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The New Math: Year-Round School Inevitable

January 10, 1996|BETH SHUSTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The once-radical idea of replacing traditional summer vacations with year-round schools used to draw hundreds of angry parents to public meetings and threatened to unseat its supporters on the Los Angeles school board.

But what was the hot-button political issue is now simple arithmetic.

An exploding student population has prompted year-round classes at 190 campuses citywide, mostly elementary schools. The school board later this month is expected to approve the conversion of four high schools--the first in the San Fernando Valley--to year-round classes, a change needed to accommodate hundreds of new students expected for the coming school year.

"This is not the district saying you have to be multitrack year-round because it's the right thing to do for philosophical and political reasons," said Board of Education President Mark Slavkin.

It's a decision, he said, based on population rather than politics.

The overwhelming numbers may explain the resignation at North Hollywood, Monroe, Francis Polytechnic and San Fernando high schools, proposed to begin a year-round schedule this summer.

"I think most teachers have acquiesced," said Dick Crowell, a social studies teacher and union representative at San Fernando High. "We feel that our hands are tied and we don't have any other options."

The four schools will be adding hundreds of ninth-grade students to their campuses next year in a districtwide reorganization. Elementary schools are giving up sixth-grade students to middle schools, which in turn will send ninth-graders to the high schools.

The addition of a freshman class--expected to reach 1,200 students at Polytechnic in Sun Valley--has left the schools with little choice but to operate classrooms all year.

Under the proposal, the students are divided among three groups--with one of the groups on vacation while the other two are in session. Each student would complete 163 school days a year, 17 fewer days than the traditional schedule. About 39 minutes are added to each school day to compensate.

"The East Valley is an overcrowded area--period," said Joyce Peyton, the district administrator in charge of finding classroom seats for students. "We walked every campus with administrators, teacher representatives and, in many cases, parents to make sure that every nook and cranny was being used."

Polytechnic, for example, is already operating over its capacity.

"We have run out of rooms," said Beverly Bushner, the assistant principal. "This was an eventuality and we're there. It hit this year."

Other Valley schools first sought other solutions to the overcrowding.

North Hollywood High, for example, had asked about adding portable classrooms, as well as changing its attendance boundaries. Administrators had sought permission to relocate its adult school to another campus.

District officials said, however, there is no money to add new portable classrooms. Boundary changes would only increase overcrowding at other schools. The district also denied the request to move the adult school.

School Principal Catherine Lum warned her supervisor in a memo that the school could lose students if the traditional September-June calendar is changed to year-round.

"I anticipate that we may lose 400 students to other schools [on a traditional schedule] as we begin our multitrack schedule," Lum wrote to her boss, Carmen Schroeder. "The 1996-97 school year will, most likely, leave parents, students and staff asking why did we ever go multitrack."

Some parents already are asking that question.

"There were alternatives that should have been better explored," said Susan Branman, whose son attends the magnet program for highly gifted students at North Hollywood. "They're not looking at other options at all."

Branman said she is uncertain what she will do if the school converts to a year-round schedule.

District officials say they are more concerned about accommodating growing numbers of new high school students than school transfers.

And even board members who have opposed the year-round school system concede they have little choice. The state has no money for new school construction, the only other solution to the overcrowding.

"When we see these schools growing to 3,000 or 3,500 [students], there's a limit to how creative we can be," said board member Julie Korenstein. "It's an unfortunate decision that any of us has to make. But it gives you a little bit of room for growth."

To encourage the move to year-round schedules, the district has begun installing air conditioning at the four Valley high schools--where classroom temperatures routinely hover in the 90s during the summer months.

Besides air conditioning, the schools will also receive an additional $70 per student in state funding, as well as $50,000 to cover the costs of switching to a year-round schedule.

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