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Parents Learn to Line Up

If they're too late to register, their children could be bused away from crowded schools.

May 13, 2003|Errin Haines | Times Staff Writer

By the time Sarah Yang got to Cahuenga Elementary School at 7:30 Monday morning to enroll her 5-year-old son, she already was late.

The 38-year-old homemaker stood in line behind hundreds of parents, many of whom had camped out all weekend trying to secure a spot for their children in one of Cahuenga's 12 kindergarten classes.

"I didn't know there was going to be a crowd like this," Yang said after waiting four hours for enrollment forms. "I called the school, and they said if I miss enrollment, they'll bus my son somewhere else. So I hope we get in."

Cahuenga Elementary typifies more than a quarter of the 900 schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District, which are desperately overcrowded despite their year-round system, said district spokeswoman Hilda Ramirez.

The school, built nearly a century ago to hold 400 students, has added buildings and switched to a year-round schedule to keep up with the area's rapidly growing population. Still, the proliferation of apartments in its East Hollywood/Koreatown neighborhood has outpaced Cahuenga's resources, said Pam Hughes, assistant principal.

The school on South Hobart Boulevard holds 1,300 students -- as many as it buses -- and has dealt with the first-day frenzy of kindergarten enrollment for 18 years. Nearly 300 parents are competing for 240 open slots in the class that begins July 1.

Getting into kindergarten is crucial, because it ensures a place at the school through fifth grade. Those who do not make the cut will be forced to bus their children up to 45 minutes away, Hughes said.

"Of course we'd like to keep them in their community -- it's their right," Hughes said. "Unfortunately, it's not their privilege."

Proximity to home is not the school's only draw. With a score of 6 on the state's academic rating scale of 1-10, Cahuenga is above average, especially for a low-income area, Hughes said. And its scores have improved for the last three years, she said.

Yang, who is Korean, cited the school's bilingual English and Korean program as one of the reasons she was desperate to get her son into Cahuenga. The school also offers a bilingual Spanish program.

"I saw that the [state] score was high for this area, and I think this school will be good for my son, because there are a lot of Korean children here, and he only speaks a little English," she said.

Four new schools are being built in the area to alleviate the logjam at Cahuenga, including the Cahuenga New Elementary School No. 1, opening a few blocks away in the spring of 2005. It will have the capacity for 1,125 students on a year-round calendar.

The school is one of 80 that L.A. Unified wants to build over the next five years in the 700-square-mile district, but each is a three- to six-year process, depending on factors such as land availability, environmental testing and fund-raising, Hughes said.

To help, the city is partnering with the school district to find sites. As part of an agreement announced Monday, the city will identify problem or blighted properties that the school district could buy.

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