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Space for a New Building at Walgrove Elementary Likely to Be Offered to a Charter School

Representatives from the LAUSD hold a public meeting Wednesday night to discuss plans to lease two empty acres to a charter school on Walgrove's campus.

Parents and residents packed the auditorium of on Wednesday night to hear about the LAUSD's plan to lease two empty acres on the campus to a charter organization for development of a new building and school.

The LAUSD board will vote on whether to authorize a notice of intent to lease on June 21, and interested charter organizations would have at least a month to respond with a proposal to build. It's expected that a new school would house approximately 500 students.

"The conversation does not stop after tonight," LAUSD board member Steve Zimmer told the uneasy crowd.

The notice of intent to lease is expected to be released by the end of June, said Krisztina Tokes, the LAUSD director of planning and development in the facilities department. Assuming the plan goes through, a new school would be ready for occupancy in about three and a half years, Tokes said. Any interested charter organization would be eligible to apply.

Any development would be subject to the California Environmental Quality Act review process, which looks at how a building would affect the neighborhood around it, including traffic, density and land use considerations.

"We want to locate it in a way that doesn't conflict in existing access to Walgrove," Tokes said.

Several community members and parents came forth on behalf of—and in frustration with—Ocean Charter School, which houses about 150 of its 370 students in portable facilities at Walgrove. Those buildings are due to be removed at the end of the 2011-12 school year.

"We've had a terrible experience with Ocean Charter," business owner and Walgrove neighbor Eric Wise said during public comment. 

"We've had a terrible time with traffic from student drop-off and commuters taking off down the street," said Robin Mason. "It's a worthy cause, we're all for good education, but we need help with the traffic."

Other residents spoke up in favor of the current charter occupancy. "I want to see [Ocean] continue, the garden, art programs and music," said grandparent Karin Costello.

"We have a neighborhood school that is getting used again—there is life at that school," said Barbara Einstein, another Walgrove parent and a nearby resident. "This land does not belong to certain people, it belongs to everybody," she added.

Tension between charter schools and neighborhood schools is not new to the Venice area. Earlier this year, the announcement that a new Green Dot Charter middle school would be located at Westminster Avenue Elementary . Green Dot was ultimately offered space at Cowan Elementary in Westchester and will bus Mar Vista and Venice students to the campus for the 2011-12 school year.

Green Dot CEO Marco Petruzzi told Patch after the Wednesday meeting that his organization would "absolutely" put in a proposal for space at Walgrove.

The LAUSD board vote on June 21 would be just the beginning of a long process for whichever charter organization is selected. The board will vote at least two more times, after a proposal is selected and after the environmental review process and negotiations, but before construction starts. Both votes will afford an opportunity for public comment.

"This is not a bullet train. This is a process that has many steps along the way," Zimmer said.

No matter what happens, Zimmer said he is committed to the neighborhood school already in place. "Making sure that we have a thriving, engaged community at Walgrove is incredibly important to my office," he said.

