Parents and board members of Ocean Charter School have begun a full-court community press to enlist support for a land lease that the Los Angeles Unified School District plans to offer at Walgrove Avenue Elementary School.

On July 23, Ocean Charter parents fanned out in the surrounding neighborhoods of Mar Vista to make their case for acquiring the space on a campus where they colocate with the elementary school.

“As you may or may not know, LAUSD has put our north campus site up for grabs for any charter school that’s interested. They will be issuing a request for proposal in the next week or so to interested schools and will be voting on who gets the site just days after those proposals are turned in,” Gary Adler, a parent of two Ocean Charter children, wrote in an email. “A small task force of motivated parents has been formed to unify us in our proposal and our community outreach.

“I am on this small committee and have volunteered to organize a canvassing of the surrounding Walgrove neighborhood with information about our school, our desire to stay on the site and most importantly, our willingness to fix any traffic, trash and noise problems currently associated with Ocean Charter School.”

Adler was referring to the proposal that LAUSD Board Member Steve Zimmer announced at a meeting of Ocean Charter and Walgrove parents and administrators June 15. The request for proposal has not been issued as yet, and Green Dot Public Schools, another charter organization, has also expressed a desire to petition for the 2-3 acre parcel of unoccupied land at Walgrove.

LAUSD is offering the land to a charter school, and Zimmer has stated that he would like the entity that is awarded the petition to have a middle school component.

“We’ve been trying to find a Venice location, so hopefully this might be an option for a final location,” Green Dot Executive Director Marco Petruzzi told The Argonaut after the June meeting.

Colocation, where traditional public schools and charters share campuses and other facilities, is occurring with great frequency on the Westside. It is an outgrowth of Proposition 39, approved by the electorate 11 years ago to provide charter operators with the opportunity to have campus space on traditional school campuses where classrooms are underutilized or vacant.

The urgency in emails and at meetings of Ocean Charter parents could be in part due to events that will take place next year that are out of their control. Their students take classes in bungalows on the Walgrove campus and these temporary classrooms will be removed by order of LAUSD next year.

In addition, Ocean Charter’s colocation agreement runs through 2012 only, so acquiring the unused space is crucial because if they are unsuccessful, they will be forced to move to another location.

Ocean Charter Executive Director Kristy Matt-Fett hopes the LAUSD board takes into account things she considers to be her school’s strong suits when the board decides which entity will be awarded the land lease.

“I would hope that they consider the proven track record of the school applying, including number of years of existence with enrolled students, API (Academic Performance Index) scores and STAR results, enrollment, waiting lists, charter renewal, annual charter reviews,” Matt-Fett said.

“Also, (the) history at/with the Walgrove site, including length of relationship with Walgrove, demonstrations of collaboration with Walgrove, district evaluation of how colocation has been handled by (the) charter.”

Ocean Charter proponents and some Walgrove neighbors differ on the perception of the charter school and its impact on the Venice/Mar Vista community.

Parents of the charter school extol its virtues of a Waldorf-based curriculum and the fact that many of its students reside in the neighborhood. A Waldorf curriculum is a humanistic approach to teaching based upon the educational values of Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner and integrates learning with practical, artistic and conceptual elements.

Others have a different opinion. A Walgrove resident named Sandi wrote on the Open Neighborhoods, a website run by Ocean Charter parent and Mar Vista resident James Brennan, about her experiences with the charter school.

“We live right next door to Walgrove and Ocean Charter and I can tell you firsthand that we neighbors have had nothing but problems with Ocean Charter staff members and parents ever since they moved in four years ago,” she wrote. “Having lived here for 12 years, I can tell you that I never once had a problem with any Walgrove staff members or parents.

“Every day we encounter speeders, double parking, blocked driveways, parking in red zones, parking in alleyways where neighbors are trying to get in or out of, loitering, excess trash in the gutters and front yards, etc,” she claimed. “Ocean Charter has no parking spaces for staff and even though there is plenty of parking around the school on Appleton (Way) and Maplewood (Avenue), lazy staff members and volunteer parents choose to park on the side streets in front of our homes making it impossible for the people who live here and work here to park.”

Ocean Charter has also formed a new community relations committee to “work on outreach to various stakeholder groups that are important to our site efforts at Walgrove,” say two of the committee’s members, Evan Labb and Elizabeth Brownlow.

Karen Wolfe, a Venice resident who transferred her son from Ocean Charter this year, thinks it may be a case of too little too late to garner a great deal of community support for the school.

“It would be an impressive feat if they were able to get the neighbors to support (them in the land lease bid),” asserted Wolfe, whose daughter will be attending fourth grade in September at the Walgrove campus. “There have been authentic, meaningful opportunities for them to have done this years ago, and it would be a real shift from the ‘us vs. them’ mentality that has been pervasive there for years.”

Zimmer feels creating a place where there is a charter school with a middle school component will ease some of the tension that is one of the unintended consequences of colocation.

“This also creates an opportunity for our charter partners not to have to worry about the facilities issue year after year after year,” he said.

Mack-Fett would also like Zimmer and his colleagues to consider the connections with the neighborhood community and evidence of “giving back to the community,” such as community engagement and benefits to surrounding community.

She also touched on the possible consequences for Ocean Charter families if the space is awarded to another charter.

“Given that there is currently a co-located school on the site, what impact would there be on those LAUSD public school children should they not get the site?” she asked.

The district anticipates that the RFP will be released next month.

Sarah Reimers and Michelle, Dean, the co-presidents of Friends of Walgrove, did not return calls for comment. Messages left for Fran Montano and Charles Francis, Ocean Charter school board members, were not returned as of press time.

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