Critics Score Ethnic Ratio, ‘Elitism’ at Whitney High

Times Staff Writer

Whitney High School, the ABC Unified School District’s college preparatory school, has come under attack as an elitist institution that has created racial imbalance.

The charges are being leveled against Whitney by two veteran teachers who teach academic honor courses for college-bound students at regular comprehensive high schools in the district.

“Ultimately, I see no need for Whitney to exist. It is wrong,” Cerritos High School biology teacher Richard Neville said in an interview.


Neville suggested that Whitney should be closed and its students transferred to the regular high school campuses.

Neville and Gahr High School math teacher Steve Murray asked the Board of Education on Tuesday to form a fact-finding committee of parents, teachers and administrators to investigate their charges.

Murray said Whitney’s “elitism” has produced “undesirable results.” Students who are rejected by Whitney, he said, “build up a lot of anger against the elite group.”

Neville said also that Whitney’s students are mostly Asian and that blacks and Latinos are under-represented. Whitney students are required to take an entrance examination. The school, which has existed for nearly 12 years, has nearly 1,000 students; nearly all its graduates go to college.

Board President Elizabeth J. Hutcheson told the two teachers and others who spoke on Whitney that the board would not take a position on the charges.

“We appreciate the comment. We have a lot of work to do. This will be a longtime discussion. We will be getting back to this,” Hutcheson said.

More than a week ago, the teachers also started circulating petitions aimed at gaining support for their concerns from teachers at the district’s five junior high schools and the three other high schools.

Neville and Murray, who have each taught in the district for more than 20 years, said they had become upset by a proposal to build a gymnasium with lockers and showers at Whitney.

Earlier this month, Supt. Kenneth L. Moffett proposed using $3.2 million from the building and deferred-maintenance funds to use the district’s Culinary Arts Center site next to Whitney for a gym and multipurpose room for art, music and food services. The culinary arts program is being eliminated this summer as part of a budget-cutting plan adopted earlier this year.

Moffett made his proposal after rejecting a consultant’s plan for the district to make money by selling Whitney for residential development and moving the college prep program to a closed junior high school campus. Consultant Wayne D. Wedin had suggested the real estate venture in February, saying it could generate $17 million for the district. Some of the money, he said, could be used to build a gymnasium that Whitney has wanted.

Neville said that plans to build a Whitney gymnasium show it is “receiving favorable treatment while other schools’ needs are not being met.”

“I’m certain the Whitney supporters feel that a gymnasium is of utmost importance. But many of the older schools in the district, especially those without air conditioning, feel their needs are also of importance,” Neville told the board.

“At Cerritos High, for instance, we would love to have science labs built to accommodate the students enrolled in state-mandated science lab classes,” Neville said.

Hutcheson said the district’s Capital Improvement Committee, headed by board member Homer Lewis, is investigating all the schools’ needs. Lewis said he does not expect a committee report for several weeks.

Surprisingly, parents who have traditionally provided strong support for Whitney High School had little to say at the meeting. But one Whitney parent, Harvey L. Chun, did oppose closing Whitney.

Instead of squabbling about the merits of Whitney, Chun said, “We should be uniting together to seek more innovative and progressive means to increase the . . . caliber of students” throughout the district.

“I don’t want to make this a racial issue. There are many Asians at Whitney but there are also many Asians in the district,” Chun said in an interview.

Neville claims that Whitney’s predominantly Asian student body has created a serious racial imbalance with blacks and Latinos being underrepresented.

Districtwide, school attendance is 36% white, 27% Latino, 22% Asian and 6% black. The district reports the following ethnic ratios at the four high schools (figures do not add up to 100% because all minority groups are not represented):

Whitney--29% white, 45% Asian, 11% Latino and 4% black.

Gahr--35% white, 17% Asian, 25% Latino, 9% black.

Artesia--36% white, 19% Asian, 43% Latino, 5% black.

Cerritos--44% white, 24% Asian, 11% Latino and 7% black.

Neville said he believes that the push to get students into Whitney has created stress for both parents and students.

He told the board of a recent incident he had heard of involving a sixth-grader who did not pass the Whitney exam. The youngster reportedly stated, “I guess I’ll have to go to Tetzlaff (a regular junior high school) with the other leftovers.”

Whitney starts at the seventh-grade level and regular junior high schools take grades 7 and 8.

Parents, students and teachers at Whitney were aware of the petitions but decided to take “a wait-and-see,” approach, said Robert S. Beall, Whitney principal.

“We are going to listen. This thing may fizzle,” Beall said.

Beall accused the school critics of being “jealous.”

John Ennis, president of ABC Federation of Teachers, was one of several other speakers who criticized the district’s proposal to use funds for a gym at Whitney while other school sites needed improvements, including air conditioning and covered patio areas.