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Dance-oriented charter school in Echo Park honors educator

April 28, 2010 |  5:48 pm

Alonzo After more than 30 years in the education trenches, Richard Alonzo became known as a tough, determined L.A. school administrator, but he blinked back tears Wednesday at the formal dedication of two dance studios in Echo Park.

Those studios will contain a plaque dedicated to Alonzo, who needed his full measure of determination to find a permanent home for the high-achieving Gabriella Charter School, which has a dance focus. That home is a portion of the Logan Elementary School campus. Logan’s own students have access to the studios through after-school dance classes offered by the charter’s parent organization.

“I really despaired that we would ever find a facility that we could afford,” said Executive Director Liza Bercovici, who founded the charter school in 2005. Her effort to bring dance to low-income children began as a memorial to her daughter, who loved dancing and died at 13.

Alonzo pushed to bring Gabriella to Logan through his position as local district superintendent, the senior administrator for schools in the area.

Logan was an obvious choice to Alonzo because the school’s current enrollment of about 500 students is about half its capacity. And the location suggested to him that Gabriella could deliver a supply of well-prepared dancers to the new arts high school that opened downtown in September.

But the idea of a charter school at Logan met with intense local opposition, some of which continues to this day. Critics worried about increased neighborhood traffic, among other concerns. Some simply objected to any charter school. Charters operate independently of direct school-district control and most are non-union.

Name of school The Los Angeles Unified School District spent about $1.5 million to make a home for Gabriella at Logan. Besides the dance studios, the district had to bring ramps, restrooms and other areas up to code. The money came from a bond fund reserved for charter schools, but critics still objected to upgrades that mostly benefited the charter portion of Logan.

And once the year began, the schools had to coordinate use of the playground and other shared portions of the campus. The charter rented a parking lot for its staff and hired a caterer to provide lunch service.

Twoboys The two large studios can be divided to serve up to four classes at once. Visitors at the dedication looked in on a dance company rehearsal, a theater dance class and third-grade tap dancers, who inspired school board President Monica Garcia.

“I know everybody wants to go buy tap shoes and find a teacher like we saw inside,” she said, referring to instructor Carol Zee.

"It’s wonderful, isn’t it?” said Alonzo, who moved to Virginia after he retired last year.

All of Alonzo’s grade-school education was in  L.A. Unified. In a district biography, he’d noted: “Mrs. Rainey taught me how to paint; Mrs. Carroll introduced me to marmalade jam in junior high; Mrs. Hardy encouraged my artistic side and Mrs. Garcia introduced me to printmaking and foreign films, and she got me into college."

On Wednesday, he said, “The greatest desire I had was to teach in the system that taught me and to give back.”

-- Howard Blume

Top photo: Richard Alonzo, moved by a dedication in his honor, greets well-wishers at the formal opening of the dance studios.

Bottom photo: Students perform a theater dance number at Gabriella Charter School.

Credit: Howard Blume