An aggressive campaign aimed at inducing parents in the Cheviot Hills and Beverlywood communities to send their children to public instead of local private schools has hit home, according to some parents.
Friends of Castle Heights Elementary School began the campaign in February in an effort to reverse a decline in enrollment, caused in part by the reluctance of some residents to send their children to public schools because parents thought they were inferior to private schools.
The group posted signs in Cheviot Hills and Beverlywood shops, libraries and parks. Parents at local gatherings emphasized the school's location and the fact that there is no tuition, and stressed its academic reputation.
Reading scores of Castle Heights sixth-graders were about 10% above the average in the Los Angeles Unified School District in 1983-84. Third-grade students scored about 14% points above the average.
"We hope that our efforts will increase community awareness and get enough people to realize that you can get a good education in a public school," said Linda Rosen, president of the Friends. She said that the efforts have paid off.
School officials said that of the 454 students attending Castle Heights Elementary School last year, 339 students lived in the neighborhood and 115 were bused in from other communities. This year, the overall enrollment declined to 440 students, but the number of students living in the school's attendance area went up to 396. Forty-four students are bused in.
The increase in neighborhood enrollment was also reflected in an increase in the percentage of Anglo students from 38.5% last year to 43.1% this year.
"The parents have been hard working and energetic," said Marv Goldenson, Castle Heights principal. "I would think that their work would have to have a positive impact in the community.
Students attending Castle Heights, at 9755 Cattaraugus Ave., come from an area north of the Santa Monica Freeway, west of Robertson Boulevard, east of Motor Avenue and south of Rancho Park.
Parents and school officials say that the school is naturally integrated from within the community. Some parents, however, fear that Castle Heights could lose its identity as a neighborhood school if the district buses in students from overcrowded schools to fill empty classrooms. Castle Heights can accommodate 625 students.
For that reason, Rosen said, the campaign has focused on the kindergarten level. "We want to build a base for the future," she said.
"People who leave the public schools for private schools usually do not come back," she said. "We felt we would have greater success if we focused on those families who were looking for a kindergarten for their children. Once those commitments are made they are hard to break. Children make friends and it is hard for parents to pull them out." Enrollment in the kindergarten increased this year from 58 to 67.
Rosen said that to maintain community involvement in the school, parents have brought in a before-and-after school program run by the YWCA for the children of working parents. They have also raised money for computers and other school programs.
Julieta Gumpert said she and her husband were "a bit hesitant at first about sending their two sons to the school." The Gumperts were considering private school, but opted for Castle Heights after meeting with parents and the principal. "Like all parents we feel that we have very bright children and we wanted to be sure that they would get a good education," she said.
The Gumperts, like other parents, said they did not realize the importance of other conveniences offered by the school until later. Parents said that the after-school program, the hot lunches and ability of children to walk to school made their lives much less complicated.
Michele Federman, another parent, agreed. "It is so nice to have their friends over without planning for it four days in advance," said Federman, mother of two daughters, one in kindergarten and the other in the fourth grade.
The Federmans took their children out of private school after being contacted by parents from Castle Heights. "When I think of the money I was spending each month ($600 for two children) to keep them in private school it makes me sick," she said. "I also want them to be in integrated classrooms. After all, isn't that what Los Angeles is all about?"
Shirley Cozen, whose daughter is in kindergarten, said she had another reason to send her daughter, Heather, to the school. "It is the same elementary school that my husband (Dennis, 37) graduated from," she said. "One of the teachers remembers him."