School officials vote against renewing Nahuatl-themed charter

Charter co-founder Marcos Aguilar said the Anahuacalmecac International University Preparatory High School has served students well and deserves to remain open.
(Annie Wells / Los Angeles Times)

Supporters of a high-profile charter school with a focus on Nahuatl culture wept and held each other after the Los Angeles Board of Education voted to close its high school campus.

Anahuacalmecac International University Preparatory High School had sought a second, five-year charter, as well as permission to expand to offer a kindergarten-through-12th-grade program.

But district staff recommended closing the school because of low test scores, financial troubles and an alleged refusal to cooperate with district auditors. They said the El Sereno school repeatedly failed to follow guidelines required of all district charters.


The action did not affect the larger kindergarten-through-eighth-grade campus run by the same operators, but district officials may also move against the other school over similar issues.

School board president Monica Garcia cast the lone dissenting vote, saying the school offered a unique and valuable cultural alternative that should be available to families.

“There is something that we can’t measure because we don’t understand it,” said Garcia. “I understand it.”

“Your test scores are not where we want them ... but we need Semillas academies in our district.”

The school is part of Garcia’s board district and its supporters have been loyal political allies.

Controversy has long followed Semillas, with some critics accusing the school of promoting Aztec revolution, a characterization that resulted in death threats.


But ideology was never a yardstick for district officials. In fact, the school’s cultural focus has won plaudits from accreditation boards. And it tried innovative academic practices that were later adopted elsewhere. At the same time, the school has battled local businesses over zoning issues and alienated some former backers.

After the vote, Marcos Aguilar, the schools’ co-founder and executive director, addressed a crowd of supporters waiting outside the boardroom.

“We have had more than 500 years of resistance. This is nothing new,” he said in Spanish. “They can cut our leaves. They can snip our feathers, but they can’t chop our roots.”

Before the vote, demonstrators lined the sidewalk along Beaudry Avenue, some dancing to the fast-paced rhythmic beat of large wooden drums. Some wore large copollis, or traditional headdresses.

Cinco años mas!” Five more years, they chanted as they marched.

“The school’s a model on the national and international level,” said Ernesto “Tlahuitollini” Collín, who serves on the charter’s board of advisors. “It’s a culturally responsive school that’s achieving academically while being community-oriented.”

As the drums beat louder, Collín admitted that the school was sometimes dismissed as “a crazy bunch” but said its overall academic record was more than enough reason to renew the charter.

Junior Miahuatl Kuauhtzin has attended Semillas schools since first grade. The 16-year-old wearing chachayotes around her ankles was one point away from a perfect score on the English portion of her state exit exam.


“We’ve learned about morals and respect at home, but our school enforces these things so we can all grow as a community and flourish,” she said, the seeds around her ankles rattling.

The charter can appeal the district’s decision to the county education office, and, if successful, could remain open.

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