Jefferson Schierbeek June 17, 2011 at 06:46 AM
An exciting situation in our neighborhood… The Walgrove school property has had many new school facilities in its recent past proposed and each of those ideas have met with challenges from the community and the school. This next attempt proposing development on the site is now moving forward, with the hope that the process satisfies as many people as is possible. I am the parent of a child who attends Ocean Charter School and I live four houses away from the Walgrove campus. I understand both charter school desires and neighborhood hopes. I would very much like to see Ocean Charter School continue its collocation on Walgrove (a collocation I am told that is held in high esteem at LAUSD and pointed out as one of their success stories.) OCS has been and will continue to be an active and collaborative partner with Walgrove and its neighbors and we welcome continued dialogue. I strongly support Ocean remaining on the site (and if that takes winning a bid, then I hope Ocean Charter School wins.)- jefferson schierbeek, ocs parent
leslie friedman June 17, 2011 at 05:03 PM
This is a disaster in the making, a terrible idea. Our streets have become enormously congested in the last few years. Cars which do not belong to neighbors are parked all day on the streets and residents have to drive around to find a place to park. Walgrove has become a giant traffic jam in the morning and in the afternoon. This neighborhood simply cannot sustain the increased traffic and strain that 500 extra students would create. Put efforts into improving the school which already exists on the site. Let's not allow "Mayberry" to turn into a strained and bursting-at-the-seams "Metropolis."
Walgrove Mom June 17, 2011 at 05:18 PM
I have no problem with OCS, and have many, many friends with children who go there. I have never publicly commented because of these relationships. It is very, very sticky. It goes way back to the beginning with the promise that the OCS would be a middle school ONLY and that Walgrove kids would have the opportunity to attend OCS without having to be on a wait list. Well, that wasn't true and didn't happen. Walgrove kids were turned away year 1 and quickly OCS was vocal in their desire to move more and more grades over. Honestly, a complete shocker to those of us that felt great about sharing the space in the beginning. As time has gone on it has gone from bad to worse. OCS kids are not required to follow the rules we have about playground equipment and will vocally tell Walgrove staff "We don't have to listen because we have different rules" I have heard it myself. (1 of 2)
Walgrove Mom June 17, 2011 at 05:19 PM
(continuation of previous post) Its been hard sharing the auditorium (fault of both schools truthfully). Damage in the auditorium, missing props, you name it. Not ideal. It wasn't until this year that we decided to truly work on making things better. We sat down, talked and even looked at the gorgeous plans that OCS is considering. We agreed to be of support if they were cleared to build. There truly is enough space for everyone I'm sure. More importantly, we talked about becoming better neighbors, we asked OCS to consider only taking 2 of the 4 rooms they were offered this year through Prop 39 and they did it. Bravo a step in the right direction! Studio and Special Ed services rooms could be kept for the 2011-2012 school year for sure. Now we have arrived at the point that OCS isn't the only option for a colocation with Walgrove. With that in the mix we need to look at things differently. Is OCS a benefit to Walgrove in any way? The relationship is one of take and not give (by design, not the fault of OCS), we are not yet truly connected communities due to broken promises and bad feelings, and there is no benefit financially nor educationally for Walgrove and our kids. It's a bummer really. I believe in choice, and in the OCS model. However, I believe strongly that Walgrove deserves more, if more is an option. I want an open and fair process. I promise to keep listening, and to be a part of what is best for Walgrove and our neighborhood.
Eric Wise June 17, 2011 at 06:19 PM
Regardless of what you may have heard, this is not a done deal. The community, if banded together, has the power to stop this project. The Westminster Elementary community faced the same situation and they prevailed in stopping the proposed Middle School construction by Green Dot on their yard - http://venice.patch.com/articles/community-reacts-to-lausd-announcement-that-green-dot-charter-will-take-space-at-westminster-elementary Many of our Neighbors recognize this to be a threat to our neighborhood tranquility, and a traffic mess already with the current 160 students attending Ocean Charter, and we had no say in this the first time around. What happens when there are almost 3x as many students attending a charter school on Walgrove's campus?
Eric Wise June 17, 2011 at 06:23 PM
This is how the audience broke down at the Walgrove Meeting on 6/15: The people in favor of this project going through are one of the following: From out the area with Kids at Ocean Charter or another Charter that is looking at this project as middle school for their child (until 8th grade) Local families with children at Walgrove, who believe they will get selected (or have some back room deal worked out if they support this) to attend the Green Dot or Ocean Charter School. The people who are against this project going through: Local residents who do not want to have traffic filled streets, and hundreds of teens roaming our neighborhood Local Residents who are concerned about our home values plummeting Local residents who can look beyond the next 3-5 years of their child's middle school education, and are concerned about what this will do to our community. Local residents who are looking at the long term impact, 10, 15, 20 years or more. They intentionally did not notify the surrounding community (outside of Walgrove parents) that this meeting was even happening, I wonder why?. Local residents that are against this project - We can stop this, be involved, come to the meetings and be heard. Let's not give up without a FIGHT!
