Record number of charter schools, all outperforming district schools, are recommended for denial this week


A record number of charter schools, all outperforming nearby district schools, have been recommended for denial by LA Unified staff when their petitions come before Tuesday’s school board meeting.

More than 15,000 students could be affected by board decisions involving charter schools that are up for renewal or revision.

Seven schools that have 6,730 students are recommended to have their charters revoked, including LA’s top-ranked charter high school, while three other schools asking for revisions affecting 2,060 students are also recommended for denial by staff.

One revision, for WISH Middle School, was resolved over the weekend and their petition has been pulled from Tuesday’s agenda.

“This is unprecedented,” said Jason Mandell, spokesman for the California Charter Schools Association. “Last year 100 percent of the charter renewals and material revisions were approved.”

In the past five years, 155 out of 159 charter school renewals were approved and 42 out of 43 material revisions of a charter school were approved by the school board, according to CCSA.

“The standards have been the same and the schools have improved in academic achievement,” Mandell said. “These schools have all been blindsided by the district recommendations.”

LA Unified oversees the charter schools, which must petition for renewal every five years. Many of the independent charter schools up for renewal are co-located on traditional public school campuses.

The charter school division makes recommendations to the school board for approval or denial. The elected school board members have on multiple occasions rejected the staff findings.

Meanwhile, five charter schools up for renewal and revisions are recommended for approval and are slated to be added to a consent agenda without comment by the board members. Those schools, affecting more than 1,400 students, will be decided on at a morning meeting at 9 a.m. during about an hour of discussion. Then the school board will go into closed session at 10 a.m. and at noon will reconvene with their main agenda.

The nine schools that face rejection from the school board have their hearings scheduled for a 5 p.m. meeting on Tuesday. School board President Steve Zimmer has tried to schedule meetings in a more compact manner to make it easier for faculty and parents to attend and speak about the issues involving their schools without having to wait for hours.

Among the most controversial proposed rejections is El Camino Real High School, which has 3,900 students and has won academic awards. The district is recommending the second step toward revoking its independent charter school status and turning it back into a traditional public school, following an investigation into financial mismanagement first reported in the Los Angeles Daily News. The district staff said that their concerns have not been adequately answered.


Three Magnolia Science Academy schools are recommended to have their charter renewals denied, two of which were ranked in April by U.S. News & World Report in the top 100 high schools in California. Magnolia Science Academy 2 in Van Nuys was the top-ranked charter high school in Los Angeles Unified, and along with Magnolia Science Academy Reseda made the top 3 percent of all U.S. high schools.

Magnolia Science Academy logoAccording to the staff reports, all three schools outperform neighboring district schools on this year’s state tests in both math and English, with the exception of Magnolia Science Academy 2, where students meeting or exceeding English standards fell 12 percentage points below the average at nearby resident schools. However, the report shows that the school’s reclassification rate of English language learners was twice that at resident schools, while its percent of EL students nearly matched resident schools’.

The reclassification rate at Magnolia Academy 2 was 30 percent, and 51 percent at Magnolia Academy 3, about twice the rate of neighboring district schools.

The reclassification rate Magnolia Science Academy in Reseda, located in Board District 6, was 33 percent, according to the LA Unified staff report. That is triple the rate of nearby Reseda High School (11 percent) and more than four times the rate at Canoga High (7 percent). Magnolia’s rate was nearly three times the district’s rate last year, and the report shows Magnolia’s reclassifications rose 3.6 percent from the previous year while the district’s as a whole fell 4.5 percent.

“Because our students are successfully gaining English proficiency, the EL students are not the same students from year to year. They test out,” Caprice Young, CEO and superintendent of Magnolia Public Schools, said in a statement. “If we held them back to game the system, our scores would be much higher.”

Between 2011 and 2015, the three Magnolia schools sent 92 percent of its graduates to college and 95 percent of its seniors completed A-G college readiness standards, according to the staff report. More than 65 percent of graduates each year are the first in their families to go on to college, Magnolia data show. Since its first graduating class in 2008, Magnolia has graduated more than 700 students and sent them to college. 

The average AP participation rate of all three schools is 30 percent higher than surrounding residential high schools, Magnolia reported.
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Alliance College-Ready Public Schools: A replicable model or unique success?


Students at Alliance Margaret M. Bloomfield High School in Huntington Park.

Alliance College-Ready Public Schools is the largest independent charter network in LA Unified, with 28 middle and high schools serving over 12,500 students. Ninety-four percent of Alliance’s students come from poverty, yet the charter management organization has a proven track record of outperforming the district and state schools when it comes to key factors like graduation rates and standardized test performance.

But how scalable is the Alliance model and that of other CMOs like it? Are there answers inside their halls to the big questions that have dogged the district for years? Or are charters actually the problem, not the solution, when it comes to the district’s woes, as some detractors like the LA teachers union, UTLA, have charged.

• Read more about charters: How charters went from a ‘novelty’ to dominate the conversation of LAUSD, and 9 questions and answers about LA’s charters.

These questions were raised to new levels of importance about a year ago when an early draft of what was to become the Great Public Schools Now funding plan for Los Angeles schools was leaked to the press and sent shockwaves through the educational world. The plan called for expanding independent charter schools at LA Unified to serve half of all its students.

The plan received significant backlash and has since been modified to include all kinds of successful models, including traditional district schools, but the early draft raised an interesting question: Could charter schools be scaled to size to overtake district schools?

Independent charters already serve 107,000 of the district’s 665,000 students, but there has yet to be a charter management organization that has proven ready and willing to declare itself a scalable, cookie cutter model that could replace district schools.

Alliance is certainly not ready to declare itself that. In fact, Alliance has no plans to add any new schools over the next four years, according to Dan Katzir, Alliance’s president and CEO, who has been in his role since March 2015. Katzir said in his interview for the job he floated the idea of pausing on adding new schools.

