After battling for space, Westchester Secondary Charter School will close

After battling for space, Westchester Secondary Charter School will close
Students look for their classrooms on the opening day of instruction at the Westchester Secondary Charter school in 2013. (Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times)

From the start of the school year, Janet Landon was almost certain that the charter school she founded would close.

In less than four years, Westchester Secondary Charter School had moved twice in an endless search for the right home. First, the school settled in a church that was sold, then another church that later was deemed unsuitable, and then finally it shared the campus of a traditional public school.


All the upheaval proved too much for some families. By the time the school that originally opened in Westchester had found its way most recently to South L.A., it had lost more than three-quarters of its students, Landon said.

As she predicted, Westchester Secondary will close this summer after graduating its first and last senior class.

"We never got the opportunity to fulfill our mission," said Landon, who is the charter school's principal. "We certainly have not been given a fair shake."

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Education voted not to renew the school's charter for another five-year term.

Its enrollment, now at fewer than 220 students spread among grades 6-12, peaked in 2014 and never recovered. Its students' scores on the state exams were comparable to those at nearby schools such as Crenshaw High School and Westchester Enriched Sciences Magnets (formerly Westchester High School), but a county report found it hadn't met any of its other academic goals.

"The educational program at Westchester is not likely to be of educational benefit to the pupils who attend," the report said.

Landon decided not to appeal to the state Board of Education, having missed a deadline to have her petition considered at the board's July meeting. If she waited any longer, the school would have to start the new year in a continued state of uncertainty.

Charter schools have thrived in L.A., in part because a state law gives them the right to open inside traditional public schools that are under-enrolled.

But Landon said this law ultimately hurt Westchester Secondary, which she had hoped to open on the Westchester High campus.

When that space was offered to another charter school, Landon's school was given space on the Horace Mann Junior High School campus, miles from where many of her students lived. She sued the school district, but it didn't fix anything.

"From then on, I knew we were in trouble," she said. "Clearly, the district didn't want us."

Landon largely blames her school's closure on school board President Steve Zimmer, who represents a district that stretches from West L.A. to the west San Fernando Valley. She has accused him of playing favorites in choosing which charter schools share which public school campuses.

Zimmer said Thursday that he had no role in the allocations of classrooms, a process overseen by school district employees.

"The notion that there's any personal animus or personal involvement in any type of efforts against this school is just simply not true," he said. "The struggles that Westchester Secondary has had in terms of facility space are not unique to this one charter school."


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