Charter Schools: What You Need to Know

by Tanya Anton | GoMamaGuide.com [Updated from a previous version.]

Now that it’s Charter Season, we want you to be prepared. In this article we’ll cover some basics and a few specifics you should know about charter schools.Charter Draft

First, it bears repeating that California is at the forefront of the charter movement with more students enrolled in charter schools here than anywhere else in the country. There are 23,000 101,060* 199,863* students enrolled in charter schools in Los Angeles County alone, and 49,840* on waitlists. Nearly 1 in every 4 students within LAUSD attend charters, and that number is growing every year.

*updated for the 2016 school year according to CCSA.org  

Charters are tuition-free semi-independent, somewhat autonomous schools operating with public funds, authorized by either the local school district, the county, or the state board of ed. Charters get their name from the lengthy legal document that outlines the many facets of the operation of their charter school – from the vision to curriculum to staffing to governance to fiscal, academic and campus procedures.

Some charters are chains of schools replicated on multiple sites run by large charter management organizations (CMOs), and others are small individual school start-ups launched by an ad-hoc group of parents, educators, visionaries and entrepreneurs with a shared vision of providing an alternative model of education.

All charters in California have to follow federal law, state ed codes, teach grade level content standards, and participate in standardized testing.

In Los Angeles There Are Two Types of Charters

Independent charters have the most autonomy to operate with full flexibility on staff hiring and firing (they don’t typically use the UTLA teachers contract so they are non-union), can make their own decisions in terms of budget, governance, overall school direction and operation, and are unaffected by district budget cuts or policy changes. Unless they are extremely well-endowed and can afford their own building, most independent charters apply for classroom space via Prop 39 and are given a minimum number of classrooms co-located on the side of another LAUSD neighborhood school campus. In recent years this process has been fraught with political infighting and less than transparent negotiations when it comes to which campuses have space, which do not, and which programs get offered which space. The current school board climate has been at times downright hostile to charters, thus severely limiting their ability to operate and serve students, let alone grow to accommodate their waitlists. Highly sought-after charters can sometimes have wait lists in the hundreds each year. 

The other type of charter is the affiliated conversion charter – schools that were a traditional neighborhood school that “went charter” after 51% or more of the staff voted to convert to charter status. More of a hybrid, these charters have some autonomy on teaching, curriculum and textbooks, some budgetary flexibility with monies they get directly from the state, but are bound by UTLA/LAUSD policy on things like teacher contracts (must hire UTLA teachers therefore subject to seniority and bumping rights), and are affected by district decisions such as class size increases, calendar changes, or lateral reductions in specific staff positions and programs. Think of them as a neighborhood school with some autonomy perks. Affiliated charters may have less autonomy than the independent charter, but more importantly they get to keep their facility (building), and must give enrollment priority to those who reside within the neighborhood attendance area. So the only way to assure enrollment, is to reside within the footprint. Many conversion charters are so full of neighborhood kids that few remaining seats ever go up for lottery, and if they do, hundreds of students may apply for them and be waitlisted.

In terms of applying to charters, anyone from any district may apply, and you may apply to as many charters as you like. Enrollment for independent charters is drawn by public lottery, which you can be present for or not. Independent charters give priority enrollment to founding families if it’s a start-up, staff members, and usually siblings of current students. Some charters will also give priority to those who reside within the local school district (LAUSD), a specific nearby school attendance zone, or to those who qualify for the Free/Reduced Lunch program. Affiliated charters must give priority to residents first, then non-residents. Each charter application process and lottery is overseen and run independently by each school site.

Built-in Academic Accountability

Unlike a neighborhood school that can fail year after year and nothing is done about it, charter schools face a renewal process every 4-5 years where in order to continue to stay open they are reviewed and voted on by their authorizing board. They MUST meet state requirements or they can be in jeopardy of being shut down. This can, and has happened to some charter schools.

Many charters (but not all) have had excellent academic results. Some are able to offer smaller class sizes, and a smaller overall student body size which can lead to greater individual attention and student success. Some offer alternative models of education that might fit better for some children than the traditional district model. However, sometimes due to space constraints this is at the expense of other “peripheral programs” or enrichments, such as visual or performing arts, an instrumental music program, PE or sports or outdoor green space, or a dedicated lunchroom or cafeteria, or even a library.

Not all charters outperform neighborhood schools. In fact, most recent numbers show that charters, on average, aren’t performing that much better than district schools. Some are, some aren’t. It really depends on the school.

Charters Offer Alternatives to the Traditional District Model
One thing charter schools do offer is a panoply of educational options, ranging from strictly college-prep academic, to crunchy-granola progressive schools, to language immersions, to STEM-focused (science, tech, engineering, math), to developmental project-based co-constuctivist leanings, to pumped-up traditional schools whose only difference to the garden-variety district model is a nicer demeanor, more enrichments and curricular flexibility. But there are plenty of choices. If the traditional neighborhood school is not meeting the needs of your child, there’s a whole range of charter schools out there to explore.

