said.

The expectation that Garfield would be put up for bidding has affected the campus climate, Fritch said.
“The mood is not good,” he said. “There is a lot of fear, uncertainty and anger. We have a lot of teachers confused about what the next step will be. People don’t feel included in the process and feel rushed. Even students talk about it.”

Garfield has been a particular reform battleground in recent weeks. The school has been targeted by The Parents Revolution, a group initiated within the charter-school organization Green Dot Public Schools. Its organizers assert they have signatures from community parents equal in number to more than half the Garfield student body. They say that the district must either improve Garfield or face competition from startup charter schools that would surround the Garfield campus.

The district’s action, in opening Garfield to bidding, means a charter school can now vie to manage Garfield. The school board's school-control resolution, authored by Yolie Flore Aguilar, also applies to 51 new schools set to open over the next four years.

Another organization involved at Garfield has been the local nonprofit InnerCity Struggle. It has pushed the “pilot school” model, under which Garfield would be divided into separate, independent small schools that, unlike charters, would retain a close affiliation with the school district. InnerCity Struggle has especially close ties with school board President Monica Garcia.

On campus, Fritch is trying to organize an internal reform proposal. He was among a delegation of about 20 Garfield teachers Thursday who toured pilot schools already operating within L.A. Unified

-- Howard Blume

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