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New N. Hollywood High Schedule Incites Anger

Education: Officials see no alternative for the overcrowded school. Some parents say they'll take fight to court, remove their children.

April 08, 2000|KRISTINA SAUERWEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NORTH HOLLYWOOD — After months of student and parent protests, one of the preeminent high schools in the city--and the nation--will move to a year-round calendar in July, Los Angeles Unified interim Supt. Ramon Cortines announced Friday.

In a letter to students, parents and teachers at North Hollywood High School, Cortines said he had no alternative but to force a switch at the campus, which has 3,500 students crammed into its classrooms.

Principal John Hyland said the change will allow North Hollywood High to stop busing hundreds of neighborhood students to distant campuses in the San Fernando Valley while creating off-site learning programs and expanding its nationally acclaimed highly gifted magnet by nearly 100 students.

North Hollywood is the latest high school in the district to transition to a year-round calendar as officials grapple with an overcrowding crisis fueled not only by growing enrollment but by previous administrations' failure to build new schools.

Already, 17 of 49 high schools operate year-round and in a few years all could be switched to a multitrack system if new schools are not built, officials said.

Although the North Hollywood High plan, which was developed by Hyland, calls for returning to a traditional schedule in two to three years, he and others acknowledge the goal might be unrealistic. Cortines has said schools in other parts of the 711,000-student district already on year-round schedules will have top priority for new buildings.

In the next three years, North Hollywood High will need to accommodate 4,500 students. In the Valley, only three high schools--San Fernando in Pacoima, Monroe in North Hills and Polytechnic in Sun Valley--are on multitrack, year-round calendars.

A report received by the Los Angeles Board of Education last week raised the number of high schools that will be needed in the East Valley from two to five, said school board member Caprice Young, who represents North Hollywood.

"What is so distressing is that adults messed up and the kids will suffer," said Young, referring to prior boards' failure to move quickly on building new schools. "I was honestly hoping to find an alternative."

Robbing Students of Class Time

Under the proposed schedule for North Hollywood, students would be divided into three tracks that could accommodate 1,242 students each. Two of the tracks would be in session at any given time. The plan would extend the school day by about 20 minutes while reducing the school year by 17 days.

North Hollywood buses 410 students to other high schools, while another 123 go voluntarily under the district's open enrollment plan. A policy approved by the district in 1998 requires high schools that send more than 250 students to other campuses because of overcrowding to convert to year-round schedules.

Angry and disappointed parents protested the planned change for months, saying it would prevent high-achieving students from attending summer enrichment programs and rob students of classroom time.

Parents said Friday they might seek a court injunction against the district to stop the school from going year-round, and some threatened to transfer their children to other schools.

"The district has failed our children miserably," said Marilyn Morrison, whose 10th-grade daughter attends North Hollywood High.

Morrison also helped create an alternative plan to year-round, but it was ultimately rejected by Cortines.

"They watched the school get overcrowded for years and they did not do anything," Morrison said. "They failed miserably in their duty to provide seats and a good education to these students."

Called a "gem" in the troubled Los Angeles Unified by several school officials, North Hollywood High ranks as one of the top 30 campuses in the nation. In February, students won the school's third straight regional science bowl. The campus is home to the prestigious highly gifted and zoology magnet programs and three "academies" that prepare students for careers in transportation, teaching and environmental sciences.

For the past three years, the school's acclaimed highly gifted magnet--a program of 244 students who have IQs of 145 or higher--produced the nation's No. 1 Advanced Placement scholar. In 1999, it also boasted the top 11th-grade Advanced Placement scholar.

While the highly gifted magnet students receive wide attention, Hyland said of the 580 students who took AP exams at the school last year, 400 were from outside the gifted magnet program.

"It's outrageous," said 16-year-old Kevin Zadoyan, a sophomore. "We have tried our best to stop the year-round plan and it turns out the district is not listening to us."

On Tuesday, parents presented Cortines and Hyland an alternative proposal that called for keeping the school on a traditional calendar by constructing multistory classroom buildings and placing temporary bungalows on the faculty parking lot while providing off-site parking.

A Ray of Light

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