Prop 39 Co-Locations
Charter schools apply for District space every year via Prop 39 which requires districts to provide classroom space to charter schools. Due to space limitations, many charters are co-located on the side of another district school campus, housed in a set of temporary bungalows, or a side wing of another campus. Sometimes they share facilities, and sometimes charter schools opt for private space and set up in a church, a business park, or even a strip mall. Accordingly, the space limitations can be less than ideal. There might not be a library, or sports field for PE and recess, or an auditorium for assemblies, performances, or graduation, or even a dedicated lunchroom or cafeteria. Sometimes having a (non-union/non-district) charter on the same campus as a traditional district-union school can cause friction and a literal turf war. Sometimes co-locations can work in a collaborative way, but many times (especially of late) the schools like siblings, fight and campaign against each other, politically-speaking, pitting families against one another.

Still, charters are not going away and they provide much-needed options where district schools have failed kids. And, many of them are extremely successful. And, despite allegations otherwise, most LA charters are not-for-profit.

What makes a charter great? Could be an innovative teaching model, collaborative learning, special partnerships, flexible learning environment, enthusiastic teachers, motivated students and a great community of like-minded families. No two charter schools are alike. One must really do one’s research, tour and apply directly at each school site you’re interested in, as there is no one-stop centralized application process that covers all your charter options.

Charter Highlights:
-Can apply to as many as you like
-Apply directly at each school site
-Each school site maintains its own lottery and timeline/deadlines
-Some make you attend a mandatory open house/tour before you can apply
-Some allow you to apply online site unseen
-Conversion charters give priority to residents within the attendance area
-Each charter has its own lottery priorities: founding families, staff, siblings (sometimes)
-Some also give a priority to LAUSD residents, if you qualify for Free/Reduced Lunch program (Title 1), or come from a certain feeder school
-Charters means commuting (no transportation provided)
-No accumulating wait list or points
-Must reapply yearly if you don’t get in

What are the charters in your area? Please consult my color-coded maps on the school finder page of my website. Charters are marked in green.

Or book a consultation with me and together we’ll go over all your charter options.
In-personPhone.

Or check out the California Charter Schools Assoc for more info.

Want to use this article? You can as long as long as you include this complete blurb with it:
 
Tanya Anton is the creator of GoMamaGuide.com helping parents demystify and navigate their public school options in Los Angeles. To read more articles by Tanya or to learn about her Guidebooks, House Chats, Consultations, and Seminars, visit GoMamaGuide.com or email us at GoMama@mac.com.
© 2017 by Tanya Anton, GoMamaGuide.com All Rights Reserved. 

Scores, Schmores, What’s Your School’s API Score?

CDE API

One of the first things parents do when checking out a school is to look up its score – that almighty 3-digit API score, which stands for Academic Performance Index, as well as the 1 through 10 Similar Schools Ranking.

As if a school with it’s ever-changing community of personalities, programs and special projects can be reduced down to a simple number.

A number so almighty though, that in terms of real estate and parent frenzy, folks have gone to extreme lengths to get into the right public school. It’s not uncommon for a crazy number of offers (24! 31!) to be thrown at a tear-down house in one of those buzz-driven  “halo” (read: high-performing) neighborhood school footprints.

We’ve had realtors knocking on doors on a weekly basis asking, “are you thinking of selling?,” “are you looking to relocate?” due to low inventory in high-performing areas.

I’ve heard of families willing to rent out an 800 square foot 1 BR  just to get into a specific school’s attendance area. And let us not forget the 120+ address scammers who fudged their way into the high scoring (and highly regarded) Carpenter Elementary school, who were recently booted off the campus so that actual residents could send their kids to their own neighborhood school.

Parents come up to me and say, “Tanya, I looked up our home school and it’s a 6, it’s a 7 (makes long face) and we only want to send our kid to a 10, maybe a 9 school (making hopeful face).”

So, do scores matter?

I sat down with realtor and Beyond The Crib blogger Sara Reichling to share some insight into what all those scores mean. Check out her post, What’s Your API Score?

Beyondthecribla

In addition to Sara’s post, here are a few points to consider:

Our Governor has suspended testing (and thus its results) for 2 years while we transition to the nationally standardized Common Core testing, so the scores you are looking at are now old.

They are the results of the multiple choice “bubble in the scantron” California Standardized Testing, which for elementary school only tests English and Math, with a little bit of 5th grade Science.

In elementary school, only 2nd through 5th graders take the tests. So those students whose results you are looking at have mostly graduated off by now. Same for middle schools.

Scores tell you absolutely nothing about the style and approach to teaching and learning, let alone what else (besides English and Math) the students are doing, and how they are doing it. Nor does it tell you what types of supports and/or additional challenge it offers for those who might fall above or below the middle.

With so much national pressure being put on scores, it is no wonder that curriculum has narrowed, redundant test prep is paramount, and cheating scandals have, sadly, become rampant.

An API score of 800 or above means the school has met its target and the majority of students are testing at or above grade level standards.

A 900+ school is not necessarily better than an 800+ school.

The 1 through 10 ranking is also based on test scores, then compared to schools with similar racial/socio-economic and other demographics. A 7 school is not necessarily worse than a 9 school. (And I personally have known families who have left a 10 school if it wasn’t the right environment.)

