2 Closed Valley Schools Ordered Reopened

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Three shuttered elementary schools--two in the west San Fernando Valley and one on the Westside--were ordered reopened by the Los Angeles Board of Education on Monday to accommodate soaring enrollments and implement class size reductions in kindergarten and third grade.

The schools, among more than a dozen closed in the mid-1980s when enrollment fell, are expected to open their doors to students over the next two school years.

The plan to reopen the campuses is part of a broad effort by the Los Angeles Unified School District to reduce all kindergarten and third-grade classes to 20 students in accord with the state's class-size reduction initiative. The school district reduced nearly all first- and second-grade classes last year, and is seeking to complete the other two grades over the next three years.

District officials reopened Garden Grove Avenue Elementary School in Reseda last month after a 13-year hiatus, and they said that some of the other closed schools--virtually all in the Valley--could also reopen if needed.

"The children are pouring into L.A. Unified," school board President Julie Korenstein told colleagues during Monday's meeting. "When the schools closed, I said, 'Hold onto closed schools. We'll need them someday.' "

Newcastle Avenue Elementary in Reseda and Haynes Street Elementary in West Hills were selected partly because neighboring campuses already are filled to capacity. Each campus will serve as many as 400 local students and others bused from overcrowded campuses in the central and East Valley.

In addition, a collection of empty portable classrooms on the site of Frost Middle School in Granada Hills will temporarily house students who will attend Newcastle and a handful of primary centers for kindergarten to third grade planned for the area.

Meanwhile, Osage Avenue Elementary in Westchester will house the Open School, a magnet program whose 280 students are currently at Crescent Heights Elementary School in West Los Angeles.

Haynes, which was leased to a private school until last summer, is expected to open in September. The other two schools, which currently house LAUSD administrative and training offices, are scheduled to open in mid-1999. The offices now occupying the buildings will be relocated. The three schools, and the others that remain closed, shut their doors a decade ago after thousands of parents abandoned LAUSD in the wake of mandatory busing. Now, with the advent of class-size reduction, many parents are returning their children to the city's schools, while the number of newly arrived immigrants also is boosting enrollments, officials say.

Parents and other school activists welcomed the school board's action, saying that any new campuses will relieve crowding at those desperate for space.

"You have certain schools where the crowding is ludicrous," said Virginia Huntman, West Valley Council president of the Parent-Teacher-Student Assn. "There's no way they can do class-size reduction in a reasonable way."

The decision to reopen the schools was one of several measures taken by the school board Monday to reduce the size of kindergarten and third-grade classes--efforts expected to cost $141 million. Proposition BB, the massive school bond measure passed by voters in April, will provide $107 million toward that cost with the remainder coming from state class-size reduction funds.

The district will buy 100 two-story portable bungalows--providing a total of 400 additional classrooms--for campuses with little extra playground space to house new buildings. At some schools, extra classrooms also will be created by splitting large existing rooms in half.

In addition, the school board directed its staff to negotiate for several properties owned by the city of Los Angeles so that elementary schools can expand onto adjacent properties.

District officials are also seeking to buy city-owned parcels to build six primary centers--four in the Valley--to relieve elementary campuses already filled to capacity.

The properties were identified by school district staff and a task force convened by Supt. Ruben Zacarias and Mayor Richard Riordan. Members of the task force said they focused their efforts on areas that had the greatest number of bused students, and they touted the primary centers as an innovative method of schooling that can stir young minds to learn.

"The primary centers will offer the children an opportunity to gain skills," said Rosalinda Lugo, a task force member and a senior leader in the community group United Neighborhoods Organization. "Children get more individual attention, a better education. They will learn to read and write more efficiently. Huge schools are very hard on kids."

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