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L.A. Schools Pressured to Add 17 Days

Education: Saturday classes, double sessions are considered to return campuses on multitrack calendars to standard 180 days of instruction.

June 11, 2002|DUKE HELFAND | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Los Angeles Unified School District is looking at such unpleasant possibilities as Saturday classes and running double school shifts from morning to night to ease problems of multitrack calendars at its most overcrowded campuses.

Nearly 200 schools--serving almost half of the district's 736,000 students--operate year-round on staggered tracks that keep two groups of students in session and one on vacation at any time.

That system offers about a half hour more of classes each day, but 17 fewer days a year in a schedule that many educators believe shortchanges academics.

District leaders are eager to expand the school year from 163 days to the statewide standard of 180 days at these campuses--an enormous challenge in a system short of money and land for new construction.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday June 12, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 6 inches; 237 words Type of Material: Correction
School schedule--A California section story Tuesday about proposals to lengthen the school year at multitrack campuses in Los Angeles incorrectly stated that Garfield High School has been on a three-track, year-round calendar for nearly 20 years. The East Los Angeles campus switched to the schedule in the 1993-94 school year.
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They are facing pressure for extra school days from state legislators, as well as parents and teachers.

"We have to find a way to make this work, so that everybody has 180 days and everybody has an equal opportunity," said school board member Mike Lansing. "To me, that's the real challenge."

To build new schools and relieve overcrowding, the district says it needs to pass an expected $3.3-billion local school construction bond in November and receive additional funds from a $13-billion state school bond on the same ballot.

But new schools will not entirely relieve the pressures. Many existing campuses could still face various forms of year-round schedules even if their calendars grow to 180 days.

Los Angeles Unified officials are studying several scenarios for extending the school year. The officials insist that the proposals are not a scare tactic meant to sway voters to approve the bond.

In fact, they acknowledge that the alternatives under review could create new problems for students, parents and teachers in the district's most crowded neighborhoods.

The options include:

* Operating campuses six days a week. Under this scenario, half of a school might attend Mondays through Wednesdays and the other half Thursdays through Saturdays. Both groups would get shorter vacations to ensure that the students meet the 180-day minimum.

* Running double sessions on the same day. The school day would be split in two, with separate teachers and administrators running morning and afternoon shifts, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. The school year could run up to 220 days by shortening the length of each school day.

* Switching the three-track campuses to four tracks, which generally rotate groups of students for 90 days of class and 30 days of vacation repeatedly through the year. This change would extend the calendar to 180 days, but would make it harder for students to get Advanced Placement classes and other specialized courses that would have to be distributed over additional tracks. The scenario also might require increased busing, perhaps doubling the 17,000 students who now commute from overcrowded schools.

The various options could create new child-care dilemmas for parents. Athletic teams and extracurricular groups also would not be able to use gyms and playing fields that would be occupied all hours of the day under the double-session proposal.

Many of the ideas have yet to be tried in California, according to state education officials.

Only the double session has been attempted, and only by one other school system, the Anaheim City School District, the state officials said.

Anaheim introduced staggered sessions four years ago to accommodate double-digit growth while also reducing class sizes in first and second grades.

Half of the students in these two grades attend in the morning and half in the afternoon at 17 of the district's 23 schools. The groups overlap for about two hours in the middle of their school days.

Anaheim teachers complain that the schedule allows no time for recess and only 20 minutes for lunch.

"It's very hard on children. It's very hard on teachers," said Carol Reinbolt, a teacher at Westmont Elementary and president of the Anaheim Elementary Education Assn. "There isn't even time for a teacher to go to the bathroom."

The Orange County district passed a $111-million school bond earlier this year, and officials plan to build more schools and phase out the staggered, double sessions over the next decade.

But even as Anaheim envisions the end of double sessions, the Los Angeles Board of Education is expected to consider the option and other alternatives in August.

School board members acknowledge the downsides to the various scenarios for replacing the 163-day calendar. But they insist that the solutions are less painful than the current situation.

"Let's look at this as an opportunity to say we're not serving a certain segment of kids the best we can," said school board member Marlene Canter. "We'll have to make some hard decisions."

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