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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Echo Park stroller set rolls into trouble *

They seem to be every where these days, jammed between incredibly tiny cafe tables, maneuvering around the dog poop in Elysian Park and riding up and down the sidewalks of Echo Park Avenue. The baby strollers carrying the offspring of Echo Park's new middle class mommies and daddies have made their presence known. The Echo Park stroller set has even been spotted in a place that many middle class and working class parents have long avoided: the neighborhood public school. But a recent leadership change at Elysian Heights Elementary School and a dose of school district bureaucracy and seeming indifference have some parents thinking twice about sending their kids to school down the block.

"We really liked the idea of walking the kids to school," said Laura Owens, a 38-year-old artist and mother of two who took a recent tour of Elysian Heights Elementary. "They have a great thing going there. It could stay the same or it could get worse."

Owens is a member of the newly formed group called Echo Park Parents that arranged its first tour of neighborhood schools starting with Elysian Heights. Elysian Heights is in many ways one of those neighborhood schools many parents dream about. It's small, with less than 5oo students, above average and improving test scores and a charming campus, once famous for its legendary feline mascot, Room 8 Cat.

The tour, however, not only introduced Owens and other parents to the campus and staff. It also made them aware of some unsettling news. Longtime principal Sally Olguin was retiring at the end of the semester and the school district had refused an effort by the staff to allow employees and residents to help select her replacement. Instead, the district told staff that it was too late for them to get involved and named an administrator from nearby Rosemont Elementary School to fill the slot, according to an Elysian Heights worker. Employees were also surprised to discover that the district had decided to remove several school bungalows that house everything from arts classes to counseling offices to a makeshift ballet studio.

The district's hiring decision upset some teachers and residents who thought that they could help find an innovative principal who would be comfortable with greater neighborhood involvement. "We need someone who is flexible and willing to work with the community and who might be willing to come in on a Saturday," said kindergarten teacher and Elysian Heights alum Lupe Fernandez. She said the entire staff had signed a letter asking to be involved in the hiring decision.

Echo Park resident and parent Bettina Jeszenszky, who helped create a garden at the school, fears that the district's has hurt morale at the school and may have undermined neighborhood efforts to improve its academic performance. Parents like Jeszensky, who is the mother of a one-year-old and three-year-old, have dreamed of emulating the success of the parents and staff who have transformed Ivanhoe Elementary School in Silver Lake into what many regard as a model public school. Jeszensky and Owens say they both are still interested in sending their kids to Elysian Heights but remain uneasy about future dealings with the school district (The Eastsider has contacted the LAUSD for comment*).

"Many thought this is was a chance to get a real firecracker principal at the school and really make a difference," said Jeszensky. "It's very discouraging. It's another example of LAUSD acting unit laterally. We want to be included in these kinds of decisions. You don't get the best by leaving everyone out in the cold."

* Update: LAUSD has still not responded to a request for comment. However, Elaine Kinoshita, director of support services for Local District 4, did respond to several Echo Park parents. Here is part of her response:

e understand that staff, parents and community members may have wished to participate in the selection process but due to a number of factors this was not feasible at this time. We look forward to your continued support of the school and its staff."

Related stories:
* School district announces Echo Park principal changes.
Echo Elysian Forum

Top image from Elysian Heights Elementary school web site; bottom photo from Mileena via Flickr


  1. Very interesting -- I hope these parents decide to work on their neighborhood school no matter who the principal is. Ivanhoe has gone through many principals, but it is the committed parents who make the difference. It would be too bad to end up with a neighborhood of kids being driven all over the city, although that has pretty much been the reality up until now.

  2. When and where can we meet Veronica Herrera, the new principal?

  3. It warms my old heart to see young parents become involved in Elysian Heights Elementary School. Good schools are run by supportive parents! Back in the '60s and '70s we were extremely active in the school and community -- we worked very closely with the teachers, giving them the well-deserved support they needed. We also kept the principal "in line" when needed. Believe me, when parents organize, it moves mountains! I've learned that lesson well as a parent and teacher.

    Although test scores may have its place in evaluation, don't make scores a top priority. It all boils down to the parenting and the teacher. Teachers should not be forced to put good teaching on the back burner while "teaching to tests." As a retired teacher, I know so well that tests are only a small part of assessing the total child. As parents it's crucial to listen to the teachers, backing them up when the administration is contrary to good teaching. I agree with Pat -- to work on neighborhood schools no matter who the principal is. Againm, when parents organize, administrators jump!

    Not only were we a part of Elysian Heights,m but also organized the community to fight for Head Start and a Teen Post. Many of us put our pre-schoolers in Rose Scharlin Cooperative Nursery School. (http://www.rosescharlin.com/) We also formed a cooperative night-time babysitting pool where we'd use points instead of money. This greatly helped out parents who could not afford or find sitters. The kids were more than comfortable since they knew all of us.

    One issue that stands out in elementary and middle schools is the bullying fact. You'd be surprised how many children are being bullied but don't necessarily tell their teachers or parents. They often suffer in silence. Obviously the bullies need help and the school should provide that help but this is an issue that needs addressing in all schools.

    Kudos to the new parents of Echo Park!

  4. To bad EHS choose to overlook the real bullies, the parents who hit and or are not taking good care of there kids, sending em to class smelling of urine or slap marks across the face. This should have been reported to social services, too late now, the girls are gone to places unknown with many at EHS afraid to make a phone call. Don't think the grandparents didnt try to help. They tried all they could. These are some sicko parents, we need licences for our dogs, some people should have a licence to breed. yeah I said it, how about a counseling center to deal with battered women's syndrome, until mom changes kids will suffer. I really think the school (MS.OLQUIN) should have at leat made a referral. The one thing I do know about this new principal is that she reports battered kids to social services, I applaud that. Kids grow up in the gang life due to stuff like this as they are growing up, you all should know that. Gangs come in all colors, as does early drug use. It's nice to see new gardens and the outside looking nice, BUT how about dealing with the real issue's, such as I stated above. These kids I speak of moved out of the area, BUT the friends they left behind are in the same situation and still attend EHS.