Westchester Secondary Charter School loses its home to redevelopment and may have to relocate to Crenshaw High

By Gary Walker

Westchester Secondary Charter School students and parents staged a rally on Feb. 25 Photo by Nick Stoffler

Westchester Secondary Charter School students and parents staged a rally on Feb. 25
Photo by Nick Stoffler

Westchester Secondary Charter School students, parents and teachers took to the streets last week to galvanize public support around efforts to keep the school in Westchester.

The school serves 286 middle- and high-school students and has operated on the 8820 S. Sepulveda Eastway campus of Westchester Community Church for two years. Following the sale of the church’s land for redevelopment last year, Westchester Secondary Charter School must now find a new home.

Nearly 70 people waved colorful signs and placards in front of the school on Feb. 25 as motorists crossing La Tijera Boulevard honked in support.

“There are a lot of families who came here because they wanted another middle school and high school option,” said Andy Inkles, who has a son in the seventh grade at Westchester Secondary Charter School. “Our kids can ride their bikes to school and go to a diverse neighborhood school with great teachers.”

Under state laws created through 2000’s Proposition 39, the Los Angeles Unified School District must offer to lease vacant or under-utilized classrooms to charter schools. On the Westside, that usually leads to “co-location,” in which charters locate inside existing traditional public school campuses. The area has one of the highest concentrations of co-locations in the district, according to LAUSD board member Steve Zimmer.

LAUSD has offered Westchester Secondary Charter School a co-location option for the upcoming 2015-16 school year, only it’s at Crenshaw High School — more than six miles away through dense city traffic.

And that doesn’t make sense to the school’s leadership, who say they created Westchester Secondary to specifically serve kids who live in Westchester, Windsor Hills or Ladera Heights.

“If we were to go Crenshaw, I would probably guess that we would lose 60% of our students,” Westchester Secondary Charter School Principal Janet Landon said.

Landon continues to push district officials for space in or closer to Westchester. She argues LAUSD could have placed them at Westchester Enriched Science Magnet (formerly Westchester High School) but instead offered available space to Ocean Charter School and the Incubator School.

“I think that was done deliberately because Mr. Zimmer does not see any value in our school,” said Landon. “We’ve been told by his office that they have no interest in helping us because we are not an LAUSD charter.”

Zimmer took issue with Landon’s assertion.

“This has nothing to do with a value judgment about the school,” Zimmer said. “Board members are not engaging in social engineering with regard to Proposition 39 co-locations. There’s a process around Prop. 39 and a court case around it, and we fully believe that we’re following the law.”

The LAUSD board voted against approving the charter for Westchester Secondary in 2012, but the school’s founders later sought and got approval from the Los Angeles County Office of Education.

Westchester Secondary sued LAUSD last year after it was not offered a school in Westchester, claiming in court papers that LAUSD failed to uphold Proposition 39 requirements that school districts “make reasonable efforts to provide the charter school with facilities near where the charter school wishes to locate.” A judge ruled against Westchester Secondary, and the school has appealed the decision.

Landon said Westchester Secondary has considered renting another private space in Westchester, but the school hasn’t been in operation long enough to qualify for a bank loan to do so.

“The building that we’re currently in really is the only one that we’ve been able to find with a large enough space for us,” she said.

Leasing property is also difficult because schools are required to have specific zoning, she said. “We looked at other options — including renting space at St. Bernard’s [High School in Playa del Rey] — but they don’t want to lease to a competitive high school program, so they would only take our middle school,” Landon said.

Sam Innes, who teaches journalism and seventh- and ninth-grade English at Westchester Secondary, said the commute would be a hardship for many and leaves whether he would continue working there uncertain.

“That’s a good question. I’m with the school long-term, but I don’t know how far I would go. I live here in the community like a lot of other teachers, and I don’t know if all of them would follow the school,” Innes said. “To see so many people out here really shows how much this school means to them.”

Another teacher, Jane Andino, saw the rally as a civics lesson for students.

“One of the things that makes Westchester Secondary Charter School so special is that we are trying to instill in our students the idea that they have a voice and that their voice matters. We’re really training our kids to be involved in their communities,” said Andino, who teaches English and drama.

“I feel committed to this school, but we want to have all of our energy on staying here in West- chester,” said Andino, a Santa Monica resident. “Not everybody would come with us to Crenshaw, and we need to stay cohesive.”

LAUSD will make final leasing offers to charter schools on April 1.