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Green Dot charter group to reorganize Locke High

Green Dot hopes the changes will counter the slumping academic performance of incoming ninth-grade students.

January 18, 2013|By Stephen Ceasar, Los Angeles Times

In a move to address the slumping academic performance of incoming ninth-grade students, charter school operator Green Dot Public School is proposing to reorganize Locke High School in Watts.

The Locke campus is split into five small schools. Rather than dividing the ninth-grade students among the five, most new freshmen will be placed in a single academy on the campus. One of the schools, Animo Watts, will continue to serve ninth through 12th grade.

There will be three 10th-through-12th-grade academies and the charter group wants to open a new middle school in the area to better prepare incoming students, Green Dot announced.

Green Dot Public Schools became the first outside charter operator to take over a Los Angeles Unified campus in 2008. Charters are publicly funded but independently run.

The move was widely watched across the country. The school had been long-troubled: the graduation rate was dismal, graffiti marred the walls, fights broke out frequently and students wandered the campus during class time. Green Dot replaced most of the faculty, cleaned up the campus, made it more secure and tried to instill a college-going culture.

The group focused on helping students make up credits lost by failing grades and stints out of school, including dropouts and those returning from the criminal justice system. It worked on providing more remedial help for students in English and math and required school uniforms.

While Locke has seen some gains, they have not been distributed evenly across the entire campus. The percentage of incoming ninth-grade students who test below basic or far below basic in math has increased sharply in recent years; more ninth-grade students need special education services; and enrollment in the freshmen class has been declining.

"We are proud of the advances Locke has made," said Marco Petruzzi, Green Dot chief executive, in a statement. "But we are always looking for ways to improve."

The new structure will help bring more consistency in instruction among all students and help focus increased support for students as they begin high school.

The reorganization, along with the campus' charter renewal, is expected to be voted on by the Los Angeles Board of Education on Feb. 12.

"The changes we will be making in preparation for the new school year will move us closer to our goal of providing every student at Locke with a world-class education," Petruzzi said.

A report released in May found that students at Locke have fared better than their peers in nearby traditional schools, but achievement overall remains low, according to the UCLA-based National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards and Student Testing. The ongoing research has been funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Still, students at Locke were more likely to graduate and to have taken courses needed to apply to a four-year state college, the study found.

But achievement wasn't uniform and L.A. Unified schools Supt. John Deasy said the moves are welcome.

"I applaud Green Dot for the progress we have seen at Locke, and commend them for not being afraid to make the necessary changes to broaden and deepen that improvement," Deasy said in a statement issued by the charter group.

stephen.ceasar@latimes.com

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