Eric Wise June 17, 2011 at 06:25 PM
From Robert Skeels on another post - He is well informed - "Green Dot's "track record" often gets discussed without any fact checking. For example Green Dot sports three schools in the lowest 100 APIs in the County. They also feature five schools in the lowest 35 average SAT scores in the County. (http://projects.latimes.com/schools/) Their remediation rates are awful as well. Let's look at Animo Venice Charter High School. Of the Green Dot students admitted to the CSU system in 2008 67% WERE NOT PROFICIENT IN MATHEMATICS. This is compared to just 49% of the much maligned LAUSD students. Moreover, only 33% of the children graduating the Green Dot corporate factory school were proficient, while children attending public schools comprised a much more respectable 51%. (http://rdsathene.blogspot.com/2009/11/advocating-public-education-roundup.html) Furthmore Green Dot's exclusionary practices towards children with special needs are legendary, see the modified consent decree information in this article. (http://rdsathene.blogspot.com/2010/02/response-to-wild-accusations-by-yolie.html) Lastly, when we discuss businesses like Green Dot, we need to remember how they treat the community. When Ánimo Justice wasn't profitable for Green Dot, they shut the school down against the wishes of the community. (http://rdsathene.blogspot.com/2010/04/advocating-public-education-roundup.html)"
Troy Toshio Takaki June 17, 2011 at 08:47 PM
great post Eric. Very informative and civil. Keep up the good work.
Marco Petruzzi June 17, 2011 at 10:13 PM
Eric, this is Marco Petruzzi, the CEO of Green Dot Public Schools. Robert Skeels is not an informed blogger. He is a nutcase loosely affiliated with UTLA that writes for Socialist.com and hates charters in general and Green Dot in particular. His data is wildly wrong. If you care for accuracy, I invite you to talk to UCLA - CRESST institute that has done independent research on us or speak with The Gates Foundation, The Broad Foundation, The Dell Foundation and many other prominent philanthropies that have staff that does research and invest in only the best non-profit organizations. You will hear quite a different story. Fact is, we serve a very high need population, mostly in South Central Los Angeles and we send students to 4-year colleges at a rate that is 5 to 6 x higher than LAUSD does in those areas. And we do it by serving all kids, not just some of them. But better yet, I invite you to come see any of our schools and judge for yourself. It might not be for you or your children, but as you will see, good things are happening. But citing a no-name blogger who spews venom and lies at anyone who attempts to change a system that is not working for the families and the youth of LA won't help the process, in my opinion, nor your case. I completely respect your attempt to not have another school in the neighborhood, but invite you to be balanced and fair.
Marco Petruzzi June 17, 2011 at 10:13 PM
(continued) I would make an argument, for example, that property values will rise in Venice (like they did in Manhattan Beach) when we have great schools in the neighborhood. I'm happy to engage further if you ever want to have a respectful conversation about the issues. Thanks.
Eric Wise June 17, 2011 at 11:02 PM
Marco, Unless this school and traffic plan are going to be completely subterranean, there is not much to discuss when it comes to the large majority of local residents and our desire to make sure this project does not happen. As far as Robert Skeels accuracy goes, his initial statement I researched before posting, and it is from the LA Times (http://projects.latimes.com/schools/). While this particular school of Green Dots - http://projects.latimes.com/schools/school/los-angeles/animo-watts-charter-high/ may be in a tough part of town, it is what it is. I suggest you try to building this campus on Webster Jr. High's vast "unused" yard, which is bordered by far, far fewer residential homes. You will receive far less push back pursuing that property then you will from the "Woods" community. We are quickly organizing, and are preparing for a fight to preserve our neighborhood! Eric Wise
Troy Toshio Takaki June 18, 2011 at 12:18 AM
Eric, It is going going to come down to your first comment. There are three groups. Your group that wants no school. The group that I am in that wants a Green Dot Middle school. And a group that wants a new Ocean Charter School. There are people from the "woods" in all three camps. We all have legitimate desires. Let's just keep it civil and try and keep the facts factual. Troy Takaki
Martha Infante June 18, 2011 at 03:37 AM
Hello All, I am a public school teacher who stays abreast of developments in education reform. While Green Dot is often hailed as a charter company with a "proven track record," the data cited by folks either to prove or disprove this point is insufficient. It is difficult to compare charter and public school performance because the application process, parent service requirements, retention/promotion policies, and discipline systems are different at each school. Green Dot claims to accept all students, but both UCLA and LAUSD conducted studies that shows that the most challenging students are not proportionally represented in charters. "According to the Office of the Independent Monitor report, students with special needs made up 11.2 percent of LAUSD's population in the 2008-2009 school year while they made up 7 percent of the population at charter schools. "- Daily News 1/6/10. The largest study done on charters, the CREDO Stanford study showed only 17% of charters outperform public schools and is available as pdf if you google it. What's my point? The Walgrove community has tough choices to make and confusing data or statistics does not help the process. And FYI, Robert Skeels is anything but crazy. Passionate, maybe, but accurate, always.
