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Westchester High to become magnet school amid cost, ethnicity concerns

April 13, 2011 | 10:02 am

Storied Westchester High, a destination campus for African American students, will convert to a magnet school next fall with a focus on sciences.

The plan put forth by the school's new principal, Robert Canosa-Carr, and his leadership team was approved Tuesday by the Los Angeles Board of Education to increase student achievement and reverse declining enrollment on the sprawling campus.

It will open next fall as the Westchester Enriched Sciences Magnets with three separate programs: aviation and aerospace science education for gifted students; environmental and natural science engineering; and health and sports medicine.

Incoming Superintendent John Deasy called the plan "spectacular in its thinking" and "a thoughtful way for substantial improvement."

Although the school's test scores are improving, they remain among the lowest 20% in the state.

"This proposal is our best chance to make a significant difference in the lives of young people," said John-David Webster, chairman of the school's governance council.

But teacher Peter Accardi, speaking for a group of employees, said the plan "lacks clarity and collaboration" and could violate labor agreements.

Parent activist Kelly Kane expressed concern about insufficient community and parent input and worried that her seventh-grader would no longer be able to attend the local high school.

Admission to magnet programs, which were designed to promote integration, is based on a point system that takes into account such factors as a student's ethnicity, area of residence and whether a student matriculated from a magnet school serving younger students.

Westchester High is 73% African American, compared with about 10% districtwide. Largely middle-class, LAX-adjacent Westchester has a significant number of black residents, and black students from across the city opt to attend Westchester High.

School enrollment is about 15% Latino, compared with 74% districtwide. About 8% of Westchester students are white, compared with about 9% across the nation’s second-largest school system.

Under the magnet formula, the target enrollment would be 30% white, with other ethnicities making up the remaining 70%. Not all magnets achieve these targets.

At Tuesday's meeting, school board member Yolie Flores expressed concern that black students could be pushed out by the magnet-selection process.

A recent Westchester High graduate worried some that black students could be left behind because they had not been adequately prepared academically for a more rigorous program.

But Deasy and board member Steve Zimmer, who represents the area, said such concerns had been addressed.

There is room for everyone in the foreseeable future, and no current students would be turned away, Deasy said. With an enrollment of 1,400 students, the campus has the capacity to hold 3,000, district records show.

The president of the Westchester High School Alumni Assn., Joseph Martin, said he wanted to see specific language that would safeguard against the school's traditional "demographics changing."

He also said he wanted to see the new plan become an opportunity to retain only the most effective teachers.

Flores abstained from voting because of her concerns.

Board member Tamar Galatzan voted no. She said she worried about the district starting a new magnet program amid a budget crisis.

Magnet schools frequently add to district costs because students are bused to programs from different parts of the city. Galatzan noted that the current district budget eliminates most magnet coordinators at schools, potentially crippling the programs.

She urged a comprehensive review of magnets, including determining which ones should be eliminated and how to support the ones that are working.

Board members who voted for the plan were Zimmer, board President Monica Garcia, Nury Martinez and Richard Vladovic. The seventh board member, Marguerite Poindexter Lamotte, was not present.


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 -- Howard Blume

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