Can Silver Lake parents convince skeptics to give the neighborhood school a second look?

By Becky Koppenhaver

If you are a Silver Lake parent who lives near Micheltorena Elementary School but are planning to send your child to a charter, magnet or private school, a group of Micheltorena parents want to change your mind.

Rebecca Feldman, whose daughter will attend Micheltorena next year, says the essential message is this: take another look and see what the small neighborhood school off Sunset Boulevard has to offer. Feldman says all the components of what make up a good school are to be found at Micheltorena, contrary to popular belief among parents in the neighborhood.  She thinks the schools reputation hasn’t caught up to the reality of what it actually is today. “The school is a perfectly functioning little school, where children are enjoying learning, parents are involved, and the staff is happy and have been there for years,” says Feldman.

She says most Silver Lake area parents don’t realize the many things the school has to offer – including a new library, two science labs, a Mac-based computer lab and learning garden as well as  several after-school classes, including a chess club, a ceramics class, and a “Crazy Cooking,” class. Also in the works is a partnership with the Silver Lake-based  Blue Palm Arts Education to design a comprehensive arts program for the school.

Rebecca Crane, who heads the PTA and the “Friends of Micheltorena,” says that parents who research Micheltorena online are undoubtedly turned off by the school’s API score of 693. The low API score is deceiving, Crane said, and is a result of the fact that 25% of the pupils are special needs students whose test scores are included in the API as a whole. When those scores are separated from the remaining 75% of the school, the API is raised to 844.

Both Feldman and Crane believe that Principal Susanna Furfari should be credited with making the school what it is today.  Crane says that Principal Furfari has been open to new ideas and accessible to everyone.

“She is respectful and supportive of teachers and has taken a strong interest in professional development along with an interest in new, intergraded methods of teaching,”  Crane said. Feldman added: “Principals like Furfari should be encouraged and celebrated by all schools as they struggle though tough times.”

Yes, the school is still subject to the uncertainties of brutal budget cuts and layoffs by the Los Angeles Unified School District, acknowledges Feldman. But she and other Micheltorena parents are part of a quickly growing group of parents troubled by what they see as the desertion of public schools by middle class parents who have the very resources that schools need now more than ever.

Calling on parents to reconsider public schools, Micheltorena parent Catherine Borek has written an article – titled  “The Public School Option. A Case for Micheltorena School” – that will soon appear in the Los Feliz Ledger. She hosted a gathering at her home last month in hopes of attracting new parents – particularly the resource-rich, gentrified population of Silver Lake -to Micheltorena in the future. She says that about 30 parents showed up, some who were committed to Micheltorena and others who were skeptical but still interested.

Crane was at the gathering to share her three years of experience as a parent of two Micheltorena students. “My children have never had a bad day at Micheltorena,” said Crane, “thanks to the warm, caring atmosphere on campus and a much-loved teaching staff. The teachers care for the students as young people, not just as students, everyone knows everyone’s name and they look out for each other.”

Another major point to all of this is to mend the disconnect that many kids feel in their neighborhoods,  Borek said.

“Parents feel obligated to ship their kids out to various charters, magnets, and private schools, and then kids come home to neighbors they don’t know. We want our kids to be well educated, no doubt, but we also want them to know the kid next door, to feel connected to their surroundings, and to have the creative adventures that come from this.”

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  1. My daughter is a 5th grader at Micheltorena. I will not lie, there has been a few bumps in the road (like a very nice but effective principal for the first two years, a new assistance principal each year) but overall, we have been very pleased with our experience at the school.

    During these past 6 years, I have met many parents whose children should have gone to Micheltorena but who decided to send their kids to other schools (usually by lying about were they live). Many of these parent admitted to feeling uncomfortable about their child “being the only white kid” on campus or that the majority of the involved parents who attend the school based meeting do not speak English. (Note- as a white lady who speaks only English, I will admit, being in a group of parents who I am unable to speak with can be very lonely. But I have found that if there is a will to communicate, you will find a way) I have never tried to convince these parents to send their kids to Micheltorena; I figure if they are not comfortable, this is not the school for them.

    Speaking of parents, I have found great inspiration form many of the current Micheltorena parents. So many are living pay-check to pay-check working harder then most folks I know and still find a way to go to school performances, parents who apply for scholarships to the Silver Lake Music School so their young cello players can improver their skills or work over time to afford the drill team outfits so their child can participate. And the students- they are AMAZING! These are the funniest, most helpful, hardest working and responsible kids you could every hope to meet.

    Yes, it would be nice if all neighboring families sent their kids to Micheltorena. But we are a great school with or with out them.

    Michelotena Mom
    Founder and co-chair Friends of Micheltorena.

  2. Kudos to the parents spearheading this support for a local public school!! You are a boon to the area as well as to public education!! I truly hope you succeed in your efforts. I was particularly happy that your school was able to open a Wonder of Reading library because of your hard work! I’m a retired teacher librarian and feel libraries are being discarded by the present lausd board.
    Thanks again!!