“The fact of the matter is even if we stop growing for four years, we need to catch up with our growth from a systems perspective, an infrastructure perspective and a behavior and cultural perspective,” Katzir said.

Katzir also added that even if Alliance doesn’t add new schools, it will continue to grow because six schools in the network are still adding grades in the coming years.

However, despite the pause on growth, Alliance does believe its model is replicable. On its About Us webpage, the title reads, “Proving exceptional at scale is possible.” And Katzir said, “We can scale. We are bigger than 75 percent of other districts in the state, so we can scale.”


Ninety-eight percent of Alliance students are African-American or Latino, 94 percent qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, 9 percent have special needs and 17 percent are English learners. The district as a whole during the 2015-16 school year was 82 percent Latino and African-American, 77 percent qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch, 12 percent have special needs and 22 percent are English learners.

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El Camino Real Charter teachers voice strong support for school, meet with union reps; LAUSD makes correspondence public

Sue Freitag drama teacher El Camino

Performing arts teacher Sue Freitag of El Camino Real Charter High School.

A $1,139 dinner at a steakhouse. A $95 bottle of fine Syrah wine. A $73 bill for flowers.

Those charges and others made by staff of a successful charter school were cited this week at an LA Unified School Board meeting and led the district to take the first steps to revoking the school’s charter.

El Camino Real Charter High School, which educates 3,600 students in the west San Fernando Valley, was given a Notice of Violations Tuesday that they must answer by Sept. 23, or the district could hold a public hearing to decide whether to revoke the school’s charter and return it to traditional district school status.

On Friday morning, all of the correspondence between the district and the school that was provided to the school board members was made public as per a request by board member Monica Ratliff.

While some of the school board members seemed outraged about the charges against the charter school in more than an hour of debate Tuesday, many teachers who spoke in support of the school said they felt that the district was being too harsh on the school. Some of them supported the expenses on lavish dinners, even though the district rules wouldn’t allow such practices for their own traditional schools.

“There are some things that need to be negotiated, and that may mean taking you out to dinner,” said teacher Sue Freitag. “I think the district is being unreasonable. Once again, it’s a huge bureaucracy trying to tell us all what to do. Charters are supposed to be independent.”

Marshall Mayotte, El Camino Real chief business officer

Marshall Mayotte, El Camino Real chief business officer

Freitag taught at the school for 14 years when it was a district school and after it became an independent charter school. She is also a member of the teachers union, UTLA, and notes that she is making 7 percent more than she did as a traditional school teacher. She said she has been part of the school family for 32 years, going back to being a student there.

“This school has had a pristine reputation in academics and the arts and it hurts me personally to see our reputation under scrutiny,” Freitag testified to the school board on Tuesday. “I question the charter school division as to why these issues were not brought up prior to the school year?” Freitag, who also is in charge of the theater program at the school, said, “I’m here for students, they deserve a safe school environment free of political interference.”

The teachers at El Camino Real will be meeting after school on Friday with UTLA members to discuss the issues with the school. The teachers have a separately negotiated UTLA contract that is different than the one for the overall district.

At Tuesday’s meeting, school board member Richard Vladovic said he sifted through the thousand of expenses of El Camino and asked, “Is it common to ask school funds to pay for a corkage fee? Can you use money meant for the students to pay the price of a bottle of wine? Can they purchase alcohol with school money? … If an LA principal did that, what would probably happen?”

Schools have done that, but they are told it’s against district policy, school officials said. Superintendent Michelle King shook her head and said, “There would be an investigation, and appropriate action would follow. No, we wouldn’t say it’s OK.”

Vladovic added that the school was asked months ago about the charges of “significant meals at restaurants and who attended the meetings and what they were for, and they did not respond.”

Jose Cole-Gutierrez, director of the district’s Charter Schools Division that brought the vote for the Notice of Violations to the school board, said his office noted the “seemingly exorbitant personal and improper expenses” including first-class travel and other expenses into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. He said the school has “the opportunity to remedy concerns noted” including charges on credit cards charged to the school that includes unauthorized travel expense. Although charter schools run independently, they must still follow some overall district rules and procedures, and their charters are renewed by the school board every five years but can be revoked at any time.

“We noted credit card activity that is still problematic,” Cole-Gutierrez said. “It does not prohibit the use of personal expenses. It discourages it, but does not prohibit it.” He said the district’s charter division asked for clarifications for the past two years.

School board President Steve Zimmer noted that the Notices to Cure from the charter division are common requests, and that the school board doesn’t plan to revoke the school’s charter immediately. Other school board members expressed serious concerns.

“This does not reflect on a great school, I have major concerns,” Vladovic concluded. “Do we treat schools that are still LAUSD property, as opposed to charter schools on independent sites, differently? No, so they are all treated the same.”

Board member Scott Schmerelson, who represents the district where El Camino is located, pointed out that each of the teachers speaking for the school was passionate and said “the charter school is excellent and used to have a stellar reputation.” Schmerelson noted a media interview with a school representative who said there was a lot of money in the school’s treasury and the expenses weren’t of concern.

“You can’t use public money like that,” Schmerelson said. “What bothers me the most is the arrogance, the arrogance, on the news, as if we’re the bad guys. We like the school, I don’t want to revoke the charter, I think it’s a great school. But you have to play fair and have to be fair with public money.”

Schmerelson said he received many emails from faculty members who said they were happy with the school, but unhappy with the administrators who created these problems. “The great majority of the emails I received were for the school, but against the deeds that were done,” Schmerelson said.

Janelle Ruley El Camino attorney

El Camino attorney Janelle Ruley

In the charter school’s own by-laws, it notes that purchases for staff meals must be pre-approved and “each department has a budget of $50/employee/year for meals.”

