New Magnet School Proposed at Hamilton High

Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles school officials on Monday will consider a plan to open a musical academy for 700 students at Hamilton High School and relocate two other magnet school programs to combat white flight and ease the pressure of overcrowding elsewhere in the district.

Schools in the Hamilton High district suffer from low enrollment and efforts to maintain an ethnic balance in the area have met with little success.

Moving two magnets schools--The Open School in the Beverly-Fairfax area and the Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies in the Mid-Wilshire area--to sites near Hamilton, will also allow the district to relieve overcrowding in other schools.

"The idea behind the proposal is to relieve overcrowding and expand the district's voluntary integration program," said Theodore T. Alexander Jr., assistant superintendent of the district's student integration options office.

Under the plan, the district would:

Create a music academy on the campus of Hamilton at 2955 Robertson Blvd. for 700 students. Students from throughout the district would be allowed to audition for a chance to study choral, instrumental and theatrical music and piano. The district plans to spend $118,000 to establish the magnet program.

Vacate the Louis Pasteur Junior High School at 5931 W. 18th St. and bus about 700 of its students to Emerson, Revere, Webster and Palms Junior High schools. Pasteur students will be given special consideration for admission to district magnets.

Move the Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies (CES), a magnet school with grades 4 through 12, from 3330 Pico Blvd. to the vacated Pasteur campus. At Pasteur, CES will expand its enrollment from 1,165 to 1,327. The CES campus on Pico Boulevard will then be used to relieve overcrowding in the Mid-Wilshire area.

Move the Open School from 575 Croft Ave. to the campus of Crescent Heights Elementary School at 1661 Crescent Heights Blvd. The Open School has an enrollment of 240 students. Its move would allow Rosewood Avenue Elementary School, which is also at 575 Croft Ave., to accept an additional 240 students to relieve overcrowding at other schools. It would also allow the Open School to increase enrollment and improve racial balance.

The placement of the three magnet schools in the Hamilton area is key to the proposal.

Magnet schools with specialized curriculums were created by the district to attract students and to promote integration. Admission to the magnets is limited and the district provides transportation.

Alexander said magnets offer a popular option to students with special interests. Last year, the district received 28,000 applications for the 8,000 slots in the district's 84 magnet schools.

Although Hamilton High School is located in the predominantly white community of Beverlywood and includes Cheviot Hills within its boundaries, only about 20% of the school's students are white. The school enrollment of 1,506 is only about 60% of its capacity of 2,562.

School officials said the music academy would improve the school's racial mix.

"Students are calling already," said James Berk, Hamilton's musical director who has already begun preparations for the magnet. "This is the program that will draw the many students (that range) from those with just a tremendous amount of potential to those who are virtuosos. The district wants to go first class, they want a 'Fame' school on the West Coast."

School board member Alan Gershman, whose district includes the Hamilton area, said the magnet "will be a tremendous asset to our district. We have finally hit on something that will have a tremendous response.,"

The district may not find the same support for its plan to place magnets at the Pasteur and Crescent Heights schools. Parents from the Open School and Pasteur plan to protest the proposal at the board's public hearing Monday.

"We are losing our community school," said Millie Reed, who has a 16-year-old daughter at Pasteur. "If we had wanted our children to be bused we would have done that. This is an unfair plan. This is my community. If they want to turn the school into a magnet that is fine, but our kids should not be booted out."

However, school officials see little alternative to vacating Pasteur for the Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies.

Members of minority groups make up 90% of Pasteur enrollment and only 900 students attend the school, which can accommodate up to 1100. CES, on the other hand, is a popular magnet that could expand by 200 students if it had the space. "The best way to use that property is to relieve overcrowding," school board President Rita Walters said. "It is difficult to tell people that their neighborhood school is no longer going to be there. The point is that enrollment is very, very low (at Pasteur) and we . . . have this knotty problem of trying to house children."

The proposal to move the Open School to the Crescent Heights campus is caught in its own tug-of-war. The plan is opposed by the parents of the Open School but is supported by the parents of Crescent Heights and Canfield elementary schools.

Canfield was combined with Crescent Heights years ago as part of a unique integration program. The Canfield campus, with students from kindergarten through third grade, is located in the predominantly white community of Beverlywood. The Crescent Heights campus, where the students continue from fourth through sixth grades, is located less than a mile away in a predominantly middle-class black community.

In recent years, the program's success has suffered because white families have been withdrawing their children before they make the switch to the Crescent Heights campus.

Alexander said that placing the Open School magnet, with its 44% white enrollment, on the Crescent Heights site, might make whites more reluctant to leave the pairing. Canfield and Crescent Heights parents agreed.

Marcy Frerichs, a spokeswoman for Friends of Canfield Crescent Heights School, said, "What I see is that ultimately there would be a sharing of programs between the two schools."

However, many parents of children attending the Open School disagree. They said they want a separate campus for the school that specializes in individualized instruction.

At a meeting called last week to outline details of the plan, school officials were criticized by Open School parents for not involving them in the decision to relocate their children's school. The parents also protested not being given an option of moving to either the Canfield or Crescent Heights campuses.

Jerry Blat, the president of the Friends of the Open School, expressed concern over sharing a campus with another school.

"Where we are now, we maintain a totally separate program. Our children don't even eat or share the playground with the students at Rosewood Elementary," he said. "If you mix the program, if you have students from our school and their school interacting, it would lead to confusion because our program is so different."

Alexander assured the group that the proposal was not meant to destroy the integrity of the Open School Program.

"A lot of hours have been spent looking at options because we are in critical need of space," he said. "We would like to give every magnet its own campus, but we cannot afford that luxury any more."

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