2 LAUSD schools work together to solve their co-location issues
Vanessa Romo | October 7, 2014
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It’s an old story in LA Unified: Two schools are put together in one campus under the state co-location policy. The merger is always complicated and messier still when it’s a last-minute arranged marriage and neither side is consulted ahead of time about the partnership.
It sometimes explodes into smithereens, as it did last year with Citizens of the World – Mar Vista and Stoner Elementary, forcing CWC to find new quarters.
But here’s a more encouraging ending to another version of the same story, which started last year at Lorena Street Elementary School in Boyle Heights when school leaders were informed they’d have to share classrooms, the cafeteria, playground and parking lot, with Extera 2, a new charter school for neighborhood kids.
Like at Stoner, problems quickly arose between teachers and parents of the two schools over traffic jams at pick-up and drop-off stations, scheduling conflicts for recess and lunchtimes and access to outdoor space.
But at Lorena, the problem-solving was the antithesis of Stoner, where conflict over the same issues devolved into nastiness and physical confrontations as the two groups rarely came together to air grievances, and when they did, the atmosphere was hostile. Resentments ran deep, and efforts by the schools’ leadership to assuage their rancor seemed to be too little too late.
In contrast, Lorena Principal Enrique Soberanes and Extera Chief Executive Officer Jim Kennedy organized an (almost) monthly meeting between staffs, teachers, the regional area director and parents within the first couple months the schools became campus roommates.
“We knew there was tension and they were unhappy about us being there so we wanted to address it right away,” Kennedy told LA School Report. Over the ensuing months the traditional public school and the charter found some middle ground, making several compromises.
This year, the tension is back. Extera has tripled in size, to 180 students from 60, and many of the old concerns have resurfaced. But meetings are back, as well.
The first was held last week, and only the weather in second floor classroom was hot. The tone of the gathering was calm and respectful. Speakers raised their hands for a turn to talk, and issues were aired: Extera parents are walking straight into the school without signing in, whereas, Lorena parents, who are told to follow the rules, are kept out; new parents, unfamiliar with parking rules, are blocking the school bus stop; playground space is tight. And so on.
During the meeting Soberanes and Kennedy said they are confident the conflicts could be resolved easily and with more communication. “We can send home fliers explaining the rules, and you can do the same” Soberanes said, nodding toward Kennedy who nodded back in agreement.
Kennedy said the reason for the rocky start in the relationship was due to timing. The district’s facilities department struggled to find space for the charter within Boyle Heights, and when the decision was made to co-locate at Lorena, the school year was over. The administration and students were on summer break.
“It set up fertile ground for potential misunderstandings for the process,” Kennedy said. “The Lorena community was suspicious of us, suspicious of Prop. 39 and the co-location, and it set up the potential for a lot of resentment.”
Prop 39 is the state measure that created co-locations, allowing charter groups to use under-utilized space in public schools. It has been in effect for 14 years, and neither parents, principals nor the school boards can bars its use when physical space permits.
Making matters more challenging for individual schools, Kennedy said, is the district’s hands-off approach once schools are paired off.
“The district does its part by finding the facilities, and then it’s sort of left up to the two schools to figure it out after that,” he said, pointing out that Extera and Lorena are not the first to work through the growing pains of co-location.
“There isn’t a lot of direct support and also not a lot of learning from experience,” he added. “Everybody has to keep reliving the same problems, and we’re not advancing our understanding about how we can make this better.”
He said he hopes that the school board will take notice and make an effort to help co-located schools learn to navigate the process.
“For as long as we can see into the horizon, unless there’s some significant change, this is an issue that we have, and we might as well figure out how to get better at it,” he said.