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Central Los Angeles

Alternative Schools Program Reopens Half of Its Sites

February 26, 1997|MONICA VALENCIA

A widely praised program of alternative schools, closed by county officials last year, has reopened half of its sites.

Brother Modesto Leon, executive director of the East Los Angeles-based program, submitted a charter school application Tuesday to the county Office of Education that would waive numerous operating requirements and allow him to reopen the other eight school sites.

Leon closed down the last of the Soledad Enrichment Action centers in December after county funding and private donations had been depleted.

"I am confident we will be able to bring the old program back again," Leon said.

However, Marilyn Gogolin, deputy superintendent of the Office of Education, said she cannot predetermine the fate of Leon's schools.

"We don't know if he will be able to go back to the old program," Gogolin said. "We have to analyze the charter on its fiscal merits and program integrity to see if it can sustain itself."

The charter school application, which cannot be processed until at least April, would grant Leon more autonomy to run his program.

It requires that 50% of the teachers sign a petition in support of operating the school by its own charter instead of state and local standards. State approval is also required.

During the last quarter-century, Leon's countywide network of centers has educated thousands of high-risk students, many on court-ordered probation or expelled from public high schools.

The validity of the program's contract with the county was first publicly questioned in May, when the program submitted its charter school application and was found to be in violation of state regulations. Among other things, Leon had hired private school teachers who had not been given credentials by county education officials.

In September, the county terminated its five-year contract with Leon.

At that time, the program was teaching about 850 high-risk youths at 16 sites.

In addition to the classroom teachers, other instructors taught computer and job skills and provided counseling for students and their families.

A trimmed-down model currently operates with 11 county-employed instructors teaching 350 students at eight sites throughout Los Angeles County.

"The teacher-per-classroom type of school doesn't work for us," Leon said. "What made our program so effective was support staff who worked with students and parents to make sure their kids are in school and safe."

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