I hope that ALL students who attend school will learn how to read, write and calculate math, but my hope is that our schools will provide so much more than those basics.

And it bears repeating, a school is only as good as its collective of inhabitants – which is constantly shifting. So, please don’t accept or reject a school solely on its score. Please look deeper than that.

For more on API scores, check out one of my archived articles HERE.
To browse school scores in detail, see the CDE website HERE.
If you need help finding the right school for your family, I can help with that. HERE.

Navigating LAUSD with Twins

(This is a re-print of an article I originally wrote for WLAPOM – The West LA Parents Of Multiples Organization.)
bksandapplesWhen it comes to schools, one thing we do have in Los Angeles – the second-largest school district in the country – is choice. While it’s tricky to understand all your public school application and lottery choices and their respective timelines, it can get even trickier navigating it with twins or multiples. Sometimes you actually have an advantage. Sometimes not so much. But the key to it all is understanding your options.
Here is a quick outline of how to navigate finding a public school with twins or multiples.
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Your Neighborhood School
Every address is zoned to a local elementary, middle and high school. This is your neighborhood school, your assigned school. Take the time to look it up, tour it, assess it, and talk to some of the current community involved. If you want this to be your family’s school, as long as can show proof of residence and get your enrollment papers submitted during “The Roundup” in the spring, (generally March-April), it’s a sure thing. Your neighborhood school will automatically accept all zoned residents, including multiples. Moving into the footprint of a great local school, if possible, is the ideal situation.
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Magnets
Magnet programs are voluntary integration programs that provide a diverse, enriched, theme-based educational environment for lucky lottery winners, with transportation provided if you qualify. This is also where that crazy weighted point system kicks in. If you’ve picked up one of my guidebooks or attended one of my talks, you should be well-versed in the ins and outs of point collection and strategy. The downside is that twins are treated as individuals. They both could get in, or only one might get in. If the latter happens, the second child would have to attend elsewhere until the following year when sibling points will almost assuredly get him/her into the program. But don’t let that dissuade you. There are plenty of twins who make it through the magnet system. Apply online at echoices.lausd.net Oct to mid-Nov for the following school year.
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Charters
LA has more students enrolled in charter schools than anywhere else in the country.
Independent Charters are free to design, implement and operate their schools apart from district and union policies, budgets and bureaucracy. Anyone from anywhere can apply to their open lotteries, (usually Jan/Feb), and the successful independent charters have long lists of applicants. But twins and siblings get special treatment: if one sibling gets in, typically all the other siblings get in too. This gives you multiple chances to win the lottery over “single” child applicants.
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Affiliated Converted Charters are district-union run hybrid charters with less autonomy than the independent charter, but maintain the original district building, facility and neighborhood attendance area. Usually 98.5% of incoming students are residents (those who reside within the school’s attendance area) who get first priority enrollment, but every year any remaining seats go up for lottery to non-resident applicants. Each school runs their own lottery (typically Feb/Mar) and most offer the “sibling advantage” – if one gets in, they all get in — but it will be space-dependent.
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In addition to the above possibilities, there are also LAUSD schools offering easy Open Enrollment, Schools for Advanced Studies (for Gifted students), Pilot schools, Language Immersion programs, Specialized Small Learning Academies (at secondary schools), and the possibility of transfers both within and out of the district to look into. In most cases schools prefer to keep families together rather than separated, however it will depend on the number of seats available and the order of being drawn if there is a lottery.
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For a color-coded map of public schools including magnets and charters by area, please visit my free Google mash-up maps at GoMamaGuide.com/schoolfinder. If this seems overwhelming and you want to discuss specific schools or strategy, we can always set up a consultation.

Enrolling My Child In School – What I Need To Know

EnrollmentJust relocated across town in order to get into a fancy new school footprint?

Enrolling your first child into Kindergarten and wondering what paperwork you’ll need?

Here’s how it will go down and what you need to gather before they just hand over your enrollment packet.

Note: This information applies to enrolling in your neighborhood public school. It will be a slightly different process to enroll in a charter, magnet, or specialized school such as a language immersion, although aside from the first step, much of the paperwork requirements will be similar. 

Also note that the more desirable (full) the school is, the more stringent you can expect the paperwork requirements to be. On the contrary, an under-enrolled school might be a little more lax about paperwork requirements for incoming students. Ok, let’s get started.

The first and biggest step is Proof of Residency 

You will need to bring a recent utility bill such as your DWP, Edison or Gas Co bill, (NOT a phone bill), showing your address lies within the attendance area of the school. Some schools, in addition to the utility bill, will also need to see a rental/lease agreement, escrow papers or homeowners property tax bill, or some other official US Government mail (IRS, Social Security, CA State tax) with the same residential address. Most schools need one or both of the above AND you will also need to show your CA Driver’s License that matches the address. Copies will be made and kept on file.

Having just renewed my drivers license and asked them this very question recently, by law you are required to update any change of residential address within 10 days of moving. Your drivers license should reflect your current residential address, not a mailing address. (I know many people don’t follow that rule, but that is the law.)