Janelle Ruley, a charter rights attorney of Young, Minney & Corr representing the school’s governing board, said the school district’s recent action “feels like a bait-and-switch sucker punch.” She said the school board’s actions are unproductive and said the school answered all the questions in a timely manner and changed some school policies.

“Like Charlie Brown kicking a football, charter schools are set up to make compliance mistakes and they’re heavily penalized when they actually do,” Ruley said. She added that the school board action “will expose the district to liability.” Ruley said the school plans to answer all the questions within the deadline, but that didn’t stop the teachers and families from being angry.

Gail Turner-Graham El Camino

Teacher Gail Turner-Graham

Teacher Gail Turner-Graham pointed out that “El Camino takes care of its teachers” with an average salary scale of $90,000 per teacher last year. She said the school increased classes, clubs and extracurricular activities by more than 15 percent and two college counselors are dedicated specifically for college planning and helping students with credit recovery. She said the school has a waiting list of 1,000 students and has “established a lean operating system,” and support staff increased by more than 40 percent.

Softball coach and teacher Lori Chandler said she had taught at the school since 1985 and when they first talked about going charter. “At the time the faculty lacked confidence and a majority was not in favor, but five years ago was very different and the faculty fully supported it,” said Chandler who also graduated from the high school. “That was the very best thing that happened to El Camino Real. Being a charter school means decisions are made at the school level.”

Chandler pointed out the school won 97 awards in the past five years in athletics. She suggested that the district wanted to take back the school because it was thriving so well and had several million dollars in their coffers for retiree benefits. “Perhaps that’s the problem, we are thriving too much,” said Chandler, who devoted 33 years to the school.

Lori Chandler El Camino

Lori Chandler, teacher and alum at El Camino Real.

District officials said they first notified the school of concerns last year, on Sept. 29, 2015 and issued a “Notice to Cure” to explain the irregularities by Oct. 30, 2015.

But the faculty and students didn’t know of the issues at the school until the first week of school this year, according to a science teacher at the school for the past 14 years, Dean Sodek. He said the faculty and parents were surprised and it was like “having a kitchen sink lobbed at us” by the district.

Sodek said the district paid a total of $1.2 million in oversight fees over the past five years to the district. He said the district charter office should offer more assistance to the school. He and other staff members said the district’s actions have shaken up the school.

“Please try to understand our frustration,” said the school’s ‎director of marketing, Melanie Horton. She said the district’s actions were “distracting and scaring our students and staff.”

Dermot Givens El Camino Real parent and attorney

Dermot Givens, an El Camino parent.

Parent Dermot Givens, an attorney whose son Damian got into the school through open enrollment, pointed out that his is one of the 8 percent of African-American families at the school. “It is not an all-white upper-class population,” Givens said, adding that his son is fluent in French, learning Mandarin Chinese and a member of the basketball team.

Marshall Mayotte, the school’s chief business officer, said the district’s report was a result of “sloppy work and false statements.” He pointed out that his name was mentioned 11 times for charges made on an employee business card and he was not at the restaurants that were named.

After the district voted to approve the latest notice to the school, Mayotte said, “We were caught off guard.” He said he didn’t have time to answer the summary of facts before the district made them public. The Los Angeles Daily News conducted an in-depth investigation of the school finances in May that also detailed expenses.

Tensions during the school board meeting grew so tense that board member Monica Garcia ordered: “OK, everybody breathe! Everybody breathe! There is a lot of tension and anxiety out there. What I hear is there is a lot people who support their school and want to see a solution and concern about some behavior came to light at some point. …  What I’m interested in hearing is a conversation of how to fix the issues.”

Scott Silverstein, a newly elected member of the El Camino school board and the parent of a recent graduate of the school, said, “We are more than happy to make the necessary changes.”

Despite district rules, Haddon Elementary increases enrollment and decreases absenteeism with unique programs


Principal Richard Ramos with Dominga Verduzco.

Haddon Elementary Avenue School is so in demand that families want to drive their children across the San Fernando Valley from Granada Hills to attend the Pacoima school.

Haddon is not a charter school, it’s not a new pilot program and it’s not a magnet school (yet). It’s a traditional Title 1 district school in a low-income Latino neighborhood that has been there since 1926.

But it wasn’t always growing. And in fact it had to fight district rules that prohibited families from moving to the school.

Five years ago, parents were so fed up with the school that they initiated a “parent trigger” to try to take over the school from the district. The trigger was never pulled, and a new principal came in who brought programs students wanted, like a Mariachi class, a robotics program and an award-winning speech and debate team.

“We are certainly an anomaly in the district, and I’m learning now that part of my job is to figure out how to be competitive and promote the school,” said Haddon Principal Richard S. Ramos, who has worked with the charter school group Partnerships to Uplift Communities and on dozens of successful electoral campaigns, most recently for Robert Gonzales to the San Fernando City Council in 2012. “We have to figure out better ways to get the word out about what we’re doing that’s good in our schools.”

Soon students were clamoring to transfer to the school — a welcome change especially as without the new enrollment, the school faced a loss of teachers.

Then came the curve ball. District administrators said “No!” to the families who wanted to transfer to Haddon.

The district wouldn’t allow students to transfer because it wasn’t a pilot or magnet or charter school. Families weren’t allowed to leave their home schools to attend Haddon. One family was pleading to get in because their daughter loved robotics, and the parents were willing to drive nearly an hour every day to bring her to the school.

“They have parents wanting to come in, and I don’t understand why it’s not allowed?” school board member Monica Ratliff said at a board meeting this spring after she heard about the issue.

