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Monday, September 28, 2009

The cultural heart of Garfield High remains burned out

It's been about 2-1/2 years since a fire destroyed Garfield High School's historic auditorium, an East Los Angeles landmark that had been the site of countless school and community events since 1925. Rebuilding efforts are stuck in a feud between Los Angeles Unified and its insurance companies, reports the Los Angeles Times. It's not clear when the dispute will be resolved and a new auditorium will reopen. As a result, many school events once held in the auditorium are now being staged in some unexpected places, the Times reports:

"Performing arts teacher Carolyn McKnight holds her West African dance class in an auto shop with a hydraulic lift embedded in its concrete floor. The concrete is not good for her knees or those of the students, she said. A theater production of "Tom Sawyer" by the Geffen Playhouse in January may have to be held in the gym. An auditorium is the cultural heart of a school, and it drives a stake through the school culture if you don't have that kind of gathering place for shared experiences," McKnight said."

The lengthy delay to rebuild the auditorium is one of many challenges facing Garfield. Last week, the school district said it would allow outside groups the opportunity to takeover the East Los Angeles school in order to boost its poor academic performance.

Photo of damaged auditorium shortly after the fire./Garfield High photo gallery

Marshall High seeking help for college bound students

John Marshall High, which serves a great many students from Echo Park and Silver Lake, is seeking volunteers who would like to help seniors with the college application process. "A meeting for volunteer 'mentors' will be held on Thursday, November 5, from 3:30-6:00, where they will be matched with students, according to an email sent out by the office of Councilman Tom LaBonge.

Those interested in the program should contact Susan Philips by email at sphilips4@aol.com or by phone at (323) 660-4799.

Photo from John Marshall High website

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Valet service brings safety and order to the morning rush at a Mt. Washington school

The frantic scene outside of Mt. Washington Elementary on school day mornings would have been familiar to anyone who has dropped off a friend at the Southwest Airlines terminal at LAX. Traffic backed up, cars doubled parked in the no parking zone, and kids loaded with book bags dashed between vehicles as they raced to beat the morning bell. One Mt. Washington parent even posted a video on Facebook of the risky and illegal traffic maneuvers performed during one morning on narrow San Rafael Drive outside the school. "Parents were making U-turns in front of the school," said Mt. Washington school parent coordinator Andrea Jayasekera. "It's nuts." Jayasekera and other parents decided to do something about this chaotic morning ritual after a vehicle grazed a student in front of the campus. That's why Jayaskera and other Mt. Washington parents, dressed in yellow safety vests, stood outside of the school Wednesday morning for the first day of the Safety Valet Program.

As a parade of cars, minivans, SUVs and pick-up trucks pulled to the curb, the volunteers held open the doors, greeted the kids and directed them to the entrance during the morning rush between 7:45 am to 8:15 am. Up to three cars at a time could be unloaded in a lane marked by traffic cones. Also on hand was a school district traffic cop to keep drivers under control. The idea behind the Safety Valet Program is to make for a safer and more orderly drop off and pick up of students. Volunteers at more than 150 Los Angeles schools have received training through the program, said Maritza Sosa Nieves with the city's Commission for Children, Youth and Their Families.

The program provided parents with safety vests, traffic cones, signage and some training. Some basic points, as recalled by valet Eric Ragno, included stay on the sidewalk, don't blow whistles and don't confront the parents. Parents said the morning drop off seemed much less frantic Wednesday morning, with the exception of a driver or two that grazed the curb or a traffic cone. There was also one driver in a pick up truck who drove through the valet lane while talking on his cell phone.

There are no immediate plans for safety valets to help out at the end of the school day. The challenge now is to keep enough volunteers on hand during the school year to keep the program running in the morning. But, Jayasekera and other volunteer valets were happy with Wednesday's results. "Parents were receptive and the kids were really excited."

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Another serving of pancakes from the Mt. Washington PTA

This Saturday morning, Sept. 26, the Mt. Washington Elementary School PTA will host its 24th annual Pankcake Breakfast at the hilltop campus. The breakfast is a fundraiser but it also serves an annual community gathering where Mt. Washington residents meet and greet over pancakes and sausage. There will also be live music and a fire truck on display during the event, which runs from 8:30 am to 10:30 am. Admission is $7 for adults and $4 for kids. Pancake fans can save $1 on the admission by purchasing tickets in advance at the school on Friday.

It's a big event, and the Mt. Washington PTA has put out a call for volunteers. Contact Rosalba at rosegm1@yahoo.com for details.

