Strong Showing in State Review : Venice High Uses Scores in Fight to Change Image

Times Staff Writer

Venice High School found a new weapon in its fight to change its image as a second-rate educational institution when it was listed among the top six high schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District in recent state performance evaluations.

Venice High, which scored 908 on last year's Scholastic Aptitude Test, was one of only six of the district's 49 high schools that scored at or above the national average of 897. The others were El Camino in Woodland Hills, University High in West Los Angles, Taft in Woodland Hills, Palisades and North Hollywood.

Venice also ranked in the 97th percentile of schools with students of similar socioeconomic backgrounds offering advanced-placement courses.

The news came as no surprise to Sheila Hirshberg, the principal at Venice.

"We're kind of a sleeper," Hirshberg said. "Most people don't expect that of us. It's because of the name. Most people don't think we have such high scores. They hear Venice and they think of beach community and surfing, that kind of image."

The state Department of Education released the figures to show how schools compare to each other and to chart their progress.

"We place a high priority on academics here," Hirshberg said. "Some parents have the wrong perception of our school, but we have been working hard to convince them that that image is not a true one."

An example of the high school's image problem became apparent last year when district officials said students were attempting to leave Venice High, crossing boundaries to attend what they believed were better schools. "When we get an opportunity to talk to the parents, we don't have any problem convincing them that we can compete with any school," she said.

Most of the 2,400 students attending the high school come from the Venice area, Hirshberg said. "We are a naturally integrated school. We don't have bus loads of children coming here. All our children have grown up together." The Venice student population is 38.8% Latino, 38.2% Anglo, 12% Asian and 10.7% black.

The school takes pride in its advanced placement program that offers honors students courses designed to equal a freshman-level college class. Advanced courses include Spanish, calculus, physics, chemistry, biology and American history.

Last year, 83% of the more than 570 graduating seniors went on to institutions of higher learning. Thirty-four percent of the seniors attended four-year colleges.

Shirley Hall, the head counselor, said that Venice students attend some of the top universities in the country. There were six National Merit scholarship finalists, and 52 graduating seniors received presidential awards for academic fitness.

Despite the success in their recent evaluation, Hirshberg said there are still areas for improvement.

"We have to do more work on our reading and math scores," Hirshberg said. "This February we are starting a schoolwide reading program. We hope to improve our math scores through work in the computer lab and by offering tutorial classes."

Venice has its problems too. "I don't think it would be right to say we didn't," she said. "We are like all schools." One area they have targeted for improvement is absenteeism, she said.

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