District administrators listened to Ratliff. They worked it out so that applicants could say they wanted to transfer to the school because similar programs were not offered at their home schools. Parents’ requests needed to include a waiver form that explained the programs offered at Haddon were not offered elsewhere.

Removing that roadblock resulted in unprecedented growth for the school unlike any other school in the area. The principal noted that Haddon has had increased enrollment for the past two years. In fact, he said that 39 of the new students he has this year are transferring from charter schools.

“We are in a time now where the entire district is seeing declining enrollment,” Ramos said on the first day of the new school year on Tuesday. For the past decade, the school enrollment was on a steady decline. The school now has an enrollment of more than 900, with a capacity of 960.

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LAUSD’s ‘Promising Practices’ forum: Just ‘good vibes’ between district and charters or a new era?


LA Unified Superintendent Michelle King at the “Promising Practices” forum on July 23.

There were plenty of kumbaya moments at the July 23 “Promising Practices” forum, called by LA Unified Superintendent Michelle King, leaving charter leaders cautiously optimistic it can lead to a new era of cooperation.

More than 200 people from the LA Unified world attended the forum, which featured a series of workshops and discussion panels aimed at sharing best practices between the district’s charter schools and traditional schools. Another forum is planned for next spring, and while it is too early to tell, some charter leaders said they hoped the sharing would continue.

“I’m so excited about what Michelle King is doing, because for the first time since I was on the board, we have a superintendent who is saying, ‘Hey, we can learn from each other,'” said Caprice Young, CEO of Magnolia Public Schools and a former LA Unified school board member. “And it’s not like charters have the answer or traditional schools have the answer, it’s that we can all learn from each other. And she is supporting her internal innovators like pilot schools and magnet schools.”

Young said it is too soon to tell if there will be more tangible evidence of increased cooperation beyond the forum, but “good vibes are not to be underestimated, particularly in a place where there has been so much conflict. The fact that there are good vibes matters.”

Jason Mandell, spokesman for the California Charter Schools Association, said the focus on learning as opposed to politics was refreshing.

“I think it was a very healing event because it did provide an opportunity for teachers and the elected officials and the appointed officials to all focus on instruction and learning and say regardless of the issues that sometimes cause conflict, this is what we are here to do. This is why charters are here,” Mandell said. “They are here to innovate and to try and do things and share what’s working with district schools. There is so much time that could be spent on solving those problems that aren’t.”

Parker Hudnut, CEO of Inner City Education Foundation Public Schools, who attended the forum, also said it is not yet clear what will come of it.

“The teachers and I were pleasantly surprised when they got their session surveys back to find out that most of the people in the seminar were district teachers and not other charter teachers,” Hudnut said. “It was amazing that the LA Unified teachers came to us. Now there needs to be a follow-up. I’ve not heard what they are doing with what was heard at the sessions, or what people came away with, but there could have been a goldmine of ideas that were shared.”

Perhaps the crescendo of the good vibes at the forum was a speech by LA Unified school board President Steve Zimmer, who spoke about breaking down barriers and working together. The speech turned heads due to Zimmer’s sometimes incendiary comments about charters schools and their proliferation.

“Steve Zimmer gave a wonderful heartwarming speech. Michelle King was very positive. The vibe in the room seemed very positive,” Hudnut said. “I see the day as positive, but LAUSD and charters still need to work to improve our relationship. It should be more of a partnership, not a compliance culture. How strong can that relationship be when one day we are working together to better educate children and then the next day we get a notice to comply that is pretty silly. There needs to be positive celebration that stands shoulder to shoulder.”

‘We can do it’: It’s girl power at opening of LA’s first single-sex charter school


Joya, Hattie and Chandler Weinroth at the GALS orientation.

More than 100 girls and their parents gathered last Thursday to sign up for the first all-girls charter middle school in LA Unified. They were nervous, excited and wary as they lined up to get their pink T-shirt emblazoned with “Power, Flexibility, Focus, Balance” on the front and “GALS” on the back.

GALS — short for the Girls Athletic Leadership School of Los Angeles — is based on a highly successful school in Denver which focuses on the physical, emotional and psychosocial needs of female adolescents.

“Welcome, it’s so good to see you,” said Carrie Wagner, the executive director who helped pass out papers that needed to be signed and was flanked by her teaching staff and a few board members. The girls then stood in line to get a breakfast of scrambled eggs, sausages, fruit and pancakes.

“I’m nervous,” a girl almost in tears told operations manager Kelly Snyder as they took a tour of the classrooms.

Snyder smiled back and put her hands on the girl’s shoulders and said, “I know, I am too.” The girl smiled and cheered up.

GALS is co-located at Vista Middle School on Roscoe Boulevard in Panorama City, in the heart of the San Fernando Valley. They have four classrooms on the second floor that were opened to the charter school staff only the day before the students came to tour the school. The host school’s principal greeted the new teachers with doughnuts to welcome them.

Wagner said the school has spaces for 20 more girls to reach their maximum capacity of 125. So far, the population of GALS is about 80 percent Latina, and 70 percent are low income, with more than half from the Panorama City area, but the rest coming from every corner of the Valley.

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6 top education news stories in Los Angeles in the first 6 months of 2016

Burning birthday candle number 1

(Photos courtesy of iStock)

The first half of 2016 brought high stakes and high drama to Los Angeles’ education scene, from dire budget predictions to heated charter debates to attempts at overhauling teacher tenure laws.

There were anniversaries to celebrate along the way — 25 years for both charter schools nationwide and Teach For America — and comings and goings of superintendents, plus the glimmerings of electoral races to come (for the school board’s members and president, LA City Council, mayor and even governor) that promise a starring role for education.


The new year started with the announcement that Michelle King had been chosen by a unanimous vote of the school board to be LA Unified’s next superintendent, the first black female ever to lead the district and the first woman since 1929. The three-month nationwide search had ended at home, with an LA Unified “lifer” who was educated in the district and has worked for it for nearly 30 years. King replaced Ramon Cortines, who stepped down at the end of 2015.

