In Partnership with 74

After years of tension, charter school may soon leave LAUSD campus

Will Callan | February 14, 2023

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A photo from Baldwin Hills Elementary School, a painted wall showing the seal for "A California Distinguished School" in 2020 and painted words "Closing the achievement gap"

Baldwin Hills Elementary (Neighbors in Action for Baldwin Hills Elementary School)

Los Angeles Unified’s most publicly contentious co-location may soon be coming to an end.

Brooke Rios, the executive director of the New Los Angeles Elementary, a charter school that has shared a campus with Baldwin Hills Elementary for nearly seven years, said her school is close to securing its own building.

“We’re doing everything in our power to find a solution for this issue and to leave Baldwin Hills,” said Rios.

But even as the fix comes into focus, parents and educators look back on the last seven years with anger and frustration. Their story is an example of how, at least within LAUSD, placing a traditional school and a charter school on the same campus can cramp the learning environment and reinforce factions between traditional public school and charter advocates. The Baldwin Hills arrangement is one of more than 50 co-locations in the district.

In 2016 LAUSD’s charter division placed New Los Angeles Elementary on the campus of Baldwin Hills Elementary. Located in the Baldwin Hills neighborhood, the school of 400 students stands apart as a pilot and community school with a gifted magnet program, and being majority African American. The move was in compliance with a California statute requiring districts to share facilities “fairly” among public and charter students.

In the seven years since, tension between the two schools has never abated, said parents and teachers, throttling learning opportunities for students at both schools.

“I’m not — and I don’t think most people are — against New LA Charter. And I’m not against charter schools,” said Love Collins-Hayden, whose 3rd grade daughter attends Baldwin Hills. “What is unjust is under-serving any child in education.”

Parents and educators from both schools said that’s exactly what’s happening.

Baldwin Hills has lost dedicated STEAM classrooms and counseling space, and must sometimes hold orchestra classes on the playground. New LA crams academic interventions, special education services, and the faculty lounge into a single room. Both schools use the same cafeteria, leading to a “nightmare” of “nonstop work” for the custodial staff, according to one Baldwin Hills teacher.

Parents and neighborhood activists have implored the district to find a way to house the schools through a solution other than co-location. Now, a proposal is coming from outside.

No lease has been signed, but Rios told LA School Reporr she’s “99% confident” that New LA Elementary will occupy its own space come fall 2023.

The deal is part of a partnership with City Charter Schools, a charter school network whose middle school will be closing at the end of this school year due to “serious enrollment, fiscal, and operational challenges,” according to the partnership’s website. That space, which is part of the Los Angeles Baha’i Center, would be taken over by New LA Elementary, while the City network’s elementary school would join New LA Elementary as a feeder into New LA Middle, which has its own building in Mid-City LA.

Both potential outcomes — the realization of the partnership, or the continuation of the status quo — depend on approval by the LAUSD school board. This spring, the board must vote to approve the partnership. Should the partnership fall through, however unlikely, the board will also have to decide whether the co-location persists.

So far, only a handful of board members have signaled their position.

At a recent virtual meeting organized by the advocacy group Neighbors in Action for Baldwin Hills, or NIA, a representative for board member Rocío Rivas promised to support “this co-location fight” in “whatever way we can.” In an interview, board president Jackie Goldberg explained that Baldwin Hills’ status as a community school, which is supposed to provide services like career guidance and mental health support to local families, makes the co-location especially disruptive.

“My position has been from the beginning that a community school…should have no co-location,” she said. “When we put a co-location of a charter school on any campus…that restricts the ability of the community school to be a real community school.”

George McKenna represents Board District 1, where Baldwin Hills Elementary is located. Local activists say that despite continual petitions, he’s been silent about the debate. He did not respond to requests for comment from LA School Report.

New LA Elementary experienced tremendous growth in its first few years on the Baldwin Hills campus, going from 106 students in 2016-17 to 223 in 2019-20 before dipping slightly during the pandemic, according to state data. Its biggest student draws come from the populations served by Coliseum St. Elementary and Hillcrest Dr. Elementary, just east of the Baldwin Hills neighborhood.

New LA Elementary has “seriously considered” about 14 potential school sites since 2020, only to be outbid or otherwise prevented from proceeding, according to Rios. But she said “there’s no world where I would take one more classroom at Baldwin Hills. That’s absolutely not what we’re interested in doing.”

Members of the Baldwin Hills community have been agitating for the charter school’s removal from practically the moment it entered the building, in 2016. Fifth grade gifted magnet teacher Stacey Joy remembers the co-location as “the biggest major change” the school has undergone since she started teaching there in 1996.

The awkwardness of the forced arrangement is not just physical, said Joy, but also charges interpersonal relations. She greets one of her New LA counterparts at the school gate every morning, but there’s no rapport between the educators.

“Nobody knows anybody, and that is awful,” she said.

NIA has framed the co-location as a racial justice issue in which LAUSD’s only majority-Black pilot school (a status that affords it more control over curriculum and budget) has been forced to lower its standards, limiting academic and social-emotional programs in order to accommodate New LA.

76% of Baldwin Hills Elementary students are African American, compared to about 8% of all LAUSD students, according to state data. Parents, pointing to Baldwin Hills’ “phenomenal” teachers, culturally responsive curriculum, and recognition as a 2020 California Distinguished School, say the school has defied district-wide enrollment trends in spite of the co-location.

Enrollment at the school has stayed relatively steady since the co-location began. After experiencing growth, then a decline during the pandemic, its current enrollment of almost 400 is slightly above what it was in the 2016-17 school year.

A petition to end the co-location has gathered nearly 10,000 signatures.

Collins-Hayden, whose daughter attended a private school before transferring to Baldwin Hills in 2021, has participated in NIA events and spoken before school board committees. She said the struggle to end the co-location is about more than just removing New LA. It’s about protecting Baldwin Hills as a model for success in educating minority children.

“We want to protect the school from co-location in general,” she said. “Yes, we want to immediately have them removed for the coming school year, but we want to know that the district is going to respect our community-school status and keep another charter from moving in.”

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