Despite the muggy August heat, Woodland Hills LAUSD campuses started school on a good note, and some have extra reason to celebrate. Four Woodland Hills elementary schools have gained affiliated charter status through LAUSD.
New charter campuses include Lockhurst Drive Charter Elementary School, Serrania Avenue Charter School For Enriched Studies, Woodland Hills Charter For Enriched Studies and Woodlake Elementary Community Charter.
LAUSD, the largest public school district in California—and second largest in the country—grants affiliated charter status to preexisting public school campuses within the district that seek some independence, specifically in curriculum flexibility and expenditure of state funds. These types of charters must still hire UTLA teachers, union staff, and follow district policies.
The term “affiliated charter” comes from LAUSD for schools wanting semi-autonomy but under the governance of the district.
For Lockhurst Drive Charter Elementary School, now with 310 students, this option was an obvious step for Principal Aleta Johnson.
“We wanted to express our personality, and our community has a very distinct personality,” Johnson said. “We knew that we had some unique situations here”.
One thing that distinguishes the school is that almost 30 percent of its student population is considered “special education.”
“That’s very unique for a public school that’s a general education campus, “ Johnson said.
The school also has “highly gifted” students as well. Johnson said the goal was to find ways to service both populations, as well as bring in resources and programs that would be beneficial for all students.
The first step for Lockhurst was to petition LAUSD for conversion. The rigorous process involved bringing parents, teachers and administration together to draft an explicitly detailed appeal that included the pending charter’s educational plan, proposing attendance alternatives and student outcomes and the process for appointing governance board members.
Johnson said there was some apprehension on the part of faculty members, who were particularly concerned about how work was going to change and whether goals would be attainable.
Parents of Lockhurst felt eager, but unsure as well.
“My first reaction was to research the difference between affiliated charter versus charter. Once I found out [what the new status could bring], I was very excited,” said Sheri Lehavi, who has 3 children ranging from second to fifth grade at the campus.
Lehavi said the the general feel at Lockhurst about the school going affiliated charter is positive and that parents are hopeful for more programs.
In addition to integrating more technology, art and physical education, the new charter will be introducing a musical instrument program for grades three through five. In addition, Lockhurst is making a big move toward improving its gifted curriculum.
Nearby Calabash Charter Academy can relate. Going into its second year as a conversion campus, the school, now with 410 students, has made great strides as an affiliated charter, Principal Esther Gillis said.
“While we wanted to keep the programs that make this school very special, we didn’t have the financial support, so going affiliated charter gives us access to funds that we normally would not have had,” Gillis said.
The school has received about $144,000 per year for the last two years with the new status, compared to the $41,000 it received each year prior to going charter.
More funding has enabled Calabash to hire more teacher assistants in the classrooms, something Principal Gillis said is a direct impact on student achievement.
The school has been also been able to purchase laptop computers for every classroom and iPads for every teacher and will be introducing a new reading comprehension program, Accelerated Reader, that encourages students to read books they are interested in, at the level they understand, while teachers monitor their progress through vocabulary and reading practice quizzes. Calabash continues to add technology, health and physical education and arts programs for all grade levels.
“Having that discussion with parents and teachers about what they wanted to bring [to Calabash], that’s the core besides the monetary value, it’s really getting more people involved,” Gillis said. “It’s a collective team. We are all working together to do what’s best for the kids.”
Fifth grade teacher and UTLA representative for the Calabash, Susan von Buelow concurs. Going on her ninth year at the school and comparing her years there, she has seen the school’s new status take “leaps and bounds.”
“It’s not just the reading, writing and arithmetic approach; It’s being able to really let the kids be creative,” she said.
Von Buelow has seen specific and enhanced programs— like art, drama, writing and music— due to the funds for affiliated charters boost students’ learning.
Both Lockhurst and Calabash will remain affiliated charters for five years with the option to renew.
For Lockhurst, this will be a building year.
“We want parents to find a home [here],” Johnson. “We want parents to have a voice. We need to demonstrate that we are worthy.”