HARBOR CITY — For the first time since parents here began protesting a plan to change Los Angeles Unified School District integration standards, many say they believe that the issue is headed toward a successful resolution.
"I am hopeful now," said Susan McMurray, a Harbor City parent who has worked on the matter for the last four months. "I think the plan we have started to discuss could be a successful plan. The school district seems to have given the issue more consideration, and I think they have started to understand our concerns."
The new meeting of minds, if still considered rather tenuous by some Harbor City parents, has resulted from recent school district efforts to flesh out details and funding provisions for its new busing program.
Many Harbor City parents had voiced strong opposition to the school board's Dec. 17 approval of the integration plan, which would alter racial and ethnic guidelines at four Los Angeles area schools to permit more busing of youngsters from overcrowded inner-city campuses. The program currently affects President Avenue School in Harbor City, Cowan Avenue in Westchester and Charnock Road and Mar Vista in West Los Angeles.
After the stream of parent opposition in Harbor City, School Board President John Greenwood, representative for the Harbor area, agreed to attend a meeting of the Harbor City Coordinating Council last week to field parents' questions on the program and to listen to suggestions on implementing it in Harbor City's elementary school.
"I think we now have a policy that makes sense," said Greenwood, who was accompanied to the meeting by three other district officials. "Parents have focused attention on a real need to make sure we have resources available at the school for youngsters already there as well as those that are being bused in. With the help of community involvement, I think we are beginning to meet that need."
The new plan, effective in September, permits the district to use vacant seats at the four selected schools by allowing each school's proportion of minority students to grow from 60% to 70%. "Minority" includes blacks, Latinos and Asians.
Harbor City parents had previously argued that the quality of education in their community would decline because President Avenue School had inadequate resources to educate a likely influx of students with limited English.
Considered Model School
A decline in educational standards, parents maintain, would be especially unfortunate in Harbor City because many consider President Avenue a model public school. Parents say the school has a large corps of dedicated teachers and parent volunteers, and district officials say test scores are well above the national average.
District officials say the school is slated to receive 97 additional students under the program, but they are not sure how many youngsters will have difficulty speaking English. The school now has an enrollment of 618, with a racial-ethnic split of 43% Anglo and 57% minority, according to district figures.
"We want all the children at our school to receive a good education," said Harbor City parent Beverly Johnson. "If you take a child and just slap him down in a room where he doesn't understand what's going on because he doesn't speak English, it's going to be a devastating situation for that child. It will (also) take time away from the other children because he will need special attention from the teacher. . . . We don't care that these children are bused in; we just wanted to make sure they're provided for."
At last week's meeting, which drew about 40 Harbor City parents, school district officials outlined a package of school resources to carry out the plan. The package, estimated to cost about $60,000, includes funding for a one-semester program administrator, two days of staff development for teachers, five additional workdays for the principal, four informational meetings for parents and the opportunity for teachers to enroll in language courses.
In addition, the district's current program for busing students from overcrowded schools includes state funding for the receiver school of $50 a pupil and $381 for each student with limited English. Each school bus is staffed with two "integration helpers."
Said McMurray, who had worked with other Harbor City parents to devise a list of resource requests, "I think they've elaborated more on the program now. We now know how many children will be coming to our school next year. We know when the program will start. We know we will be getting more teachers. . . . We feel the district is aware of our concerns about classroom size and will allow our classrooms some room for growth.
"It also made a difference to hear them say they had never really considered many of our concerns," she said. "We feel we've finally gotten a response, and we'll do our best to help implement this as smoothly as possible."
But while parents say the meeting may have begun to resolve the local controversy, they add that there are still some provisions they will continue to request. Among them are a resource laboratory for reading or language education and a two-semester program administrator.
"I don't think parents are going to let this rest," said Andrea Francek, parent of a President Avenue first-grader. "I hope the school board realizes that we're concerned and interested and we don't want to get shoved off into the background. We're not going to settle for a second-rate education for our children."
Greenwood said that although the major provisions of the resource package are in place, the district remains open to suggestions.