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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 at least 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 Playa Vista and will bus 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.

Troy Toshio Takaki June 16, 2011 at 03:43 PM
I am a Walgrove Elementary parent, and I would love to see a Green Dot Middle School on our campus. I have heard what a wonderful relationship that Broadway Elementary has with a Green Dot High School on their campus. We can only hope to have such a great relationship with the charter school that we share our campus with. If they have to build on our campus, I hope that Green Dot wins the bid.
Pete Thottam June 16, 2011 at 05:29 PM
Great piece, Samantha. Thanks for putting it out so quickly after last night's meeting. I attended the meeting and found the initial overview and explanation comprehensive and very informative. The audience Q&A was very well handled and the responses to stakeholders' questions about timing, board criteria for evaluation, traffic concerns and other issues were on-point. It was a terrific School/Community joint event and an example of LAUSD working to pre-empt some of the likely frustrations of local stakeholders. I hope that Walgrove, OCS and Green Dot will provide updates as the process moves forward. - Pete Thottam (Venice Neighborhood Council - Education Chair)
Jefferson Schierbeek June 17, 2011 at 01:13 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
Kami June 17, 2011 at 01:23 PM
I'm a charter school administrator and former OCS parent. When I talk to other charters about their co-location experiences, it seems clear to me that the relationship between OCS and Walgrove Elementary is one of the best charter/district school relationships. Both communities have invested a lot of energy in finding ways to make the co-location beneficial to both schools. As one neighbor has already posted, the drop-off/pick-up traffic is problematic, but I think being able to build a new building will create the opportunity to re-design drop off and pick up, so the impact on the street is lessened.
Troy Toshio Takaki June 17, 2011 at 02:01 PM
I am sorry, but walgrove has a terrible relationship with ocean charter. The people from ocean charter do not know this because they have never put any effort into listening or caring what walgrove thinks of them. They have broken promisses that they made when they moved in. They said that they whould only have 6-8 grade and proceeded to move forth and fifth grades over too. Ocean charter has not done one thing to make walgrove better school. The first time that they put any effort to impove the relationship they hosted a breakfast, but did it on the day that we have assembly so we could not even attend. We are not at all happy ocean charter. If this is "one of the best charter/district relayionships" I hate to see the others. I don't hate OCS, but I had to weigh in. Ask any walgrove parent or teacher, they are not great neighbors.
Jesse Miller June 17, 2011 at 06:26 PM
If Walgrove and OCS don't have a good relationship, why assume that things will be better with Green Dot. It's amazing how a group of diverse families and individuals can be so easily reduced to 'THEM' or 'THOSE People'. We all love our kids, we all love our community. I feel that the concerns of Walgrove and the neighbors needs to be addressed. However, kicking one school out for another to come in seems like no solution to me. I feel bad for Walgrove that they feel so 'wronged' by OCS. I couldn't be more happy with and thankful for the program that OCS offers. I wish Walgrove could see all the good that OCS DOES offer the community. Us and Them thinking will NOT solve this issue. Let's find Green Dot a space of their own, and work toward improving the relationships that already exist. The one thing in common with all my problems is ME! So, let's look at ourselves, dig down deep and stop the blaming and finger pointing. After all, it's not about us - it's about the kids. Love and blessings to All!
Troy Toshio Takaki June 17, 2011 at 08:28 PM
It's not about being wronged as much as it is about what serves Walgrove Ave Elementary, the local school the best. A colocation is not anybody's first choice. I would love to have acres and acres of land available for only the school to use but it just isn't realistic with charters needing space and the current LAUSD issues. The neighborhood impact study must happen first, then we talk about building.