  3. Next year our child will be starting at a nearby public school. We notice the flight toward various popular charters and alternative schools among parents we know. And, like Doreet, we don’t push too hard for them to attend along with us, even though our school and community would benefit from the resources and energy available. We don’t push because we feel that unless a family is committed to the betterment of the entire community then they will just be disappointed and resentful of some of the negative aspects of LAUSD schools. Until we citizens view this as a social justice issue and make the effort to work hard for change and improvement in public education for ALL children, then the whole system will eventually be privatized and further segregated between the privileged and the disenfranchised. Sounds like Micheltorena is stepping up their game!

  4. I second Joan. I think as a parent who also is involved with my neighborhood school, it’s always encouraging to hear stories of parents who are committed to their local school. Change isn’t going to come from the top down. LAUSD parents from schools all over the city are starting to connect, communicate and mobilize. In order to stop the privatization of public education by professional charters and “reformers,” we need to support our neighborhood schools.

  5. “Parents feel obligated to ship their kids out to various charters, magnets, and private schools, and then kids come home to neighbors they don’t know.”

    I don’t know about this. I attended private school for 12 years and I knew and played with every kid in my neighborhood. But then that was back in the days when kids just yelled, “I’m going out to play,” and enjoyed the parental response, “just be back for dinner.”

  6. Great work Doreet! There seems to be a lot of activity (parent and community driven especially) at that school…..all the work with the new garden (replacing a blacktop parking lot) installed, maintained & producing now!…. and a great proposal with Safe Routes to School come to mind of late. Maybe this is the start of something at this school – a critical mass of postive inertia beginning! Silver Lake has Ivahhoe which is great and Franklin (next door in Los Feliz) is clsoing the gap….now is Micheltorena joining this laudable trend? The more activity (demands/requests/presence) from parents and the community the more likely LAUSD will send more resources to Micheltorena creating a virtuous cycle. How great would it be if, like in so many other aspects, Silver Lake became a trend setter/exemplar for its great public schools as well! Thanks Doreet!

  7. SL-er- thanks for the kind words. Rebecca Crane (who is AMAZING) was the spearhead of the Safe Routes and member of the community made the garden happen.

    Although I do thank the LAUSD for many things (like giving us a GREAT principal after we let them know the one we had was not getting the job done) they have done for Micheltorena, it was not until we went outside the district for resources that we were able to get the cool stuff (jungle gym and library) and programs (Comic Book Club, Chess Club) we have now. We started Friends of Micheltorena (via Community Partners http://www.communitypartners.org) so we could get funds from foundations, developers, city council members and norm folks.

    Micheltorena is a great school, with great teachers, staff, students and parents.

  8. Maybe parents don’t want their kids to attend a school that has homeless squatting in a tunnel right in front of it.

  9. @libertad…And maybe some parents do want their kids to see and understand that not everyone wears Nikes and has a nice place to live. Some of those kids might grow up to help alleviate pain, eliminate poverty, remedy mental illness, or comfort the afflicted….maybe!

  10. Echo Park Dad and Libertad- a great number of the parents are already working to alleviate homelessness, poverty and illness. I know of at least one doctor, a dozen nurses and a social worker who are parents at the school.

    EPD- I hope your experience with your local school goes as well as ours has. I would advise you get on the SSC or the CEAC get elected as the rep and go to the lager Local District 4 meetings- it is a great way to meet other involved LAUSD parents and staff from the local district. If it was not for me having the ear of the local district staff, we would not have gotten rid of our not so good principal and gotten the GREAT principal we have now.

    What so more tips or advise? Email me: dorit@earthlink.net

  11. @echoparkdad-

    I think any kid living on the Eastside is going to see street living and people living in poverty. Obversely, there are many kids who grow up on Park Avenue who have a great social conscience – Anderson Cooper comes to mind. The thrust of this blog post was that Micheltorena School has difficulty getting local parents to consider sending their kids to this school. A homeless camp in a tunnel RIGHT IN FRONT of the school is not going to help their enrollment. Frankly, I am mystified why the PTA or “Friends of Micheltorena” don’t do something about it. It’s not just curb appeal, but issues of safety, health & hygiene.

  12. You need be mystified no longer, because the PTA president is working on getting the tunnel removed or covered. Local police officials would like it closed off as well.

  13. Windy O'Malley

    Concerned parents! I applaud this group and hope we can all work together for all the children in our real public schools.

    This Tuesday the LAUSD is voting to get rid of the Parent Advisory vote. It is
    the only way parents have a voice in the “choice” process. The meeting is
    Tuesday at 1PM when most parents can not be there. Sign the petition so they
    know that we parents do deserve our voice.

    PLEASE sign and PASS IT ON TO EVERYONE in LAUSD. We have less than two days.

    The Parent Advisory Vote is the only voice we have in the CHOICE process.
    How can we have a “CHOICE” without a VOICE.


  14. windy O'Malley

    Will there be a kinder fair or tour to see Micheltorena and meet the teachers?

  15. On Tuesday, May 24th, there will be an Open House from 5:00 to 6:30pm. You can come tour the school, talk to teachers, meet students, and see what a promising place this is… and one that will only get better with the strength of the neighborhood behind it.

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