King had to immediately grapple with how the district would co-exist with the growing number of charter schools and the school board’s opposition to a plan to significantly increase their numbers. In fact, the day she was confirmed by the board was also the day of the unanimous board vote against an early draft plan to expand charters.

King called for healing, and in her first community town hall she stressed, “It’s not us versus them.” She met three times with the new head of the nonprofit formed to lead the expansion of the city’s high-quality schools, Great Public Schools Now Executive Director Myrna Castrejon, who, like King, was announced in January, is a minority woman and single mother, and stands to have significant impact on the shape and state of education in LA.

King also took on the plummeting graduation rate as well as predictions of a massive deficit within three years, holding a series of special board meetings in May and June to address the predictions and as well as recommendations outlined in a November report by an independent financial review panel.

She presented her first budget in June, which most board members praised, but noted there was much work yet to be done.

“Are we there? No, we’re not there, but we are on a path moving forward in the right direction,” King said as she presented the budget to the board.

“In general, I think that your staff and you have done a good job of trying to meet the needs in the district with the limited funds we have,” board member Monica Ratliff told her.

Burning birthday candle number 2


The future is dire,” is what King heard at the outset of the special meetings on the fiscal health of the district.

Internationally renowned education expert Pedro Noguera of UCLA, hired by the district to advise King and the board and facilitate the special meetings, warned that unless more serious measures are taken, the nation’s second-largest school district is destined to lose more students.

The challenges LA Unified is facing, Noguera said, include declining enrollment because of the growth of charters and demographic shifts, chronically under-performing schools, structural budget deficits and the need to increase public support for schools.

The details were daunting: the budget deficit was projected to reach nearly half a billion dollars in three years; a district audit showed LA Unified debt outstripped assets by $4.2 billion; unfunded pensions topped $13 billion and have more than doubled since 2005; per-pupil funding had doubled but the district still faces financial crisis; and plans for a turnaround included boosting enrollment but not cutting staff. Indeed, even though the district has lost 100,000 students in the last six years, its certified administrative staff has increased 22 percent in the last five years.

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LAUSD makes plans for simpler enrollment but doesn’t include charters


On Friday morning, more than 100 parents were lined up outside Walter Reed Middle School in Studio City waiting for a permit to get their child into one of the district’s Schools for Advanced Studies. One dad spent the night on the school steps.

No, it’s no April Fool’s joke. Getting into one of LA Unified’s popular magnet or dual-language programs, or one of the many other choices, is a complicated process of deadlines and forms, and a lot of waiting.

At a special school board meeting earlier this week, Superintendent Michelle King said her staff was proceeding with a unified enrollment process that would make the application process easier and prevent parents from having to camp out in front of their child’s school just to get them in a better program.

However, the simplified process will not include any of the charter schools that are overseen by the district, which seems to fly in the face of King’s public declaration to avoid the “us vs. them” mentality between traditional schools and independent charter schools within LA Unified.

School board member Ref Rodriguez, who helped start charter schools in the northeast Los Angeles area, told LA School Report that parents should be informed about the charter school options in their area at the same time.

“I’m really enthused about this step forward, but we didn’t bring all the gear, there’s still a missing piece of this equation, the charter school,” Rodriguez said.

He doesn’t think that all parents will want to flock to charter schools.

“I have a hunch that it would be the opposite,” Rodriguez said. “I come from the charter world, and I know that most families want their neighborhood schools to work, but they don’t always know what’s available. I think this works in the district’s favor to do this.”


Ref Rodriguez wants charters included in unified enrollment.

A unified enrollment system with one deadline and application period for all area schools has been established in Denver, New Orleans, Newark and Washington, D.C., but has caused controversy in other school districts considering such a plan, such as Boston and Oakland, and raised concerns among some charter organizations about a loss of autonomy. Rodriguez said he was familiar with the Washington plan and that it helps with diversity and ensures that charters are not “cherry-picking” the best students.

Jesus Angulo, LA Unified’s director of Counseling and Student Services, is in charge of putting together the unified enrollment plan. At the moment, there’s no specific deadline, no specific funding and they’re not sure if it is going to be developed in house or by a firm outside the district.

“We are in the exploratory stage,” said Angulo, who said the biggest changes will be to shorten the sometimes eight-month-long process to no more than six weeks and put it entirely online. The hope is to offer a search engine with the available choices, career pathways and other comparable data.

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Charter, district schools team up to offer dual-immersion ‘unconference’

Students perform at CLIC's Festival de Las Americas

Students perform at CLIC’s Festival de Las Americas.

The principals of a charter and a district elementary school that share a Baldwin Village location have teamed up to bring dual-language educators together this weekend to learn from each other and share best practices, strategies and resources.

About 60 educators from the LA area have signed up to attend Saturday’s free half-day “unconference,” in which participants that day collectively choose the main topics to be discussed. Dual Language Los Angeles will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Hillcrest Elementary School, an LA neighborhood school in Baldwin Village in South Los Angeles that also is home to City Language Immersion Charter (CLIC), a 3-year-old public charter school founded by parents from West Adams.

“The principals made this happen,” said Valerie Braimah, executive director of City Charter Schools, which runs CLIC plus a middle and high school. “They were discussing how to collaborate on professional development and came up with the idea together.”

The event is a unique charter and district collaboration, Braimah said. “There is so much conflict between charters and the district, but I see a lot of ways in which, on a person-to-person level, those tensions are overcome for the greater good.”

Another motivation, she said, was “because dual-immersion programs are so dispersed geographically. This is the first time we have ever done anything like this. There are state and national bilingual language conferences, but we haven’t seen a lot of opportunities locally.”

