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This King/Drew, a Magnet School, Is a Robust Success

April 27, 2005|Mitchell Landsberg | Times Staff Writer

In 1999, it moved to its current campus, centered around an airy, curvilinear, brick-and-glass building at 120th Street and Compton Avenue, directly across from Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center and next door to Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science.

The high school is affiliated with both institutions, particularly the hospital, where students participate in medical research and learn the workings of various departments.

While the school has soared, both the county-run medical center and the university have struggled, with the hospital blamed for a series of deadly errors in the last two years. Students and administrators at King/Drew High said the troubles didn't directly affect them.

Principal Woods said her main problem was one of perception. As people in the community have heard of the hospital's troubles, she said, they have sometimes called to ask if the school is at risk. She ruefully remembered the calls received after the medical center lost its national accreditation.

"I had to tell them that we received a six-year accreditation," she said. "Our flag flies every day."

King/Drew may be, as its advocates say, a model for other public schools, but it enjoys advantages that others don't. As a magnet, it receives additional federal money and has greater power to select its teaching staff. It has a spacious building with well-equipped labs and an abundance of textbooks and other teaching materials.

It also, perhaps oddly, has twice as many girls as boys -- a result, administrators say, of its lack of a football program. College administrators say girls are more and more likely than boys to qualify for college admission.

Finally, and perhaps most important, as a magnet school it has a self-selected student body -- and active, engaged parents. Magnets were created as part of a court-ordered desegregation plan to draw together students from diverse neighborhoods. Some of the schools have entrance requirements, but most, like King/Drew, accept a random share of those who apply.

"Our mom let us choose our high school -- thank God," said Tiffany Russell, a 5-foot-3-inch bundle of intellectual energy wrapped in cornrows. She lives within three blocks of Washington Preparatory High School, among the city's lowest-performing schools.

She finds King/Drew an oasis where an academically driven student is accepted. That isn't always the case outside, she said. "It's hard sometimes, because you want to be yourself but you don't want to be disconnected from the rest of your community," she said.

Tiffany, who wants to be a physician or a veterinarian, said she was admitted to several colleges, including UCLA, USC and Cal State L.A. Although she said her mother thought Cal State L.A. would be more affordable, Tiffany was leaning toward UCLA after being assured -- and reassured -- by the university's scholarship coordinator, Mary Horne, that she would receive enough financial aid.

"Everybody's in competition for you guys," Horne told the King/Drew students. "You guys are so blessed, because everybody wants you."

Times staff writer Erika Hayasaki contributed to this report.

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