Three groups with three different ideas on how students should be taught are competing to operate Echo Park’s newest school, known for now as Central Region Elementary School #14. Later this month, the three applicants will make presentations to win the support of parents, students and residents in an advisory vote. The voting results will be taken into account by the school district before selecting a group to run the $68.7 million campus. Some folks have already decided who they want to win. Writer Becky Koppenhaver takes a look at the groups, their proposals and how a pair of parents have responded.
By Becky Koppenhaver
Central Region Elementary School #14, currently being built near Alvarado Street and Sunset Boulevard, will be accepting new students in the fall. Three separate applicants have submitted proposals to operate the Echo Park school, including a charter school and two teams that are affiliated with L.A. Unified School District but plan to run the school independently.
Camino Nuevo Charter Academy, The United Teachers Los Angeles/ Echo Park Community Partners, and Local District 4/ Echo Park Community Partners have all outlined their individual and unique instructional plans in summary proposals submitted to the Los Angeles Unified School District. The three rival applicants are similar in many regards. All will have authority over curriculum, budget, and schedules. But their plans also differ, especially when it comes the population of students they intend to serve and the enrichment programs that will be offered. Here is what each group has in mind:
- Camino Nuevo Charter Academy: Camino Nuevo Charter Academy, which also operates three charter schools in the MacArthur Park area, will emphasize bilingual instruction for its students that will make them literate in both English and Spanish. The goal, according to the school proposal, is to “create“creating bilingual and bi-literate students who value and take pride in their linguistic and cultural heritage and are optimally prepared for the rigors of life in a linguistically diverse world.” Mary Funaoka, Director of Academic Affairs for CNCA says that bilingual instruction is key to the charter’s teaching model. Kindergarten is taught in 80% Spanish. By the fifth grade, students are instructed 50% Spanish, and by sixth grade, instruction is 80% English, and 20% Spanish.
- Local District 4/ Echo Park Community Partners: Local District 4/ Echo Park Community Partners is comprised of several teachers who plan a different type of instructional model for the school that will include a “real-life studies enrichment program,” according to design team member, Shannon Corbett, who is also the Director of Elementary and Middle Schools for the L.A. Unified School District. She says her team’s proposed curriculum for the pilot school will include a focus on what is called “project-based” and “inquiry learning” in addition to a strong academic program. Corbett says that students will have the opportunity to learn in non-traditional ways by working side by side with professionals and organizations like the L.A. Philharmonic, Grand Avenue Partners, The Harmony Project, The Center Theatre Group, Tree People, and Cal Arts. She says all the organizations have made a commitment to working with the school.
- United Teachers Los Angeles/ Echo Park Community Partners: The proposal from United Teachers Los Angeles/ Echo Park Community Partners is similar to that of Local District 4/ Echo Park Community Partners. Both intend to have a substantial arts focus that will include participation from major arts organizations, and both proposals include bilingual education. But unlike the Camino Nuevo Charter Academy, the two other proposals claim to recognize the wider racial diversity of the neighborhood and may include programs in other languages, such as Tagalog. Another difference is that the UTLA team is comprised of unionized teachers; the Local District 4/ EPCC team plan will be made up of of non-union teachers.
As far as who the community would like to see take charge of the school, it all depends on who you ask. Yolanda F., (she preferred not to use her last name) who lives a few blocks away from the school, says that she would like to see the Camino Nuevo Charter Academy take over the new school because she feels her two children, ages six and seven, will learn better in Spanish than in English. She has also heard that Camino Nuevo has a good reputation.
Another nearby resident and parent, Micky Curtis, who hopes to send her daughter to the school in the fall, sees things differently. Curtis says she and many other parents in the neighborhood appreciate the diversity of the community and respect the bilingual goals of Camino Nuevo. But she feel like the charter is not taking into account the changed demographics of Echo Park and the needs of the whole community. “I want my child to be bilingual, but I don’t want her taught in 80% Spanish in kindergarten,” Curtis said. “Plus Camino Nuevo says they won’t offer an optional program for non-Spanish speaking families.”She wants the Local District 4 group to take charge because of their progressive model of instruction.
“To have all of the great outside arts organizations involved, plus a dedicated teaching staff, that sounds like a plan for a great school.”
The public will get a chance to learn more about the three proposals and vote for their preference at three upcoming key meetings later this month.
- El Camino Nuevo Proposal
- Local District 4/Echo Park Community Partners
- United Teachers Los Angeles/ Echo Park Community Partners
Becky Koppenhaver is a freelance writer covering schools. You can send Becky story tips and ideas at becky@theEastsiderLA.com