Although the principals of CLIC, Raul Alarcon, and Hillcrest, Anthony Jackson, already provide professional development to their teachers separately, they saw their co-location as an opportunity to solve problems and serve teachers together.

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Charter school scores hard-won approval despite objections by board staff, president and superintendent



To help a model charter school expand into high school, the LA Unified school board took unprecedented steps Tuesday night to cobble together a plan, concocting at least half a dozen proposals and amendments during a lengthy and at times contentious discussion. District staff had recommended that the board reject the school’s petition.

Ultimately, the charter school was approved for three years, against the recommendations of not only the district’s charter school review staff but also Superintendent Michelle King and school board president Steve Zimmer, in whose district the school is located.


Michelle King and Steve Zimmer were still discussing the charter vote long after Tuesday’s meeting ended.

This was the third time in two meetings that the board voted for charters against staff recommendations. The robust debate both this and last month indicates that the board, which has been recently criticized for voting against charters, is trying to help charters they find effective, even if they don’t meet all LA Unified qualifications.

About 80 students, teachers and parents from Westside Innovative School House Inc. (WISH) elementary and middle schools in Westchester cheered and applauded the decision after some of them had waited more than eight hours before the board took up the issue. The vote was four in favor of allowing the school to try a high school for three years, two against, with Zimmer abstaining.

The vote followed a frenzied debate where sidebar conversations were happening in different parts of the school board auditorium and ended as board member Monica Garcia was standing near a back door to leave early because she was the keynote speaker at a Linked Learning Showcase at a local high school. It was her plan for the WISH high school that eventually passed.

After the meeting, Zimmer and King remained in their seats for nearly half an hour talking about the evening’s drawn-out discussion.

“We deeply care about the kids, this was not a charter or anti-charter issue, it was very complicated,” Zimmer told LA School Report. WISH is in his district, and he supports what they have done, but he remains concerned that the school cannot handle the leap to starting a high school just yet. Zimmer offered a proposal that WISH students attend Venice High School beginning in the fall in a “full inclusion model that would be comparable to the WISH model.” His five-part proposal would also expedite money for disability access to the classrooms because WISH is noted for having a high percentage of students in wheelchairs.

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Michelle King on charters: ‘It’s not us versus them’


Monica Ratliff prepares to take a selfie with Michelle King at the town hall.

At her first community town hall as LA Unified’s superintendent, Michelle King received the most applause when she called for a healing between charter and district school factions. Seven weeks into her job, she met Tuesday morning with more than 700 parents, teachers, principals and local residents in a relatively low-income area in the north San Fernando Valley where many of those in attendance had strong feelings about charter schools.

“We are all LA Unified school students,” King said in response to a charter school parent who was asking about the district’s perceived bias against charters. “It is unfortunate we have labels, saying that this one is better than that one. It’s not us versus them.”

King then shared a plan she is developing. “One of the things we are looking at, and I’m meeting with charter leaders, is to have some sort of forum or event and bring those traditional schools, magnets, pilots, charters all together and share what is working best.”


The Pacoima Singers perform before the question-and-answer session.

She added, “I can’t do it alone, we need your help. We need all of us breaking down walls and barriers on behalf of kids and be working together. It doesn’t help to have battles over property.”

She told the audience how she became a teacher and discussed a diverse range of topics that came from parent questions including students cutting themselves, school calendars, teacher firings and campus bullying.

The town hall was so successful that officials hope to replicate it in other parts of the district and hold them regularly. Although she has met with civic groups, teachers, principals and other specific groups so far since she was named in January, this was King’s first meeting that encouraged all community members to attend.

King was treated like a rock star. The audience almost exceeded the capacity of the performing arts auditorium at Pacoima Middle School, with many standing in the back. People greeted her and hugged her, some took selfies with her, a half dozen media outlets came to cover the event, and she received a standing ovation at least twice. Babies were crying in the audience and audio translations were available in Armenian and Spanish.

“The way this town hall came about is that I was at a community meeting and I was bragging about how great our superintendent was, and they asked, ‘When is she coming out to the Valley?’” said board member Monica Ratliff, who represents the area and moderated the town hall. “I said I would see what I could do, and then I thought, ‘That’s a lame answer, I’m going to make it happen.’”

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Just in: Winners, losers and a surprising existential charter debate at school board meeting

lasr logo squareGoing into Tuesday’s LA Unified school board meeting, three-for-three was the Charter School Division’s recommendations against two new charters and a renewal. In the end, it went the other way, with two votes going in charters’ favor (a new school plus a renewal for the Partnership to Uplift Communities) and one vote postponed (a new charter for WISH Westside Innovative School House Academy High School).

Another winner was a district performing arts school, which won the go-ahead to pursue expansion onto a long-shuttered school site in the west San Fernando Valley. But it came at the expense of a charter school’s plan to move onto that site. Read about that here.

And then there was the existential, heated debate over whether the board has moved toward an anti-charter slant, as put forth in an open letter to the district from the California Charter Schools Association, in which 23 charter operators said they see increased scrutiny of charter schools. For more on Tuesday night’s school board debate, come back to LA School Report Wednesday and we’ll tell you all about it.

Villaraigosa on why he opposes Friedrichs, his take on charter expansion


Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa

Two and a half years ago, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa left his office steering the nation’s second-largest city with a legacy of pushing the kind of changes in the school system that education reformers relish.

Trying to make good on a campaign promise to fix the city’s schools, he fought the teachers union in court to limit seniority-protected layoff policies (he won) and supported another court challenge that sought to incorporate student test scores into teacher evaluations (no clear victory yet on that one).

