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Board denies renewal of school charter

The school board cites New West's admissions process as problematic.

May 23, 2007|Howard Blume | Times Staff Writer

One of the city's highest scoring middle schools was denied its charter renewal Tuesday from the Los Angeles school board, meaning that the school must seek a reprieve from the state to stay in business.

The Board of Education unanimously turned down the renewal petition from New West Charter School over concerns that the West L.A. campus' admissions process could improperly screen out low-achieving students.

New West acknowledges its more extensive admissions process, while insisting the school does nothing wrong. State law requires charters to accept all students seeking entrance regardless of their academic abilities, district officials said.

New West was among four charters whose fate landed Tuesday before the board of the Los Angeles Unified School District. Two other charter schools also are being recommended for denial and a fourth is in line for a conditional renewal even as a district investigation proceeds into its finances.

Charters are independent public schools freed from many education code restrictions in exchange for improving academic achievement. These schools must be approved and overseen by an education agency, usually the local school district. A school's charter must be renewed, typically every five years, or the charter must close.

New West has 300 students in grades six through eight. It scored an 806 on the state's Academic Performance Index, which ranks schools on a scale from 200 to 1,000 based on student test scores in math, English and other subjects. That puts the school in the state's top 30% overall and in the top 10% (the highest ranking possible) among schools with students from similar backgrounds. About 35% of its students are white, compared to 8.8% of L.A. Unified at large.

The school ran afoul of district officials on its admissions packet, which requires a confidential evaluation from a teacher and an administrator at the student's previous school. New West also requires report cards, standardized test scores and, for students performing below grade level, a statement and school documents describing remediation for the student.

In the view of the L.A. Unified charter school office, "the request for test scores" and other requirements "violate the intent of the [state's] Charter Schools Act, which requires that charter schools enroll any student who wishes to attend." The application materials, officials concluded, could act as "a disincentive for parents of low-performing students to apply," which creates "the potential for discrimination."

School co-founder Judith Bronowski said any family that completes the application has an equal chance to get in through the school's lottery. The lottery is held because demand exceeds classroom space.

The school will now seek renewal from the state Board of Education, which had authorized the school after L.A. Unified had initially turned it down.

Two other charter schools being considered Tuesday don't have the test scores of New West. Discovery Charter Preparatory School in Pacoima has seen its API score fall from three years ago. But executive director Matthew Macarah touted the school's accreditation by the Western Assn. of Schools and Colleges.

Pacifica Community Charter School, which serves 160 in kindergarten through eighth grade, had similar explaining to do.

The L.A. school board is scheduled to make a final decision in June on both schools, as well as Ivy Academia Charter. The Woodland Hills school is in a dispute with the district over financial records. The school has denied wrongdoing.

howard.blume@latimes.com

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