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Best of June: Highlights from LA’s graduation and budget season

Laura Greanias | June 29, 2017

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Kia Reid (center) celebrates her high school diploma at the RISE graduation ceremony. (Courtesy: RISE)


June is graduation and budget season. If you were busy preparing for either of those, here’s a quick look at what happened this month, as reflected in some of our top stories.

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A model for change in South Los Angeles: UCLA steps in to rescue a struggling middle school

An imposing middle school in South Los Angeles not far from where the LA riots erupted once bustled with 2,000 students. But only 350 remain as families have fled Horace Mann Middle School for higher-achieving schools. Now, UCLA is stepping in with a unique set of reforms in its first attempt to improve an existing school. “It’s a revival … and, dare I say, even a divine plan,” one teacher told Sarah Favot. Read the inspiring profile.


On the RISE: First graduating class of award-winning high school for foster and homeless youth get their diplomas

Ten students who helped design their own educational program made up the first graduating class of Hawthorne’s Da Vinci RISE High, a pilot created to help foster and homeless youth conclude their high school education. The school won a $10 million grant from the XQ Institute, which encourages its winners to rethink and reimagine high school. Esmeralda Fabián Romero has the story.

LAUSD All-Star Hero: Vicki Nishimura is honored for her work with 50 years of students at Valley elementary school

Vicki Nishimura had long black hair down to her waist in 1968 when she started at Valley View Elementary School. Her hair is shorter now, a bit grayer, but this month she was honored for her 50 years of service to the school in Hollywood. She retired from full-time teaching in 2002 but has volunteered at the school ever since, including teaching photography, writing, and the lost art of cursive handwriting. Mike Szymanski details the celebration for the LAUSD teacher.

Summer survival kit: How to keep kids learning, and where to feed them for free

Parents who model reading at home can help their children from falling into a “summer slide” during the long break. An award-winning East LA teacher laid out a series of tips for parents on how to keep kids learning all summer long. Plus, to keep kids nourished, more than 100 locations throughout Los Angeles including LA Unified schools are serving all youth ages 1 to 18 free meals: breakfast, lunch, and snacks. Esmeralda Fabián Romero brings you both stories, in Spanish too.

Exclusive: How safe are LA’s schools? New interactive map compares what teachers and students are seeing

A new interactive map charts the results of school climate surveys taken by teachers and students at LA schools. The map makes it easy for parents for the first time to compare the climate in their child’s school to other schools in the same neighborhood and across LA. There’s data on 786 schools that includes whether students feel safe, if bullying is a problem and if teachers feel like their disciplinary practices are effective. Plus read an easy step-by-step by Sarah Favot on how to use the map.

East LA shines in new school climate map. Advocates credit intensive community investment but say there’s more to do.

A new interactive map on how safe Los Angeles schools are shows a wide swath of red in predominantly Latino, poor and immigrant neighborhoods, indicating students and teachers report not feeling safe. But one neighborhood with those same demographics stands out for its lack of red. Boyle Heights/East LA is an oasis of green and yellow, meaning that students at most of those schools feel safe or somewhat safe. Esmeralda Fabián Romero unpacks the data.

Where students say school bullying is a problem in LA — elementary schools top the list

While middle school is largely believed to be where bullying occurs most often, the LA Unified schools where the highest majority of students reported that bullying was a problem were elementary schools, according to surveys about safety in schools. Of the 24 schools where the largest percentage of students reported that bullying was a problem at their school, 20 were elementary schools, Sarah Favot found.

Los Angeles DREAMers say new federal statement on DACA only heightens their fears

Although the Trump administration announcement that protections for young “DREAMers” under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program will continue for now, Los Angeles immigrants and their advocates believe the risk of being deported is even greater. From Esmeralda Fabián Romero.

What are the chances of getting into an LAUSD magnet?

As the number of independent charter schools in Los Angeles has grown and students have left the district, one of LA Unified’s key strategies in fighting the enrollment slide has been to promote and build its magnet programs. For this school year, the district received 72,515 applications for 27,570 magnet openings. That means your chance of getting into a magnet program was 1 in 3, reports Sarah Favot.


LAUSD approves $7.5 billion budget under cloud of declining enrollment and future cuts

The school board unenthusiastically approved a $7.5 billion budget for the 2017-18 school year even as some board members expressed frustrations about declining enrollment and future cuts that might come as the board faces budget deficits. Spending has increased from the 2016-17 school year by 6.7 percent, while revenues have declined by 1.1 percent, Sarah Favot reports.

Here are Latino education advocates’ top priorities and how they fared in LAUSD’s budget

After the budget was approved, advocates in Los Angeles for Latino education highlighted their priorities to best support Latino students’ success. Esmeralda Fabián Romero lists some of their top goals and how they fared in the budget.

LAUSD reassigns 943 employees, laying off 114, mostly library aides

In an effort to stave off a pending budget deficit, the LA Unified school board agreed to reassign 943 classified employees, laying off 114 of them. These reduction-in-force notices are in addition to 115 administrative layoffs, reports Mike Szymanski.

Why is LAUSD spending more money this year even though revenues are down?

Even as LA Unified’s enrollment is projected to continue its downward slide next year, which means less money for the district, spending will increase compared to the previous year. Sarah Favot breaks down why spending is growing.

EXCLUSIVE: Successful magnet and affiliated charter schools may suffer in proposed reshuffling of LAUSD’s Title I funds

Less money available means tough decisions. One proposal by school board members is to funnel more of the federal Title I funding to schools with the highest poverty rates. But that could end up hurting some of the district’s most successful schools, including magnets, many in low-income areas, Mike Szymanski found.

LAUSD is about halfway through fixing what an independent panel said could lead to bankruptcy

LA Unified has implemented about half of the strategies stemming from an independent panel’s report on the district’s finances that warned the district to act or face bankruptcy, Sarah Favot writes.

In surprise move, LAUSD board extends superintendent’s contract through 2020; Mónica García objects

In a surprise move during closed session, the school board extended Superintendent Michelle King’s contract through June 30, 2020, even though her contract wasn’t up for renewal until next year. It was seen as a parting gift for board President Steve Zimmer, who was voted out of office in May, Mike Szymanski reported from the board meeting.

LAUSD to charter schools: You’re not allowed in our new unified enrollment system

Charter schools are excluded from Los Angeles’ new unified enrollment system — a simplified way of applying to magnet, pilot, and other special schools in the district. The school board made that much clear when they solidified, via a controversial vote, that they don’t want one of the options for parents to be independent charter schools. At least not for now. Some board members argued that charters should never be included, for the sake of the district. Mike Szymanski has more details about the heated debate.

* This article has been corrected to state that all youth ages 1 to 18 are eligible for the free meals at participating LA Unified schools this summer. 

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