LAUSD Board Approves Charter Company to Run Locke High School

L.A. Unified voted Tuesday on a first: handing over management of Locke High School in South Los Angeles to a charter school company. The vote took place after three hours of heated public comment about the future of reform at the nation's second-largest school district. KPCC's Adolfo Guzman-Lopez reports.

Adolfo Guzman-Lopez: This was the second meeting in which L.A. Unified discussed whether to let Green Dot Public Schools run Locke High School. The board room was a swirl of green, red, and sky blue t-shirts.

Maria Zamora wore a green shirt. She supported Green Dot's plan. She dropped out of Locke almost 20 years ago. Her son goes to school there now.

Maria Zamora: My son, last year, he was there the whole year, he don't do nothing. I went to ask for help a couple of times, they never helped me.

Guzman-Lopez: Linda Guthrie with United Teachers Los Angeles wore a red shirt. She opposed the Green Dot plan. Administrators, she said, haven't allowed teachers to carry out reforms.

Linda Guthrie: If you do this, you're going to send a message through this district that this district is unable, unable to heal itself. It is unable to put trust in its teachers and its administrators, its students and its community, to do the work that is really necessary for turning around schools.

Guzman-Lopez: Some Locke High School parents and teachers wore blue shirts in support of the 40-year-old campus. By most accounts, though, Locke High isn't delivering a quality education. The state Department of Education reports that almost half its students drop out before graduating. Test scores rank it among the lowest performing schools in L.A. Unified.

Green Dot's proposal would turn the 2700-student campus into a complex of charter schools of no more than 500 students each. The charter school company would control budget and curricular decisions.

L.A. Unified's board approved the plan by a five-to-two margin. Other campuses in the district have converted to charter schools. But this is the first time L.A. Unified is handing over control of a campus to a charter school company.

After the vote, Green Dot founder Steve Barr accepted a hug from board president Monica Garcia. He said struggling parents should also have access to good schools.

Monica Garcia: Congratulations, God Bless you.

Steve Barr: A lot of hard working, beautiful people in this city are not getting the help, and I just think of my mom, who was a waitress and never made more than $1,000 more a month, but we had great schools back then and she got help.

Guzman-Lopez: A few years ago, Barr proposed taking over the troubled Jefferson High campus. The former Superintendent of Schools said no.

Current Superintendent David Brewer described the Green Dot plan as a partnership.

Superintendent David Brewer: They're going to find out what it's really like to run a comprehensive high school, but I'm there to help them because I can't afford to let children fail, regardless of who is in control of the high school.

Guzman-Lopez: Green Dot will sit down with L.A. Unified administrators and United Teachers Los Angeles to work out the transfer of Locke to Green Dot by the fall of next year.

But some big questions remain. What'll be L.A. Unified's contribution? And which labor union will represent more than 130 teachers Locke employs now?