He successfully lobbied lawmakers to wrest control of the school district from its elected school board (the courts turned him down), aggressively expanded choices for parents, including charter schools, founded the non-profit Partnership for Los Angeles Schools to take over the city’s lowest-performing schools and raised a boatload of money to help elect reform-oriented school board members.

Since leaving office Villaraigosa, 63, who drew national attention as the city’s first modern-day Hispanic mayor, has been stumping for Hillary Clinton, teaching at USC and traveling the country giving corporate speeches. Most recently, the man who tried to remake the sprawling Los Angeles Unified School District while in office has been singled out as a likely gubernatorial candidate.

In an extensive interview last week, we spoke with the former mayor about the political challenges he faced, what he told Eli Broad about his foundation’s $490 million proposal to dramatically expand charter schools (he’s for it with some caveats) and national education controversies. Take, for example, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a case before the Supreme Court in which justices are weighing whether charging mandatory union dues to cover costs for activities like collective bargaining violates teachers’ free speech rights. The justices heard oral arguments in January and will have to issue a decision by the end of their term in June. If the Supreme Court sides with the plaintiffs, their ruling could severely hamper a major fundraising vehicle for teachers unions across the country but also support educators who feel union leaders use their money on political causes they don’t agree with.

Here’s what Villaraigosa had to say about Friedrichs: 

I do not support the appellants in this matter. … In a democratic society, it’s critical that workers have an opportunity to organize and collectively bargain their wages, their hours, their working conditions. … I believe the agency fee issue that is particularly in question is one that is very important. Unions have a duty (to provide) fair representation. I worked for them for eight years. They are, by law, required to represent people, even if they are not union members. I think it’s important that those non-union members pay their dues so that they can be represented fairly. I do not support the plaintiffs in that matter at all. … In fact, I am vehemently against it. … At the same time I am vehemently against the status quo where African-American children and English language learners are relegated to the bottom. … We have to stand up for these kids too. You can be pro-union while at the same time stand up for the civil rights of these kids. Continue reading

LAUSD approves most charters even as it condemns Broad charter plan


Daniel Cruz and Malia Sandoval, both 10, wait to speak.

The LA Unified school board this week awarded, renewed or revised requests from 10 charter schools, and two applications for new schools were rejected. Some of the approvals came with specific warnings by board members to shape up.

The charter approvals came at the same meeting that the board unanimously condemned the Eli Broad-affiliated group, Great Public Schools Now, and approved another resolution requiring stringent transparency requirements for charter schools.

Charter petitions and renewals are routine at LAUSD school board meetings. Even so, 50 or more families often line up as early as daybreak to get into the school board meeting to vouch for their charter schools. Most votes are unanimous because state law provides stringent reasons for denying them.

At this week’s meeting, fifth graders Malia Sandoval and Daniel Cruz, both 10, waited more than six hours to speak about their Los Feliz Charter School for the Arts. “I love all subjects and the classes have us interact with each other,” said Malia. “My favorite was making shadow puppets.”

In the case of Los Feliz charter, board member Mónica Ratliff pointed out a lack of diversity in the racial mix of the students. She also said many students in her district would be interested in the unique arts program at the school.

“Our job is to push for diversity,” Ratliff said. “It’s more than just white people who like art. We have a lot of artist in Pacoima, we have a lot of artist in Sylmar.”

The district’s charter school division director, José Cole-Gutiérrez, said the school came close to being denied renewal because of its lack of ethnic diversity, but he noted improvement, an observation that helped sway a vote to approve. ”They have made outreach efforts, and they are making progress,” he said.

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LA Unified’s union leaders unite to oppose Broad charter plan


Leaders of LAUSD unions unite against charter plan

Leaders of the nine unions that represent teaches, administrators and other staffers at LAUSD stood before the district board today to express a united front against the Broad foundation plan to create more charter schools in the district.

Flanked at the podium by the union leaders, Juan Flecha, president of Associated Administrators of Los Angeles (AALA), told the board, “All of us and our respective unions see this single passion for public education and commitment for the district.” He expressed disappointment that school board member Scott Schmerelson‘s proposal against the Broad plan had been postponed until January in deference to more time needed to continue the search for the new superintendent.

Flecha said the union leaders stand in “support of the motion and it is important for the incoming superintendent to know where we stand, and we look forward to have the board pass it.” He added that he saluted Schmerelson’s braveness to bring the issue before the board.

Schmerelson issued a statement only hours before the school board meeting saying that “I remain extremely concerned about the issues outlined in the revised resolution, Excellent Public Education for Every Student, and I am grateful for all the input I have received about the future of our public schools.”

Flecha also took the time to salute outgoing superintendent Ramon Cortines, saying, “I want to salute and thank Ramon Cortines and honor him. His efforts have been heroic and his ability to listen and act accordingly is admirable.”

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Larchmont Charter gears up for fight over nearby cell phone tower


Parents, teachers and school administrators from Larchmont Charter School in West Hollywood are protesting a cell phone tower proposed for a church bell tower next to the campus, with a large turnout expected at a public hearing at 6 p.m. tomorrow at the West Hollywood Library.

The independent charter school is overseen by LAUSD but is not on LA Unified property. The district has had a policy against installing cell phone towers on school property since 2009.

“LAUSD can’t help us, but we are concerned for our children’s safety,” said Daisy Gardner. “Most of the civilized world bans cell phone towers and the science shows that it can harm children. Do we want to have less safety standards than Russia?”

Gardner said she is concerned for her 7-year-old going to the school and her 4-year-old, who is about to start the charter school, which has four different campuses. The Fairfax campus in West Hollywood is next door to St. Ambrose Catholic Church, where Verizon wants to add a cell phone tower to help with reception. It is also where the youngest students of Larchmont Charter attend.

