Group Calls for Pilot School System on the Eastside | Eastern Group Publications

The Torres high school in unincorporated East Los Angeles is scheduled to open in September 2010. Some Eastside residents want it to be modeled after the Belmont Zone of Choice, Lizette Patron of InnerCity Struggle told EGP.

The group, in addition to InnerCity Struggle, included La Causa Youth Build, SEIU 99, Volunteers of East LA (VELA), and Father Rigoberto Rodriguez of Guadalupe Church. They say they want both Torres and Garfield high school campuses to become "East Los Angeles Education Empowerment Zones of Choice," thereby allowing students and their parents to choose the school that better suits their aspirations, rather than district imposed attendance areas.

"This zone will give parents and students the choice to decide what school they would like to attend in East LA," Maria Brenes, executive director of InnerCity Struggle, said. "This zone will give all students access to the classes they need to go to college. This zone will give parents, students and teachers a stronger voice in our schools."

The Belmont Zone of Choice schools are proof that pilot schools work to improve academic achievement and they want the same for East LA, said Brenes.

Belmont Zone of Choice Schools are theme based college prep schools based on the Boston Pilot School Network. Some of the Belmont Zone of Choice Schools are: the Los Angeles High School of the Arts (LAHSA) on the Belmont campus, the Civitas School of Leadership (Civitas Sol) on the Roybal Learning Complex campus, the Academic Leadership Community High School (ALC) on the Miguel Contreras Learning Complex campus, and the Los Angeles Teacher Preparatory High School (LATP) on the Belmont campus.

Those present called for collaboration between LAUSD and the teachers' union to make sure East LA gets pilot schools.

"We want to start a new tradition at Esteban E. Torres High School of academic excellence," Brenes said.

A retired congressman and Garfield High School alum, Torres told the audience he supports the pilot system being implemented at the school named after him, and encouraged the crowd to continue fighting for change.

"This empowerment zone is key to bringing about a pilot school here and at other places still organizing themselves," Torres said in Spanish. "But you, as parents, as teachers, and as students need to work together, unite to bring about this vision, because the programming and planning for this school is in your hands."

In an editorial, published on Nov. 5 in EGP newspapers, Torres said he supports Empowerment Zones at eastside schools, because he remembers when California was known for having one of the best educational systems in the country. Today, they rank 50th. Making matters worse, in East LA only 45 percent of incoming freshmen graduate within four years, he said.

LAUSD School Board Vice President Yolie Flores Aguilar, who authored the Small School Resolution, also supports the effort.

"It [the educational model] should be what the community asks for and it should be what's in the best interest of the students. If a pilot presents to this community the best educational model than that's what they should have. But if a charter school presents to the parents and to the students what they believe will help them achieve and excel and go on to college and have a great career, than that should be the option. This is about creating more choices and more options for parents and not limiting for them what's available to their children. Every parent wants the absolute best for their child so lets open up the world of possibilities, demand excellence, and have the community's voice be part of the process," Flores Aguilar told EGP.

She noted that just like LAUSD has failing and good schools, there are also charters that have failing and excelling schools.

"My hope is that we look past what the institution is and to what is going to be offered to students. To me, that's the most important thing," she said.

Alejandra Muñoz, who has a student at Griffith Middle School, said everyone should support the pilot schools.

"Our community dreams of having a new educational system that guarantees our children will graduate prepared for college and good jobs.

An Educational Empowerment Zone for East Los Angeles offers new hope for the future of our children and our community, said Muñoz.

Muñoz said this is the first time parents and students are being given an opportunity to choose the school of their dreams.

The plan calls for five schools, each with less than 500 students, located on the Torres high school campus, as well as a series of small learning communities at Garfield.

María León, a local mother, said the pilot schools will help prepare students to go to college.

"[We have to] work with the school district to move ahead. We already see that traditional schools aren't working, and we want to work with those schools to improve them, said León.

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