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Valley Perspective

Groundbreaking Idea: Build Schools, Fast

Year-round calendars do nothing to help students learn, teachers teach or families cope. Trustees should have taken action long ago.

March 12, 2000|MAUREEN FOSTER | Maureen Foster, a resident of Sherman Oaks, is a Los Angeles Unified School District substitute teacher and the parent of a student attending Sepulveda Middle School

Sepulveda Middle School in North Hills has been issued an order by the Los Angeles Unified School District: Come up with a viable alternative to overcrowding by April or become one of the district's growing number of year-round schools in July.

I have a child who attends Sepulveda, and I, like many other Sepulveda parents and faculty, am adamantly opposed to year-round scheduling. Among the reasons:

* The fragmented year-round calendar (ours could be four months on, two months off, twice each year) disrupts learning.

* Non-summer breaks disrupt family life and create a child-care nightmare.

* Year-round schedules reduce access for all students to excellent programs.

* Amid a shortage of qualified teachers, the plan will prompt some faculty to leave to teach at traditional-calendar schools.

To bring these objections to the district, some Sepulveda faculty and dozens of parents, including myself, attended a school board meeting Feb. 8. We asked that the board give Sepulveda a year to come up with alternative solutions. Our request was denied and the board instead gave us its ultimatum: Produce the alternative in two months or go year-round.

We parents were shocked at the board's unresponsiveness to our effort to thwart a program that will diminish our school. Board members who voted against our request talked about other schools--if one is year-round, then why not another?--rather than the academic needs of Sepulveda's children.

I find it ironic that the board is giving families of our community an ultimatum. Shouldn't we be the ones giving them an ultimatum: Build more schools, instead of perpetuating Band-Aid solutions that jeopardize educational standards? Aren't they the ones who have created the need for year-round schedules, by failing to build enough schools over the past three decades?

Perhaps I don't understand the complexities of planning and building, but it seems to me that when a certain number of children enter kindergarten, you can estimate how many seats you will need for middle schools six years down the line. Isn't six years enough time to build a middle school? And when you don't have enough seats in sixth grade, isn't that a red flag that should tell you to get busy completing a high school, or face an even worse problem?

A 1992 consent decree effectively limits to 2,400 the number of students a district middle school may have on campus at once. That decree resulted from a lawsuit brought by minority parents who feared overcrowding would make their schools inferior to those in wealthier neighborhoods. Yet year-round schools, which the district came up with to alleviate overcrowding, do nothing to give schools in low-income areas educational parity with those in wealthier communities.

At the school board meeting, one member mentioned that until fairly recently, the district simply did not have the money to build new schools. I pose the following question to our state and local government officials: Why do you allow developers to continue to build housing in areas where there aren't enough seats for the children who already live there, let alone newcomers? Shouldn't there be a moratorium on building condominiums, apartments and houses where schools already are bursting? Isn't there such a thing as planning that's supposed to prevent the kind of crisis we now face in our schools?

Our school board includes new members recently elected on a mandate by voters for reform. The shortsighted solution of year-round calendars, which has been imposed over the last decade but does nothing to improve the educational lot of our district's children, is not reform-minded. Reform means quit giving excuses and start building schools--and set a goal of getting all the district's schools off year-round calendars as soon as possible.

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