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Magnet Idea May Rescue Paul Revere : Education: The Brentwood middle school hopes it can fill its classrooms by specializing in science. The L.A. school board is expected to vote on plan soon.

March 21, 1993|LOIS TIMNICK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BRENTWOOD — Faced with dropping enrollment but also an influx of enthusiastic students from the elementary science magnet that feeds into it, Paul Revere Middle School in Brentwood hopes to launch Los Angeles' newest science magnet program this fall.

It will mean real science labs and learning through experiments for 500 students as young as 10, as well as science electives such as marine biology and zoology--offerings not currently available to most junior high students. Emphasis will be placed on such Southern California issues as the survival of Santa Monica Bay and the constant need for water in a desert area.

The proposal has cleared all but its last bureaucratic hurdle--final approval by the school board--and Revere Principal J. D. Gaydowski is already touting it in presentations to parents of prospective sixth-graders.

"It's real, it's in the pipeline, and we should be voting on it within the next couple of weeks," Westside school board member Mark Slavkin confirmed last week. He cautioned that the location of new magnets has become a hot political issue, however, making approval by a majority on the board less than a sure thing.

The magnet--which will cost about $270,000 to implement--would be funded through the California National Guard, which recently funneled $8 million to the Los Angeles Unified School District as part of the so-called peace dividend, $1.5 million of it earmarked for magnet schools in the district. New federal legislation authorizes such programs to promote math, science and engineering studies for minorities and women.

"Our recommendation is to spend this money to develop magnets at Revere and at Granada Hills High School in the San Fernando Valley," said magnet program specialist Richard Battaglia, of the district's Office of Integration.

Battaglia said the choice of Revere runs counter to the district policy of placing new magnets in predominantly minority areas. But the demand for a middle school magnet on the Westside, coupled with a vast, underutilized facility at Revere and a well-thought-out proposal made the notion irresistible, he said.

"There's a real bottleneck at that end of town," Battaglia said, citing the scarcity of middle school magnets. The Palms Gifted/High Ability Center had 356 applications for 157 openings in its seventh and eighth grades last year, district officials say, while 1,262 students applied for 210 middle school spots at the Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies. "The idea of continuing the program from the Brentwood Science Magnet answers a lot of needs concerning magnets on the Westside," Battaglia said. Sixth-graders from that nearby elementary magnet are already housed at Revere.

And Revere has room for 1,500 more students. Its enrollment has steadily declined, from a high of about 2,500 two decades ago to about 900 this year, for reasons that include white flight and expensive housing that is beyond the reach of most young families, Principal Gaydowski said. For Revere to grow, however, the school needs more Anglo students because district guidelines for racial balance limit its minority population to 70% of its total.

Busing to Revere has also dropped as crowding at some inner-city schools has eased. So-called traveling students bused to the Westside to alleviate crowding elsewhere apparently prefer to return to schools in their own neighborhoods as openings occur, Gaydowski said. Another category of bused-in students--those who have voluntarily transferred to Revere--has also declined.

About 85% of the 158 neighborhood children now graduating from the fifth grade at Revere's six feeder schools--Santa Monica Canyon, Topanga Canyon, Kenter Canyon, Pacific Palisades, Marquez and the Brentwood Science Magnet elementary schools--are expected to enter sixth grade at Revere next fall. The rest of the class of about 245 will be bused in, Gaydowski said.

Currently, Revere is 38% Latino, 33.5% Anglo, 23% black, and 5.5% "other," a category that includes Asians, Pacific Islanders and American Indians.

"We'd hope to maintain that balance in our magnet," Gaydowski said.

He said the magnet would begin with the sixth and seventh grades this fall, adding an eighth grade the next year.

Science classes would be open to regular students attending Revere as well as students enrolled in the magnet program, Gaydowski said.

He said he envisions a center with high-quality labs, scientific professionals who enrich the instructional program and provide career models, a broad spectrum of electives, and both regular and honors science classes.

Besides the general emphasis on science and plenty of hands-on laboratory experience, Gaydowski said the program will focus on "the study of the local environment of the Santa Monica Bay as a unique ecological niche . . . coupled with the study of the ever-present need for water in the Southern California environmental niche."

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