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Befriending the Schools

There are many avenues of public and private assistance

July 12, 1998

By any standard, the efforts of the Beverlywood Moms to support their neighborhood school deserve admiration. The group's successful crusade to improve Canfield Avenue Elementary and recruit local children should inspire parents, employers and neighbors to commit time or resources to their own neighborhood schools. Sacramento might even think about doing its part.

The women, as reported Thursday by Times education writer Doug Smith, began their campaign to improve Canfield, within walking distance of their homes, years before their own children were old enough to start school. Under the auspices of Friends of Canfield, these mother of preschoolers have involved themselves with curriculum, raised money and tilled a garden. Their farsighted campaign has helped make Canfield the kind of school they and other middle-class parents want for their children.

There has been a glimmer of movement by families back toward the public schools, mostly in higher-income neighborhoods, and more efforts like those at Canfield would surely keep attracting students from private schools. But unfortunately, Canfield is the lucky exception. The school, with only 330 students, has room for neighborhood students and operates on the traditional September-June calendar, in a district where elementary schools average 1,200 students, many operate year-round and dozens cannot accommodate neighborhood children.

Consider Cahuenga Elementary School in the dense Mid-Wilshire district. The school boasts enviable test scores and is led by an outstanding, can-do principal, Lloyd Jonathan Houske, who has assembled a first-rate faculty. But because of overcrowding, 1,350 neighborhood youngsters, kindergarten through fifth grade, are bused away to schools with more room.

Befriending schools should be the goal of the entire community, though it's not realistic to expect a Beverlywood effort in most places. The LEARN reform movement encourages greater parental and community support for schools, and charter schools usually ask even more. Too many PTAs languish for lack of parental commitment, and adopt-a-school programs invite the support of local businesses. School volunteers--parents, retirees, local employees--take pressure off teachers and often provide enrichment programs that schools can't afford.

One thing volunteers can't do is to build enough schools. Proposition BB, the local $2.4-billion school bond measure that passed on the April 1997 ballot, set aside $900 million for school construction; the remainder is earmarked for repairs and improvements like air conditioning and computers. The Los Angeles Unified School District plans to build 51 schools over the next decade with the money and with state matching funds--if the match money doesn't fall victim to the highly politicized debate in Sacramento.

On Monday, the Assembly is scheduled to once again consider a multibillion-dollar statewide school construction bond for the November ballot. The measure has had an uphill struggle and still has poor prospects. To understand the consequences of their inaction, maybe lawmakers ought to talk to the Beverlywood Moms.

To Take Action: Call the LAUSD nonprofit school volunteer program, (213) 625-6900, for information on helping a school.

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