Cynthia E. Griffin- | 7/2/2008, 5 p.m.
It's official. As of July 1, Alaine Locke Leroy High School is no longer under the day-to-day jurisdiction of the Los Angeles Unified School District. Instead the academically struggling institution has become a charter school under the control of Green Dot Public Schools, and life as students have previously known it will change drastically.
The transition from district school to charter school has been a long, bumpy road with the turmoil beginning with how the campus became a charter school.
The process involved a contested vote by teachers to go charter; the removal of a popular and seemingly effective principal who facilitated the vote; student walk-outs to protest the removal of the principal; as well as a year of planning, meetings and development between community residents, school district officials, students and Green Dot that still have not resolved all the issues. But the future is here.
Under Green Dot, Locke has been broken up into a series of small schools that consists of three new ninth grade academies; two previously operating ninth grade academies that have now grown to include a 10th grade; one Launch to College school for students in grades 10 to 12; and a school called Multiple Pathways, which offers intensive catch-up instruction to students who are behind in credits.
One of the new ninth grade academies is located off campus as are the two pre-existing schools while the remaining schools will be on the main Locke grounds.
"We incubate the ninth grade outside the campus to create a a new culture; a college going culture," explained Marco Petruzzi, Green Dot president and chief operating officer.
In addition, Truth High School, a continuation program located on the Locke campus, will continue to operate as an independent LAUSD campus.
According to Green Dot officials, the focus of the new school(s) is college preparatory and the simple goal is to insure that every student is prepared to attend a four-year college.
Each school also has its own principal, administrative staff and budget.
Green Dot said the estimated 200 special education students who are in the "day program," which consist of pulling the pupils out of class for individualized instruction, will remain under the instructional supervision of the LAUSD for at least the next year, while the charter organization observes and learns how such a program operates.
Teachers consist of a mixture of returning Locke veterans and new instructors, and all have gone through an intensive Green Dot interview process that focuses on finding teachers "who really care about students and their well being."
The teacher issue has been somewhat sticky because those with a long tenure in the LAUSD may have to make some tough decisions about their future. According to Greg McNair, assistant general counsel with the district, and former head of the Charter School Division, instructors can take a five year leave of absence from the LAUSD to work at a conversion charter school, but at the end of that time have to make a decision to either stay with the charter and give up key benefits or go back to the LAUSD.
If they stay with the charter school, teachers will lose their life-time health benefits. If teachers choose to return to the district, they will be in the same position as when they left, and will have to work for LAUSD before they can retire.
According to McNair, the vast majority of the classified personnel have left the school.
The landscape of Locke will be vastly different for students with many new teachers; a new policy requiring uniforms; and a much tighter discipline procedure.
Seventeen year old Joseph Sherlock is looking forward to the change, although he does have concerns.
"I've been involved in the LAUSD for the past 11 or 12 years, and it's been social promotion . . . Even though you fail classes, you still go on to the next grade," said the young man, adding that he expects to be the first young African American male in his family to graduate from high school.
Sherlock has been involved in the transition, working as part of the House of Representatives that Green Dot created to help students understand the transition. The group of about 20 or so, mostly African Americans, according to Sherlock, organized a fashion show to preview the new uniforms and a number of other activities.
But the aspiring music producer is definitely concerned about his fellow African American classmates many of whom told him they are considering checking out because of the transition.
He is also concerned about the lack of familiarity Green Dot teachers will have with students.
"They're getting rid of the veteran teachers; and getting rid of the campus aids. They've been there a while and have influence with the "so-called bad kids." I think all kids have potential. But there is a certain way you have to reach them . . . When you put in a lot of outsiders, people who are not used to them. . . they don't really know them (the students) You have to gain their trust. They haven't experienced what we've experienced," explained Sherlock, who added that many of the new teachers will be white.
He is also concerned about how Green Dot will handle the situation like the "racial melee" that rocked the campus at the end of last semester. Sherlock also pointed to the incident at the Watts swimming pool where gang members took over, and he wonders if Green Dot is prepared for that type of situation.
"I already know there are going to be people who are going to test them," added the young student who is part of the campus Black Student Union and a program called Men of Locke Delegation
One major concern for Sherlock and many of his fellow students, is whether their favorite teachers are coming back--people like music teacher Reggie Andrews football coach Dwayne Crawford, and many of the others who have influence with students.
According to Green Dot Vice President of New School Development Dan Chang, about 40 veteran Locke teachers have been hired by the organization including Crawford. Andrews, the veteran educator who put the Locke music program on the map, has not yet accepted a position.
Retention of the programs that are unique to the Locke Saints' mystique, such as the music program, football, basketball and cheerleading, drill team etc., is also a concern. According to Chang, all of these programs will be retained, but access to them may be different, such as through afterschool offerings.
Although school does not open until September, Green Dot and its new policies will be put through its paces Monday with the opening of the summer session. And the hopes and dreams of frustrated teachers and long-ignored parents, students and community residents will be riding on the success or failure of this latest reform effort.