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L.A. Unified Launches Initiative Aimed at Reducing Dropout Rate

The district hopes to encourage students to enroll in programs that will keep them in school. The focus is on vocational education.

September 13, 2006|Mitchell Landsberg | Times Staff Writer

Under continuing attack for its high dropout rate, the Los Angeles Unified School District on Tuesday announced its latest initiative aimed at keeping students in school -- a largely bureaucratic change that district officials hope will lead to a doubling in the number of students who enroll in programs for those who can't handle traditional high schools.

The change, announced with fanfare by Supt. Roy Romer, Board of Education President Marlene Canter and other top officials, boils down to this: The division that oversees adult schools will now also run the district's myriad alternatives to traditional high school, including continuation schools, schools for pregnant students and schools for independent study.

The idea, district officials said, is to ensure that students are informed about the options available to them, and to eventually place those options in a series of comprehensive "education and career centers" that would allow one-stop shopping for wayward students, with a strong focus on vocational education.

"We're going to make it more attractive for them to finish, and give them a wide array of educational opportunities," Romer said at the news conference at the district's Maxine Waters Employment Preparation Center in South L.A.

The district now serves close to 10,000 students in its alternative programs and hopes the change will allow it to double that figure, said Robert Collins, chief instructional officer for secondary education.

Collins said the change, even if it were to lead to a doubling in students, would not cost the district any money, because it would trigger an increase in state aid.

Santiago Jackson, who as head of the district's Division of Adult Career Education will run the expanded division, said it also will allow the district to "leverage" its existing resources through organizational efficiency.

Dropouts have become a sensitive issue for the district. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa put them front and center in his successful campaign to gain a voice in running public schools, charging that close to half the students in the district don't finish school. District officials, while acknowledging a serious problem, have accused Villaraigosa of exaggerating the number.

Romer announced plans in February for a series of dropout prevention measures, most of which have been put in place this school year.

They include special "intervention" classes for failing middle school students, new "algebra readiness" classes and a reduction in the size of eighth- and ninth-grade algebra classes, and the hiring of additional attendance clerks in every middle and high school. The district also had hoped to hire one new counselor for each of the district's 126 middle and high schools, but could afford to hire only 79, Collins said.

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mitchell.landsberg @latimes.com

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