Gardner lives in Studio City, where the community fought cell towers at Beeman Park last year, causing the company to back away from installing them around the playing fields. Although some studies about the dangers of cell phone radiation are mixed, parents are concerned particularly about the younger children who have softer and more vulnerable skulls.

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Do LA charter schools really screen out special education students?

Special ed

LAUSD’s Lowman Special Education Center

Accusations that charter schools screen out special education students or discourage them from enrolling have returned with a controversial plan by the Broad Foundation to expand charter enrollment at LA Unified.

After the president of the LA teachers union, Alex Caputo-Pearl of UTLA, raised the issue a year ago, telling the Los Angeles Times a year ago that “a lot of charters don’t allow special-education or English-language learners,” it resurfaced at a recent UTLA-sponsored rally outside the grand opening the Broad Museum.

But is the accusation true?

Legally, charter schools are not allowed to discourage enrollment from special education students or English learners.

While it may be true that LA Unified’s independent charters have smaller percentages of special education students overall and fewer have students with moderate to severe disabilities, the reasons for any disparity are complex, said Sharyn Howell executive director of the Division of Special Education at LA Unified, who oversees special education services for all district schools and most of its independent charters.

But the discrepancies are not due to screening, she said. And while she may have heard the accusation in the past, Howell said it has become a non-issue.

“Probably in the last two or three years I have not had a parent call me and say a charter school, I wanted to go there, and they discouraged me from coming. I used to get a lot of calls and emails like that, but I’m not getting them anymore,” she told LA School Report.

Because charter schools tend to be smaller and newer than district schools, they may not have had certain types of special education students before, which would tend to discourage more students with the same issues from enrolling, Howell said. But if any such students were to enroll, charters are required by law to provide them appropriate services. Continue reading

Zimmer accuses Broad charter plan of strategy to ‘bring down’ LAUSD


Eli Broad

Steve Zimmer, president of the LA Unified school board, said today that plans by Eli Broad and other philanthropists to expand the number of charter schools in the district represents “a strategy to bring down LAUSD that leaves 250,000 kids vulnerable to damage.”

A draft report of the plan appears show how the organizations involved would be creating the equivalent of a parallel school district, one with a defined goal of serving half the number of students attending LA Unified schools within eight years.

The “Great Public Schools Now Initiative” says the expansion would cost nearly half a billion dollars by 2023, through 260 new charter schools to serve an additional 130,000 students “most in need — low-income students of color.” Currently, about 151,000 students now attend charters in LA Unified, which has more charter schools, 264, than any school district in the country.

The 54-page report, dated “June 2015,” omits the names of authors or sponsoring organizations. But Eli Broad’s name appears at the end of a cover letter accompanying the report that makes a case for charter schools as “the greatest hope for students in L.A.” And alluding to the number of students on waiting lists to get into existing charters, now about 42,000, the need for more charters, he says, is urgent.

“We are committed to closing the waitlist and ensuring that every family in L.A. has access to a high-quality public school,” Broad writes. “Such dramatic charter school growth would address the needs of families who have been underserved by public schools for years, if not generations.”

He also argues that, “The stakes are extraordinarily high. In all our years working to improve public schools, we have never been so optimistic about a strategy that we believe has the potential to dramatically change not only the lives of thousands of students but also the paradigm of public education in this country.”

But Zimmer characterized the plan as a destructive one that would ignore the needs of thousands of other children “living in isolation, segregation and extreme poverty.”

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Charter group: LAUSD’s independent charters outperform district schools

affiliated charter graph

Source: CCSA

Students from LA Unified’s independent charter schools outperformed their counterparts at traditional schools on the recent Smarter Balanced standardized tests in the number meeting and exceeding standards, according to a new analysis by the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA).

The charter group found that the charter students scored nine percentage points higher in English language arts but only four percentage points higher in math.

The new analysis differs from a previous one by CCSA, in that it removes LA Unified’s 53 affiliated charters from the comparison, as the state does. Affiliated charters are district schools that operate with most of the same rules as regulations that govern traditional schools but with greater autonomy over spending decisions. Their teachers are union members.

The district’s 211 independent charters are publicly-funded schools run by outside groups who have even more autonomy, and in most cases, their teachers are not union members.

Students from affiliated charters accounted for only 22,750 of the district’s 267,228 students — about 8.5 percent — who took the tests, but they tend to skew the comparison because their racial and economic demographics do not match up with the district averages. They tend to have about half as many children from families living in poverty, with dozens of the schools located in more affluent neighborhoods of the San Fernando Valley.

Including their scores with those from traditional district schools reduces the difference between independent charters to only a few percentage points.

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Commentary: Challenges await for wave of new LAUSD charters

Eli and Edythe Broad charters

Eli and Edythe Broad

It was a bombshell of a story on Saturday, the LA Times reporting that a group of foundations is exploring plans to expand the number of charter schools within LA Unified to serve many beyond the 100,000 students who now attend charters in the district.

What would that mean exactly? Unclear for the time being. No details were included, and charter officials talked about the effort only in the most general terms. As close to specifics was an unidentified source telling the Times that the goal was to enroll half of LA Unified’s 650,000 students in charters within eight years.

Today, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, one of the participating groups along with the Keck and Walton Family Foundations, said the guiding force behind the effort was to satisfy parents of children in low-performing schools who desire more and better educational choices.

“L.A. families still want more high-quality public school options in their neighborhood,” the foundation said in an email to LA School Report. “Too many of our school children still aren’t getting the quality of education they deserve, which is why tens of thousands of students are currently on public charter school waiting lists. We are in the early stages of exploring a variety of ideas about how to help give all families—especially in low-income communities of color—access to high-quality public schools and what we and others in the philanthropic community can do to increase access to a great public school for every child in Los Angeles.”

What the public response will be when any official announcement is made is unclear — but from some sectors, it’s not hard to guess.

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