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2 charter schools facing closure get a 1-year reprieve

Discovery Preparatory, Pacifica plan to show state and local officials that they are improving.

June 29, 2007|Howard Blume | Times Staff Writer

Two popular charter schools that faced immediate closure because of low test scores won a one-year reprieve Thursday from the Los Angeles Board of Education.

Discovery Preparatory high school in Pacoima and Pacifica Community Charter, a kindergarten through eighth grade school in West Los Angeles, will use the time to make the case to local and state officials that their schools are getting better and are worthy of keeping open.

The stay of execution also puts the parents of 360 Discovery students and 160 Pacifica students on notice that they'll have to find other schools if these efforts fall short.

The schools achieved the dubious distinction of being the first two district-supervised charter schools this year to flunk bids for renewal.

Charter schools are independently operated schools that win freedom from certain regulations in exchange for improving student achievement. Both of these schools were in the fifth and final year of their original charter. Those charters officially ended Thursday.

But the news wasn't all bad. The school board, at the recommendation of staff, simultaneously approved a new one-year charter for each school. Officials acknowledged that to close the schools now would deny their operators due process to appeal first to the county Board of Education and then, if necessary, to the state Board of Education.

Timely response has long been an issue with the thinly staffed charter school office.

Pacifica was first reviewed by the district's Program Evaluation and Research Branch late in the 2004-05 school year. The school didn't get official findings until late in the 2005-06 school year, and therefore, school leaders said, they couldn't fully act on recommendations for improvement until this school year.

This account overlooks informal but clear feedback about shortcomings, said Gregory McNair, head of the district's charter school division, in an interview. But he acknowledged, "Before this year, the charter office did not play any role in assisting charter schools other than to assist them in developing their petitions at the beginning."

The fruits of Pacifica's recent efforts, this year's test scores, could not count in the current evaluation because the results won't be available for months.

Unmoved, board member Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte, a frequent skeptic of charter schools, voted to shutter both. "I know the time is late," she said, "but we have many, many other charter schools that have adhered to this timeline."

Los Angeles Unified oversees 103 charter schools, the most in the nation. The charter office has dealt with 18 renewal petitions this year; 15 have been or likely will be granted. Besides Discovery and Pacifica, the other school whose petition was denied is New West, a school that operates under state jurisdiction in Los Angeles. New West is likely to get its renewal from the state. L.A. Unified also revoked the charter of a school not up for renewal because of management problems.

howard.blume@latimes.com

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