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Summer Training for Airplane Mechanics Restored After Protest

Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles Unified School District officials, heeding student protests, Tuesday reversed an earlier decision to cancel summer classes at an unusual adult education center for airplane mechanics at Van Nuys Airport.

At the same time, school officials said that they are discussing a joint operating venture with the Los Angeles Community College District that could raise enrollment at the center because college students could participate.

After students at the North Valley Occupational Center’s Aircraft Training Facility learned that summer courses were being canceled because of low enrollment, a student representative spoke against the cuts at the Board of Education meeting Monday. A group of 30 also met with the principal of the occupational center.

“Without the summer school, our training will be interrupted and will make it harder for us to pass the tests,” said student Sarah Matthews, 34. “We have to remember a tremendous amount of detail--know every bolt and every safety feature. You just can’t pick up where you left off after three months.”

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About 60 students who intended to continue classes would have been hurt by the summer closing.

Unique Program

The Aircraft Training Facility is a one-of-a-kind program in the school district. In the two-year program, students receive a certificate that enables them to take Federal Aviation Administration examinations to become licensed aircraft mechanics. Since 1983, when the school began graduating licensed students, everyone that has taken the FAA test has passed, school officials said.

Although enrollment is 116 this school year, or 17 to 20 students a class, attendance last summer dipped to about 10 students a class. Based on a school-district rule that at least 20 students need to be enrolled to justify courses, the occupational center’s principal decided to cancel summer courses.

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“The attendance has not been exceptional,” said Principal Wesley Balbuena. “It was an issue of attendance. Using good judgment, I decided to cancel the classes.”

Students blame the low enrollment on the lack of awareness of the program.

“They say we don’t come to class. We say they aren’t promoting it,” Matthews said.

A group of about 40 students at the center Tuesday said they had discovered the program through word of mouth. One said he was just driving by on Saticoy Street and wondered what was housed in the aluminum frame buildings.

After hearing student complaints about the closing, Gabriel Cortina, assistant superintendent for adult and occupational education, decided to make an allowance for a possibly low summer enrollment and allow the summer courses to continue.

“We will open for the summer, but it is based on a commitment from the principal that we will make a major effort to publicize the program,” Cortina said. He said this summer’s enrollment will affect the future of summer courses.

Students expressed fear that operating in conjunction with the community colleges will mean that they will lose their adult-education course credits if college standards are applied or that they will lose their teachers. They also expressed concern over the ability of high school students to take college courses.

Cortina said all three fears are unfounded.

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“I think they had a right to be fearful, but the fear led to some quick conclusions,” he said. Cortina said that, if such a venture is approved by both education boards, it will not negatively affect students now enrolled.

“In fact, it could mean the best of both worlds,” Cortina said. “Many will find that they will want to go on to the community college and that what they have learned so far will apply.”

He said discussions with community college officials began recently and that he did not know when a recommendation to the school board would be made.


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