Students, teachers, alumni, and parents at Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet High School in Boyle Heights are advocating for more funding and new facilities that they say are necessary for the students’ education and safety.
They say they’re in need of new classroom spaces, a multipurpose room, a performing arts facility. They would also like to see a new physical educational center with a new sports track and locker rooms. Stakeholders are also seeking an expansion for career tech programs and updated labs.
Victoria Montes, a college advisor at Bravo, along with Lisa Gutierrez, the school librarian, are behind a movement advocating for more funding and equity at Bravo.
In December 2021, they created a flier that has circulated among teachers, students, and community members that urges supporters to contact school board Member Mónica García, and ask why there hasn’t been any major funding at the school since she was elected to the board in 2006.
“We just teach in an environment where there’s never any funding,” said Montes, who has worked with the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) for more than 20 years.
Bravo is located on Marengo and Cornwell, just South of Hazard Park and the USC Health Sciences Campus. Originally a magnet center, Bravo was first at Lincoln High School before moving to Wilson High School in the mid-’80s. Its current building opened in 1990.
The 2022 U.S. News World Report ranked Bravo No. 4 in the district, and the school won the 2021 and 2019 California Distinguished School titles. Despite its prestige, Bravo has experienced a decline in student enrollment over the past few years. There are 1,650 students at Bravo in the 2021-2022 school year, with student enrollment expected to decrease to 1,597 in the following school year, said Felipe Arellano, the school administrative assistant.
Bravo lags in renovation funding when compared to other Eastside schools. Staff said the school hasn’t receive any major funding for structure renovations since 2003.
In contrast, in 2018 the LAUSD Board budgeted $173 million for renovations at Roosevelt High School. In 2021, the board approved $1.2 million for renovations at James A. Garfield High School in East Los Angeles and $233 million for upgrades, including a new classroom and performing arts building at Abraham Lincoln Senior High School, in Lincoln Heights.
Other newer schools, such as Boyle Heights’ Méndez High School, are receiving funding from the district to build projects like the Sylvia Méndez Wellness Center set to open in the Fall.
In addition, in 2021 the LAUSD board granted Woodrow Wilson Senior High School in El Sereno $26 million to construct a new performing arts center, which García also backed. In 2020, Esteban E. Torres High School in East LA was funded $955,000 for renovations to its amphitheater.
Boyle Heights Beat reached out to García to address funding concerns at Bravo, but she did not respond to a request for comment.
A spokesperson for the district said that since Bravo opened in 1990, LAUSD has invested about $4.3 million in facility improvements to the school campus. The spokesperson, who did not want to be identified, noted that more than 70 percent of the buildings in the district were built over 50 years ago.
Concern and frustration from school employees
Gutierrez, the school librarian, said she took initiative after realizing Bravo wasn’t granted the same opportunities as other schools in the area.
“I can’t be comfortable and sit on the problem,” Gutierrez said. “It’s been clear that we’re super crowded, to where we’ve now had to send three classes to the East Los Angeles Occupational Center,” she added.
Currently, 11th grade students taking Patient Care Pathway Courses, which cover medical terminology, attend class at the East Los Angeles Occupational Center, which is nearly half a mile away from the school. Twelfth graders are expected to walk about half a mile to the LAC+USC Medical Center for some STEM classes.
School staff are concerned that students are exposed to dangerous conditions, like speeding cars, as they walk to satellite locations.
Students at Bravo who take PE classes use Hazard Park for running or other exercises because Bravo doesn’t have a track or field. Cross country students use Hazard Park, while the track team uses both Woodrow Wilson Senior High School and the park for practice.
Montes and Gutierrez said they worry about the safety of the students who use the park for PE and other sports because, they say, they’re exposed to homelessness, drug usage, gang-affiliated people, and uneven pavement or gopher holes.
Montes is also concerned about the lack of space at Bravo because it’s harder to create new programs for students that benefit their college and workforce readiness.
She mentioned a dental tech program that was active at Bravo, but had to be cut due to insufficient funds. She added that if there were new similar programs, there would be no space at Bravo to see them through.
“We don’t have a single open classroom, every classroom on campus is occupied by students and teachers,” she said. “We don’t have an extra space, we don’t have an extra building, we can’t add more to Bravo.”
Montes understands there’s many historical traditions behind other older high schools like Roosevelt and Garfield, and renovations may be needed for their fields or facilities to keep sports traditions like the East LA Classic going. However, she thinks that just because Bravo doesn’t have these traditions, it doesn’t mean the school deserves less than.
“I understand if other schools need more support because they’re struggling, and we get that. But, everyone now has plenty of support, and we still don’t. That’s the frustrating part,” Montes said.
“It’s not like we’re asking for a football field, but, if there is money to renovate these tracks and fields, maybe it’s time for us to look at our surrounding properties,” Montes added.
Montes was referring to the empty green space that sits next to Bravo. According to Montes, plans were developed in 2011 to create a track space and a new three-story building.
”It was all designed by the district,” she said. “But, guess what, it was never funded.”
Michael Sinclair, the SIS/Technology Coordinator at Bravo, also mentioned a piece of land across the street from the school that’s owned by the district. However, the school hasn’t been able to build on that land due to lack of funding.
The LAUSD spokesperson argued that “while the surrounding real estate and layout of the campus does not allow for physical expansion, Bravo continues to expand its educational programs,” touting the classes at ELAOC and County+USC and the state and national recognitions the school has received.
“Local District East and the entire Los Angeles Unified family is very proud of Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet’s academic achievement and success,” the spokesperson said.
Meeting with district staff: ‘unsatisfactory and uncomfortable’
Stakeholders have wondered why García, who oversees the region where Bravo is located but is being termed out of her board position this year, hasn’t attended any meetings addressing the lack of funding for Bravo.
In early March, students and Local District East officials met with Garcia’s chief of staff Jenny Aguas. Associated Student Body president Jocelyn Vergara and other student leaders attended the meeting as well as members of LAUSD’s Local District East staff. Bravo’s principal Luis Lopez also attended the meeting.
Alondra Nava, Bravo’s Associated Student Body secretary, described the last-minute meeting as “unsatisfactory and uncomfortable” because she felt there wasn’t enough support from school staff.
“We weren’t able to have that much talking time when the meeting was supposed to be them hearing us out,” Nava said.
According to Nava, district staff said that funds were allocated to schools that were older, in need of repairs and had safety issues, and that their school wasn’t prioritized for funding because Bravo isn’t as old as schools like Roosevelt and Garfield, which were each built more than 100 years ago.
But Nava said she didn’t understand why Wilson, although 85 years old and in need of repairs, was receiving an entirely new visual and performing arts center costing nearly $26 million.
While she may no longer be at Bravo by the time the school gets new funding, this fight is still important to Nava.
She feels students deserve more.
“I personally believe that Bravo is a great opportunity for many students to really strive in the medical field, and hopefully in other fields when we do get more space,” she said.