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Board Hears Plan, Hints at Revision : Plea for School for Gifted Finds Allies

March 14, 1986|PAMELA MORELAND | Times Staff Writer

For almost three years, members of the Advanced Studies Foundation have attended every neighborhood association gathering, every PTA meeting and every kaffeeklatsch they could find. They would go anyplace to tell an audience about their dream: a Los Angeles high school for highly gifted students, many of them drawn from honors programs at North Hollywood's Reed Junior High and Tarzana's Portola Junior High.

On Thursday, the group made its first presentation of the dream to a committee of the Los Angeles Unified School District. A majority of board members at the meeting expressed support for the concept of a high school for the gifted, but some cautioned that the group would have to modify its plans to make the school a reality.

"It is going to take a lot of bending on your part if we are going to get this plan approved," said Roberta Weintraub, the East Valley board representative.

After the meeting of the board's education development committee, Ron Unz and William Fitz-Gibbon, two of the foundation's leaders, said they believe the group and the school district can work out a compromise. A draft of a district proposal for a high school for the gifted should be completed by the end of April, said Joseph Linscomb, associate superintendent in charge of instruction.

Detailed Vision

Members of the Advanced Studies Foundation--a group of parents, former students and Reed teachers--have a detailed vision of their high school, and it was Unz, a graduate of the Reed program who went on to attend a regular program at North Hollywood High, who described it for the committee.

A six-year secondary school with grades 7-12 would open its doors to 500 students in September, 1987. It would be temporarily housed at Hughes Junior High in Woodland Hills, a campus closed a few years ago because of low enrollment.

Most of the students would come from the Individual Honors Program at Reed, a program of advanced courses begun at the school about 15 years ago, and from the magnet program at Portola, which draws students from around the city.

Other Los Angeles district students could get in if they met strict admission criteria--a minimum IQ of 145, high marks on standardized tests and recommendations from their teachers. Foundation members estimate that 6,000 Los Angeles district students meet those requirements.

Unz, a graduate student in physics at Stanford University, told the committee that the brightest students from other public school districts and from private schools also would be invited to attend. The curriculum at the school was not discussed, but Unz said some classes would be taught by college professors.

"This school would allow students to use their talents to the best of their abilities," he said. "And a school such as this would enhance the prestige of public schools and the Los Angeles school district."

But board members said they had problems with the proposal.

Only 11% of the 150 Reed honor students are members of minority groups. The percentage of minority students at the Portola program is much higher, but a system that would draw heavily from these schools still might not provide the ethnic balance the district tries to maintain in its magnet programs, the board members said.

Besides, Hughes Junior High is unlikely to be empty much longer. Because of crowding at some schools, the board recently approved reopening Hughes in 1987. Moreover, the court-mandated desegregation plan under which the district operates does not allow any new special programs such as magnet schools to be located in predominantly white neighborhoods.

The most likely location for the high school would be empty classrooms at Crenshaw High or Dorsey High near Baldwin Hills, said board member Jackie Goldberg, the committee's chairman.

Statistics Disputed

District staff members disputed the Advanced Studies Foundation's statistics on how many highly gifted students there are in the Los Angeles school system. According to the district's research, only 1,816 such students have been identified. And, because not all of those students are of high school age, the numbers do not indicate a need for a special high school, researchers told the board.

Board members also said it would be unwise to invite students from other districts to enroll in any Los Angeles program at a time when the district plans to increase the number of schools that operate year-round to accommodate a fast-growing student population.

But the officials and the Advanced Studies Foundation representatives said that they believe they can work out their differences and that a high school program for the gifted could become a reality in the next few years.

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