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2 Schools’ Gap Widens Despite Boundary Shift : Education: Ventura High’s enrollment has fallen even more since the lines were redrawn, while Buena keeps growing.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Touted as a means to even out enrollments between Ventura’s two high schools, a Ventura Unified School District boundary change has apparently had the opposite effect.

Ventura High School’s enrollment has become smaller since the district redrew school boundaries three years ago, while the number of students at cross-town rival Buena High School has swelled.

And Ventura High teachers and administrators say the impact of the boundary change has gone even deeper: Their school’s enrollment has not only shrunk, it has grown poorer.

“The gap is growing between the two schools,” Ventura High Principal Hank Robertson said. As a result, Ventura High officials say, the cross-town rivals are competing on an uneven playing field.

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Buena High draws most of its students from wealthy and middle-income areas of the city, getting more students who have the advantages of college-educated parents and economic stability.

Ventura High also gets students from wealthy neighborhoods along the Rincon and the Ventura Keys.

But much of Ventura High’s enrollment comes from less affluent areas--downtown, Montalvo and along Ventura Avenue.

“You have a different socioeconomic client in the two different schools,” Ventura High physics teacher Robert M. Dixon said. “Buena has a higher-end type and the families push more.”

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Such differences, Dixon and other teachers say, may in part account for the divide between the schools’ scores on some standardized tests.

On Scholastic Aptitude Tests--a key criterion for students’ admission to college--Buena High’s scores were 29 points higher than Ventura’s on the math portion of the exam and 20 points higher on the verbal prior to the boundary change three years ago.

Although Buena’s overall SAT results on the exams dropped in the year immediately following the boundary change, its scores improved last year to roughly the same as two years earlier.

But SAT scores at Ventura High have plunged a total of about 40 points on both the math and verbal portions of the test since the boundary change. Results for the 1993-94 school year showed a difference of more than 60 points between the two schools’ performance on both sections of the test.

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On the rigorous Advanced Placement exams that allow high school students to earn college credit, the passing rate among Ventura High seniors has improved slightly over the past three years while that at Buena High has dropped.

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But Buena High’s passing rate on the difficult tests is still nearly twice that of Ventura’s.

District officials say the causes underlying the differences at the schools are complex.

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“There’s more to it than the boundary change,” said Arlene Miro, director of administrative services.

For one thing, Miro said, the lower-income families that live within Ventura High’s attendance area have been hit harder by the poor economy than families in the middle-income neighborhoods around Buena High.

But Miro said some of the disparity between the two high schools “can probably be attributed to the boundary change.” District officials, however, said they have no plans to redraw school attendance areas soon.

District officials changed boundaries in 1992 with three goals in mind: to more evenly distribute the number of students at district schools, to keep students from the same neighborhoods together from kindergarten through the 12th grade, and to reduce busing.

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“It was a total realignment of the district,” Assistant Supt. Gerald Dannenberg said.

The district largely succeeded in its aim of keeping neighborhood students together from elementary through high school, say community members who sat on boundary-change committees.

But the number of students who ride the bus to school each day is about the same as before the boundary change.

And differences in enrollment between the two high schools and among the four middle schools have grown rather than shrunk.

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Prior to the boundary change, Anacapa and Balboa middle schools each had slightly under 1,000 students while Cabrillo had about 850. DeAnza was much smaller, with only about 650 children.

While enrollments have evened out at DeAnza and Cabrillo, which each have roughly 750 pupils, Anacapa and Balboa are bulging with more than 1,100 students each.

The crowding has made life more difficult at the two larger middle schools, administrators say.

Anacapa, for instance, has grown too big to fit all of its students from any one grade into the cafeteria that doubles as an auditorium. When sixth-grade classes convene for an assembly, many students have to sit on benches outside the cafeteria’s open doors.

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“Bigger is not better,” Anacapa Principal Charlotte McElroy said. “You cannot get to know kids as well.”

But school officials agree that the biggest disparity in enrollments in the district is between Ventura and Buena high schools.

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Built about 30 years ago to accommodate students from families moving into the city’s east side, Buena High has always tended to be a bit larger and a little wealthier than Ventura High.