If you have just moved over the summer, get your driver’s license taken care of ASAP so you have no problem enrolling. For what it’s worth, my drivers license renewal came within about a week to 10 days of turning in the paperwork at the DMV.

You will also need to show Proof of Child’s Birthdate

In order to prove your child has met the state’s Kindergarten Age Requirement, you will need to present your child’s birth certificate, passport, or baptism certificate showing proof of age. CA state law requires your child must turn 5 by September 1 in order to enroll in Kindergarten that fall.

Once you pass those two hurdles, (Proof of Residence and Proof of Child’s Birthdate), you will be handed your enrollment packet. Thud.

paperwork I will not lie to you, for Kindergarten it is usually about a stack of forms 1″ thick, somewhat intimidating, with many different pages of requests for info and documents to sign. You will have until just before the start of school to get that baby turned in. (For LAUSD that is mid-August!) The earlier you do this, the better. Don’t wait until the day before school starts.

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What’s inside?

In the enrollment packet you will be asked for general family contact information, immunization records including dates administered, healthcare provider and insurance carrier info, other health history questions including developmental milestones (just do the best you can to fill in all the Qs), last dental visit info, home language survey, an emergency contact card – where you list relatives and who to call if they can’t reach you in an emergency situation, previous school enrollment info, release of records and transcripts if you are transferring into a grade higher than Kinder, a meal application to see if you qualify for free/reduced lunch, a blanket release authorization should your child be photographed and the district wants to use it, and likely the school’s bell schedule and events calendar will also be included.

You might also find additional requests for info from the PTA/PTO or Booster Club including parent liaison/room parent contacts, opportunities to join committees and such, opportunities for summer family meet ups, and a school roster info request. If the school is uber-organized, they may even start hitting you up for money for their annual giving campaign or invite you to upcoming fundraiser events.

Let me tell you, this pack of paperwork is not something you can just stand at the counter and fill out. You will definitely need to take all this home, gather the necessary information and fill it all out, then bring it back to the school office before the start of the school year.

Just a heads up, most school offices tend to open up about 2-3 weeks before the start of school, and will be shut down for most of July.

And, remember, you are not officially enrolled until you have submitted all your paperwork to the office and they have added you to their system.

If you’re looking ahead to next year, most neighborhood schools hold a “Kindergarten Roundup” sometime in early spring (late February to mid-March) where local residents meet the principal, hear a pitch about the school, some of the kids may perform or special projects are displayed prominently, and the parent organization extends the welcome wagon out to incoming neighborhood families. With proof of residency, you can pick up your enrollment packet right then and there and get started filling that out.

If you just moved into the neighborhood this summer, get on that enrollment packet asap.

Hope you found this helpful. Good luck!

4 New Westside Middle School Options – Who Says We Don’t Have Choice?

by Tanya Anton | GoMamaGuide.com

For years I’ve heard parents say we have no “viable choice” when it comes to middle school on this side of Los Angeles. For years one particular organization’s platform was that we only had one choice in these parts, and that it desperately needed transforming. (Or put more succinctly, our children deserve better!)

While I wouldn’t argue the second half of that sentence, the first part was incorrect. We’ve always had a few choices. In fact this Westside area (from Venice to WLA to Westchester), is known as a district “zone of choice” allowing any student to enroll into any of its ring of five area middle schools. It’s just that despite some valiant efforts, most of the schools in this zone seem to be quite lackluster. And run down. And perhaps face safety issues. And most certainly staffing issues. Not to mention a revolving door of leadership. Perhaps it is choice, but to some it’s a choice-less choice.

So much potential…but just…not…a viable choice.

The continued declining enrollment speaks for itself.

As this recent wave of hands-on parents – the ones who have worked tirelessly to revitalize their elementary schools – and their children approach the middle school years, parents are getting more savvy and invested (not to mention more active) in the types of educational experience they want for their children. Many are seeking a different model altogether and are doing whatever they can to find it, transform it, or if necessary, help create it.

In the past year alone, four new Middle Schools have opened on the Westside. Five since 2011.

Say what you will about density, and impact, but I have personally watched many fine folks toil for years (of thankless unpaid labor) to get these schools off the ground. And here they are.

In any case, when it comes to Middle School options, who says we don’t have choice!

Let’s meet them, shall we?

in alphabetical order:

Animo Westside Charter Middle School – launched in 2011, this Green Dot charter was the result of the LA Parent Union/Parent Revolution movement. With small classes and a supportive infrastructure all students are encouraged to achieve academic excellence.
greendot.org/westside

The City School – launched in 2012, this charter comes from some of the same folks who worked on the two highly successful Larchmont Charters as well as Valley Charter Schools. With a focus on civics, debate and writing, not to mention service learning and building good character, this charter has the intention to expand through grade 12 by 2017.
citycharterschool.org

The Incubator School – opening 6-7th in 2013 and growing to 12th by 2018, this cutting edge new district pilot school will focus on tech-entrepreneurship and will utilize blended learning, design-thinking, real world project-based learning, as well as partnerships with ed, tech and Silicon Beach startup companies and non-profits.
incubatorschool.org

Westchester Secondary Charter School – will open 6-9th in 2013 and grow to include 12th by 2016, offering a rigorous college-prep comprehensive education that includes the arts to athletics. WSCS looks forward to serving students in its community with the autonomy to make its own budget, curricular, staffing and governance decisions.
westchestercharter.org

WISH-Westside Innovative School House – this K-5 independent charter was approved to launch a district pilot middle school but opted instead to extend their charter to include 6th grade for 2013. Steeped in research-based best-practices, and partnered with LMU’s School of Ed, this co-constructivist inclusion school is modeled after the highly successful Chime Charter in Woodland Hills.
wishcharter.org

Stay tuned for future GoMamaGuide stories that will take a closer look at these new school options.

