Most charters were approved Tuesday, but here are the 3 that were turned down
Mike Szymanski | November 7, 2017
Although the LA Unified Charter Division staff and school board approved last-minute wording that saves about a dozen other charter schools, three charters were rejected at Tuesday’s board meeting by unanimous votes.
A military institute that shares space at Sun Valley High School, a 6-12 school that has a higher-than-average enrollment of special education students, and an international studies school that was seeking to teach French, German, Italian, and Spanish were all rejected.
Here are the schools, the district’s reasons why they were turned down, and some of the discussion.
*The International Studies Language Academy was petitioning to open a new school in the Glassell Park area of District 5, represented by Ref Rodriguez. The school planned to have 438 students in transitional kindergarten through seventh grade in its first year, and expand to 1,056 students and add eighth grade within five years. The school had a private site but would also be applying for Prop. 39 space to co-locate at a district school.
REASONS FOR REJECTION. The district cited six main reasons for rejection, including an unsound educational program and that they are “demonstrably unlikely to successfully implement the program.” Other minor reasons for the rejection included not providing enough signatures as required by the state.
The LA Unified Charter Division also found that the charter school leaders had an “unrealistic financial and operational plan” for the school.
The school had ambitious plans to attract students from an identified community of 445 French-speaking students, 273 German-speaking students, 121 Italian-speaking students, and 147,043 Spanish-speaking students in the area. The district found there was no “sound plan” for enrollment.
The school originally was rejected by the Glendale Unified School District and then by the Los Angeles County Office of Education. Then, in 2016, the school was approved by the state Board of Education but didn’t open because of a lack of real estate, and the board was revamped, so they tried LA Unified again.
DISCUSSION. A few of the board members and staff spoke in favor of the school plan and disputed some of the charter division’s findings.
Former school board member David Tokofsky said the board should look at the plan for multi-language instruction and said the school could possibly have become an affiliated charter school, which would still be under district control but allow it some autonomies. “They were not given the chance,” Tokofsky said.
* The North Valley Military Institute was asking to extend its sixth- to 12th-grade program for 610 students for five years. The school is co-located on the campus of Sun Valley High School in Kelly Gonez’s District 6. The school was approved by LA Unified in 2013 and suffered a series of widely publicized debts.
REASONS FOR REJECTION. The district charter staff found that the test scores showed the academy was among the lowest 5 percent in the state. The state test scores showed that the school was lower than neighborhood district schools in all categories and subgroups.
This year’s English language arts scores showed that 21.6 percent of students were meeting or exceeding standards, while the neighborhood schools hit 35.6 percent. In math, the scores were 6 percent, while other local school scores were 18.6 percent.
DISCUSSION. Gonez, who represents the area, suggested that the academy was a “unique option” for parents but said that findings of low test scores, fiscal issues, and low reclassification rates would cause her to vote against renewing the school. The charter division noted that the school has had a history of struggling to maintain its budget.
“We have to put academic achievement above all else,” said Gonez, who also pointed out that there were only 22 students in the last graduating class.
Lt. Col Mark Ryan, who runs the military academy, said that the school attracts students who have been suspended from other schools, and 91 percent are socio-economically disadvantaged, 20 percent receive special education, and 90 percent have persistent problems with learning.
“Students who come to us are two or three grade levels below what they should be, and they get up to their level within three years of enrollment,” Ryan said.
The school gives three meals a day to all their students, and Ryan said he has been advocating to replicate his school model as a magnet or pilot program.
“We are making a difference to kids who are underserved,” Ryan said. “I hope that someday completely out-of-the-box programs like ours will be replicated.”
Board member Nick Melvoin thought that the military academy should be reclassified as an “alternative school” and not an independent charter.
*Magnolia Science Academy 5 is a co-located school at Reseda Senior High in Gonez’s District 6 serving 210 students in sixth- through 10th-grades. By the end of their charter term, they hoped to have 460 students through 12th-grade. The school was first approved in 2008, then renewed in 2013 and moved from Hollywood to Reseda.
Former school board member Caprice Young is CEO of the Magnolia schools and has faced a series of rejections by LA Unified of her schools last year. She was involved in the changing of the board district language, but it didn’t help her with Magnolia 5. However, Magnolia Science Academy 4 serving 197 sixth- through 12th-graders, located in Board District 4, was approved Tuesday.
Young said the unexpected move into the Valley caused test scores to plummet. “We essentially had to start all over again.”
REASONS FOR REJECTION. The district staff said the charter school was unlikely to “implement the educational program” and they mentioned a review by the Office of Inspector General concerning potential conflicts of interest.
Young has said that the OIG’s investigation seems like it’s ongoing, and she isn’t sure what they are continuing to investigate.
DISCUSSION. Ref Rodriguez noted that after the school moved, 33 percent of Magnolia’s students were proficient in English and 15 percent in math. He noted that the scores, although low, increased significantly.
“We took everyone,” Young said about taking on 24 percent special needs students.
“If we are denied by the district, we will not have the special ed part of LAUSD program,” Young said. “We will greatly mourn that loss.”
Next month, 15 charter schools will be up for discussion by the school board.
*This article has been updated with corrections to Magnolia’s special education enrollment and the grades served at Academy 5.