Jesse Miller June 17, 2011 at 09:00 PM
I hear you, Troy. It's just that I see the good that IS happening at Walgrove; at least through an OCS lens, and would be sad to see the OCS community without a home. Sharing is tricky! Especially when space is tight. While I confess to know little about the proposed expansion beyond the meeting and the article, it seems we're dealing with a couple different issues: building expansion on the Walgrove campus, and charter schools finding/keeping a home there. I see how the two issues are intertwined, and that the need for space/expansion exists. I suppose my emphasis, in commenting, is more on maintaining what OCS does have with Walgrove... figuring out a way to work together, to meet each others' needs and improve things for all involved.
Nanci June 17, 2011 at 11:39 PM
Some of the ways OCS has partnered with Walgrove: When my daughter was in 8th grade at OCS, she helped a Walgrove kindergarten class write and put on their own play. Both my kids' classes each year read with the young Walgrove students, and a few weeks ago, my 7th grade son's reading buddy came to him on the playground and asked for help negotiating some problem among the younger kids. I believe the two schools have done assemblies together, as well. And others have better details on this, but I believe all the new trees and planting on the Walgrove playground were put in either by OCS parents or in joint OCS/Walgrove ventures.
Debbie Tripp June 18, 2011 at 07:14 PM
I'm puzzled by the surprise being expressed that the OCS/Walgrove relationship has been strained. OF COURSE it has been challenging, frustrating, etc. for BOTH schools over the 5 years of co-location. Yes, 5 years! That is a long time with many conflicts having arisen, but many, many more having been averted by the efforts of the leadership at both schools. Troy, I understand why you question that the OCS/Walgrove co-location is "one of the best charter/district relationships". Issues do exist. They are innate to the situation. But by and large, co-locations have been considerably more detrimental to the neighborhood school and surrounding area than the one at Walgrove. I realize that is little solace when the impact has already been felt, but please remember, this demonstrates real care and effort by both OCS and Walgrove to carry out their missions in the best relationship possible. This co-location has not benefited from the studies and evaluations of traffic, noise and land use that are forth coming with the proposed development. We've all worked hard to make the best of a less than ideal situation. And now the district and the charter school have the ability to "do this right" as Mr. Zimmer emphasized at the meeting. It doesn't seem "right" to restrict OCS from being part a development that will finally allow for consideration of all parties and solutions to long standing issues just because they have had to navigate a rocky road along side Walgrove these past years.
Troy Toshio Takaki June 18, 2011 at 08:00 PM
a five year, "strained" relationship is a great definition of the walgrove/OCS relationship.
Jesse Miller June 18, 2011 at 09:33 PM
Relationships are tricky, whether they be familial, personal or in this case educational/community-based. Community is defined as 'a unified body of individuals' or in this case a unified body of families. We don't, however, seem very unified. I think at the core, we all want the same thing: a quality education for our children, and to be a part of a healthy community. To figure out a way of fulfilling our mutual needs is critical to maintaining a healthy relationship. Most people have a pretty firm grasp on their own needs and wants, often to the exclusion of the needs of others. Communication, and a platform through which to do so (such as this article), is necessary to listen to and learn the needs/concerns of others. Shame on me for waiting to join the dialog until this point. Relationships are two way streets that require listening, love, patience, commitment, and compassion. When the going gets tough do we give up and point fingers, or do we dig our heals in and muster the compassion to mend things and forge ahead? Love and blessings...
Christopher Hennes June 20, 2011 at 08:27 PM
One point that seemed to be especially troubling for everyone at the meeting was the parking situation - which isn't hard for me to believe at all. In fact, it appears to me that 5 years ago, a number of trailer classrooms were dropped on the Walgrove site, increasing student density, with no consideration as to traffic, dropoff accessibility or anything -- while leaving a huge piece of pavement of questionable value for anything other than a couple of basketball courts? This seems like it was a "quick fix" with very little thought or planning about how it would play out over a longer term; and its no surprise strain & tensions have ensued. As an OCS parent, this is almost as troubling to me as it must certainly be to neighborhood residents. But I would expect a HUGE difference could be made with with proper design & planning of a charter campus (with "real" facilities) that takes into consideration and accommodates *everyone's* needs & concerns -- not only the traffic flow & dropoff issues, but noise mitigation, eco-friendliness, and green/park space (I can't imagine anyone is in love with all that pavement!) Easing some of these structural tensions may help both Walgrove parents/residents & charter parents find that their other differences can be more readily resolved, once the constant annoyance of "cohabitation" issues are removed.
