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Charter Schools Awarded $1.8 Million

The Gates Foundation funds will support five campuses run by Green Dot near Jefferson High. The group gave L.A. Unified a lesser amount.

September 20, 2006|Carla Rivera | Times Staff Writer

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on Tuesday awarded $1.8 million to a Los Angeles charter school organization that is waging a battle with the Los Angeles Unified School District to create small, community-oriented high schools.

The grant will support five charter schools opened this school year by Green Dot Public Schools near Los Angeles Unified's Jefferson High School, which has been beset with racial strife and low academic performance.

Green Dot founder and Chief Executive Steve Barr mounted a failed effort to take over Jefferson High last year.

The award to Green Dot exceeded the $1.3 million given to the Los Angeles school district last week by the Gates Foundation, the Seattle-based philanthropy started by the Microsoft founder and his wife.

"It's a great endorsement of organizing a community and recruiting that community to rally around some change," Barr said of the award. "It's a validation of our record to date."

The new Green Dot public schools are Animo Jefferson High School, Animo Jackie Robinson High School, Animo Pat Brown High School, Animo Ralph Bunche High School and Animo Film and Theater Arts High School. Animo means spirit in Spanish. Two of the new schools are on L.A. Unified campuses.

The Green Dot philosophy emphasizes small, safe schools of no more than 500 students each, a college preparatory curriculum, and parent and community participation.

Typically, the schools open with a ninth-grade class of about 145 students and then add a new class in successive years.

The group operates five other public schools in Los Angeles County.

The formula has proved somewhat successful, with Green Dot schools scoring higher than some comparable L.A. Unified schools on the 2006 Academic Performance Index test results and with 95% of Green Dot's 2006 senior class graduating.

That record was a key factor in its selection, said Gates Foundation spokeswoman Marie Groark.

The higher grant to Green Dot implies no intent to favor charter versus public schools, Groark said.

"We're agnostic," she said. "Both grants reflect a strategy of improving schools in Los Angeles and most important student outcomes."

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles-based Broad Foundation Tuesday awarded its 2006 Broad Prize for Urban Education to the Boston Public Schools for overall student gains and reducing achievement gaps among poor and minority children.

The Boston district will receive $500,000 in college scholarships.

Four other finalists -- Bridgeport Public Schools in Connecticut, Jersey City Public Schools in New Jersey, Miami-Dade County Public Schools and the New York City Department of Education -- will each receive $125,000.

The Broad Prize was established in 2002 by philanthropist Eli Broad, and this year 100 of the largest urban school districts, including Los Angeles Unified, were eligible.

Judges cited Boston for outperforming other districts on standardized test scores, improving achievement of African American students and increasing the number of Advanced Placement math and English tests taken by African American and Latino students, among other things.

In an interview after the announcement at New York's Museum of Modern Art, Broad praised some changes initiated by L.A. Unified Supt. Roy Romer, but suggested that efforts in Los Angeles are not yet on a par with other cities.

"We've really done more in cities that have strong superintendents and strong mayors," Broad said. "We'd like to do more in Los Angeles, but it will take the right kind of superintendent who's reform-minded."

Broad praised the school construction program and rise in elementary test scores, but, he said, "Roy had a tough way to go. Roy was not given the type of free hand a superintendent needs. He had a difficult school board. And the teachers union in Los Angeles is not the most progressive."

Romer could not be reached for comment late Tuesday afternoon.

carla.rivera@latimes.com

Times staff writer Howard Blume contributed to this report.

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