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'School Pride' gets mixed grades from L.A. Unified

One episode of the TV show 'reenacted' an event that didn't happen; another left shoddy work behind. Some benefits were noted, though.

December 28, 2010|By Howard Blume and Daina Beth Solomon, Los Angeles Times
  • Rudy Lopez, L.A. Unifieds senior painter, checks peeling paint in Hollenbacks auditorium after a makeover by TV show "School Pride."
Rudy Lopez, L.A. Unifieds senior painter, checks peeling paint in Hollenbacks… (Bob Chamberlin, Los Angeles…)

Local school officials reluctantly allowed a reality television show onto campuses with promises of remodeling, then got stuck with a substandard paint job at one school and at another an embarrassing made-for-TV "reenactment" of an event that never occurred.

Some of the work at the two Los Angeles schools went well or at least did no harm. And "School Pride" still has local fans, especially because it inspired community volunteerism and school spirit.

Still, some in the Los Angeles Unified School District are annoyed, at the least because the school system is spending more than $100,000 to repaint Hollenbeck Middle School, east of downtown.

"It's one thing to need a new paint job," said Kelly Schmader, director of maintenance and operations for the nation's second-largest school system. "It's another to have to do corrections on a paint job that was somewhat of an eyesore."

The job at Hollenbeck was carried out with little or no prep work, without primer and with only one coat of paint; that's why it's already peeling in places, especially the railings, and isn't expected to last, Schmader said. Only part of the interior was painted to begin with. Areas of overspray also mar the work.

The handling of lockers was especially sloppy, the district said. They were painted over entirely, including the locker numbers, handles and tumblers.

Horizon Alternative Television, which produced the show, declined to comment on the issues at Hollenbeck and the Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies, or LACES, in Mid-City. There also was no comment from NBC, which aired the seven one-hour episodes on Friday nights in the fall. It is not expected to be picked up for a new season.

Los Angeles school district officials were hesitant to be overly critical of "School Pride," especially given the unexpected death of executive producer Denise Cramsey, 41, in November.

Cramsey had said the show was intended to be a positive catalyst.

"We went around the country fixing up schools and bringing communities together," Cramsey said. "And I think that's something everyone should feel really, really good about when they see it on TV."

Cramsey worked off a formula honed while producing "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition." That award-winning show boasts a loyal following but has faced criticism for some work that was more visually than functionally impressive or enduring.

"School Pride" recruited corporate donors and local contractors; some of them, in return, were promoted on the show. It also rallied students, teachers and community members to take part.

The pilot was filmed at Enterprise Middle School in Compton. Although the Compton Unified School District was appreciative, there was some grumbling about the portrayal of outsiders coming in to "save" Compton.

L.A. school officials at first said no thanks after previewing footage. That episode included "before" film clips of a scampering roach, a rat skull and students likening their school to an unsanitary prison. In the wake of a $20-billion construction and modernization program, L.A. Unified wanted no suggestion that its campuses were decrepit and dirty.

The prospect of bad publicity over rejecting free help, however, prompted a reconsideration.

"School Pride" typically painted exteriors in a school's official colors. The bright blue and yellow used at LACES reminded community critics of an IKEA store. Other people liked the new look.

A music teacher featured in the LACES episode later complained in an interview that his room was remodeled with things he didn't need, such as six televisions, while items he used, including a storage rack for music stands and file cabinets, were removed. Other teachers were grateful for upgrades to four classrooms and the culinary arts space.

Landscaping included a waterfall, bridge and koi ponds, and contractors installed new seats, sound equipment and flooring in the auditorium. A contractor returned, when asked, to repair a section of poorly installed floor.

But officials were unhappy with a "reenactment" based on the district's early hesitance. In the scene, co-host Jacob Soboroff bursts into a room and reads what sounds like a stop-work order. His troops are crestfallen that the good deeds must cease because of an inflexible district bureaucracy. Cut to commercial.

After the commercial, the "School Pride" team "reveals" that it has persuaded the district to let the LACES renovations continue.

That drama never occurred, and Soboroff wrote a letter of apology to the district. The scene nonetheless was shown on air.

Reached last week, Soboroff said he couldn't be interviewed without permission from network and show executives. Permission wasn't granted.

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