Castle Heights Elementary School, plagued by falling enrollment, is doing what car dealers, supermarkets and banks do when they want to attract customers: It is advertising.
To compete with local private schools, Castle Heights is promoting the value of its free public education.
Posters advertising Castle Heights have been displayed throughout the Cheviot Hills and Beverlywood communities in shops, libraries and parks and on telephone poles. The posters ask: "Are you looking for a school that is educationally stimulating, with an experienced staff, full-time YWCA day-care program and in your own community?"
Castle Heights parents hope to convince parents of prospective students that their school has all the answers to the poster's query. "What we want to do is sell the school back to the community," said Linda Rosen, one of the parents involved in the Friends of Castle Heights campaign.
Rosen said that enrollment at Castle Heights has dropped in recent years because many parents living in the attendance area are sending their children to private schools. Other parents have obtained special permits from the district to send their children to other schools.
"We want people to know that we have an excellent school with an excellent staff right here in the community that should not be overlooked," Rosen said.
In addition to posting signs, members of the Friends of Castle Heights have conducted tours of the school and hosted small gatherings for parents of prospective students. They have also visited neighborhood nursery schools to talk to parents of preschool children.
On Tuesday, Rosen took Anne Taines, the mother of a 5-year-old, on a tour. Taines said she was considering sending her child to Castle Heights because it was near her home. "I went to a public school and I want to see if the level of learning is as high," she said. "It is more convenient to have your child walk to school."
Rosen said private schools have become a "status symbol" that do not offer the well-rounded education of a public school. Parents should also consider the cost of a private education, Rosen said. "Private schools are expensive and if you have two or three children that can cost a heap of money."
Joseph Stock, Castle Heights principal, laughed at the irony of a public school having to advertise, "especially when you consider the fact that we don't charge anything."
Stock said parents are concerned that if the enrollment continues to drop, the school could close. Another fear, he said, is that the district will bus in children, stripping Castle Heights of its identity as a neighborhood school.
Focus on Community
"It's not that we don't want people from other communities to come into the school," parent Sue Roth said. "But our major focus has been with community children."
School officials said that of the 454 students attending Castle Heights Elementary, 339 live in the neighborhood and 115 are bused in. Castle Heights has room for 625 students. The school attendance boundary takes in an area north of the Santa Monica Freeway, west of Robertson Boulevard, east of Motor Avenue and south of Rancho Park.
School officials said that 37% of the children are Anglo, 28% Latino, 20% black and 15% Asian. "We are a model school, a naturally integrated school," Rosen said.
District officials said that 43 students living in the Castle Heights area are allowed to attend other schools under special permits or because they have been accepted in a magnet program. They have no record of the number of children attending private schools.
Assistant Supt. Bill Rivera said that the district is conducting an investigation to determine whether students are crossing boundaries to attend what they believe to be better schools outside the Castle Heights area. A similar investigation at Hamilton High School uncovered numerous violations.
Before starting its campaign, the Friends of Castle Heights noticed that the school did not have an after-school program for the children of working parents. This month the YWCA has agreed to begin a before- and after-school child-care program.