WSMS Map13Be sure to check out my color-coded Westside Middle School map on the school finder page. Includes a complete list of all your public magnet, charter, pilot and neighborhood middle schools in WLA, Santa Monica, Malibu and Culver City.

Hidden Rival to Charter Schools – My Response

Have you read this recent article in the Washington Post?

Hidden Rival to Charter Schools by Jay Mathews

Fascinating. Shows just how frustrated parents are with the traditional, increasingly narrow, test-driven model of education. It’s not working. It hasn’t in a long time. We are collectively, desperately, ready and pining for something new. Even if it means trying something unorthodox or doing it ourselves. I see this all the time speaking to parents and helping them navigate their public school options.

Here in Los Angeles, the forefront of the charter movement and the second largest school district in the country, we’ve also seen an increase in collaborative homeschool study groups with organized educational field trips and social group outings. Many area museums and attractions offer programs/tours designed specifically for the homeschooler, and we also have a couple of hybrid schools that offer a part-time classroom /part-time home study combo.

Parents want options other than the traditional test-driven District model. That is unmistakable. Here’s what I’ve observed:

– communities desperately trying to support, reinvigorate and revitalize their neighborhood school despite the yearly onslaught of budget cuts and set backs, frequently get frustrated by the lack of engaging, inspired teaching and learning, and the unavoidable District policy ceiling they will hit, so they

-explore all their lottery options including magnets, charters or transfers/permits to find the best-possible school option for their children, and failing that they

– band together under a united vision to launch an indie start-up charter where collectively they can participate in an alternative model of education and have the freedom to collaborate on the shaping of their school. However, the space limitations under Prop 39 continually thwart rapid enrollment growth resulting in wait lists in the hundreds for the successful models, not to mention the rather sad lack of facilities (a row of temporary bungalows co-located on the side of another district school, or housed in a church, or concrete business park with no field, no auditorium, no library, few enrichments)

– some find a way to “make it work” and make the best of what they are offered, others frustrated by these options move to another more successful, better-funded public school footprint (if it exists nearby or if they can afford it), and finally having exhausted or summarily rejected all of the above for various reasons

– look into homeschooling options, which run the gamut from filing PSA affidavits, forming co-op home study groups, meet-ups, or utilizing online courses, such as K12, Kahn Academy or CAVA. With the ubiquitous accessibility of technology, I don’t doubt we will be seeing even more online and hybrid education models in the very near future.

There is plenty of research that points to best practices in 21st Century teaching and learning, yet for some reason the policymakers continually reject what the research shows and what the teachers already know, and set public school policy (federal and local) that instead narrows the curriculum and pushes top-down test-driven results, beating the very inspiration, depth and engagement we so desperately seek, out of education altogether.

I personally know my own limitations and don’t homeschool my daughter, but is it any wonder families are exploring any and all alternative options? “Hidden rival” to charter schools sound ominous and overly threatening. I’d say it’s more like growing numbers of families exploring their options and seeking different ones than the traditional model.

What do you think about this trend?

Super Two, What To Do?

Waiting For Kindergarten

I get that it’s stressful being a parent and naturally we all want the best for our children, especially when it comes to nurturing their potential and wanting to make the very best school decision we can for them. But every now and then I get a question thrown at me that warrants a longer discussion. This is not a new question. Actually, it’s one I hear more often than you think. So, for all you parents of brilliant two year-olds, this one’s for you!

Q. “I have a 2 1/2 year old daughter. Growing up in the shadow of her older brother (just turned 6), my daughter is leaping ahead of her peer group, and is super smart to boot. Because she was born in January, she will not be eligible to start Kindergarten until 2015. Having already spent 8 months in preschool, I can’t imagine keeping her there for 3 more years. Would you be able to advise me on getting her a permit for early admission into Kindergarten (I am hoping for a 2014 admission). I am looking to find out what I have to do and who I have to talk to in order to petition for early admission. Looking forward to hearing from you!”

