A recent review of Westchester High Schoolís academic performance identified substantial deficiencies and a lack of communication between parents, teachers and administrators, according to the organization that accredits California high schools.
The analysis by a five-member committee of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) ranks Westchester High near the bottom fifth among public high schools in the state. The study found that in addition to poor academic performance, disciplinary problems and truancy are considered to be of serious concern.
The association is also charged with assigning accreditation to all public and private schools, colleges and universities in the state.
Two years ago, Crenshaw High School temporarily lost its accredited status after a Western Association of Schools and Colleges visiting committee found the school was deficient in its physical structure and academic standards. After hearings on accreditation were conducted by Senate Majority Leader Gloria Romero of Los Angeles with members of the association and outraged Crenshaw parent groups and students, the schoolís certification was restored.
But Western Association of Schools and Colleges committee chairman William Brand did compliment Westchester High School on an atmosphere that is favorable to students, including a diverse curriculum.
“We want to come back and get some real accountability here,” he said. “Nobody is negative about this school.”
“Clearly, there is a lot of work to be done at Westchester High,” said A.J. Duffy, president of the United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA). Duffy said he feels that many of the problems the school is facing can be attributed to a revolving door of principals and administrators at the school.
“During the last ten years of changing administrations, I have yet to see one that works in a collaborative fashion with parents and teachers,” Duffy asserted.
Kelly Kane, the president of the Westchester-Playa del Rey Education Foundation, agrees. “Itís nothing that we havenít heard before,” she replied when asked if she was taken aback by the committeeís findings.
Kane, during a recent interview, expressed frustration at Westchesterís lack of academic progress and her groupís efforts to make the high school one of the areaís most competitive.
“Our mission is to advocate and promote our schools in Westchester,” she explained. “But it is getting increasingly difficult to advocate for a school that is constantly doing worseÖ Everyone seems to think that itís okay to have substandard education.”
Westchester principal Anita Barner sought to dispel any notion that the school was in danger of losing its accreditation.
“Over the past year, the school has conducted a self-study that analyzes school systems that support student achievement,” she wrote in a statement released Monday, April 30th. “The recent visit by the accreditation team was to confirm the information that was contained in the self-study report. The report identified several issues that needed to be addressed.
“These issues were validated by the visiting committee and not dissimilar to challenges facing many of our comprehensive public schools in LAUSD [Los Angeles Unified School District.”
“Iím pretty confident that [Westchester] will maintain its accreditation,” Duffy said.
Regarding the committeeís finding and the UTLA presidentís contention about a dearth of communication between parents and the community, Barner suggests that this is not uncommon in many schools.
“Inconsistent communication between parents and community members is not unique to Westchester High School,” she asserted in her statement.
According to Kane, in her experience, communication is particularly poor at Westchester. She alleges that there has been virtually nonexistent interaction with Grace Stauther, Local District 3 superintendent, whose district includes Westchester schools.
“We have asked to meet with her on many occasions to create centers of excellence, and she has ignored us and blown off our meetings,” Kane alleged. “There is quite a bit of animosity there.”
Stauther did not return calls from The Argonaut for comment.
Barner highlights portions of the schoolís “action plan” that includes small learning communities within the school and a partnership with LAUSD, the West- chester Family of Schools and Loyola Marymount University — concepts that Kane says originated with her organization — as proof that Westchester High will provide students with “access to a consistent and rigorous education that is designed to expand the imagination, promote personal creativity and support educational innovation.”
Kane believes that Westchester has a strong chance to succeed, in large part because of its teachers.
“We have some amazing teachers,” Kane said. “We love our teachers. They are the on-the-ground experts, and we believe that before any meaningful change is made, we should talk to them first.”
Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education President Marlene Canter, whose district includes Westchester High School, could not be reached for comment.
The Westchester Playa Education Foundation will host Dr. Shelley Fryer at a meeting concerning the communityís role in reform of Westchester High School, at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, May 3rd, at the Westchester Municipal Building on the corner of Manchester Avenue and Lincoln Boulevard in Westchester.
For details, see “Off the Bluff” on the previous page.