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Garfield High is eligible for takeover

Control of the East L.A. school, setting for 'Stand and Deliver,' could shift because of its low academic standing.

September 26, 2009|Howard Blume

Garfield High, which became nationally known as the real-life setting for the film "Stand and Deliver," will be among the initial 12 local campuses, including six high schools, eligible for takeover because of persistent academic failure, officials announced Friday.

The nation's second-largest school system will invite bidders from inside and outside the district to run these schools next year through a proposal process that is still being developed.

The Los Angeles Board of Education authorized this school-control plan in August; it applies to low-achieving existing schools and to 51 new campuses set to open over the next four years in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Garfield, which for decades has served a largely immigrant Latino population in East Los Angeles, reached a high-water mark in the 1980s, when math teacher Jaime Escalante built his famed calculus program.

Under his leadership, dozens of students passed the Advanced Placement calculus test every year, a rare feat even at the nation's elite schools.

Last year, only 5% of Garfield students tested as "proficient" in any math class.

"All these schools need the attention that this will focus on them," said board member Yolie Flores Aguilar, author of the policy.

Other schools include:

* Maywood Academy in the southeast Los Angeles County city of Maywood. The school opened four years ago. Maywood city officials are interested in obtaining substantial control over the school, said City Councilman Felipe Aguirre.

* Jefferson High in Central-Alameda. District officials successfully opposed a previous charter conversion attempt by Steve Barr and his Green Dot Public Schools. Barr later engineered a takeover of Locke High.

* Lincoln High in Lincoln Heights. Teachers helped staff a volunteer summer school after budget cuts slashed district offerings. One potential course that failed to attract sufficient enrollment was an activism seminar with the proposed class project of recalling Flores Aguilar because she voted for budget cuts that resulted in layoffs.

* Burbank Middle School in Highland Park, where parents have long worried about gang influence on campus. The school also has two new magnet schools that, some argue, already are the basis of a promising reform.

* San Fernando Middle School, the only Valley campus.

The other schools are Gardena High, San Pedro High, Carver Middle School in South Park, Griffith Joyner Elementary in Watts, Hillcrest Elementary in Baldwin Hills/Crenshaw, and Hyde Park Elementary in Hyde Park.

L.A. schools Supt. Ramon C. Cortines said that being on the list "should not be viewed as a negative" and that "this process is about providing our schools with the appropriate supports."

More than 250 schools are eligible under the board resolution, which applies to schools that consistently failed to meet federal benchmarks for at least three years.

Cortines refined the formula as recently as midweek, finally deciding that the "focus" schools, as he called them, would meet additional criteria: fewer than 21% of students proficient in math or English and no school-wide improvement on the state's Academic Performance Index, which is largely based on standardized test scores.

In addition, high schools would have a dropout rate greater than 10%.

Garfield qualified easily.

The school also owns the lowest rank, 1 of 10, when compared with schools statewide. But that does not make Garfield's selection incontestable.

When compared with schools that serve similar students, Garfield rates a 6 of 10, which puts it in the upper half of state schools.

And although Garfield dropped three points on this year's Academic Performance Index, it had improved by 44 and 25 points the previous two years, among L.A. Unified's better gains.

Garfield's uncertain future has engendered fear and anger among the faculty, said social studies teacher Brian Fritch.

"We have a lot of teachers confused about what the next step will be," he said. "People don't feel included in the process and feel rushed."

Fritch is hustling to organize an internal reform proposal.

Junior Karen Flores, 16, said she and her classmates are worried about the loss of cherished Garfield traditions and a disrupted senior year, with the potential to affect classes and college applications.

"It feels like people are giving up on us," she said.

Garfield became a reform battleground as a target of the Parent Revolution, which emerged out of Green Dot.

Its organizers have asserted that they have signatures from dissatisfied community parents equal in number to more than half the Garfield student body and that the district must either improve Garfield or face competition from start-up charter schools that would surround it.

Green Dot has agreed to step aside and let another charter group, the Alliance for College-Ready Public Schools, manage new charters near Garfield.

Alliance chief executive Judy Burton said she's interested in submitting a proposal both for Garfield and for a new high school, under construction, that will relieve Garfield's overcrowding.

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howard.blume@latimes.com

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