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Still Under a Cloud

Parents Who Waited to Win School Spots Must Hope 6th Grade Stays

March 21, 1999|ALLISON COHEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

After enduring days of food out of Styrofoam, cold weather and endless chitchat to while away the time, 149 anxious parents Saturday earned coveted slots for their children in sixth grade at a popular Santa Ana public school next fall.

But the suspense isn't over yet. Parents who spent nearly a week waiting in line to gain admission for their children now must wait to find out if school officials will eliminate the grade from MacArthur Fundamental Intermediate school.

The Santa Ana Unified School District board will discuss Tuesday whether to eliminate sixth grade at MacArthur--one of several ideas being batted about by board members to help ease crowding. Scrapping sixth grade would allow the school to handle more seventh and eighth graders.

Trustee Audrey Yamagata-Noji said the board is divided on ways to solve crowding, but that she believes the sixth grade will remain at MacArthur.

"One change like that," she said, "and it would have a domino effect across the entire district."

Bleary-eyed and weather-worn parents--some who camped out for five days in front of the school--are keeping their fingers crossed.

"I want the best for my child," said Rosa Vaca of Santa Ana, who has shared line duty with her husband, Carlos, since Wednesday. "I'll do whatever it takes. I hope this was not in vain."

MacArthur is one of four so-called fundamental schools in the district, where academic basics, dress codes and parental involvement are stressed. Parents must sign a contract stating they will supervise their child's attendance and homework.

The approach is working, said board member Rosemarie Avila. Test scores are up, she said, while disciplinary problems are down. Avila fears change would be for the worse.

"If you just zap the sixth-graders out of there, you've done a disservice to the entire program," she said.

Many Band-Aid remedies are being considered, the two board members said Saturday, but each emphasized that the long-term solution is building more schools.

The Santa Ana school district is the largest in Orange County and seventh largest in California, serving about 53,000 students.

Crowding has been a concern for some time, but the shortage of classrooms grew worse in 1996, according to Yamagata-Noji, when class-size reduction measures limited some classes to 20 students.

"Right now," she said, "there are not a lot of answers."

Last week, 185 mothers, fathers, grandparents and friends waited for days in the line at MacArthur that snaked along the school's athletic field.

Parents packing up Saturday morning believed their sacrifice was worth it.

"We're lucky," said Anna Aguirre, who held the 147th spot since Thursday. "We just made it."

Aguirre's daughter, Ruby, 10, was thrilled but wary.

"I'm happy I got in . . . but we will all feel very frustrated" if the school policy changes, she said.

Carmen Lopez, 44, of Santa Ana, who believes she's ensured her 11-year-old daughter Melanie's enrollment, just shrugged.

"Nothing is for sure," she said.

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