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Students dread transition out of Beverly Hills Unified

Taylor Short said the last few weeks have been like walking through a fog, unable to see what’s ahead. The Beverly Vista Elementary eighth-grader has no idea where she’ll enroll next year. She wonders whether she’ll stay in touch with her best friends and feels let down by adults.

David Yona, a top athlete at El Rodeo Elementary, said he had been looking forward to the summer, when sports teams condition and train. Sadness sets in when he thinks about the fun he will probably miss before he starts his freshman year in the fall.

Although Taylor and David live outside the Beverly Hills Unified School District, they have attended its schools for years on special permits. The district’s Board of Education voted last month not to renew permits for the eighth-graders and other elementary students. They allowed high school students to continue through graduation.

The district is changing the way it funds schools, declining state money based on student attendance and instead using property-tax revenue. Board members argued that Beverly Hills taxpayers should not subsidize education for nonresidents.

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The district will, however, continue other nonresident permits, including those for children whose parents attended Beverly Hills schools and whose grandparents still live in the city.

Parents can appeal to the Los Angeles County Office of Education, which has said it will review each case individually. Some have said they may sue the district.

.Austin Skootsky, 14, worries that switching districts will mean having to adjust to new academic standards as well as a new social culture. In Beverly Hills, for instance, seventh- and eighth-graders take math and science courses designed to prepare them for more rigorous classes in high school.

“At another school we’d be in a lower level of classes . . . or with older kids who we don’t have a lot in common with,” Austin said.

Matthew Shterenberg, 13, a student at Horace Mann Elementary, is in the band and had already been introduced to Beverly Hills High School’s music director. He said he and other permit students have contributed to the district through student government, fundraising and extracurricular activities.

“One of my friends said with so many permit students going, he didn’t know if the high school would still be as good,” Matthew said.

Liat Menna, a talented soccer player, said her summer plans -- soccer practice and a trip to Israel -- are on hold until her schooling is resolved. She is especially angered at the argument that she and the 57 other ousted eighth-graders will easily adjust.

“Would we be fighting if we thought it would be easy to adapt, crying and pleading for them to change their minds if I didn’t really care?” said Liat, 13.

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Eric Beam, a member of the California Assn. of School Psychologists, said changing schools is stressful, but added, “The vast majority of cases we see are in impoverished areas, dealing with foster kids, people being evicted who have more stress than just the transition to a new school.”

District officials said students and their families will be provided counseling and other services, if needed. Families were notified about their permit status last week, said board member Brian David Goldberg.

“The reality is those students are graduating with their eighth-grade class and would be making this transition regardless,” Goldberg said. “It is difficult on them, but they got a great basic education in the Beverly Hills district; and whatever high school they attend, they will be successful.”

For the most part, the Beverly Hills students and their parents said they have no plans yet for the fall.

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They missed a deadline to apply for Los Angeles Unified’s popular magnet school program. Some parents said they looked into private schools but were told there was no space.

Sandy Eiges, who runs a school placement service, said families should consider religiously affiliated schools and be willing to drive some distance and accept a spot on a waiting list.

“The deadlines have passed, but there are schools out there that will entertain admitting a good student,” Eiges said. “Schools are compassionate and understand that the Beverly Hills students may have been left high and dry. But I would urge people to act now.”

Many families have cited low performance and safety concerns at public schools in their quest to remain in Beverly Hills, but Eiges said they should not dismiss local public campuses.

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Beverly Hills High scored 847 -- above the state target of 800 -- on the Academic Performance Index, which ranks schools on a scale of 200 to 1,000 based on standardized test scores. By comparison, nearby Fairfax High School scored 733.

Fairfax Principal Ed Zubiate said his campus serves a more diverse student body than Beverly High, including large groups of special education students and those studying English as a second language. And, he said, “Our safety record is one of the best in the city.”

Beverly High offers more Advanced Placement courses than Fairfax, but the two schools compare well in extracurricular activities such as video and film production and computer arts.

“Our kids go to Ivy League schools and to UCLA and Berkeley,” Zubiate said. “Education isn’t just what you learn in books but what you learn from your teachers, what you draw about life, the kids you’re around. In that way, Fairfax is a great school. You’re getting a real education in what the population of this city is, the people you’re going to be living with when you leave school.”

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But Alex Denton said for her there is only one option.

“I just always thought I’d go to Beverly Hills High School,” the 13-year-old said. “I can’t imagine myself anywhere else.”

carla.rivera@latimes.com


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