Philip Stearns June 20, 2011 at 08:39 PM
I am a parent at Ocean Charter School (OCS). My daughter is going into 7th grade and has been attending at the Walgrove campus since the fourth grade. That first year was tough. The tension between Walgrove and OCS was easy to feel. My daughter would get upset because the kids from Walgrove treated her like an invader, would tell her that she wasn't allowed on the play structures, where she could walk, etc. This probably reflected the tension the adults were feeling. But, I have to say, we've come a very long way in the last several years. The hostility has mostly disappeared, inter-school events have been happening, joint work days. And I think that the truly massive effort on the part of OCS parents to beautify the campus with gardens, trees, benches and murals, etc., has been appreciated by both the teachers and students of Walgrove and by the neighbors in the area. Although it certainly has not been easy, I believe the seeds have been planted for a continued blooming of the relationship between our schools and their respective communities. We all have so much to share and everyone benefits... especially the children. I, for one, look forward to finding ever more ways that our two schools can honor each other and come together to create an experience we can all look back on with pride. (By the way, the traffic situation does need addressing. I think everyone would agree that a better drop-off/pickup system needs to be found)
Tamara Haas June 20, 2011 at 10:03 PM
The traffic and parking situation would have been challenging for any school co-located at Walgrove. The site is not set up for two schools' parking needs. There is no parking lot or designated parking for Ocean, so everyone affiliated with the school (faculty, staff, administration, parents) is forced to use residential street parking. At pick-up and drop-off, all of the students have to funnel through a relatively small (3- to 4-foot wide) gate, which creates a bottle-neck and causes traffic to back up. The school administration asked the city to designate a loading area in front of the school, but that has yet to happen. As a result, if cars are already parked in front of the school, there is really no way to pull out of the line of traffic while picking up/dropping off students. A planned development would surely be able to address these issues. Ocean transfered more grades to Walgrove because that was the only space available. Ocean's other campus was maxed out, and the only offer from LAUSD was additional space at Walgrove. It would have been financially and logistically impractical (if not impossible) to find a third site to house only two grades. As it is, renting, staffing, and maintaining two separate facilities is a strain. Walgrove asked Ocean not to take all of the space offered to it this coming year. Once Ocean realized the impact on Walgrove, it turned down 2 classroom spots. It may not seem like it, but both schools really are trying to work together.
Troy Toshio Takaki June 21, 2011 at 12:24 AM
How about asking the faculty and staff to park up the street where there is plenty of parking and walk 100 yards? How about dropping kids off at the closest parking space rather than double parking? That is what we do on Morningside, and I am dropping off first through forth graders. We are also funneling through a gate. I am not trying to pick a fight, but really? You cannot figure out how to drop off kids without causing parking and traffic problems? There is always plenty of room to park all around the school. There is never a single car parked on the school side of Maplewood. I tiny bit of effort and courtesy would fix these problems in a second. I know that your principle has been trying to solve the parking/traffic problems. She has even hired a staff member to try and police the parents dropping off, but it is up to the staff and parents to put the effort to listen.
Patricia Luer August 24, 2011 at 03:34 AM
I hope that LAUSD will reconsider and opt for OCS to continue at the Walgrove site. Once they arrive at proper planning for pick-up and drop-off, that problem should be resolved no matter which charter school occupies the space and the relations between Walgrove and OCS, except for that one issue which was never handled properly by the school district would melt away and the added benefits of having OCS remain there will soon emerge and transform the school area into a beautiful green space like OCS's other site in Culver City. Please rethink and replan.

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