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2nd Valley School to Vote on Autonomy : Education: Fenton Avenue teachers weigh charter status to gain more control over staffing and finances.

April 30, 1993|AARON CURTISS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LAKE VIEW TERRACE — Teachers at Fenton Avenue School in Lake View Terrace will vote today on whether to become the second San Fernando Valley campus to attempt secession from Los Angeles Unified School District control.

If this morning's vote is successful, Fenton Avenue will be the seventh campus districtwide to launch the process of becoming a charter school, which would give teachers and administrators more control over curriculum, staffing and finances.

The school board is scheduled to decide next Thursday whether to grant charter school status to Vaughn Street School in Pacoima. Like their counterparts at Vaughn Street, supporters of the move at Fenton Avenue are asking for virtual autonomy in running their school, beginning Jan. 1, 1994.

"Instead of having to go all the way downtown to ask for the things I need, I will be able to go directly to the people here on campus," teacher Yvette King said. "It really allows us to have an immediate impact on our programs."

Under a state law that took effect Jan. 1, 100 schools throughout the state are allowed to break away from their districts and become exempt from state educational regulations.

The goal is to improve student achievement through innovations that might otherwise be hampered or prohibited by the California Education Code. No more than 10 schools in any district can be approved.

Districtwide, one school in West Los Angeles has been granted charter status by the school board, and five others--including Vaughn Street--have applications pending.

Fenton Avenue is a 1,180-student school with a population that is 73% Latino and 21% black, Principal Joe Lucente said. About 60% of the students have only limited proficiency in English, Lucente said.

More control over money would allow the school to implement programs to keep problem students in school, add a full-time counselor and reduce class size by an average of five students.

"At present, it's next to impossible to do something like this," Lucente said. "Our school and our community are at a point where they are ready to take total charge so we can provide the kind of education our children deserve. We are tired of the finger-pointing and the blame."

Fenton Avenue teachers wrote their 60-page charter last month, after more than 90% voted to explore seceding from the district. They have followed closely the progress of Vaughn Street's proposal as it works its way through the district bureaucracy, noting potential problems to address in their own plan.

"We've talked to Vaughn Street in terms of seeing some of the hurdles they have had to go through," King said. "We want to make sure we address some of the things they did not so we don't have to take quite as long."

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