Hometown hero Oscar De La Hoya returned to Boyle Heights on Wednesday to fight for education with a $1-million donation for a new charter school named after him in the Eastside neighborhood.
The boxing champion -- a graduate of Garfield High School -- has donated the money and the land to the Oscar De La Hoya Animo Charter High School, which is scheduled to open in August with 140 students in temporary trailers and will eventually enroll 500. It is the third in the chain of charters run by the Green Dot Public Schools organization, which previously opened campuses in Lennox and Inglewood.
"I want to give students here an opportunity. I want to open doors. Children are the future of this community and California," De La Hoya said in a bilingual speech to an audience that included members of the school's inaugural class. "To all the families and students, thank you so much. I'm glad to be a part of this team."
Strolling the grounds and seeking shade during a groundbreaking ceremony for the school, families echoed the same response when asked why they wanted their children at Oscar De La Hoya instead of nearby Roosevelt High School: mejor oportunidad -- better opportunity.
"They'll have fewer students per class, and a better chance of getting into college," said Maria Cruz, whose daughter, Cindy Gomez, will attend De La Hoya High in the fall.
"I think it's a great opportunity for more unity between teachers and students," said Cindy, 14, an incoming freshman.
Charter schools are funded with tax dollars, but are free of most state regulations and allowed to operate independently of a school district. They are expected to offer programs that differ from those at traditional schools.
There are more than 300 charter schools operating in California, mainly with the approval of their local districts. The Los Angeles Unified School District gave the go-ahead for the new Eastside charter.
"The hardest part of this job was finding the property for this school," said Steve Barr, founder and chief executive of Green Dot Public Schools, which targets areas with underperforming, overcrowded campuses.
"We couldn't have done this without Oscar De La Hoya. Now East L.A. will show the rest of Los Angeles how schools should look," Barr said. He added that he plans four new schools next year, including two more in Boyle Heights.
Initially, the school -- on South Lorena Street -- will operate out of trailers on property that also houses a technology center and boxing gym built by De La Hoya. Its officials said that they plan to start construction of a permanent building there in the fall of 2004 but that they first need to raise several million dollars more.
Green Dot started Animo Leadership Charter High School in Lennox in 2000, and the Inglewood Charter High School in 2002. The early track records of those schools -- which boast high attendance and retention rates as well as better test scores than surrounding regular public schools -- impressed Los Angeles Unified School District Supt. Roy Romer, who attended Wednesday's ceremony.
Romer has said he supports the establishment of totally new charters but he is wary about allowing public campuses to convert to charters, as, for example, Granada Hills High School is doing.
He praised Green Dot's culture of smaller class sizes and dedicated parents, teachers and students.
"This is a package that really can work. They're public schools. They're our schools," Romer said.
The program limits classes to one teacher for every 22 students and follows a college preparatory curriculum. Students are chosen by lottery, and parents are required to complete at least 30 hours of community service per year in partnership with the school.