Marco Petruzzi June 18, 2011 at 04:54 AM
Martha, generalizations aren't very helpful. There are bad charters schools and great charter schools, bad traditional schools and great ones, great private schools and terrible ones, bad teachers and great teachers, great doctors and bad doctors, ...you get my drift. The CREDO study was a national study. While it's methodology has been questioned several times by several independent institutions, you'll also note that when it comes to specific states, charters in California do actually on average come out ahead of traditional schools. Even with that, I wouldn't recommend a charter indiscriminately to others. Being a charter is not per se a guarantee of excellence. My kids go to a traditional public school, Coeur d'Alene, and we think they are getting an excellent education. And above you talk about accuracy, but then use statistics that don't reflect Green Dot. You're entitled to your opinion, but not your own facts.
Martha Infante June 18, 2011 at 05:15 AM
Marco, we both agree that generalizations are not helpful, and neither are deceptive boasts. Common sense and 20 years of experience in schools allows me to recognize that claims of "grad rates 5 to 6 times higher than LAUSD" while serving "all kids, not just some of them" just don't hold up under scrutiny. The perspective I have on this issue is based not only on studies, but the real stories of parents who talk to me about their particular experiences at your schools and others, and how their children have fared there. There is no denying the systems are different. We will most likely disagree as to whether this has a "creaming" effect on the student population. I don't see what other conclusion can be reached when you see the cold, hard numbers of the Independent Monitor, unless Green Dot wasn't covered in that study either. Are those numbers fact or opinion?
Marco Petruzzi June 18, 2011 at 01:44 PM
It seems you have trouble distinguishing between a study done that covered dozens of charter schools and included 1 or 2 Green Dot schools out of 18 and the actual numbers for Green Dot. Anyway, I have no intention to be getting in a debate with folks about the merits of Green Dot. our track record serving kids speaks for itself for those who want to look at the real numbers, but is a very technical issue and this is not the forum for it. For example, the special Ed issue is fraught with misunderstanding and manipulation of data. LAUSD has high numbers because it over identifies African American and Latino boys relative to many other urban Districts, a civil rights issue, not something to be proud. It also has high numbers because it doesn't serve kids well and thus exits them from special Ed in the typologies of special Ed that can be addressed. It serves special Ed kids in over restrictive environments. Anyway, I realize we will never agree with certain folks, particularly those employed by the current system and that view us as a job threat.
Troy Toshio Takaki June 18, 2011 at 02:31 PM
The fact is this, the debate here is NOT about the merits of charter schools or Green Dot, but the merits of having Green Dot or OCS at Walgrove. So, get your friends and neighbors involved, write your letters, lobby your politicians. That is how democracy works. Good luck to all! May the best man win! Personally I am on the side of Green Dot, but I completely understand and respect the other views. I hope and expect the same understanding and repect for the other camps. Everyone take two minutes and consider the other sides views. That way win or loose you will be happy for the people that won. We all want what is good for our community.
Robert D. Skeels June 18, 2011 at 03:57 PM
Actually the so-called nutcase's articles and essays have appeared in publications including Schools Matter, CounterPunch, Dissident Voice, Daily Censored, Echo Park Patch, The Los Angeles Daily News, and Socialist Worker. Apparently all those different publications and sites have overlooked Mr. Petruzzi's vicious accusations, and saw my work fit to publish. I am not affiliated with UTLA in any way, and am appalled that Petruzzi would make such a claim. Proof forthcoming Petruzzi, or in your world of wealth and white privilege does anyone against the privatization of schools have to be "loosely affiliated" with teachers' unions? I'm curious how Petruzzi could assert the data quoted above is wildly wrong, when the data is comes directly from and is linked to the Los Angeles Times and the California State University Systems' databases. People can follow the links and verify if the data is "wrong" or not. These vicious ad honimem attacks coming from a CEO getting paid six figures with absolutely no background in education who refers people to biased think tanks run by the plutocrat backers than pay his salary. Perhaps Petruzzi can explain what he says around the 4:05 mark of this video. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4CV9VscDJXM&feature=player_embedded Gotta love Petruzzi he says "We have no money. We're a non-profit. We don't have a rich guy that even [sic] gives us extra." Who is spewing venom and lies here?
Robert D. Skeels June 18, 2011 at 04:34 PM
