The Los Angeles School Board is taking steps toward more technology and more private school control, the LA Times reports. Stephen Ceasar and Dalina Castellanos say there was tension in the room as the Board voted to allow a group of parents to take over one urban elementary school, in the first exercise in the district of the "parent trigger" law.
For over a year, a group of parents has been working on plans for what their children's school could be like, if they were allowed to reform it. The LA Times explains that the 24th Street School is in an area that has been experiencing an influx of home buyers and is in transition. The population has more than doubled, according to the city council. The new residents have higher expectations and want a different kind of school for their young children.
The charter's founders appealed to the board by saying the streets of downtown are more than a place to live and work, they are a classroom for their children.
The proximity of museums, music halls and historic buildings will "provide a unique and stimulating environment" for the future students, said Chinmaya Misra, a downtown parent and member of the charter board.
The parents petitioned to close the existing school and open a charter school, which will be called Metro Charter, and it may not be using the same building. The new charter board, with the School Board's approval behind them, are hiring a principal and finalizing location choices. They will start with K-2 and expand each year and expect to begin with 150 students in just those three early grades.
The School Board considered another charter petition, but of a different nature. In this case, they renewed a five-year license for private company Green Dot Public Schools to manage Locke High School, a troubled school with many problems. Although Green Dot has not been able to turn Locke into a towering success story, the Board acknowledged that they have made progress.
A report released in May found that students at Locke have fared better than their peers in nearby traditional schools, but achievement overall remains low, according to the UCLA-based National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards and Student Testing. Still, students at Locke were more likely to graduate and to have taken courses needed to apply to a four-year state college, the study found.
Locke's challenges include many students with special learning needs and an incoming freshman class that always needs a lot of remedial help. They currently make use of several different buildings, and now plan to reorganize to group all freshmen together, so as to help with the remediation demands.
However much controversy exists about charter schools and parent control, perhaps the most controversial action taken by the LA School Board was to authorize the purchase of $50 million worth of tablet computers for students. The LA School Superintendent's plan is to provide a tablet computer for every one of LA's 650,000 students. In this first stage, they would try to equip over 30,000 of them. While use of technology is not controversial, the sheer cost of this ambitious step made at least one Board member abstain from the vote.
The pilot program will be funded entirely by bond revenue from Measure Y, R and Q until the 2015-16 school year, when about $3.6 million from the district's general fund will be used to pay for technical support each year going forward.
The bond money is designated for "unmet school facility" needs, and the Board decided that upgrading to tablet computers qualified for this description.