After months of student and parent protests, one of the preeminent high schools in the city--and the nation--will move to a year-round calendar in July, Los Angeles Unified interim Supt. Ramon Cortines announced Friday.
In a letter to students, parents and teachers at North Hollywood High School, Cortines said he had no alternative but to force a switch at the campus, which has 3,500 students crammed into its classrooms.
Principal John Hyland said the change will allow North Hollywood High to stop busing hundreds of neighborhood students to distant campuses in the San Fernando Valley while creating off-site learning programs and expanding its nationally acclaimed highly gifted magnet by nearly 100 students.
North Hollywood is the latest high school in the district to transition to a year-round calendar as officials grapple with an overcrowding crisis fueled not only by growing enrollment but by previous administrations' failure to build new schools.
Already, 17 of 49 high schools operate year-round and in a few years all could be switched to a multitrack system if new schools are not built, officials said.
Although the North Hollywood High plan, which was developed by Hyland, calls for returning to a traditional schedule in two to three years, he and others acknowledge the goal might be unrealistic. Cortines has said schools in other parts of the 711,000-student district already on year-round schedules will have top priority for new buildings.
In the next three years, North Hollywood High will need to accommodate 4,500 students. In the Valley, only three high schools--San Fernando in Pacoima, Monroe in North Hills and Polytechnic in Sun Valley--are on multitrack, year-round calendars.
A report received by the Los Angeles Board of Education last week raised the number of high schools that will be needed in the East Valley from two to five, said school board member Caprice Young, who represents North Hollywood.
"What is so distressing is that adults messed up and the kids will suffer," said Young, referring to prior boards' failure to move quickly on building new schools. "I was honestly hoping to find an alternative."
Robbing Students of Class Time
Under the proposed schedule for North Hollywood, students would be divided into three tracks that could accommodate 1,242 students each. Two of the tracks would be in session at any given time. The plan would extend the school day by about 20 minutes while reducing the school year by 17 days.
North Hollywood buses 410 students to other high schools, while another 123 go voluntarily under the district's open enrollment plan. A policy approved by the district in 1998 requires high schools that send more than 250 students to other campuses because of overcrowding to convert to year-round schedules.
Angry and disappointed parents protested the planned change for months, saying it would prevent high-achieving students from attending summer enrichment programs and rob students of classroom time.
Parents said Friday they might seek a court injunction against the district to stop the school from going year-round, and some threatened to transfer their children to other schools.
"The district has failed our children miserably," said Marilyn Morrison, whose 10th-grade daughter attends North Hollywood High.
Morrison also helped create an alternative plan to year-round, but it was ultimately rejected by Cortines.
"They watched the school get overcrowded for years and they did not do anything," Morrison said. "They failed miserably in their duty to provide seats and a good education to these students."
Called a "gem" in the troubled Los Angeles Unified by several school officials, North Hollywood High ranks as one of the top 30 campuses in the nation. In February, students won the school's third straight regional science bowl. The campus is home to the prestigious highly gifted and zoology magnet programs and three "academies" that prepare students for careers in transportation, teaching and environmental sciences.
For the past three years, the school's acclaimed highly gifted magnet--a program of 244 students who have IQs of 145 or higher--produced the nation's No. 1 Advanced Placement scholar. In 1999, it also boasted the top 11th-grade Advanced Placement scholar.
While the highly gifted magnet students receive wide attention, Hyland said of the 580 students who took AP exams at the school last year, 400 were from outside the gifted magnet program.
"It's outrageous," said 16-year-old Kevin Zadoyan, a sophomore. "We have tried our best to stop the year-round plan and it turns out the district is not listening to us."
On Tuesday, parents presented Cortines and Hyland an alternative proposal that called for keeping the school on a traditional calendar by constructing multistory classroom buildings and placing temporary bungalows on the faculty parking lot while providing off-site parking.
A Ray of Light
It also entailed expanding the school's academies, or specialized education programs in subjects such as entertainment, hotel management and health and human services. Like the 298 North Hollywood magnet student who study at the Los Angeles Zoo, parents suggested academy students could learn at off-site locations, such as a film studio, hotel or hospital.
Hyland--who has worked with parents since fall, when word of year-round plans rocked the school community--devised a draft plan similar in some respects to the one offered by the parents. It was ultimately approved by Cortines.
Hyland is expected to complete details of his plan by May 1 and present it to Cortines.
"I think it's the best possible solution for everyone," Hyland said Friday. "It focuses on student achievement."
Under his proposal, the campus would go year-round for two to three years, allowing transition time to implement new programs, such as the expanded academies or schools-within-schools. For instance, students in the entertainment academy would link with one of three nearby studios--Disney, Universal or Warner Bros.--and gain work experience and training.
Those at off-site locations--Colfax Avenue Elementary is being suggested--would free classroom space to expand the highly gifted magnet.
"That's the ray of light in the plan," said Young, who promised to support the plan and try to secure funding for the new buildings and programs.
Hyland's plan also would add more classroom space by replacing portable buildings with two-story bungalows.
Hyland believes it could serve as a model for other district high schools facing year-round schedules.
"The fundamental problem is kids don't like high school," Hyland said. "The majority of the high school students don't feel like they have a chance to be successful. I feel enrollment cannot be separated from academic achievement. It's not just a matter of cramming more kids in here or putting them on a bus."
Even at a nationally recognized school such as North Hollywood High, Hyland said many students, particularly Latinos and African Americans, struggle academically.
About 70% of the school's Latino students, for instance, scored at or below the 25th percentile on state standardized tests.
"With the academies, students will have more of a choice about what they want to learn," said Hyland, adding that classes would be smaller and more personal. "It will build more enthusiasm for learning."
Times staff writer Karima A. Haynes contributed to this report.
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North Hollywood High School will be the fourth Valley high schools to transition to a year-round schedule. The others are Polytechnic High in Sun Valley, Monroe High in North Hills, and San Fernando High in Pacoima. Eventually, all high schools in the Valley could move to year-round calendars because of overcrowding, which is especially acute in the growing northeast region.
Plan for North Hollywood High School*
Students will be divided into three tracks of 1,242 students
*Note: Weekends and long weekends not shown