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Group Asks UCLA to Keep School : Elementary Pupils on Bruin Campus

June 25, 1989|PATRICIA WARD BIEDERMAN | Times Staff Writer

Parents and other supporters are rallying to keep the Corinne A. Seeds University Elementary School (UES) on the UCLA campus despite a proposal to move the innovative school to Santa Monica.

"Most people think the best solution is to stay at UCLA," said Kathy Seal, a UES parent who cited preservation of the school's autonomy as a major reason for staying put.

Seal is one of a growing number of concerned parents, staff and others who hope to persuade UCLA to keep the unique elementary school on campus, where it functions as a laboratory school for the Graduate School of Education.

Seal said the group is considering other options, but said that most UES supporters favor leaving the elementary school on its present site, preferably as part of an expanded School of Education complex. Among the virtues of the existing school site are redwood trees, Stone Canyon Creek and several buildings by noted architect Richard Neutra.

Founded in 1882

UES has 450 students between the ages of 4 and 12, taught by a faculty of 24. Founded in 1882, it has been located since 1947 in a wooded area near the Sunset Boulevard entrance to the university's Westwood campus.

Seal and other observers have been concerned about the fate of the elementary school, which has an international reputation for educational innovation, since UCLA announced plans to build the $67-million Anderson Graduate School of Management on part of the elementary school's nine-acre site.

Construction of the new management building is slated to begin in 1991.

Last fall, parents were surprised to learn that the Graduate School of Education was talking with the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District about possible relocation of UES to the Ocean Park section of Santa Monica. Some parents feared the proposal was evidence that UCLA values the land UES sits on more than the school itself.

Since they discovered that a move was being discussed, UES parents and staff have repeatedly expressed concern that the experimental school might lose its unique character if it became part of a public school district. Parents have said they would be willing to raise millions, if necessary, to save the school.

Letter to Dean

Earlier this month, UES's parent group, the Family School Alliance, sent a letter to Lewis C. Solmon, dean of the UCLA School of Education, outlining its reasons for opposing the proposed move.

The letter pointed out that alternatives other than affiliation with the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District had not been explored. "We believe that other options exist that are far better educationally, financially and symbolically, that do not risk compromising the laboratory school's autonomy and effectiveness," the alliance wrote.

The parents group endorsed as "the most compelling plan" the building of new facilities for the Graduate School of Education on or near the present UES site. To do so, they said, would provide a symbolic affirmation of the university's commitment to "pre-collegiate education."

As its supporters point out, UES is the last laboratory school--one where new theories, teaching methods and curricula can be tried out and where academic research is done--in California.

Its alumni include Harvard University President Derek Bok and the children and grandchildren of several movie moguls, but it is also one of the few schools in the United States that chooses its student body to reflect the ethnic and economic makeup of the country as a whole. According to parent Richard Kahlenberg, who has an 11-year-old son at UES, the school's diversity is reflected in the vehicles that drop students off in the morning and pick them up after school. "There's everything from 'Grapes of Wrath' to 'Dynasty,' with more 'Grapes of Wrath' than 'Dynasty,' " he said.

Team teaching, written evaluations instead of grades, a hands-on approach to learning and multiple-age grouping of children have characterized the school for decades. "We've been doing a lot of things that are thoughtful and innovative that could not be done without more difficulty within a school district," said UES teacher Karolynne Gee. "I think all the red tape would be an impediment to our being effective."

Gee said she feared a move might threaten such important UES faculty benefits as paid time for planning. She also noted that students would no longer have easy access to UCLA facilities such as the sculpture garden or to its human resources, including students from the university's architecture school who helped UES students build footbridges over the gully on the school site.

"All schools should be like UES," said alumna Heidi Brandt, whose 7-year-old daughter now attends the school. As both a student and parent, she said, "you very definitely feel that you are part of the process of experimentation in education."

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