By Gary Walker
A pilot school seeking to colocate on the Venice High School campus was dealt a further blow when the existing school-based management group could not reach a quorum March 29 and delayed voting until Tuesday, April 2.
The inability to vote due to too few members present further clouded the future of the Incubator School at Venice High, a pilot school designed by Grand View Elementary School teacher Sujata Bhatt.
Los Angeles Unified School District officials had set the date for the committee to vote on the pilot school for no later than Friday, March 29 in order for it to have the opportunity to set up shop at the high school.
On March 9, the LAUSD Board of Education voted to approve three pilot schools, including the Incubator School, but an amendment by LAUSD Board Member Steve Zimmer, who represents Venice schools, made the colocation with Venice High possible only if the school- based management group and parents and teachers at the high school voted in favor of it.
Pilot schools are a combination of charter schools and traditional public schools. They have the freedoms of charter schools but are under direct school district control. They tend to focus on a particular theme and the Incubator School’s is geared toward entrepreneurship.
Kristin Duerr, the president of the Venice High School Parent-Teacher-Student Association, was relieved after the committee ended the meeting.
“I believe the pilot school would have been more problematic than a charter,” she said.
Venice High School Principal Elsa Mendoza said she is aware of the strong opposition to the Incubator School. “I think there is a frustration that (the parents and faculty) did not have the opportunity to give feedback and learn more about the school,” she said.
Asked how a principal navigates the divide between listening to her parents and faculty while also complying with district mandates, Mendoza responded, “Very carefully.”
At another one of Zimmer’s schools, the fate of a popular language immersion program was the subject of highly charged rhetoric and innuendo for several months, finally culminating in a decision to keep the Mandarin Chinese immersion program at Broadway Elementary School in Venice for at least another year.
Because of the increasing popularity of the Mandarin initiative and the small number of classrooms at Broadway, Zimmer was seeking a place where it could grow and the students could soon have their own school.
His plan was to renovate several classrooms at Marina Del Rey Middle School in Del Rey, where a charter school, Goethe International School, is vacating the middle school campus at the end of the school year.
Zimmer’s office confirmed that the Mandarin students would not be moving to Marina Del Rey next year, but did not rule out 2014-15.
The proposed move to the middle school was met with vociferous protests by the parents of Mandarin students as well as teachers and parents at Marina Del Rey.
Middle school parents were outraged at a draft plan that would have forced many of their children into bungalows and would have given their dance studio to the Mandarin students.
“I feel like there is callousness toward our programs that have been built from scratch with blood and tears,” said Marina Del Rey teacher Nancy Perrindozzi, who is in charge of the school’s popular performing arts magnet. “It’s like putting a stake in our hearts.”
After seeing the map, Zimmer decided not to send it to the district’s bond oversight committee, which is required to review the map in order to have recommended or denied the use of bond funds to renovate the classrooms for the Mandarin students.
At both Venice High and Marina Del Rey, Zimmer cautioned that charter schools were seeking to colocate, or share space and take unused classrooms, even if another LAUSD school like the Mandarin students or a pilot school did not.
“There’s no guarantee that a charter colocation will not be part of the process,” he warned.