A. Thanks for writing to me. While I can appreciate your concern and best intentions as a parent, it is still WAY too early to do anything about an early admission for your daughter as far as public elementary school goes. Age cut-offs are a matter of state law, not individual school districts, or even individual public schools.
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That being said, my advice to you is to get her into a great preschool program (which might mean moving her if the current one is not providing enough depth and exploration), monitor her progress with her teachers, and when she is 4 years old, re-assess the situation and start to make plans. This might include:
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1. Enrolling her in a 2-year Kindergarten sometimes called a DK – or Developmental Kindergarten when she is 4. Many charters offer this.
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2. Speak to the principal where you son is enrolled to see if you can petition/appeal to have her admitted early (this is rarely done these days due to state law mandates but not impossible.) Just know that if you ask an elementary school principal about a 2 1/2 yr-old they most likely will not take you seriously so wait another year and a half before you approach the situation.
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3. Look into Montessori schools that allow children to work at their own pace (some go up into grade school and beyond), or
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4. Consider private schools for her as they are more flexible on the age cut-off as they have the flexibility to determine their own internal age cut-offs.
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5. At 4 you could also consider whether or not to have her tested to see if she qualifies for a gifted program.
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Mainly, the age you should begin this process in earnest is when she is 4, not 2 1/2.
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Dialog at this point should be between you and her preschool teachers. A good preschool will support and stimulate all kinds of development beyond what we typically think of as “academic” learning.
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Ideally, a quality preschool is a place where your child can experience group work, team work, a solid sense of self, learning to express oneself but also being mindful within the context of the group, fine-motor skills, ability to focus and stay on task for longer periods of time, social-emotional development, including making, developing and sustaining friendships, discovering connections to each other, their environment, their world, stimulating curiosity, problem-solving, conflict-resolution, inquiry, exploring possibilities, creativity and creation, and drawing conclusions. While not exactly “academic,” these are developmental skills that will build the foundation to serve her throughout her life.
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I know we all mean well, and it’s hard to be patient and watch our budding child unfurl in real-time as opposed to projecting various scenarios on them in fast-forward, but truly these are magical times right here, right now. Enjoy them for what they are, as, coming from a mother of a nearly Middle-Schooler, they surely are fleeting.
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I told another stressed-out mom of a 2 year-old in my seminar last night, “This is a good time to survey the land, get a sense of what your elementary school options are, and get informed, but really, there’s nothing you can do about it yet, so relax. Have a glass of wine. Know it’s all going to be OK.”
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Sending love out to all you parents…

The Conversion Charter…Trending Now

by Tanya Anton | GoMamaGuide.com

With 6 LAUSD neighborhood schools converting to affiliated charter status last year and 25 more schools converting this year, we ask, is it contagious? A sign of the times?

 Why would your perfectly good neighborhood school convert to affiliated charter status anyway, you ask?

It all comes down to the 3 Fs. Flexibility, Freedom…and Funding.

An affiliated charter is a unique sort of “charter lite” or hybrid model that was created in LAUSD to pacify all parties. While this type of charter doesn’t have the full autonomy an independent charter school has, they do have increased autonomy from the traditional district model.

A typcial LAUSD neighborhood school that converts to an affiliated charter school can keep its existing campus and facilities -no fighting for space or co-locations via Prop 39. They also keep their attendance area -maintaining the feel of a neighborhood school with priority enrollment given to area residents. The UTLA teacher contract and District-paid union positions stay in tact -but with it so does tenure and seniority-based bumping rights. The school gains some limited freedoms from the district – and the feeling of semi-autonomy. Most importantly the school once converted can apply to the state for a block charter grant -direct funds based on enrollment numbers, which can make up some of the budget shortfalls the school sustained as a non-charter.

While still overseen by LAUSD, an affiliated charter creates its own site-based governance system typically made up of parents, staff, and administration, so the decision-making body of the school resides on campus, not downtown. The school also gains flexibility in curricular focus, textbook selection, selecting programs and materials, as well as freedom in deciding how to allocate, manage and spend the funds that come unrestricted from the state.

The district still oversees and controls many policies in an affiliated charter, and when lateral budget cuts are made – when a staff position or program is reduced or eliminate districtwide – affiliated charters are affected. When the district decides to change the calendar and implement “Early Start,” or makes changes to the bell schedule, or the number of instructional days, class size ratios, or changes to the graduation A-G requirements – affiliated charters are affected. So ultimately, it’s a compromise. The District maintains some control, the unions maintain their contracts, and the school site gains some autonomy without going full-out independent charter.

There is money involved, surely, particularly important for schools that have fallen just below the now higher Title 1 (poverty level) school threshold. In fact, the majority of the schools that have converted one by one (or seven by sixteen) to affiliated charter, are schools that have lost their Title 1 status, meaning they have lost their additional federal funding. The loss in federal funds, in additional to the continued onslaught of yearly state and district budget cuts, has been devastating.

For an elementary school in LAUSD, already 48th in the country in per-pupil spending, the Title 1 funding loss can amount to $80-150,000 annually from a school’s operating budget. For a secondary school such as the highly-lauded LACES, the loss from their budget this year was $460,000. For Millikan Middle School, the loss was about $600,000. You can see the kind of fiscal pressure a school is under, and why that charter block grant, not to mention the thought of gaining some autonomy, starts to look not only attractive, but necessary for survival.

Read some commentary on it from School Board member Tamar Galatzan HERE. And KPCC takes a look at the issues HERE.

But what does this mean in terms of trends where predominantly high-performing motivated middle class schools capable of self-governance are converting to charter 25 – 30 at a time? What does it mean for the rest of the district’s schools, where high staff turnover, low parent participation, and unmotivated communities do not, or can not, advocate for their schools?

