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6th Graders May Be Headed to Venice High; Popular Chinese Program Leaving Venice

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By Paul Chavez, Venice Dispatch

Sixth- and seventh-graders may be coming to Venice High School this fall as part of a school district pilot program and a popular Chinese-language study program has been slated to leave Broadway Elementary School in Venice’s Oakwood section, officials said Tuesday at a local education committee meeting.

The Venice Neighborhood Council’s Education Committee at its meeting heard from about 15 concerned parents and instructors who spoke about the looming changes at the two schools.

The Los Angeles Unifed School District’s Board of Education was expected to vote next Tuesday on the The Incubator School pilot project that will launch at a Westside campus next fall with 6th- and 7th-grade classes, said Sujata Bhatt, an English teacher for 11 years at Grand View Elementary School in Mar Vista who is the lead designer of the pilot school project. The program would add a grade each year until it’s a 6th-grade through 12th-grade program.

The Incubator School already has been approved by the school district’s Pilot School Committee. The Incubator School in a Tuesday night posting on Facebook urged supporters to contact recently re-elected LAUSD District 4 board member Steve Zimmer and request his support for the project.

The message to supporters said The Incubator School will most likely be located on the Venice High School campus, but the location was still under negotiation and subject to change.

The Incubator School is supported by Future Is Now Schools, which was created by Steve Barr, the founder and former chairman of charter operator Green Dot Public Schools. Future Is Now Schools is supported by the Ford Foundation, The Moriah Fund, New Schools Venture Fund and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Bhatt stressed during the meeting that The Incubator School was not a charter school, but a pilot school. A pilot school has charter school-like autonomy over budget, staffing, curriculum and schedule, but remains overseen by the district and staffed with union teachers who voluntarily choose to work at a pilot school.

The LAUSD board last month approved 12 pilot school projects.

The Incubator School’s free program would start next school year ideally with 125 6th graders and about 75 7th graders, Bhatt said. The program was designed to provide a college-ready curriculum with the incubator theme referencing a small-business startup model. Students in the program by 8th grade will know how to launch a business within the school and by 12th grade will be able to launch a startup in the real world, Bhatt said.

“Over the course of this they learn how to communicate, team-building and become self-starters essentially,” Bhatt said.

Wendy Kornbeck, a music instructor at Venice High School and assistant union representative, said parents have been kept in the dark about the changes, citing a meeting scheduled for this Friday on the matter at Venice High School that has been canceled.

“Our parents have had zero say and it goes to a board vote on Tuesday and our faculty also was never heard,” Kornbeck said.

She also lamented the incursion of private industry into public schools.

“Public education needs to be funded by the public and not by private industry, otherwise it’s not public education,” she said. “It’s private industry destabilizing public schools.”

Venice High School next school year also will open its doors to a new Science, Technology, Engineering, Math and Medicine (STEMM) Magnet program.

In another development, a group of parents from Broadway Elementary School in the Oakwood area of Venice attended the meeting at the Boys & Girls Club of Venice seeking answers and support for their campaign to keep the popular Mandarin Immersion program in Venice.

Education committee member Karen Wolfe said a proposal has been put forth to move the program to Marina del Rey Middle School in Del Rey to accommodate for its future growth. A meeting has been scheduled on Friday at 5:30 p.m. at Marina del Rey Middle School to present the co-location plan in a public setting. Marina del Rey Middle School currently shares its campus with the Goethe International Charter School.

The Mandarin Immersion program at Broadway Elementary has become a point of pride for some in Venice and a symbol of change for the once gang-ridden Oakwood area. The program presents a challenging curriculum taught half in English and half in Mandarin Chinese and was designed as a kindergarten to 8th-grade program. Students by eighth grade are expected to pass the Advanced Placement exam for Chinese Language and Culture.

The free program has been popular with parents with some lining up before dawn earlier this month to enroll their children in one of 75 enrollment spots, according to a report by KNBC-TV. A 2011 survey found that a majority of families with students in the Mandarin Immersion program were from outside the greater Venice area. Twenty percent of families were from Venice, with 66 percent from the Westside and 14 percent residing in other Los Angeles communities.

Broadway parents at the meeting said they were lead to believe their students would matriculate to Mark Twain Middle School, which has a World Languages Magnet program. The language program has breathed new life into Broadway Elementary, which had declining enrollment and lower test scores before the Mandarin Immersion program started in 2010.

“It doesn’t make sense. My child deserves to be in an elementary school environment campus rather than dropped in a middle school environment that is not proper for young children at the elementary level to be around,” said Christoper Rosen, 41, a parent of a Mandarin Immersion student at Broadway.

He urged combining the English-only program at Broadway with the English program at Westminster Avenue Elementary School and leaving the Mandarin Immersion program at Broadway.

“Keeping everything in Venice and finding a way to make it work in Venice finally gives the Venice community something that it deserves, as any community deserves, that is good schools,” Rosen said.

A notice on the Broadway Elementary School website, however, plainly stated that the Mandarin Immersion program is moving to Marina del Rey Middle School.

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