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L.A. Unified Opens 8 New Schools

Though not all complete, they are among 17 scheduled to open this year to relieve crowding and reduce year-round schedules.

September 10, 2004|Cara Mia DiMassa | Times Staff Writer

On the first day of the school year for about half of the students in the Los Angeles Unified School District, administrators and teachers celebrated the opening of eight new schools Thursday -- and pondered the shape of things to come.

Not all of the schools are complete -- students at the high school on the campus of Cal State Northridge, for example, are waiting for their gymnasium to be finished. In South Gate, construction workers carrying ladders and tools through the new middle school passed students moving from one period to the next. And at the new middle school in Van Nuys, on the former site of a drive-in movie theater, workers were laying sod hours before a convoy of VIPs arrived.

Still, the mood was upbeat at the campuses -- among 17 scheduled to open this academic year, and part of a $14-billion building plan that calls for 160 new schools over the next eight years.

About 413,000 of the district's 747,000 kindergarten-through-12th-grade students started school earlier in the summer because their overcrowded schools necessitate a year-round schedule. But school officials hope the building program will nearly eliminate the year-round schedule.

Thursday had the usual confusion that accompanies the first day of school, as 334,000 students scrambled to find their friends, identify their teachers and make sense of the index cards that detailed class schedules. But at the new schools, the freshness of it all made some stand back and take notice.

Christopher David Herrera, a seventh-grader, marveled at the spacious halls and expansive open space in his new academic home, Southeast Area Middle School No. 3 in South Gate. It was built to relieve South Gate Middle School, which is attended by 3,000 students on a three-track calendar and is believed to be the most populous middle school in the country.

"It's cleaner. It smells new. And it's also less crowded," Christopher, 12, said as he stood with a group of classmates.

The South Gate school is one of many new schools saddled by long and sometimes confusing working titles until students, teachers and principals choose official names for them. It serves about 1,400 students on a traditional September-to-June calendar.

Because of the new campus, the old South Gate Middle School will return to a traditional calendar next year for the first time in more than 20 years.

Christopher and his classmates attended the older school last year.

The new one, said Alexis Cruz, 11, "is better organized."

In the library of the Van Nuys middle school, known as East Valley Area New Middle School No. 2, school board member Julie Korenstein stared at empty shelves and stacks of book boxes still to be unpacked.

"They will be up soon," said Korenstein, who as the board member with the longest tenure has watched the project go from planning to completion. "When you start off with a little seedling and actually grow a tree, it's very, very rewarding," she said.

In addition to the Cal State Northridge, South Gate and Van Nuys schools, the other schools that opened Thursday were East Valley New Continuation High School No. 1, High Tech High on the Birmingham High School campus, Jefferson New Primary Center No. 6; Orthopaedic Hospital Medical Magnet High School and Manual Arts New Elementary School No. 1, known as the Science Center School, a joint venture of the district and the California Science Center. Los Angeles Unified has 709 K-12 schools this year.

On Thursday, Supt. Roy Romer and Board of Eduction President Jose Huizar toured four of the new schools, visiting classrooms, inspecting furniture and answering students' questions about the facilities.

"You are going to look back and see the day you made history," Huizar told the 28 students in Susie Guevara's chemistry class at Orthopaedic Hospital Medical Magnet.

At Orthopaedic, which draws half of its students from the local neighborhood and half from the district at large, students will receive early preparation for careers in healthcare and special mentoring from the hospital staff next door.

Romer called Orthopaedic a model for other partnerships with local institutions and organizations, telling students there, "We want you to know what the world of work is like."

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