The Long Beach Board of Education, continuing its efforts to establish stronger standards on academic achievement and dress, Tuesday night approved the creation of an all-academic high school similar to the highly regarded Boston Latin Grammar School.
The school board, which pioneered the use of school uniforms in elementary schools, also voted in a stricter dress code for more than 20,000 high school students in the state’s third-largest school district. Details of the dress code have yet to be decided.
The six-member school board unanimously approved both measures, overriding opposition by dozens of parents, students and teachers.
The classical high school will not require students to learn Latin, as does the Boston school, but will make study of the language available to all students. Students will be required to take four years of a language, as well as four years of science, math, English, history and humanities-fine arts.
On top of the more demanding, higher-expectation courses, students will have to wear uniforms, and both students and their parents will sign a contract agreeing to meet high attendance, conduct and homework requirements.
While a number of schools have established special programs for gifted students, the Long Beach program will be open to all average or better-than-average students who are willing to sign the contract. The program will be phased in over four years at Wilson High School, on the city’s eastside, beginning with the ninth-grade class this fall.
Wilson serves the Belmont Shore and Naples beach communities and many of its students, as well as its teachers, reflect the casual, laid-back lifestyle of California beach areas.
Students are said to show up in everything from oversize baggy pants and sandals for the boys to bikini tops and bare-midriff shirts for the girls.
“You don’t have any credibility to establish new rules when you don’t enforce the old ones,” said Mary Lou Cook, the mother of a Wilson student who is against requiring uniforms, in comments to the school board before the vote.
Some parents also complained that the district, in setting up a special all-academic high school, was establishing an elitist school that would drain the best teachers and students from the district’s other high schools.
District Supt. Carl A. Cohn said stricter dress codes are necessary because the existing ones are too vague.
School board member Karin Polacheck disputed the contention that an elitist school would be created. She said the hope is that the classical school will be so successful, the concept will spread to the district’s five other high schools. “We are trying to create one of many,” she said. “It’s not that we are trying to exclude anyone.”
“No one said this was going to be easy,” said conservative school board member Ed Eveland, a retired school principal and onetime deputy superintendent for high schools in Long Beach, before the meeting. “There is criticism that our public schools aren’t worth a damn. Well, a lot of that is our fault. We have to start doing the job.”
Eveland said he would like to see male students in “shirts, ties and coats at Wilson.
Currently, the school district requires only elementary school students to wear uniforms.
At the classical high school, which is expected to have a beginning ninth-grade class of 850 to 900 students, there will be seven classes a day, one more than at regular high schools. All students in the program will be required to take the same classes.
Wilson High was chosen because it is located in the area where the school uniform policy was first tried in elementary schools.
Uniforms for elementary students and the classical high school are two of the latest initiatives undertaken by the school district.
In addition to requiring uniforms in the elementary grades, the district has established minimum academic requirements for lower school grades.
Third-graders who do not show minimum reading skills are going to be required to go to summer school beginning this summer. Eighth-graders who have two or more Fs will be required to spend the ninth-grade year in a special school program where they will get tutoring and help in weak subjects under still another program approved but not yet implemented.