School Designed to Halt Dropouts, Get Students Into College Is Planned

Times Education Writer

A new high school aimed at preventing dropouts and at getting minority youngsters into college is being planned for a September opening on the campus of Los Angeles Southwest Community College. Officials say the school and a similar one planned for Contra Costa County would be the first of their kind in California.

The so-called middle college high schools are to be modeled after a successful program at LaGuardia Community College in Queens, N.Y., which sends about 75% of its graduates on to higher education. Many of those students would have dropped out of high school if they had enrolled in a traditional school, educators say.

“There are so many programs for the hard-core kids and so many programs for the cream of the crop. This is for the kids in the middle who might be at risk of dropping out,” said Toni Forsyth, the project’s director for the Los Angeles Community College District. The college would jointly operate the proposed school with the Los Angeles Unified School District.

The high school would draw students from the predominantly black neighborhoods surrounding Southwest, located at 1600 W. Imperial Highway in South Los Angeles. Plans at Southwest call for about 100 students in the 10th grade to enroll in September and no more than 480 in the 10th through 12th grades by 1992. The students would be recommended by their junior high school counselors for showing some academic promise but also signs of trouble.


Small Classes

As at LaGuardia, classes would be kept small and students would receive more guidance than at regular school. After the first year, students would be expected to take a college-level course each semester so that they graduate with a high school diploma and 12 college credits.

At LaGuardia’s Middle College High School, founded in 1974, about 75% of those who enter earn diplomas, according to Janet Lieberman, one of the program’s founders. She said the dropout rate in New York City schools was 45%.

In Los Angeles, about 16% of high school students drop out each year, according to a district spokesman. Other experts say about 40% of ninth-graders in Los Angeles never finish high school.


Thomas Lakin, president of Southwest Community College, visited LaGuardia. “I came away with the feeling that this is the kind of program the inner-city of Los Angeles needs right now,” he said.

Community college students provide role models for high school students, something particularly important for black and Latino youngsters whose parents may not have attended college, Lakin said. The high school’s population is expected to be about 75% black and 25% Latino.

The college is supposed to provide classrooms and the Los Angeles Unified the faculty, which is to start with six teachers and counselors and grow to 32. Some financial details remain to be worked out, but Unified School District Supt. Leonard Britton said he is hopeful the proposal will be approved by his governing board soon so the school can open in September.

The Los Angeles college district is expected today to formally approve the idea and accept a $60,000 grant from the state community college system for planning costs, with the understanding that as much as $450,000 more in state money will be available over the next three years. “I’m extremely enthusiastic about it,” said college district Chancellor Donald Phelps, who added that he hopes similar schools will be started at other Los Angeles community colleges.

Over the last few years, the Ford Foundation in New York gave $410,000 to help establish nine copies of the LaGuardia program around the country. Three of those--in Dallas, Tex., Peoria, Ill., and Memphis, Tenn.--opened last year. In addition to the ones in Los Angeles and Contra Costa County, others are planned for Detroit, Cleveland, Phoenix and Washington, D.C., Lieberman said. New York City has replicated the LaGuardia model at three other schools.

The high school proposed at Contra Costa Community College with the Richmond School District is not as far along in planning as the one in Los Angeles but is still expected to open in September, according to college President D. Candy Rose. That college has a heavily black, Latino and Asian student body from the San Pablo and Richmond area on the east side of San Francisco Bay, she said.