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Opinion

Learning Matters: Expanding school choices have changed Glendale Unified over the years

Crescenta Valley High School
Crescenta Valley High School is part of Glendale Unified’s German dual-language-immersion program, as are Roosevelt Middle School and Franklin Elementary.
(File photo)

Families have a lot more public-school options for their children than were available a generation ago. They also have more information to guide them.

When we were looking for a house in 1981, all we knew about schools was what we learned from our Realtors, Mary Ann and Bill Plumley. They told us Glendale had good schools. So when we found a home with a view on Adams Hill, in our price range, we bought it.

There were no online school comparisons, no readily available school rankings or websites. We didn’t know the name of our neighborhood school until we heard it from a teacher we met in our Lamaze childbirth class.

That teacher, Steve Soule-Maggio, would later be our daughter’s fifth-grade teacher.

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Children went to school where they lived, or else they went to private or parochial school. Other than the relatively few families granted work or childcare-related permits to enroll in a district school, if families wanted a public school outside their neighborhood, they moved.

I was educated in public schools and wanted our children to have a similar experience, and though my husband attended Catholic schools, he supported my preference.

Still, as I contemplated our daughter’s upcoming entrance to kindergarten, I was like all the other young parents I knew: uncertain and anxious.

But after hearing a reassuring vote of confidence from another parent at the school, I watched our daughter step into Emily Mauerman’s kindergarten class at John Muir Elementary, and we were set. All three of our children attended Muir.

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The late 1980s and ‘90s were years of significant enrollment growth, especially in south Glendale, as many single-family homes gave way to apartment complexes.

At John Muir, enrollment more than doubled over a seven-year period, and it was one of nine elementaries converted to a year-round calendar to accommodate all of the students.

When California’s class-size reduction, or CSR, became a reality in 1996, new pressures were placed on schools. Although parents and teachers rejoiced at primary-grade classes of 20 students, prompting some families to return from private to public schools, schools needed more classrooms.

Portable classrooms started crowding campus playgrounds, and schools faced penalties if class sizes exceeded 20.

Grade levels at some schools were capped, and some students were redirected to the nearest school with space available at their grade level. The district employed staff to check addresses to ensure families weren’t using a friend’s or relative’s address.

If a family was discovered to be using another’s address, their children were summarily dismissed from the district. Overnight, their children had to enroll in their district of residence.

But even while some parents clamored for their children to come to Glendale, others started looking elsewhere, concerned about Glendale’s crowded schools and the community’s changing demographics.

Parents we knew started sending their children to private schools, or they moved. Some moved just a little north to La Crescenta, where schools were still on traditional calendars. Others went to Simi Valley and Valencia. Over the years, young families in our neighborhood became a rarity.

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Then school choices began appearing. Clark Magnet High School opened in La Crescenta in 1998. Designed to address overcrowding at Hoover and Glendale high schools, where enrollment was approaching 3,600 students, Clark offered a college and career, technology-focused curriculum that attracted both parents and students.

Edison Elementary, committed to its English language-learning students, piloted the district’s first dual-language Spanish-immersion program. Bringing together “English only” and Spanish speaking students, the program became a model in the district and across the state and led to the formation of the Foreign Language Academies of Glendale, known as FLAG schools.

These programs and the specialty magnet and career pathway programs that have followed have changed the complexion of our schools. Perhaps most significantly, they’ve changed the socioeconomic composition of our schools, mixing students from higher- and lower-income neighborhoods.

They’ve also changed neighborhoods, as a family’s choice of a home no longer limits their children’s school choices.

John Muir now has children from inside and outside its boundaries, attracted by its Spanish immersion program as well as its long tradition of teaching excellence.

One neighborhood family has a son who attended the Korean FLAG and arts magnet program at Mark Keppel Elementary in northwest Glendale. Another has commuted to Franklin Elementary, near Glendale’s border with Burbank, for its German FLAG program. Students who stay with German matriculate through Roosevelt Middle School in south Glendale and on to Crescenta Valley High School.

School board president Jennifer Freemon’s children have similarly spent time crossing the district’s landscape, from one end to the other, thanks in large part to the Spanish immersion program.

As of this past Aug. 30, the district reported 1,289 interdistrict permits, including 415 new this year. Within the district, according to a Sept. 9 report, 6,526 students have been approved to attend schools outside their neighborhoods. All together, that’s close to 30% of the district’s enrollment.

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We’re seeing a lot of young families in our neighborhood now.

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