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Residents Speak Out at Walgrove Elementary RFP Meeting

The Mar Vista Community Council held a meeting Sunday devoted to the Walgrove Elementary/LAUSD Request For Proposal, where locals were offered the opportunity to voice their concerns.

Would it be possible for both Green Dot Charter School’s Animo Westside and Ocean Charter School to find a home in the Mar Vista/Venice education district?

That was the wish openly expressed by several area parents at Sunday’s Mar Vista Community Council committee meeting held at St. Bede’s Episcopal Church.

Chaired by Education Committee Co-Chairs Babak Nahid and Amy Lawrence, around 40 Mar Vista and Venice residents attended the meeting devoted to the Walgrove Elementary/LAUSD Request for Proposal, which was released on Sept. 20. .

The co-location of a charter school under Proposition 39 at Walgrove has been a for some time now, and several attendees showed up wearing Walgrove T-shirts, including LAUSD Board Member Steve Zimmer.

However, Zimmer spoke only briefly, stating that due to legal constraints he was not permitted to hear any presentations or to take any specific questions.

Before leaving, Zimmer said he did not believe the district had an issue with school choices. Rather, he said, “We have excellent and exciting school choices, however we have an issue with space. It’s not a secret that I think part of Prop. 39 has created some problems and challenges for our community.”

Zimmer said that the ongoing talks and contentious issues throughout the spring over co-location at Walgrove were really about “two rights. It’s right that if a charter school is authorized to have space and facilities, they should have them. It’s also right that an LAUSD school that is looking to expand its enrollment or programs should be able to do so,” he said.

It’s for this reason Zimmer said that he pushed to have an RFP process, because it’s a legally public one. “At every point along the line there is the opportunity for input, feedback and advocacy,” he said.

However, local resident Eric Wise, who was initially going to make a presentation, said that after he heard that Zimmer would not be able to hear his concerns, chose to leave the meeting. Wise has collected signatures and represents local parents who oppose any charter school coming onto Walgrove’s premises. (Editor’s note: Patch will be running a separate article on this issue later this week.)  Others also left the meeting after hearing that Zimmer could not answer their questions.

In addition, MVCC member Sharon Commins pointed out at the beginning of the meeting that the RFP did not include the zoning laws or the municipal code that pertains to Walgrove, which states that the buildings on the site can be no more than 30 feet high and the floor to area ratio must be 3:1. (see attached PDF’s).

LAUSD also has to provide a specific amount of playground space. The Walgrove RFP will accept schools with up to 500 students and 1.4 playground acres must be set aside for those students. The Walgrove space only has 2 available acres for a charter school. Commins told Patch if schools cut down on that playground space then students are usually walked or bussed to local public parks.

However, representatives of the two schools that made presentations were more focused on the pedagogical benefits they could bring to the Walgrove space. Both Marco Petruzzi, President and CEO of Green Dot Charter Schools and Kristy Mack Fett, Director of Ocean Charter School’s North campus currently located at Walgrove, stated they believed their schools were the best fit for co-location at Walgrove. Ocean Charter’s North campus has been on the premises for almost six years now, while Green Dot is hoping to move its Animo Westside Middle School (6th – 8th grade), from its current premises in Westchester to the Walgrove site.

Mack Fett and Petruzzi agreed that Mar Vista and Venice were lucky that the area already has great schools.  Petruzzi stressed Green Dot’s commitment to diversity and ensuring low-income students also had access to excellent educational opportunities, while Mack Fett argued about the importance of giving families choices when it comes to education, “so we don’t pigeonhole children into one kind of system.”

Mack Fett stressed OCS’s “Waldorf-informed curriculum,” noting that OCS’s alternative program may not be for everyone, but being able to offer families choices when it comes to free, public, education is crucial.

Joshua Campbell who has a daughter at Ocean Charter School said what several people agreed on, namely that he wished there was a way to keep both OCS and Green Dot in the district.  “We’re not interested in having to choose one school over the other,” he said.

Several attendees brought up the issue of additional space that exists at Mark Twain Elementary and that space at Mark Twain could be used for a Green Dot School while space at Walgrove could be used for OCS or vice versa.

As one parent noted, “Most of us here go to each others houses for dinner but then we come to these meetings and we’re put in competition with each other. It’s a pity because both [OCS and Green Dot] are worthy of the space.”

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