All in all, parents at Canfield and Crescent Heights Elementary School are quite pleased with the past year. Test scores for third- and fifth-grade students were among the highest on the Westside, the entire fourth-grade class recently took a trip to Sacramento and the students took first place in an academic marathon.
At many schools these accomplishments would be applauded and forgotten, but Canfield and Crescent Heights parents are planning to promote the successes to bring more black and white students together in a pair of schools originally combined for the purpose of integration.
The Los Angeles Unified School District merged the schools in 1977, making Canfield/Crescent Heights Elementary one school with two campuses. Students attend Canfield from kindergarten through the third grade and transfer to Crescent Heights for grades 4, 5 and 6.
Canfield is located in the predominantly white, affluent community of Beverlywood on Airdrome Street just west of Robertson. Crescent Heights is in a predominantly black, middle-class community just east of La Cienega Boulevard on Airdrome.
The problem has been that many white families send their children to Canfield, in their neighborhood, but refuse to send them to Crescent Heights. Instead, when they are ready for the fourth grade at Crescent Heights, students are put in private schools or sent to district magnets or other schools on the Westside. Many black parents also avoid Crescent Heights.
The pattern has caused concern among parents and teachers at both schools.
"This is an integrated community," said Judy Kravitz, a fourth-grade teacher at Crescent Heights. "We share the same parks, the same movie theaters and the same markets. But sharing the same school has been difficult."
As a result, Crescent Heights ends up with fewer students, and a smaller percentage of whites, than Canfield. There are 480 students at Canfield, about 33% of them white. Blacks make up 55% of the student population, Latinos 8% and Asians 4%. Crescent Heights has about 280 students and is 20% white, 68% black, 8% Latino and 3% Asian.
"We were not just losing white students, we were losing black students, particularly high achieving ones," said Carol Jaques Dodd, Canfield's principal. "Two years ago I told the community that they had to come to this on their own because nothing else would help it work."
In response to her challenge, last year a group of Canfield parents whose children were in the third grade decided to encourage others to send their children to Crescent Heights. "We were a strong group," said David Shatkin, a parent. "We put a lot of energy into bringing over a lot more kids, especially the white kids who have not been coming."
Ralph Frerichs, another parent, said that "the reason why whites were not sending their children to Crescent Heights could be wrapped up in one word. Fear!" He said there was fear of crime, fear of low academic performance and the fear that their children would be socially isolated.
Frerichs said that those parents need to be convinced that their fears are unfounded. Middle-class families, white and black, had the same fears, he said. "It is not so much a racial issue as it is an economic one. The question has become whether the schools are being abandoned to the poor."
Ironically, Canfield needs the students from the Crescent Heights area to maintain its enrollment. Housing costs are high in the Canfield attendence area and the school's home population has been dwindling because few young families with children can afford to live there.
Busing From Downtown?
"Because Canfield does not have the population to support itself, the district would probably consider us ripe to bus in kids from the overcrowded downtown schools," said Marcy Frerichs, wife of Fred. "Even though we have our own problems, it is a better situation than that would be.
" . . . If this community is to hang together and work together, then it needs this program to work."
The parent group began organizing trips to the Crescent Heights campus. They invited the staff and principal to meet with Canfield students and published a list of parents who were sending their children to Crescent Heights.
"Once the names were put in print and people were committed, the tide was turned," Marcy Frerichs said. "The children wanted to go and they were the ones to force their parents. They were saying, 'I want to go to Crescent Heights because all my friends are going.' "
Note of Resentment
Wilma Shappelle, a Crescent Heights fifth-grade teacher, said she resented the feeling that "each year we have to prove ourselves worthy for the white parents to send their children here. Each year they come and inspect your classrooms, and it's like you have to prove you're good enough."
The campaign to keep the school pairing alive resulted in a higher number of whites transferring to Crescent Heights this year. Jeffrey Felz, Crescent Heights principal, said that of 103 students in the fourth grade, 25% were from the Canfield community. In previous years the average was 15% to 20%.
The group plans to advertise the benefits of the paired program in the community to encourage new families. "One of the drawing cards was a fourth-grade trip to Sacramento," Shatkin said. The school received an $8,000 state grant and parents raised another $8,000 in donations to pay for the trip.
The parents are also promoting the results of last year's Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills. Third-graders rated in the 89th percentile in reading and in the 81st percentile in math. Fifth-graders were in the 61st percentile in reading and the 76th percentile in math. Crescent Heights students also placed first in academic marathons among 12 Westside schools.