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Crenshaw Receives a Failing Grade

Times Staff Writer

Crenshaw High School, among Los Angeles’ lowest-performing campuses, lost its accreditation this week, throwing into doubt the worth of the diplomas its future graduates will receive.

The Western Assn. of Schools and Colleges, which accredits public and private high schools in California, notified school officials Monday that the campus had been stripped of its accreditation after failing to correct what it found were persistent, widespread problems.

In a letter to the school, the association’s accrediting commission said it had rejected the school because of “great concerns regarding student achievement, the implementation of a curriculum and instructional program aligned with California academic standards, and the capacity of the school to address other critical areas.”

Los Angeles Unified School District officials acknowledged Crenshaw’s recent failures, but expressed confidence that ongoing reform efforts at the 3,100-student campus would lead to reinstatement of its accreditation this spring.

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“It’s our kids who are at stake here,” said Doug Waybright, director of secondary education for the local district that includes Crenshaw. “There is no choice -- things need to change.”

News of the decision underscored the changes the school has experienced in the last couple of decades. Once a school that drew from middle-class African American neighborhoods as well as low-income areas, it was known for its powerhouse athletic teams, such extracurricular programs as its choir and above-average academics.

While still predominately African American, Crenshaw today has a large Latino population and serves mostly students from low-income households.

If sufficient changes at the school are not made to regain accreditation, Waybright said, graduating seniors could face trouble in applying to college. While students will receive diplomas, college admissions’ directors could look askance at the strength of Crenshaw’s academics.

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“This can certainly impact our seniors and be a deciding factor” in college admissions, Waybright said.

Gloria Collins, who graduated from Crenshaw and whose daughter will begin her senior year there next month, said she was dismayed that the school had failed to improve and that she worries about the impact on her daughter’s plans to apply to UC Berkeley and other colleges.

“If this school is not accredited then she won’t be at Crenshaw,” Collins said, indicating that she would move her daughter to another school. “We need some answers about what’s going on at this school.”

While not required by law, nearly all California public and private high schools seek the association’s stamp of approval. Before granting accreditation, the association conducts an intensive review of, among other things, a school’s management, curricula and teaching practices. Schools typically receive three or six-year accreditations.

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David Brown, executive director of the association’s accrediting commission, said about 2% of the state’s 4,000 public high schools lose accreditation each year.

More than three decades have passed since the last Los Angeles Unified school, Garfield High, lost its standing, according to Robert Collins, the district’s chief instructional officer for secondary schools.

Crenshaw first came under scrutiny by the association in April 2003, when inspectors visited the South Los Angeles campus to renew the school’s status.

The association’s team uncovered major problems. The campus was adrift, team members concluded, with no school-wide plan on student achievement, teachers not adhering to mandated state academic standards and rampant student tardiness.

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The shortcomings have been reflected in the school’s performance. In 2004, the school was ranked as one of the state’s worst and for the last six years has failed to meet federal testing benchmarks. Test results released this week showed that less than 1% of the 11th grade students last spring met federal proficiency targets in math and 15% met them in English.

The school averages about 435 student absences a day, far above the district’s goal of about 155.

Given two years to make changes, Crenshaw struggled to improve. When the association returned in May, it found “pockets of excellence,” but it was not satisfied.

“We tried but could not get enough done in time,” said Sharon Curry, who took control last year of the local district office that includes Crenshaw.

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Since May, Curry has moved to reorganize Crenshaw. She hired a new principal and replaced four of five assistant principals. She said she would continue to address the problems highlighted in the association’s reports in hopes of regaining accreditation by March or April.

School board member Marguerite LaMotte, whose district includes Crenshaw, said following the 2003 review, she had assumed that school and district officials were taking steps to ensure the campus would pass its renewal.

“I’m really disappointed that we didn’t follow through on what needed to be done,” she said. “Now it’s a matter of making the changes so the seniors don’t suffer.”

Alex Caputo-Pearl, a history teacher and the school’s teachers union representative, said he, too, expected Crenshaw to be reinstated. He faulted Curry, however, for waiting too long to reform the ailing campus where, he said, students often must wait more than a month to receive textbooks.

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“Crenshaw has struggled and it’s no surprise that something drastic like this has happened,” he said. “There have been systemic failures.”

District officials said they were unaware of any other schools that were at risk of losing accreditation. This year, 18 district high schools are scheduled to be reviewed for renewal.


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