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LAUSD magnet idea repels some at Crenshaw High


Standing behind their stated goal of improving the academic outcomes of students at Crenshaw High School, the Los Angeles Board of Education Tuesday voted to transform the South Los Angeles high school into three individual magnet schools.

The decision was made despite pleas from parents, students and community stakeholders who trekked to the school board to voice their concern that changing Crenshaw’s structure would actually be harmful rather than helpful.

During the board meeting, Superintendent John Deasy ran down a laundry list of data that showed that Crenshaw’s students were at the bottom of most academic measures in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD).

But parent activist Eunice Grigsby takes exception to the characterization of Crenshaw as a failing school and points out that students from the school have been accepted at some of the top colleges and universities in the nation, and are doing well in these schools.

However, Grigsby is not blind to the problems at the school. What she and most of the people who spoke at the school board meeting Tuesday as well as previous gatherings want is to substantively be included in the transformation process.

According to George Bartleson, a former principal at Dorsey High School and now director of intensive support and intervention, the magnet model was selected for the transformation because it is the most successful program in the LAUSD.

And contrary to what people think, magnets are not just for gifted or high-achieving students.
“Our magnets cover the spectrum. Regular magnet students do not have to be higher-achievers,” explained Bartleson, adding that other magnets in the district have special-need pupils enrolled. This has been a major concern of many parents at Crenshaw.

Bartleson said special-education students can enroll in the transformed Crenshaw.

While LAUSD officials believe that transforming the school to the magnet structure will help them inject rigor into the academic programs, Sylvia Rousseau, a former local superintendent with the school district, who served as interim principal at Crenshaw last year and is also a USC professor, believes that the change does not address the more substantive, long-standing issues at the school.

“These include the constant rotation of administrators (there have been eight principals in 10 years), a series of administrators (35 vice principals in 10 years), some of which had no experience when they were appointed. You cannot create a school culture, norms or structure, when you have that type of rotation,” Rousseau said.

There has also been a significant turnover in teachers at the school caused by budget cuts.

And when the school became private-public partnership with the LAUSD, Rousseau said the switch to per-pupil from average-daily-attendance funding proved a disadvantage for Crenshaw.

Rousseau said systemic change is needed at the school. This systemic change must address what she called the historic neglect of schools like Crenshaw, a more intensive investment to help the school to recover from the years of “turmoil,” and an understanding that more support is needed to meet the psycho-socio needs of students.

She also said that in addition to looking at the data effect, officials must look at the cause of data.

Now that the board has approved the change at Crenshaw, these are among the things that will happen:
1. The three magnets will be identified. According to Bartleson, parents, students and teachers will have an opportunity to weigh in on what these should be during twice monthly “coffee with the principal meetings.” The first two have been planned for Jan. 30 and Feb. 2.

Additionally, the district will use the school’s website to communicate with parents.

Bartleson said this will be part of an improved effort to make sure the entire school community is being included in this transformation process.

Leading up to the decision, some parents say their offspring were called into a meeting where Superintendent Deasy spoke about the proposed transformation. However, other students says they were not informed about the changes.

Grigsby said her son never came home and told her about attending an assembly on transformation.

Bartleson said the student assemblies should have reached most of the pupils and were held to stop potential walkouts and to stop the inaccurate rumors circulating at the school.

Many parents who spoke at the school board meeting and other community forum said they had not been informed about exactly what was happening at the school. Nor have they had any opportunity to offer their input.

Among the themes that have been broached for the magnets are arts and entertainment, STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics, with the addition of medicine), and technology and/or business. The school currently has a gifted magnet. Students who are part of it have the option of staying at Crenshaw and enrolling in one of the new magnets that are formed or transferring to another school.

2. All students living in the school’s attendance area are eligible to enroll in the new magnets and all pupils currently attending Crenshaw are eligible to attend the magnet. The only requirement is to submit an application.

3. All faculty and staff must reapply for their jobs. The principal will make the final decision about who is hired. Bartleson said selection committees consisting of students, parents and stakeholders will be set up to help advise the principal.

The adult assistants of special education students will also have to reapply for their jobs, but Bartleson said that if a young person has established a relationship with their adult assistants, that individual will most likely be rehired.