L.A. Unified to spend $20 million on parent centers
A historic one-room schoolhouse became the backdrop Thursday for a parent-involvement initiative that includes spending $20 million to upgrade or add parent centers across the Los Angeles Unified School District.
The unveiling is part of a pronounced effort by the last two district superintendents to reshape and increase parent involvement. Some parent leaders have questioned the sincerity or at least the competency of the outreach.
It will be up to local schools to find money in their budgets or through fundraising to staff the parent centers.
For years, the quaint, wood-frame 1876 structure -- that looks like it was lifted from the "Little House on the Prairie" tales -- sat marooned in the parking lot of the former, now-demolished district headquarters.
Now the diminutive building has been refurbished and moved to Vernon City Elementary School.
The interior has roll-away desks, laptops, white boards, a play-space for preschoolers and books for children ("We Are a Rainbow") and parents ("Parenting Without Guilt," a homework planner and a guide to help disabled students transition to independent adult life).
Classes in parent centers have included help with parenting, nutrition courses and English-language instruction.
More than half the school system’s 1,000 schools have parent centers in varying conditions.
Earlier, a nonprofit controlled by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa refurbished parent centers at schools under its control, using private donations.
The broader L.A. Unified effort will be paid for largely by voter-approved school-construction bonds. The district hopes to add or improve 300 centers with this tranche of funding.
The assigning of space to a purpose other than teaching could prove problematic in the district's ongoing negotiations with independently operated charter schools.
Charter proponents have said all available school spaces should be set aside for charters in need of classrooms.
The parent center was showcased in the same week that the Board of Education ignored its own process for involving parents in the naming of Los Angeles Central High School No. 9.
The $232-million arts high school on Grand Avenue downtown will be named for recently retired Supt. Ramon C. Cortines, the school board unanimously decided this week.
At the same meeting, veteran parent leaders complained about school officials not following legal guidelines for including them in district decision-making. A few even threatened legal action.
Several years ago, the district disbanded some parent advisory committees.
Parent Judy Haft said she noticed some board members appeared to pay little attention as parents protested the naming of the high school; two had stepped out of the meeting, she said.
"After our group spoke, I watched in utter dismay the behavior of the board as the remaining speakers expressed themselves or poured out their hearts," Haft said. "What a joke."
Some officials have said they want to diminish the impact of "professional parents" who dominate committees, sometimes long after their children no longer attend district schools.
There has been much debate about how to get more parents involved in education. Some experts see the key element as direct one-to-one participation in a child's learning.
Others talk of the need and right of parents to have an actual say in the governance of a school and political power within the school system.
"This is an awful lot of money to put into a specialized room that is not invariably connected to instruction," said district parent and former school board member David Tokofsky. "The real issue is not parent centers; it's customer service.
"It’s not whether you put all the parents in a room. It’s whether anyone who wants to reach out to a school is responded to the way we have come to expect and demand customer service from Jack in the Box or Toyota."
The school board recently did away with allowing parents to vote on school-reform plans for individual campuses, directing Supt. John Deasy to come up with a better way to involve parents in the process.
-- Howard Blume
Photo: A former one-room schoolhouse from 1876 has been refurbished as a parent center at a Vernon elementary school. Credit: Lydia Ramos / Los Angeles Unified School District