Norwalk Schools to Take New Look at Pupil Shift Plan

Times Staff Writer

Although its overall student population is dropping, the Norwalk-La Mirada Unified School District is faced with a burgeoning number of elementary school children, a problem that it has considered tackling with everything from portable classrooms to reopening a closed campus.

But one of the proposed measures threatens to bring the district toe-to-toe with a group of parents at a predominantly Latino school who say they do not want to see boundary changes that would transfer 425 students to another school.

The school board was to have voted on its plan Monday, but it has delayed a vote indefinitely while it studies alternatives. The 6:30 p.m. meeting will, instead, be used as a study session.

A group of parents from Edmondson Elementary School--which is 89% Latino--say they will be there to forestall any attempt to transfer students to Waite Elementary School, about three-fourths of a mile from Edmondson.

While the school district's enrollment will actually decline in the next five years--from 17,904 this year, not including special education students, to 17,607 in 1990-91--it will gain about 300 students in kindergarten through the seventh grade.

Influx of Young Families

Much of that growth is expected to come from Norwalk, where an influx of young Latino families is causing an increase in elementary-age students.

Besides boundary changes at Edmondson and other schools, the district has considered reopening the closed Walnut Elementary School in Norwalk, installing portable classrooms and moving special education and preschool programs.

The plan that the board was to have voted on Monday would transfer Edmondson Elementary School students who live on Alondra Boulevard and Hayford, Nava and Lowemont streets to Waite Elementary.

One of the parents opposing that plan is Leticia Torres, the mother of three children ages 6 to 10 who attend Edmondson. Torres said she began gathering signatures on petitions last week that will be presented to the board Monday. She said that more than 200 parents who live on the four streets are expected to attend to voice their concerns.

"Many parents don't understand why the district wants to change this. Nobody wants those changes," said Torres, 30, who lives on Hayford Street. "The majority of the parents are happy with the teachers' work at Edmondson, especially the bilingual program."

Torres praises the progress of her daughter's work at the school. "My daughter only spoke in Spanish. Now she knows English and is on the honors list," she said.

Helped by Bilingal Program

Karmela Vasquez, 25, also said that her 10-year-old son has been helped by the bilingual program at the school.

"My son was so confused when he was going to school, he could not speak Spanish or English. Now he's speaking English and he has been getting As and Bs" on his report card, said Vasquez, who has two other children going to Edmondson.

"I'm not happy with the changes. When it's raining or when my kids are sick I can arrive at the school faster," she said, adding that Waite would "be too far for me" since she has no car.

Jesse Luera, the only Latino on the seven-member board, said parents asked him for help since he speaks Spanish, the language most of the parents speak.

At first, he said, he was open to the proposed changes. But after listening to parents' concerns, he said he is opposed to changing the boundaries for Edmondson.

"The concern is very high. Somehow I would like to work it out so we won't have to change boundaries," Luera said.

15 Schools Closed

Dean Waters, director of child welfare and attendance, said that the shifts in student numbers "necessitates a need to reopen an elementary school," and that almost surely means changing boundaries to fill the reopened school. He noted that between 1974 and 1981, 15 schools were closed due to declining enrollment.

Because most of the growth in the next five years is expected at Waite, Dolland and Edmondson elementary schools, he said, one possibility would be to "ripple students into schools that are not overcrowded." But that would cause a "complete disruption of students . . . . That is not sound practice."

Waters said by reopening the Walnut site, which would cost an estimated $400,000, it would "affect the least amount of youngsters."

The schools that will mainly be affected by overcrowding are Edmondson, Dolland, Waite, Nuffer, Johnston, and Moffitt.

Under the plan that the school board was to have voted on Monday, Nuffer, Johnston and Moffitt schools would have received portable classrooms. In addition, some students at Dolland, Nuffer, Johnston, New River, Moffitt, Gardenhill and Hutchinson elementary schools would be reassigned along with Waite and Edmondson students.

In addition to transferring 425 students from the four streets, the school's grade configuration would be changed from kindergarten through the fifth grade to kindergarten through seventh.

Board Will See Plan

Howard Rainey, the district's administrator of business services, said the plan is "beginning to solidify." He said he could not elaborate on it, though, because he has not discussed it with the board.

"There is still a lot of massaging going on," he said in reference to final recommendations.

Rainey said he expects to wrap up discussions and have a final plan in time for it to be implemented next fall.

He said that board members have expressed concerns that any plan adopted should carry the district through the next five years, rather than serving as a stopgap solution that would require additional changes in a year or two.

Board member Lucille Colln, a board member since 1974, said the district has weathered other upheavals brought by changing enrollments.

"We never do anything like this without hearing some complaints," she said. "It's not ever a pleasant thing. Any time you talk about a utilization study, it is always difficult for parents."

Colln said she wants to make sure any final action by the board is not a "Band-Aid" solution but something that is more permanent. She said that she prefers to have portable classrooms installed rather than change boundaries.

"It's always a traumatic situation," she said. But, she added, "My past experience has been that kids adjust very nicely"

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