Photo by Andrew Roman
Photo by Andrew Roman
Photo by Andrew Roman

Today is the first day of school for  an estimated 600,000 students  in the Los Angeles Unified School District. While it signifies the end of the summer, many high school students in Boyle Heights can expect even more changes when they return to the classroom.

Because of lower than projected enrollment, Theodore Roosevelt High School and Felicitas and Gonzalo Mendez Learning  High School College and Career Preparatory have consolidated their respective smaller schools and undergoing leadership changes.

Earlier this year Roosevelt, currently one of the 22 schools operating in the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools (PLAS), was ordered by Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Superintendent John Deasy to reorganize or risk losing it’s involvement in the Partnership.

Under the reorganization, Roosevelt High School will now consist of three schools, downsized from the seven smaller learning academies created in 2010.

Roosevelt was the only school in the Partnership asked to reorganize.   The concern, according to Senior Communications Director for PLAS Patrick Sinclair was, “the financial viability of the small schools going forward.”   Sinclair says now that the school has reorganized, the district has renewed the school’s participation in the Partnership for another four years.

For the last three years, Roosevelt has had seven small learning academies including:  Law and Government; Humanities (HARTS); STEM, Academy of Medical and Health Sciences (AMAHS), Communication New Media and Technology (CNMT), Math, Science and Technology Magnet Academy, and The Academy of Environmental Science and Policy (ESP).

Under the reorganization, The Academy of Environmental Science and Policy (ESP) and the Math, Science and Technology Magnet will remain independent schools, while the other five schools will merge back into one school.

The small schools were initially created to host approximately 550 students each, but the student population dropped significantly from 5,000 in 2007 to 2,900 in 2012/2013–   some of this due to the opening of nearby schools and charters in the area.

The consolidation has also brought about changes in administration.Principal Bruce Bivins, formerly the principal of ESP, was chosen to head Roosevelt High School.  Brendan Schallert, a former Roosevelt teacher will now be the principal of ESP; while Randy Romero remains the principal of the Magnet.

Ben Gertner has been at Roosevelt for eight years.   While he was first hired as a teacher, and he has served as the principal of the CNMT School for the past three years.

Under the reorganization, Gertner will now be one of three vice-principals at the school.   He says his biggest concern about the change is that “we lose the personalization which is the biggest strength of the small schools.”

Reaction has been mixed to the small school academies since their inception.   While some say the small learning environments have benefited the students, others have said that the campus was never meant to house so many different schools.

Yazmin Nunez, a Boyle Heights Beat reporter and senior in the fall, says she feels a little worried about the reorganization.   The former Law and Government students says, “as small schools we were with the same counselors, and all the teachers and the principal knew who you were. It’s something you don’t get in a big school.”

Nunez says for some students it could be a positive thing, however, because more classes will be available. Emily Vasquez, an incoming junior is worried this will not be the case.   She says she’s stressing out because a teacher told her there would be less Advanced Placement classes offered, and it will be “more competitive to get into the classes.”

At the same time, Vasquez says she’s excited to meet new people because she’s felt “a little sheltered in the small schools.”

Gertner says he believes in the future of Roosevelt and that “reunifying will bring back a sense of school pride.”

Another Boyle Heights high school in the Partnership is also undergoing changes this school year. At Mendez Learning Center, the schools for Math and Science and Engineering and Technology will now be consolidated into one school.

The school will now focus on more college preparation and was renamed Felicitas and Gonzalo Mendez High School- College and Career Preparatory.

Like at Roosevelt, Mendez is consolidating because of low enrollment.   While the schools were built for 500 students each, the 2012/2013 school year served approximately 650 students.   Similar enrollment projections are expected for the incoming year.

“We went through a detailed process to include students, parents, community partners, and staff to decide if consolidation was for us and if we wanted a theme,” explained Mauro Bautista, principal of the Math and Science School. Ultimately, he said, the benefits are greater if the school consolidates, and “we will get more funding” as a larger school.

Bautista will now oversee the high school as principal and Alex Avila, the former principal of the Engineering and Technology School will serve as Assistant Principal.

The Partnership for Los Angeles Schools was founded in 2007 as a strategy to improve education in Los Angeles.   It is collaboration between the City of Los Angeles, and the Los Angeles Unified School district to turn around the city’s lowest performing schools.

There are currently 22 schools in the Partnership, and nearly 16,000 students.

Jessica Perez contributed to this story.

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