In California we have more students enrolled in charter schools than anywhere else in the nation. Ten years from now, will the majority of our schools be charters? Will the District be bankrupt? Will we (the people, the policy-makers) make public education a priority, an undeniable human right, a necessary investment in our collective futures, or will it become an obsolete novelty gone the way of social security and pension plans?

In updating my color-coded Valley Elementary school map with all the recent charter conversions, there is a clear green line. The charter line. Schools south of the Ventura Freeway in the foothills, in North Hills, and Granada Hills, see the most conversions. Make no mistake, they’re also the areas with the highest property values.

GoMamaGuide’s Valley Elementary Schools Map.

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Want to use this article? You can as long as long as you include this complete blurb with it:
 
Tanya Anton is the creator of GoMamaGuide.com helping parents demystify and navigate their public school options in Los Angeles. To read more articles by Tanya or to learn about her Guidebooks, House Chats, Consultations, and Seminars, visit GoMamaGuide.com or email us at GoMama@mac.com.
© 2012 by Tanya Anton, GoMamaGuide.com All Rights Reserved. 

Dual Language Immersion Programs: Another Option

by Tanya Anton | GoMamaGuide.com
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So you’re looking for a Kindergarten and you’re beginning to buckle by the weight of so many choices…your neighborhood school, that other neighborhood school, magnets, charters, permits, oh my!
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Well, here’s another option to consider. Language immersion.
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Dual-Language immersion programs are not new, but they’ve been steadily growing in popularity as an alternative path that gives the gift of bilingualism, multiculturalism and a more robust world view.
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It’s no secret we’re a global melting pot here in Los Angeles. We represent many cultures and speak many languages. In LAUSD in 2010-11 almost 30% of our incoming Kindergarteners were English Learners.
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Dual Language immersion programs offers non-English speakers the opportunity to learn in their own language as well as English, while teaching English students to learn and integrate another language, building a bridge to both languages and cultures. Unlike taking a language class as an elective, these programs teach core subjects in both languages so the level of language acquisition and comprehension is much deeper. The goal is for students to master grade level content while learning to speak, understand, read and write in both English and the target language.
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Some programs offer a total immersion in one language for the first year, and then a gradual movement toward the other language in subsequent years until the two are balanced. This is called the 90-10 model. Some programs teach half the core subjects in English, and the other half in the other language, the 50-50 model. In either model, students are grouped to represent both native languages equally, and they both learn from each other. Because the program is so specialized, it deserves a full six-year (K-5) commitment in order to gain the maximum benefit of proficiency, and students will exit elementary school proficient in both languages.
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While it might take longer initially to master core subjects while learning in two languages, students will not only catch up over time, but research shows that those who achieve advanced levels of proficiency in two languages often experience cognitive and linguistic advantages when compared to monolingual students. Bilingual students perform better on tasks that require divergent thinking, pattern recognition and problem solving, and have higher levels of metalinguistic awareness. Plus, it’s just cool. It’s forward thinking in a We are the World, We are the Children kind of way.
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On the Westside of Los Angeles, families have several Dual Language elementary school options: Edison in SMMUSD (Spanish), El Marino (Spanish and Japanese) and La Ballona (Spanish) in CCUSD, Grandview (Spanish) and Broadway (Mandarin) in LAUSD, and Goethe International Charter (German).
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In SMMUSD, John Adams Middle School and Santa Monica High School offers a continuation of the Spanish Dual Language program for students who started at Edison.

In LAUSD, Mark Twain Middle School offers a continuation of the Dual Language program in Spanish, has a Spanish, French, Korean, Japanese World Languages Magnet program, and will be the future home for matriculating Broadway Mandarin Academy students. Venice High School offers a World Languages and Global Studies Magnet program, offering French, German, Italian, Japanese, Mandarin and Spanish, as well as International Relations and Global Studies.

Tour, ask questions, and investigate your options.
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Read more:
NYTimes “The Benefits of Bilingualism” Op-Ed, here.
LAUSD Dual Language Program info, here.
The full LAUSD Dual Language Directory, here.

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Want to use this article? You can as long as long as you include this complete blurb with it:
 
Tanya Anton is the creator of GoMamaGuide.com helping parents demystify and navigate their public school options in Los Angeles. To read more articles by Tanya or to learn about her Guidebooks, House Chats, Consultations, and Seminars, visit GoMamaGuide.com or email us at GoMama@mac.com.
© 2012 by Tanya Anton, GoMamaGuide.com All Rights Reserved. 

Budget Cut Season Again…Are We Outraged or Immune?

by Tanya Anton | GoMamaGuide.com

Full disclosure: I struggled to write an article for this month’s newsletter because despite the difficulties inherent in public schools, I like to think anyway, that I inspire parents to be part of the solution.

But when I looked at the latest edu-news feeds, I’ve got to be honest with you, even I found it hard to stay upbeat. Or write anything. And deeply question what I’m doing going out there talking up the public school options. (Not one but three teachers fired this week for sexual misconduct, more ongoing budget woes, another shortened school year, more layoffs, class size increases, and more taxes on the horizon.) Please. Where’s the good news for chrissakes!

