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7 Sylmar Schools Start Planning Program for Choice in Enrollment

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Representatives from a group of Sylmar elementary schools on Wednesday set out the process and schedule for an experimental enrollment program that will offer parents some choice over which campuses their children attend.

Staff members and parents from the seven campuses met at Gridley Street School to work out the logistics of the program that they agreed last week to launch. Under the pilot program, attendance boundaries of the seven campuses will be erased, permitting Sylmar parents to send their children to the elementary school of their choice.

Officials plan to phase in the program, initially restricting the number of pupils who can switch campuses this upcoming school year.

The steering committee members who gathered Wednesday submitted the number of slots that their schools are willing to open to outside students and, conversely, the number of children they are willing to lose to the other campuses participating in the program. The numbers, to be finalized Friday, range from 10 to 50 pupils, officials said.

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The program is the first in the sprawling Los Angeles Unified School District to allow a limited form of open enrollment within a single community.

It also differs from districtwide choice programs that the mammoth school system runs as part of its voluntary desegregation effort.

For example, transfer applications will be accepted on a first-come, first-served basis, unlike the process for the district’s vaunted magnet program, which weighs several factors when considering student applications. And no permits will be required to switch campuses in Sylmar--a departure from a districtwide integration program allowing youngsters to attend schools that are often far from their homes.

However, the district will not provide busing for Sylmar students whom parents send to non-neighborhood campuses.

The seven schools--Dyer Street, El Dorado, Gridley, Harding Street, Herrick Avenue, Hubbard Street and Sylmar--will outline what each has to offer in a bulletin to be sent home with students in two weeks. Parents can transfer their children beginning June 21, Assistant Supt. Sara A. Coughlin said. Each campus will maintain a limited waiting list if necessary.

Irene Smerigan, principal at Sylmar Elementary School, said her campus will open 30 spots for non-neighborhood children. “I’m taking a wait-and-see attitude,” Smerigan said of the program. “The way we’re doing it--by little steps--is good.”

But she added that she is mindful of the sweeping California school choice initiative to be voted on in November, which could grant parents tax-funded vouchers to spend on enrolling their youngsters at private and parochial institutions. Proponents of the initiative--and parents who support the Sylmar program--say introducing parental choice will improve education by injecting a healthy element of competition among schools.

Smerigan said the Sylmar program gives her and other campus administrators a chance to showcase their schools to parents who now have the option to choose.

“The magnets get to show off their schools,” she said. “Why can’t we?”


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