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School Board Delays Vote on Regrouping of Grades in L.B.

Times Staff Writer

The jury is still out on whether this city’s 9th-graders will be high school students next September.

Since the early 1920s, the 9th-graders have been grouped with 7th- and 8th-graders on junior high school campuses while 10th-, 11th- and 12th-graders have attended senior high schools.

But a special task force has recommended that 9th-graders be switched to high schools, and that some 6th-graders--who share elementary school campuses with children in kindergarten through 5th grade--become the youngest students in five pilot middle schools.

‘More Pluses Than Minuses’

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“There are many more academic pluses than minuses to 4-year high schools,” said Jenny Oropeza, a member of the Long Beach Unified School District Board of Education, reflecting the generally positive views that many of her peers have expressed privately on the subject.

Faced with angry opposition from an overflow crowd of parents, however, the board this week postponed a decision at least until Nov. 3.

“What we’re asking is to slow down,” said Diane Snyder, one of two parents who presented petitions bearing about 800 signatures opposed to the plan. “This is just too fast a move for all our students. I feel that you’re not going to be able to make a smooth transition in such a short time and our students will suffer for it.”

The recommendations from the task force, which was formed in June, are being considered to offset overcrowded conditions in the 67,000-student district. Other alternatives include year-round schooling, which began this summer at four elementary schools; the expansion of several existing sites; the use of portable classrooms, and extending the length of the school day.

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In addition to placing the district’s estimated 4,300 9th-graders in its five high schools, the proposal would establish a “philosophy of middle-school education” by grouping 6th-, 7th- and 8th-graders on what are now the district’s 14 junior high school campuses. At least five pilot middle schools would be set up in September, but the other campuses would be converted to middle schools within three years.

Six Names Mentioned

Although the five pilot schools have not been determined, district officials have mentioned as possibilities Jefferson, Franklin, Washington, DeMille, Lindbergh and Hughes. Converting to 4-year high schools and middle schools, they say, could increase capacity by 3,000 students at the elementary level, where the crowding is most critical. Until now, district officials have dealt with the overcrowding on elementary campuses by, among other things, installing dozens of portable classrooms, leasing two extra schools in nearby Los Alamitos and busing overflow students to less crowded campuses.

“The 4-year high school and the . . . middle school are educationally sound alternatives to our existing structure,” said the report, prepared by a 16-member Joint Task Force on School Facilities that included both city and school district officials.

The 4-year high schools, among other things, would provide 9th-graders with more course choices than they would have in junior high school, and would give the younger students a chance to participate in a greater variety of athletic programs, the report said.

Middle schools would create a more personalized environment for 10- to 14-year-olds and provide a more gradual transition from elementary school to high school, according to the report.

Task force members said they prepared the report after a series of public hearings attended by about 430 people in September. The school board approved the study in May, but four of the five members later were defeated at the polls. Most of the parents this week said they did not oppose the idea of 4-year high schools in concept, but many said they were uncomfortable with the speed with which it seemed to be moving.

“It’s just redistributing the overcrowding to the high school level where we have bigger bodies and bigger problems,” said Corolie Prince, who described herself as a parent and a teacher.

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Said Sammie Meyer: “We have little people here--future citizens. I don’t want my daughter rushed before it’s necessary.”

The new board members, for their part, seemed less certain than their predecessors about how to proceed.

“I assume we’re not ready to vote on this,” said board President Harriet Williams, the only long-time member. “But we mustn’t wait too long.”


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