Regardless of what you believe about magnets or charters or neighborhood schools, they’re all facing difficulties in this financial-politico landscape. (Is that a word?) Our schools have sustained an onslaught of consecutive cuts for the past 5-6 years. Now we’re at risk for another round of cuts.

But just as I was sinking lower into despondency, it occurred to me, hey, it’s February. We’ve seen this cycle before:

The District presents the worst-case scenario, blames the State, urges us to write the Governor and our members of Congress.

Then the union blasts back with outrage, proposes a rally and/or walk-out, accuses the District of mishandling funds and urges parents to write/call/fax the Superintendent and our school board members.

The Congress is in a budgetary stalemate between the Democrats wanting to increase taxes and the Republicans wanting to cut spending.

We the parents, after writing the Governor, our Congress members, the Superintendent, and our School Board (or some electronic version thereof) and driving across town in rush hour traffic to attend some “very important” meeting about “school reform” only to find no meaningful answers whatsoever, watch our principal break down in front of us at the thought of more devastating cuts, so we scurry to make lemonade out of lemons and we do the best we can.

Didn’t we go through this last year? And the year before? And the year before that? Did any of those letters, or phone calls, or meetings, or lobbying trips up to Sacramento have any impact?

Excuse me if I sound less than outraged and more like meh. Tired of it.

Our kids are already in the system. This year. Not beginning next year, or the year after, or next decade when things could turn around. We have to make the most of it.

Strapping on our hard hats we pack their lunches and their backpacks, oversee homework, get them out the door every day and deposit them at school hoping for the best. Hoping the sky won’t fall in on them, at least not this year.

Journeying down this path is like living with an alcoholic who inevitably comes home from a bender, broke, raging at the top of his lungs, waking up the kids, slinging punches having spent all the rent and grocery money. It’s total dysfunction. Why do we continually put up with this?

When will we say, “enough!”

So for those who don’t know, the District scenario goes like this:

With one hand they present the worst-case scenario – no, not the magnets, not the arts, not 50 kids in a classroom! – get everybody all up in arms, then with the other hand slip in some slimy compromise that by comparison somehow seems more palatable, like some shady wheeler-dealer with a thick accent, “For you my friend, I give good price.”

Oh look, a parcel tax.

More furlough days.

Less instructional days. 

Excuse me if I sound cynical, it’s just that I’ve been a few rounds on this carousel. I’m not a psychic but I’m going to go out on a limb here and predict the May outcome in advance:

Threatened:  Class size increase 30:1 in K-3, +3 in 4th and 5th (currently 24:1 K-3, 32-36:1 4-5th)
Actual:  26:1 in K-3, +1 in 4th-5th

Threatened: 5400 Certificated/2600 Classified RIFs
Actual: 1800 total RIFs

Threatened: all transpo buses including magnets and special needs in 2013
Actual: bus routes consolidated, must live minimum 6 miles from school campus (currently 3 mi)

Threatened: 100% of Elementary Arts Funding
Actual: 50% of Elementary Arts Funding – resulting in shorter arts cycles

Threatened: LA parcel tax
Actual: Parcel tax will fail. More cuts will be inevitable. 

The bigger question is how do we stop this insanity. Where does it end??!! These are OUR schools, OUR children, OUR future. They deserve better and we must demand it from all parties.

As I sit and write this on Superbowl Sunday, where millions are being spent on advertising moments, and millions are watching the game with their snacks and beer, it occurs to me that we  – as a city, state, nation – are not broke. We just spend our dollars on other priorities. So when is the priority going to be our collective children? And more importantly, what are we going to do about it!

I know things have to fall apart before they can be rebuilt. I know you get what you focus on, so if all we focus on is the doom and gloom, then surprise, we get doom and gloom and feel powerless to come up with creative solutions. I also know that as long as we give our power away to those in charge, they will continue to take advantage and be self-serving.

I also know that within each one of us, no matter what our age or socio-economic status, lives a spark of something unique and powerful. We each come here with our little (or not so little) light, with our unique gifts to bear. And as we gather together, united, we are mighty, full of potential, and yes, unstoppable.

I can’t help but believe that in the big picture, the old byzantine structures are crumbling in order to make way for something new to rise up through the ashes. And although I can’t quite see it, and it’s challenging from this vantage point, I know in my bones that it’s coming.

Parents, keep your kids close. Gather ’round your classrooms, your schools, your communities and together we will weather this storm. This is the time for critical thinking and creative problem-solving. It’s the time for teamwork and collaboration…the very same attributes many schools aspire to cultivate in their mission statements.

Now is the time to put those attributes to use.


Want to use this article? You can as long as long as you include this complete blurb with it:
Tanya Anton is the creator of GoMamaGuide.com helping parents demystify and navigate their public school options in Los Angeles. To read more articles by Tanya or to learn about her Guidebooks, House Chats, Consultations, and Seminars, visit GoMamaGuide.com or email us at GoMama@mac.com.
© 2012 by Tanya Anton, GoMamaGuide.com All Rights Reserved.