Now leasing: your neighborhood school

Come this fall the staff and students at Logan Street Elementary School in Echo Park will be sharing the campus with a new tenant: Gabriella Charter School. Not everyone is happy about this arrangement but it’s not like they have a choice. The Los Angeles school district is struggling like many real estate developers to fill vacant space after a building boom left the market glutted – in this case with classrooms. At Logan, at least a dozen classrooms sit empty after enrollment plunged by more than half in recent years to about 550 students, partly because of gentrification and partly because students who were once bused in now attend newly built schools.

Charter schools have dibs on empty space at many public schools. Some Echo Park residents and parents worry that some other shrinking neighborhood schools – such as Elysian Heights and Clifford elementary –will also have to share space or be taken over by a charter. That’s upset parents who prefer smaller schools and who worry whether neighborhood kids will be able to attend or take advantage of the charter school programs.

The notion that the district is leasing out existing classrooms also angers residents (and I fall into this camp) who opposed the demolition of nearly two blocks of Echo Park to build a new 800-seat elementary school. It didn’t help matters when the school board approved the Logan-Gabriella deal without holding community meetings, leaving many people in the dark.

“I wouldn’t want the charter school to suck up Logan elementary school,” said one Echo Park woman whose son attends the school. “I could easily see it happening.”

The principals at both Logan and Gabriella insist that won’t happen. “There is no truth to the rumor that the school will be closed down,” said Diane Ramirez, who has been principal at Logan for about 4-1/2 years. “That will not happen.”

Gabriella, a unique dance-themed school with about 150 students in grades k through 5, is eager to expand from its cramped quarters near Westlake. It will initially occupy 13 Logan classrooms and wants to eventually offer classes through grade 8. Gabriella instructors have already taught ballroom dancing classes for Logan students and promise more joint programs between the schools. Gabriella Principal Susan Gurman said she can understand why some Logan parents are not looking forward to sharing the campus.

“They feel like their space is being invaded,” Gurman said. “But we are not coming as an unfriendly partner.”

Ramirez, the Logan principal, said looks forward to working with Gurman and perhaps raising her school’s performance in the process. “I couldn’t think of a better school to partner with.”

Still, if Ramirez had her way, she wouldn’t share the approximately 80-year-old school. “It means more kids on campus,” she said. But, “there is absolutely no way of getting around this.”

School district officials will speak about the Logan-Gabriella combination today at 6:30 p.m. at the Greater Echo Park Elysian Neighborhood Council and on Thursday at 6 p.m. in the auditorium of Logan Street Elementary.

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