I agree that we shouldn't engage in generalizations here, and should focus on local Charter Management Organizations (CMO) rather than a wider picture. In that spirit I recommend readers familiarize themselves with the Office of the Independent Monitor' (OMI) documents for the Modified Consent Decree for LAUSD. It exposes corporate CMO charter-voucher school discrimination and exclusivity against children with special needs. Very telling is the statement that children with disabilities are "significantly underrepresented" at CMO run corporate charter schools. Here's the data tables to look up individual charter chains: http://www.scribd.com/doc/24674991/Data-Tables-Pilot-Study-of-Charter-Schools-Compliance-with-the-Modified-Consent-Decree-and-the-LAUSD-Special-Education-Policies-and-Procedures Here's the summary of the report: http://www.scribd.com/doc/24675395/Pilot-Study-of-Charter-Schools-Compliance-with-the-Modified-Consent-Decree-and-the-LAUSD-Special-Education-Policies-and-Procedures [continues]
Robert D. Skeels June 18, 2011 at 04:34 PM
[continued from above] One of the easiest ways of discerning if a CMO is playing with figures, be it APIs, graduation rates, college placement rates, etc. is to look at their remediation rates -- that is the number of students having to retake high school level courses once they get to college. Here are two schools from the CMO mentioned above, including one close to the area in this discussion. Locke Senior High http://www.asd.calstate.edu/scripts/HSAPR1011/HSP1011d.idc?campus=193515 http://www.asd.calstate.edu/scripts/HSAPR1011/HSP1011e.idc?campus=193515 Animo Venice Charter High School http://www.asd.calstate.edu/scripts/hsrem08/hsrem08.idc?campus=199683 While people protecting their wealth and privilege might be quick to smear and slander a community activist like myself, surely they won't accuse the OMI and the CSU system of having bad or biased data, no?
Robert D. Skeels June 18, 2011 at 04:54 PM
Incidentally, the Patch network respects my writings on education enough that I am one of their resident bloggers in my community edition of Patch. http://echopark.patch.com/users/robert-d-skeels/blog_posts So much for being, in Mr. Petruzzi's words, a "nutcase." Am I vehemently opposed to corporate charter-voucher schools? Yes, because they have unelected boards that are not accountable or responsive to the communities which the ostensibly serve. It is my strong belief that if you take public money, then you should be subject to public oversight, input and decision making. Moreover, as the OMI documents cited above, as well as many other peer reviewed studies, have shown, CMOs avoid teaching the most vulnerable and needy students. In my reckoning, they should be obligated legally, morally, and ethically to serve our communities and educate every child! Must be my quaint notions of democratic processes and my belief in the importance of the public commons.
Walgrove Dad June 18, 2011 at 05:45 PM
Wait are you saying that elected officials are accountable and responsive to their constituents? And not big donors, lobbyists, unions or political parties? Your quaint notion is so 1789. We could only wish it worked that way.
Concerned Parent June 19, 2011 at 03:23 AM
Mr. Petruzzi, As the mother of school age children, I found your remarks highly offensive. I do not know Mr. Skeels, and plan to read his work, and form my own opinion, thank you very much. But if you believe it is morally acceptable to disparage the character of a community member who happens to disagree with you, I shudder to think how you will respond to this post. I pray you will not attack me in the same manner, simply for questioning your approach. Need I remind you, you are an adult. I think your mother raised you better. Given your comment, I am also concerned how you may behave with your children, as well as those that you serve in your schools. Your remarks were highly unprofessional, to put it mildly. This is not the kind of leadership our children deserve. The children deserve better. A public apology is in order. I will pray for you. Very concerned.
Marco Petruzzi June 19, 2011 at 01:40 PM
Dear Concerned Parent, I'm so sorry if I've upset you. It certainly wasn't my intention. And please read Mr. Skeels blogs accurately. In them in the past couple of years he has often called me a criminal and a profiteer, making money from low income kids. Very offensive stuff for someone that runs a non-profit focused on sending low income minority kids to college. I generally don't respond to mr. Skeels, who keeps me in good company, calling criminals also Bill Gates and many other philanthropists, who have decided to give away all their money to defeat childhood diseases and improving the lives of the less fortunate. He can't stand anyone who challenges the status quo. As far as I can tell, Mr. Skeels does not live in our community. I assume he lives in Echo Park, as his post before suggests. So when someone else quoted him as an expert, I made the mistake of responding.
Marco Petruzzi June 19, 2011 at 01:52 PM
(continued) you see, data can be easily manipulated or used out of context. Comparing quality based on API scores is simply ridiculous for anyone involved in education. While we do have some schools at the bottom of the list, in a number what you can't discern is that one of those schools specializes in English Language Learners Levels 1 and 2 (kids that speak no English, recent immigrants), another one of our schools is a drop-out recovery schools for kids that had already been lost to the system (we've graduated well over 100 of them so far, kids that everyone had given up on). Yet another one of our schools in South Central caters to students coming back from the juvenile jail system. In any case, I will stay out of this blog from now on, even if I do live in this community and focus on my work instead, which is very important to me. I will try again not to get dragged down in conversations like these that have very little benefit for the kids. My apologies for offending you, Concerned Parent. Please don't waste your prayers on me, by all means.

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