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To help make the schools more comparable, school officials initially proposed a bold move.

They would give Buena High the entire east end, while assigning to Ventura High two neighborhoods that had previously gone to Buena: the wealthy hillside area above Foothill Road, and Montalvo.

But parents from both the hillside and Montalvo areas rose in protest.

So the district formed a committee of 80 community residents and school staff members to study the issue.

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Besides trying to balance enrollments between the two high schools, the committee and the district sought to design a more logical attendance map in the fast-growing east end.

Until that time, each new housing tract built on the east side was assigned to either Buena or Ventura depending on which school could handle additional students.

The result was a boundary map that looked like a crazy quilt.

“You ended up having little islands of people all over the east end with no continuity,” Dannenberg said. “If they moved on one side of the street they were Buena. If they moved on another side of the street they were Ventura.”

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But when the district’s committee could not reach agreement on how to change the high school boundaries, the school board took matters into its own hands.

The board approved a new attendance map different than the one district officials had initially proposed: Buena would get every neighborhood that was north of Telegraph Road and east of Ventura College, plus all areas that were south of Telegraph Road and east of Mills Road--except Montalvo, which would go to Ventura High.

Parents from the hillside were happy their children would not have to be bused to Ventura High.

But Montalvo families were furious.

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And Ventura High officials now say it was a blow to their school to lose the pockets of students they had formerly drawn from the east end.

“Those pockets helped balance out the economics of things,” Robertson said.

Or as Dixon put it: “They were a real positive strong part of our kids. (Now) you just don’t have the same number of kids striving to the higher levels.”

Perhaps even more important, Buena High now gets all students from the expanding east side. So Buena is growing while Ventura High is shrinking.

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With Ventura High’s enrollment dropping by about 100 students since the boundary change and Buena High’s increasing by 50, the enrollment gap between the two schools has grown from 300 to 450.

Ventura High’s smaller size makes it less able than Buena to offer specialized academic courses, said Jim Sargent, who teaches Advanced Placement history at Ventura. The school simply does not have enough students who want Advanced Placement courses in computer science or advanced calculus or other classes regularly offered at Buena but unavailable at Ventura High.

The unavailability of such courses “is one factor” for Ventura High’s lower performance on Advanced Placement exams, Sargent said. But, he added, “I’m not making excuses.”

Buena has some very good academic programs, Sargent said. “I admire what they’re doing at Buena.”

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Indeed, one school official who asked not to be named said Ventura High teachers on the whole fail to demand as much of their students as staff members at Buena. The official suggested Ventura High could narrow the academic gap between it and Buena if teachers there raised their expectations of students--regardless of where the young people come from.

“That’s how I see the problem,” the official said. “They have got to stand and deliver.”

Some district officials acknowledged they are concerned about the growing difference in size between the two schools.

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Dannenberg said school officials were surprised that Ventura High had grown smaller after the boundary change. But more families have moved out of downtown and other Ventura High attendance areas than the district had expected.

Nevertheless, school officials said they have no intention of redrawing boundaries again anytime soon.

“I would certainly not recommend doing another boundary change,” Supt. Joseph Spirito said. “It puts an awful lot of stress on the community.”

Even some Ventura High teachers who believe the 1992 boundary change hurt their school said they have no expectations for the district to address the issue again in the near future.

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“I don’t know how they could put up with the political fire,” Ventura High math teacher Lloyd Vadnais said.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Differences in Scores, Enrollment

Changes in enrollment and test scores at Ventura’s two high schools since 1992 boundary change.

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Prior to new boundaries After boundary change ENROLLMENT ’91-92 ’92-93 ’93-94 ’94-95 Buena 2,143 2,209 2,165 2,191 Ventura 1,834 1,798 1,703 1,754 SAT SCORES (Math/Verbal) ’91-92 ’92-93 ’93-94 Buena 524/457 508/460 523/459 Ventura 495/437 472/413 459/398 ADVANCED PLACEMENT TEST* ’91-92 ’92-93 ’93-94 Buena 25.9 28.0 23.3 Ventura 11.5 13.9 12.5

* Passing rate per 100 seniors

Source: State Department of Education, Ventura Unified School District


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