Over the last 12 months, parents with children at a Waldorf-based curriculum school have been wringing their collective hands about where they would send their children after they were told the bungalows that housed them at Walgrove Avenue Elementary School in Mar Vista would be removed at the end of the current academic year.
Their worries about finding a new location for the school evaporated and were replaced by cheers after officials from the Los Angeles Unified School District announced Jan. 20 that Ocean Charter School had won the land lease bid at Walgrove to build a new school.
“We’re very excited and grateful,” Evan Labb, a parent at the charter school, told The Argonaut. “We hope that we’ll see more solutions like this for schools that need space.”
The decision requires approval by the LAUSD board, but Ocean Charter officials are nonetheless thrilled with the news that they have been chosen for the site.
“It’s wonderful news,” said Kristi Mack-Fett, the director of Ocean Charter’s northern campus, located at Walgrove Elementary. “We’re thrilled, but it’s the first step in a long process.”
Ocean Charter is a K-8 school. Kindergarten through third grades are housed at a Christian school in Del Rey, while grades four through eight take classes at Walgrove.
Ocean Charter was competing with Green Dot Public Schools, a charter organization that has set up shop in some of Los Angeles’ most challenging educational environments, such as its successful turnaround of Locke High School in South Los Angeles.
The two schools were the only ones to submit a request for proposal for a 2-acre plot of land at Walgrove.
LAUSD officials, led by Board Member Steve Zimmer, who represents Mar Vista, have been eager to find options to solve the unforeseen ramifications of Proposition 39. One of the tenets of the ballot measure, which was passed by 55 percent of the electorate in 2000, is that charter schools have the same rights as traditional schools to dedicated space in which to educate their students.
The explosion of charters on the Westside has led to campus colocations, where charters and traditional neighborhood schools share facilities. At many traditional neighborhood schools, classrooms that housed computer laboratories and parent centers have been given to charters by the district.
This in turn has caused friction on some campuses. Last year, dubbed “colocation spring” due to the number of Prop. 39 applications at Westside schools, parents at schools in Mar Vista and Venice, where there were no existing colocations, implored LAUSD officials in letters and at board meetings to keep the charters off their campuses.
Petitions for classrooms at Grand View Boulevard and Mar Vista elementary schools and Westminster Avenue Elementary in Venice were withdrawn after these schools lobbied the district, but the problem of colocation remains.
Lydia Ponce, whose daughter attended Ocean Charter from first though eighth grade was surprised to learn that the Waldorf school had won the land lease.
“I think Ocean Charter is the lesser of two mediocre choices,” said Ponce, who lives in Venice. “I would have preferred Green Dot because they do a good job of graduating their kids.”
Ponce said her daughter, who graduated from Venice High School last year, did well at Ocean Charter in literature, history and geography.
“But we had to rebuild her math and science skills at Venice High and it cost me a lot of money for tutors,” she added. “Ocean Charter is failing its students in those classes with mediocre teaching.”
Green Dot Executive Director Marco Petruzzi was disappointed that his organization did not win the proposal, despite the number of parents in Venice and Mar Vista who have signed petitions to bring a Green Dot middle school to the Westside.
“(Parent petitions) were not part of the evaluation criteria,” Petruzzi said. “There’s a lot of things that might have made a difference if they had been part of the conditions, but they weren’t.”
LAUSD faced criticism in some corners of District 4, which includes Mar Vista, Venice Westchester and Del Rey, for putting the decision of selecting the winner of the land lease agreement in the hands of its facilities division, which is in charge of maintenance and construction of LAUSD schools.
Under what was termed a “cone of silence,” the public was not allowed to contact any member of the division directly or by phone and Zimmer was not allowed to engage with his constituents with respect to the land lease proposal, district officials said.
Ocean Charter expressed concern that they would be at a disadvantage going up against Green Dot, which has a longer history with LAUSD. Some stated publicly that if they were not chosen, they would essentially be evicted from the Walgrove campus.
“This experience teaches us that no matter what, you have to throw your hat in the ring and see what happens,” Mack-Fett said.
Green Dot is colocating at Cowan Avenue Elementary School in Westchester with a sixth grade class and hopes to have sixth and seventh grades there next year. “We’re working with the district and we feel confident that we will be there again next year,” Petruzzi said.
Not all are happy with the land lease proposal. A group of homeowners who live within blocks of Walgrove have argued that another school on campus would be an additional hardship to the neighborhood. They point to previous problems with Ocean Charter, which they claim has not been a good neighbor in the five years that it has colocated with Walgrove.
In addition, some parents whose children attend Walgrove have accused Ocean Charter of ignoring their complaints and have been less than cooperative during thecolocation.
In September, Ocean Charter parents began volunteering to direct traffic around the school at the beginning and end of the school day to relieve some of the tensions around parking – one of the neighbors’ biggest complaints.
Ocean Charter will be required to conduct environmental analysis at the site and pay for the construction of the school. Mack-Fett said the school should be ready to build after the planning and environmental requirements have been satisfied.
“We feel confident in our financing and we will also be exploring a way to supplement our funding,” she said.
Labb, whose children attend the Del Rey campus, realizes that the school still has many challenges in front of it before the environmental process and actual construction begin.
“We have an immense amount of work to do,” he acknowledged. “We’re committed to working with the neighbors and parents of the Walgrove community.”
Petruzzi paraphrased a Rolling Stones song in summing up the situation with the land lease and his hope for Green Dot’s current and future students.
“You can’t always get what you want, but hopefully, our students can always get what they need,” he quipped.
LAUSD representatives declined to comment on the decision until after the school board has voted on the land lease agreements, said Shannon Haber, communications officer of the facilitates division.
Walgrove Principal Olivia Adams could not be reached for comment.
The school board will consider the facilities management’s decision on the Walgrove land lease agreement Feb. 14, according to Haber.