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Van Nuys High School Will End Medical Magnet, Trim 2 Others : Curriculum: Officials would rather stop the program than go to year-round classes. The science and math and performing arts programs are also affected.

May 27, 1995|LUCILLE RENWICK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Van Nuys High School officials have agreed to kill its popular medical school magnet program and reduce two other well-regarded study courses rather than switch to a year-round schedule to relieve overcrowding.

"We've been discussing this for over a year and there's not much support for going multitrack," said school Principal Robert G. Scharf. "As we're looking at ways to accommodate these incoming students, we have to look at ways to reduce the magnet programs."

Scharf said the 16-member school council--made up of parents, teachers and school administrators--rejected the year-round decision by a large margin in a vote earlier this month. Council members could not be reached for comment Friday.

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Besides eliminating the medical magnet--which has more than 200 students--the school council decision also reduces enrollment at the school's math and science, as well as performing arts magnets.

Scharf said Van Nuys High School has reached its maximum capacity of 3,000 students. Compounding the problem are districtwide plans to add a freshman class to high schools such as Van Nuys, which enroll only sophomore through senior students, he said.

To accommodate its first freshman class in the 1996-97 school year, as well as the current magnet programs, the school would have to conduct classes year-round, campus officials said.

But some parents say they are upset at the decision.

"When you eliminate these top-notch programs there's no place for these children to go," said a Northridge mother whose son is a sixth-grader at Porter Middle School in Granada Hills.

"It's a crime for these programs to be dismissed like this when we know how much they do for kids," she said.

Los Angeles Unified School District officials said students currently enrolled in the Van Nuys magnet schools and those arriving in September will be allowed to continue to take the special courses until they graduate.

But Valley Presbyterian Hospital, which has been a part of the medical studies program for the past three years, recently told school officials it will no longer participate after the school year ends in June. The hospital's involvement is key--about 180 students a year spend 10 weeks watching employees in different hospital departments as part of their study.

"We'll do everything possible to make sure the medical magnet continues at Van Nuys or another school," said district spokesman Bill Rivera.

Meanwhile, enrollment at the school's math and science magnet would be cut from 150 to 130, and openings in the performing arts magnet would fall from 120 to 85, under the council's plan.

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Van Nuys is the only school in the district to operate three magnet schools and one of only three district schools with a medical magnet program. The other two, Bravo Medical Magnet and Drew Medical Magnet, are in Lincoln Heights and Watts.

Of the three magnet programs at Van Nuys High School, the three-year-old medical program is the most popular, with a waiting list of 608 students.

The program cuts come at the end of a school year that brought national recognition to Van Nuys High School for its academic success.

Students from the school's math and science magnet won first place in the National Science Bowl competition earlier this month. Days later, it was announced that Van Nuys High senior Jennifer Koo, 16, had received a perfect 1600 score on the Scholastic Assessment Test.

The Van Nuys cuts come after more than 20 years of expansion of the magnet school programs that were established in the 1970s to improve racial integration. There are now 132 magnet programs in the district, offering specialized subjects such as business, agriculture and electronics.

The programs have been successful in keeping many students in city schools who might otherwise be enrolled in private schools, district officials said. But the programs' growing popularity has created problems for school administrators, who must decide how to handle the high demand.

School district board member Julie Korenstein, who represents the area that includes Van Nuys High School, said year-round courses would create scheduling problems for students seeking to take courses outside their magnet program.

"Their feeling is to keep the magnet programs on the same track," Korenstein said of the council's ruling. "So they're looking for creative ways to deal with the situation."

Korenstein said the school board has the power to overturn the decision but is unlikely to take back the autonomy granted schools over the past five years.

"The school board always has the final authority, but we've generally stayed away unless there's a serious consequence," Korenstein said. "It's unlikely for the board to vote. We'll probably negotiate."

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