Photo by Paul Goyette/Flickr

Friday, September 18, 2009

Eagle Rock honors its AP scholars

Eagle Rock High School announced that 76 current and recent students earned Advanced Placement (AP) Scholar Awards on the college entrance exam. One of those students, Kayvon Sarrami, who is currently attending Yale, stood out as a National AP Scholar, with an
average grade of 4 or higher on a five-point scale on all AP exams taken, and grades of 4 or higher on eight or more of these exams, according to Eagle Rock college counselor Stephen Williams in a post on the NELA List.

It was only a few years ago that relatively few Eagle Rock students even took the AP exam. In 1996, the school tested In 1996, 66 Eagle Rock students took the test. This year, the number of student test takers had grown to 479.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Cypress Park middle school teacher who never lost touch with his students

Math and science teacher David Meyerhof has worked in Los Angeles schools for 33 years, with almost half of them spent at Florence Nightingale Middle School in Cypress Park. While most teachers and students part ways after the semester ends, Meyerhof has kept tabs on his former pupils and organized a recent reunion to honor the achievements, according to recent stories by KPCC and EGP News. Meyerhof's students have gone on to become Fulbright scholars, tax consultants as well as fellow teachers at Nightingale. Many of the students who came from some tough neighborhoods also praised their former teacher for raising their expectations:

"I think that’s what Mr. Meyerhof has taught his students – you make the best of what you have and you strive for more," said Maria Del Toro."Because in this community, there really isn’t much pushing anyone. You know, the young people or the adults, and everyone is kind of comfortable just being. And I think he’s really opened doors for people."

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Schools in Echo Park and Solano Canyon honored with national awards

The U.S. Department of Education today recognized Clifford Street Elementary in Echo Park and Solano Avenue Elementary in Solano Canyon as "Blue Ribbon Schools." Blue Ribbon schools are held up as national role models for showing dramatic improvement or continuing to demonstrate high levels of educational performance with a large numbers of disadvantaged students.

Clifford and Solano were among about 314 public and private schools that were named as Blue Ribbon campuses this year. Both schools small student populations but big academic scores: Clifford has fewer than 200 students and an API score of 836; Solano has about 260 students and an API score of 912.

"It is a great reward for all the hard work that goes on at this school," said Clifford school teacher Rick Powels.

The Department of Education said the schools are selected based on two areas:

"Schools whose students, regardless of background, achieve in the top 10 percent of their state on state tests or in the case of private schools in the top 10 percent of the nation on nationally-normed tests; and Schools with at least 40 percent of their students from disadvantaged backgrounds that demonstrate dramatic improvement of student performance to high levels on state tests or nationally-normed tests."

Top photo from Clifford Street Elementary website; bottom from Solano Avenue Elementary website

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Celebrating the first day of class with an after school snack

The first day of school found the streets and sidewalks around Logan Street Elementary in Echo Park busy with kids, parents, teachers and crossing guards. Logan parent Maria Caballero (pictured above) shared a snack after picking sons Matthew, 8, and Jonathan, 11, at the end of the school day. The first day of class at Logan was also the first day the Echo Park school shared classrooms with a charter school, Gabriella Charter School. Many Logan school parents and teachers had expressed their concern and staged a protest a few months ago over sharing the campus with the privately run school.

Los Angeles schools faced other challenges besides making sure its staff and campuses were ready for students. The Los Angeles Unified School District began the semester facing a $140 million budget gap and the threat of layoffs, according to the Daily News. But, back at Logan, things seemed to go well on the first day back, according to Jonathan. Asked his opinion of the first day of class the fifth grader was brief and to the point: "Cool."

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

How the mayor bullied the school district to win control over a new Boyle Heights school

It sounds like a school yard scuffle between kids fighting over a new kick ball. But, in this case, the kids are Los Angeles schools Supt. Ramon Cortines and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. The object they fought over is a new $106 million Boyle Heights high school. A Los Angeles Times story over the district's plan to hand over control of 250 campuses to charter schools and other groups provides more details into how the mayor's Partnership for Los Angeles Schools walked away with the new Mendez Learning Center over the objections of Cortines:

"In an interview, Cortines said that he had opposed the hand-over but that school board President Monica Garcia, a Villaraigosa ally, had insisted on it. 'There was an end-run by the partnership,' the superintendent said. 'They found a way to . . . steal the school, and it's unfortunate.' Cortines said the new procedures for taking charge of a school would establish rules that neither the mayor nor anyone else could circumvent."

Related story:
* Not so fast: Union might challenge mayoral takeover of new Boyle Heights school. School Yard