The makeup of the student population of Westchester High School could change dramatically if the school is converted to a full-time magnet, where students citywide would be eligible to apply.
The Argonaut reported March 24 that the Los Angeles Unified School District is considering changing the community school, where an aerospace magnet already exists, into a full-fledged magnet program for the 2011-12 academic year.
Under the proposal, the high school’s faculty would be required to reapply for their positions, which concerns many longtime teachers. In addition, because magnets hold lotteries to fill the number of available spaces, the demographics of the student body could be significantly altered.
The new name of the school, if the Board of Education gives it the greenlight, will be Westchester Enriched Science Magnets and it will be comprised of three magnet programs: sports medicine and health, environmental sciences and natural science engineering and the existing magnet.
According to Westchester High School Principal Robert Canosa-Carr, the district’s magnet mandate will be 30 percent Caucasian and 70 percent non-white. Currently, the school’s student population is over 70 percent African-American.
LAUSD postponed its March 29 vote on changing the high school to a full-time magnet and the school board will consider the matter April 12.
Westchester parent Kelly Kane feels that a conversion could not only shift the student demographics at the high school, it would also be akin to turning their backs on students who want to attend Westchester High instead of seeking permit transfers to other school districts, as many Playa del Rey and Westchester families do.
“Are you telling me that LAUSD will be telling kids that they can’t go to their neighborhood school because they’re the wrong demographic?” asked Kane, the president of the Westchester Playa Education Foundation.
LAUSD Board Member Steve Zimmer, who represents Westchester schools, praised Carr as an “outstanding leader” and thinks the high school is in good hands with him in charge.
But Zimmer made it clear that the magnet proposal should not exclude students who reside within Westchester High’s boundaries – which include Fox Hills, portions of Windsor Hills and View Park, Westchester and Playa del Rey – to the extent that current students would be left out in the cold.
“Any plan that I would get behind would have to include students in the current Westchester boundary,” the school board member told The Argonaut. “I would never support a plan that implicitly or otherwise indirectly sought to change the demographics of Westchester High.”
Carr, who approached LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines with the idea of a magnet conversion, admits the composition of students of the new magnets could be altered.
“In our current (student) population, this is a way of ensuring that we have a well-integrated campus,” he said. “It’s hard right now to project what the demographics will look like.”
Magnet schools are court-ordered programs for the purpose of integration.
Westchester High was an integration site in the 1970s. “And we’re still seeing the ramifications of that in our current student population,” said Carr.
The principal calls the proposal a “right of passage” for Westchester High students, faculty and administration and denied that a 100 percent magnet conversion was a furtive way to shed senior teachers with years of tenure, as some told The Argonaut in previous interviews.
“It’s not about getting rid of students, or getting rid of teachers, it’s not about getting rid of staff or administrators,” Carr said. “It’s about having everybody universally go through a rite of passage, so that we actually get on board with the competition and what the expectations need to be in order to meet that vision.”
Some educators are convinced that this new plan is a backdoor way to bounce educators with decades of experience off the rolls.
“We have a lot of senior teachers here at Westchester High, and some think there is this underlying motive to force some of our senior teachers out,” asserted Peter Accardi, the high school’s union representative.
Carr is aware that there are some teachers who feel like Accardi but thinks that most will welcome the opportunity to teach at a magnet, college preparatory school.
“The one issue that causes quite a bit of apprehension is the rehiring process,” he acknowledged.
Carr admitted that he would not have the final say in who gets rehired but said his input would be taken into consideration. He also said it was unclear ultimately how the hiring process for a new school would work.
“I’m still waiting for clarity on what the hiring process will be for site administration,” said the principal, referring to members of the school administration.
Kane, who was one of the leaders of the community’s push to obtain academic and planning independence from LAUSD through autonomy, believes that two months is not enough time to plan for a drastic change like a magnet conversion.
“Who will do all of the work to create three schools if everyone is displaced in June?” she asked. “How will all the work get done in time to open the doors in September?”
Carr also indicated that under district rules, perhaps he might also be required to reapply for his position. “I made it very clear from the beginning when I first met with Mr. Cortines about this plan that if others on this campus had to go through this process, that I would like to go through that as well,” he said.
All students who wish to get into the magnet programs will need to complete a Choices application, said LAUSD spokeswoman Susan Cox. “However, due to low enrollment presently at Westchester, current Westchester High School students will be accepted for 2011-12 school year,” she said.
The school’s student population has declined steadily in recent years, and Carr sees a magnet conversion as an opportunity to remedy that problem. “This is an opportunity to turn around that pattern as well,” the principal said.
But Kane pointed out that students seeking to attend the new magnet would need to accumulate points in order to attend the school.
Even local school children, which Westchester High has been targeting for years, would have no guarantee of being accepted because anyone would be eligible to apply for the school, she said.
“What this means is if you live across the street from the school you may not be able to attend it – even if you desperately wanted to,” Kane, whose children attend Westport Heights Elementary in Westchester, noted.
In his short time at Westchester High, Carr said he has learned that many local parents do not think highly of his school, even though its Academic Performance Index (API) scores have increased nearly 30 percent over the last two years.
“People here want a college preparatory high school, and some people, especially in our local community, don’t think we are a serious college preparatory high school,” he acknowledged. “And we want to be that, but in order to do that you have to have a lot more than a name change.
“You’ve got to have broad systematic change, and that’s why I’m referring to this process as a right of passage for everyone here.”
Zimmer also said it was natural that there is some apprehension about a possible change to a full-time magnet school among some of the faculty and perhaps parents and students.
Carr said the one thing that was clear to him when he came to Westchester was that the status quo could not continue.
“Change was inevitable, and while the school has been through an inordinate amount of change, those changes did not lead us to a final destination that was going to work long-term,” Carr said.
Kane dismisses the notion that autonomy has not brought about change because it was not given the opportunity to take root. “These autonomies were guaranteed us by three superintendents and several LAUSD representatives,” she recalled. “Why should we now give up all of these autonomies with our community school?”
Zimmer reiterated that he would not get behind any proposal that disenfranchised students based on their ethnic makeup.
“That’s my line in the sand,” he asserted.
Cox said it was unclear how many students will be accepted for the 2011-12 year if the plan is approved.