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By Becky Koppenhaver
Mayberry Elementary School in Silver Lake will say goodbye to another teacher this week if the school cannot enroll six more students by Wednesday.
The much loved, sixth-grade teacher, Art Avina, who has taught at the school for 10 years, will be given the pink slip even though his class is already in full swing. His departure will immediately force another class to combine grades and students to move to other classes.
Mayberry Principal Rosa Eshaq says that it is unusual to have to lay off a teacher once school has already started. “It’s a matter of numbers, and this year the district’s projections for student attendance were off,” Eshaq said. “The projection is what determines how many teachers the school will employ. The district projected a certain amount of kids and they didn’t show up this fall.”
“It’s hard,” Eshaq said. “Mr. Avina is loved by students and the staff, but he has the least seniority.”
Mayberry was notified last June that they would be losing two teachers due to continued declining student enrollment. Avina will be the third.
Many Mayberry parents, like Paula Barragan Ortega, blame the opening of the new Sandra Cisneros Elementary charter school, less than a mile away in Echo Park, for the drop in enrollment. She says the new school has actively recruited students from Mayberry and other neighborhood schools by canvassing residents with flyers and calling parents of Clifford Street, Logan and Elysian Heights elementary students, urging them to enroll their children at the new campus that opened this year.
Ortega says the loss of Avina will cause a major disruption and lower moral among staff and students. In addition, many parents, including herself, said they feel betrayed and misled by the district, which assured them at several meetings last year that Sandra Cisneros Elementary, which is run by the Camino Nuevo Charter Academy, would not take away students from Mayberry. The school has lost over 60 students in the last three years and is down to a student population of 336.
“We attended many community town hall meetings where LAUSD reps were always available. We raised our concerns and time and time again we were told, promised, and re-assured that our schools would not be impacted and our enrollment would not be affected,” said Ortega. “As of June 2011, before the school year came to an end, we were told that the projection indicated that we would lose two of our beloved teachers. Of course the projections took into account the new school.”
Ortega is part of a group of parents and staff that early on advocated for a middle school at the Echo Park location instead of an elementary school, which would siphon off students from schools already suffering from declining enrollments.
Eshaq says that the loss of enrollment is not only because of the nearby new school. “We’ve had declining enrollment for various reasons. Kids sometimes move or they transfer to charters or magnets our of the area,” Eshaq said.
Ortega and other parents have written letters to L.A. Unified Superintendent John Deasy asking him to make an exception for Mayberry. She says she received a sympathetic but uncompromising email from Principal Director Lourder Ortiz stating that times were too tough to allow any exceptions.
Meanwhile, Eshaq’s job at Mayberry is to reorganize her classrooms and try to cause as little disruption as possible. In this case, she will be forced to create three mixed grade classrooms and reassign a third/fourth grade teacher to Avina’s class.
“It’s traumatic to have Mr. Avina leave, he loves teaching here and we love him, but there are schools out there that are hiring and need good teachers. He will be okay.”
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