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Students Cross County Lines for O.C. Schools : Education: Hopes for better curriculum, safer atmosphere prompt parents to enroll children here.


LOS ALAMITOS — For six years, Beth Cirilo's three children went to school where they were supposed to, in Hawaiian Gardens.

But as the Long Beach woman got more involved in the school at the southern edge of the ABC Unified School District, she didn't like what she saw: Her fifth-grade son caught a classmate with a knife, few showed up at Parent-Teacher Assn. meetings and teachers seemed to spend more time dealing with discipline than education.

So, like more than 600 parents in the greater Long Beach area, when school starts this week Cirilo will take her children to Los Alamitos Unified--just across the Los Angeles-Orange counties line, but a world away as far as she is concerned.

"It was just so shabby, I was very unhappy with their education," Cirilo said of the old school. "The children come into the classroom (in Los Alamitos), and it's all eyes on the teacher. In this other school, the kids are up and around and talking. It's just a big night-and-day difference, a big difference. . . . I just want the best for my kids."

Cirilo's three children are among nearly 1,300 students who transferred to the well-regarded Los Alamitos district from outside its boundaries last year, about half of whom came from Los Angeles County.

Other Orange County schools near county borders attracted several hundred more students from Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego counties, while a handful of students also trekked from as far as Inglewood, Corona, Vista and Murrieta to attend Newport-Mesa and Irvine schools.

The most popular destination in Orange County for transfer students is Los Alamitos, where about 15% of the population comes from outside the district's turf. The district is a good deal more affluent than its neighbors, with a median household income of $45,000.

Statistics on transfers for the upcoming school year are not yet available.

State law allows students to transfer districts if a parent works nearby or it is more convenient for child care--as long as there is room. While those are the official reasons stated on inter-district transfer applications, many parents said they are drawn to Orange County schools in hopes of a better education and safer school campuses.

In 1994, the laws will be liberalized so parents and children can transfer to a district without citing any particular reason, as long as there is room. Educators whose districts attract out-of-town students--typically largely white, suburban districts that offer school-based child care and rank high in standardized tests--expect Orange County schools to become even more popular.

Most welcome the transfers: each student comes with about $5,000 in state funding.

"We have a real community effort in maintaining and establishing good schools. We have virtually no gang activity. We have a great teaching staff, excellent administration. . . . We basically have what it takes to have real successful students," said Edgar Z. Seal, superintendent of the Brea-Olinda Unified School District on the northern edge of Orange County. "We do attract other students."

There were 350 students from outside Brea-Olinda's boundaries attending school in the district last year; 173 of those were from Los Angeles County.

Many are attracted by Brea-Olinda's decade-old day-care program, which runs from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. at all of the district's elementary schools for $125 to $155 a month. Others choose the district so they can be close to their children while at work.

And some, like Christine Anderson of Chino Hills, simply think the product is better on the other side of the county line.

"I wanted desperately to get into the school system," said Anderson, 33, one of about two dozen parents who tote youngsters along Carbon Canyon Road, across the border, to Olinda Elementary every day. "If I couldn't have her in this school, I don't know what I would do."

Before her daughter Zandria entered kindergarten three years ago, Anderson visited her neighborhood school in the Chino district, and checked out Olinda to analyze her options.

"It was really big, I'd heard a lot of stuff about gang violence and that the schools weren't that good," Anderson said of the Chino school. Olinda, on the other hand, "just gave you a good feeling. It was small, everybody knows everybody. If a first-grader needs a hug, and a sixth-grade teacher is there, he turns around and gives her a hug."

Administrators in the Chino and ABC districts said they are not concerned about students transferring to Orange County schools because about the same number of students transfer into their schools. They said their schools are as strong and safe as those in Orange County.

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