LAUSD approves Playa Vista Elementary overflow satellite on Orville Wright campus but insists that sixth graders mix with other kids

By Gary Walker

Playa Vista Elementary School is expanding to include a satellite campus in Westchester

Playa Vista Elementary School is expanding to include a satellite campus in Westchester

A reconfiguration of Orville Wright Middle School in Westchester will accommodate overflow enrollment at Playa Vista Elementary School with a satellite campus for the school’s fourth and fifth graders, but the plan stops short of doing what some of their parents wanted: a stand-alone middle school program for Playa Vista kids.

With a $2.5-million investment in laboratory and classroom upgrades, LAUSD hopes to establish a new sixth- to eighth-grade program at Orville Wright, which already has a science and technology magnet program, to serve students arriving from all Westchester-area elementary schools. Construction is set to begin in 2017.

As early as next fall, Playa Vista Elementary fourth and fifth graders will also get satellite classroom space at Orville Wright to accommodate a Playa Vista baby boom driving increased K-3 enrollment at the Bluff Creek Drive campus.

Approved 6-1 by LAUSD board members on Dec. 8, the reorganization plan also earmarks $7.6 million to build four new classrooms and possibly a new library at Playa Vista Elementary by 2020.

A handful of Playa Vista parents on hand to push the board for a stand-alone middle school program for kids aging out of Playa Vista Elementary left the meeting fuming, some saying LAUSD Supt. Ramon Cortines had backpedaled on earlier promises to deliver just that.

Some Playa Vista parents kept their children home from school on Dec. 6 and 7 to signal their dissatisfaction.

Playa Vista parent Alexander Stein touted the tremendous success of the elementary school and implored the board to keep that going.

“There are still new parents in Westchester, there are plenty of new parents in Playa del Rey and Playa Vista who are here today saying to you: ‘Let us create this great school. Give us the tools we need. Give us the collaboration we need with each other and give us, honestly, our own school to create something that will draw in families back into the district.’”

LAUSD Board President Steven Zimmer, who represents the Westside, said during the meeting that district leaders must focus on cultivating the best outcomes for all area students.

Supt. Ramon Cortines defended the reorganization plan and sharply criticized what he characterized as a desire to keep Playa Vista middle schoolers separated from students of other socio-economic backgrounds.

A former superintendent of Pasadena schools, Cortines recalled conversations he had with white parents who were concerned about their children attending school with African-American kids for the first time following a 1970 court order to desegregate the Pasadena Unified School District.

“There are some people in this community who don’t want their children to go to school with other children because of class. There are people who feel entitled because of where they grew up and where they live. You’re going to have to get over that. We cannot escape [integration] anymore,” Cortines said. “I would never recommend to this board that it approve a plan that would not be inclusive of all of the other schools.”

Not all parents in attendance agreed with the notion that Playa Vista should have a middle school program to itself at Orville Wright.

“There is no place in the Westchester area for division and separation,” Westchester resident Kelly Moriaski, a kindergarten teacher at Paseo Del Rey Natural Science Magnet in Playa del Rey, told the school board. “You have an amazing opportunity here to make Orville Wright a great school.”

The reorganization plan for Orville Wright could also have a domino effect on at least two other Westchester-based schools.

Westside Innovative School House (WISH) Charter School is sharing space at Orville Wright and would be required to relocate under the new reorganization plan.

Cortines is recommending that WISH take over Westchester-Emerson Community Adult School, pending a feasibility study and further analysis by district officials.

School board member Monica Ratliff questioned why Emerson alone was chosen as the possible relocation site. Casting the lone vote against the Orville Wright reorganization plan, Ratliff questioned the fairness of the adult school being put forth as the only school that might be uprooted to make room for WISH.

“It sounds like you’re trying to provide WISH with a strategic location. It sounds like we’re trying to do things for WISH that we don’t do for other charter schools,” Ratliff told Cortines.

Cortines, who proposed moving the adult school to the Westchester Enriched Sciences Magnets campus, said he supports adult education but thinks that with a proper redesign WISH would be a good fit for the Emerson campus.

Zimmer cautioned his colleagues that the vote probably won’t be the last time board members are confronted with facilities shortages and tensions between various schools and communities.

“This may be happening in my district now,” he said before the vote, “but it’s coming soon to a district near you.”

Editor’s note (12/18): The quote in this story by Alex Stein has been changed to more fully and accurately reflect what was said during the meeting.