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Sixth Westside School Wins Charter Status


Westwood Elementary School this fall will become the sixth Westside school--out of a districtwide limit of 10--to win charter status.

Under California's new charter school legislation, Westwood Elementary will become quasi-autonomous though still a part of the Los Angeles Unified School District.

"It's a source of pride for me that six of nine charter schools approved to date are in the area I represent," Westside school board member Mark Slavkin said. "The charter notion is consistent with my idea of how best to decentralize the system."

He acknowledged that the board is frustrated that few schools have applied and that the more affluent schools with heavy parent involvement have raced to ask for independence. Most have been in the forefront of school-based management and other innovations.

"But it is on a first-come, first-served basis, and we have approved all but one of the applications that have been submitted," Slavkin said.

A decision on that one, Options for Youth in the San Fernando Valley, is pending.

The Westside's Open School was the first in the Los Angeles area to become a charter school, followed by four schools in Pacific Palisades--Palisades, Marquez and Canyon elementary schools and Palisades High. Two schools in the San Fernando Valley and an independent study program connected with UCLA have also been granted charters.

The last spot probably will go to The Accelerated School, part of 99th Street Elementary in South-Central Los Angeles.

Slavkin said officials may ask the state to increase the district limit because fewer than 30 schools statewide have applied. There is a limit of 100 schools statewide.

Slavkin said the board was concerned about the Westside concentration but unanimously approved charter status for Westwood last week. The school has a capacity of 843; 56% of the students are non-Latino whites.

Westwood's plan calls for dividing the school into multi-age, multi-grade "families" to create a sense of belonging in a large school, implementing a community building component called Township 2000 that mimics a small city, and experimenting with new teaching and assessment strategies that promise to raise standardized test scores, within a year, by 3% for average students and double that for low achievers. For students with limited English skills, the commitment is to raise test scores by 10%.

Westwood will hire its own teachers and administrative staff, and will ask all parents and students to sign a contract signaling their commitment to the school's goals.

The five-year charter, which must be approved by the state, is part of a bold effort to improve by decentralizing decision making without the disruption of breaking up school districts.

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