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A First for Alternative Schools--L.A. District OKs a New Building

December 29, 1988|LEE HARRIS | Times Staff Writer

There are only 24 seats for the 30 students in teacher Dennis Cassat's classroom at Odyssey High School in South Gate.

Some students in the 7 a.m. class study on benches just outside the classroom, while others use a cramped waiting room in Principal Dean Ziegel's office.

The principal's office also is crammed with a desk for the office manager, student files, recreational equipment and several small beds for students who become ill.

The continuation high school, which serves 70 students who have transferred from regular high schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District, is in a 2-story building leased from the First Southern Baptist Church next door. There is no library or lunchroom.

Plans for Change

But the school district is planning to change all that. Officials have approved a new, $1.5-million school for Odyssey: the first permanent school building ever built in the district for students who have left regular high schools for reasons that include pregnancy, poor academic performance and disciplinary problems.

If construction goes as scheduled, Odyssey students will move in 1990 into the new school on Firestone Boulevard across from South Gate High School. The 2-story building, painted in earth-tone colors, will have six classrooms clustered around a sunken courtyard. There will be a kitchen, a library, several rooms for arts and crafts, and science and computer laboratories.

The Board of Education approved the new building for an alternative school because it wants to make the students "a viable part of the educational training," said board member Warren Furutani, whose district includes South Gate.

'Part of Community'

"Most of the time, continuation students get the bungalows on some remote part of the campus. But we want to show them that they are part of the community," Furutani said.

Most of the district's 43 continuation high schools are housed in portable trailers squeezed into small areas on regular high school campuses. A few are in leased buildings or in district buildings that were constructed for other purposes.

Odyssey students used to attend class in trailers on the South Gate High campus. Because of overcrowding--South Gate had 3,100 students in facilities designed for 2,500--the continuation school moved to its present location in 1981.

The Board of Education approved the new Odyssey project last year. Construction is scheduled to begin in December, 1989.

The facility "will be a real school and hopefully it will be a prototype for others to come," said board member Jackie Goldberg. Approval of other permanent continuation schools will depend on state funding, she said.

Ziegel, who has been principal of Odyssey since 1984, said a fine arts teacher and a bilingual teacher will be added at the new building, increasing the staff to six teachers. The enrollment is 60% Latino.

"The new facility will allow us to have a more diverse program," Ziegel said. "We do bits and pieces" of fine arts. "Now we will be able to develop these areas, especially music."

Ziegel said the new building should create a more positive environment for students. "The new school won't have a chain-link fence separating it from the community," he said. "The school won't seem like a prison."

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