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Struggling Belmont High to be restructured

Most employees will have to reapply for their jobs and agree to a curriculum in which the school's nearly 1,300 students will be taught in English, Spanish and Mandarin.

January 27, 2011|By Jason Song, Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles school district officials announced Wednesday that Belmont High School will be restructured and most employees will have to reapply for their jobs and agree to a curriculum in which students will be taught in English, Spanish and Mandarin.

The move marks the third time recently that officials have taken such measures using federal guidelines allowing districts to revamp struggling campuses.

Belmont has improved almost 100 points on the Academic Performance Index over the last two years, which uses students' standardized test scores. Although its latest score of 639 is still poor, outgoing Supt. Ramon C. Cortines has publicly praised the campus several times.

The two other campuses that were restructured, John C. Fremont and Jordan high schools, showed much less progress than Belmont before teachers, administrators and staff were made to reapply for their jobs.

But Dale Vigil, the local superintendent who oversees Belmont near downtown, said he made the decision to overhaul the nearly 1,300-student school because a small percentage of students score at grade level or above in English and math on standardized tests and a low percentage graduate in four years.

Last year, 9% of students tested at grade level or above in math and 25% reached the same levels in English. Both figures were below district averages.

"If you go deep in the data, you can see there is room for improvement," Vigil said.

Vigil blamed the school's curriculum for the academic problems — not the instructors.

"I'm hoping 100% of the teachers come back," he said.

Vigil said the school would switch to a system in which students will do more long-term projects and also will be able to take classes in English, Spanish and Mandarin. (Teachers will need to be certified to teach in those languages.)

Belmont serves a student body that is almost 90% Latino. It also serves parts of Chinatown.

Cortines pushed for Fremont and Jordan to be restructured, but played little role in deciding to change Belmont.

"I have his support [but] it was my idea," Vigil said.

Teachers union leaders said they were caught by surprise by the decision.

Many teachers are "intrigued" by the concept but thought it would have been more effective if Vigil or other officials had discussed the plan with them or done something less drastic than restructuring, said Gregg Solkovits, a vice president of United Teachers Los Angeles.

"We would have been happy to participate in the discussions," he said.

Teachers and administrators who do not reapply or are not chosen to return are guaranteed a job elsewhere in the district. The non-classroom staff at Belmont will not have to reapply for their positions.

jason.song@latimes.com

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