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Letters: VAPA Program at Benton Middle School Catches Parents Ire


Dear Editor:

This is a very complex issue. The stakeholders of Benton Middle School (La Mirada, part of the Norwalk-La Mirada Unified School District) VAPA had multiple questions and wanted to have an open discussion with the superintendent and school board members in regards to the changes involving the vision of our Visual and Performing Arts Academy.

See our vision as parents, when we sent our sons and daughters to Benton was to have our kids to be immersed in the Arts, as a quality VAPA program does, as well as great academic experience.

We were willing to put the extra volunteer hours into the investment in all 623 students in our school. We have accomplished amazing things in just 3 years and have created a family between our teachers, administrative staff and community.  Our API score has jumped  over 800, highest growth in the district this year, our enrollment has increased from around 250 to over 600 and we financially pay for ourselves even with a different schedule format, which includes in the district eyes, carry 4 extra teachers per ratio 30:1 traditional standards. Our teachers discussed the different schedule and approved it, which their union supported for 3 years.  So why would the district want to change a success story? We initially were told that because the district was expecting our enrollment to drop to 520 for this coming year because of decreased 5th grade students in the district, the decreased  birth rate from 911 and  that all middle school need to have “equity”, i.e. the same…. Our middle schools are by far not equal across the district, some have zero periods, some have after school programs, some have more free lunches than other and ours has block scheduling.  Let’s not mention the difference that only 70 students are allowed in the Magnet Academy at other schools, where all 623 students at Benton are allowed to pick and participate in ANY elective they choose.

In the process of trying to have an open discussion with Dr. Perez and the School Board, as parents, we have been met with increased frustration and disgust. In those meetings the response has been this is the way it is going to be as just take it. We have asked to be put on the school board agenda and have had the paperwork lost, told by the district lawyer that only certain topics can be discussed, all responses from the school board would come from the president, Ed Hengler, and the final blow was when the guidelines were changed to state the superintendent has to approve the topic before she will allow it to be put on the agenda.  The school board does allow we to speak for 3 minutes in open session but the board does not respond back. Talk about a one sided discussion.  Our teachers created a scheduling committee of 15 of teachers and administrators, to create a schedule that would meet the instructional minutes, 4 less teachers which our ”proposed budget” would not support and common core curriculum that is coming. Those were their guidelines from the district.   They were allowed to discuss the 7 period modified block schedule at the March 11 board meeting, which does meet the 4 less teacher, gives additional 12 hours of instructional minutes to our students then required and does not require additional funding.

The teachers had come up with and supported this schedule and even had Tanla support (teacher’s union) but yet the stakeholders are not allowed on the agenda. The presentation was met with a prepared response from Ed Hengler, the Board President, which he is not allowed to respond and it was prepared basically saying tough.  The superintendent and some of her executive staff were kind enough to meet with as group of stakeholders with two proposals for our schedule. The district proposed variations on a standard 6 period day that do not support our school as it was designed.  Option 1 is a standard 6 period day with an alternating half-elective.  The students would not be immersed in the arts and would not have longer instructional blocks.  Certain students would not have any arts electives at all, either due to schedule conflicts or required interventions.  Option 2 was also a standard 6 period day but combined Science and History, so a student would only have half of each core subject.  This option does not support the A-G requirements for college or career readiness and does not support the Common Core focus for social studies, history, science or applied science. There was not discussion of the modified 7 block schedule allowed. It is either bad or worse, take it or leave it… Most of the stake holder took the lesser of the two evils for the schedule. In the last Monday night meeting, we tried again to have a discussion about how to give our kids an education that will prepare them for the future and what we got was more of the same.

We are at a loss for school district where a consultant who has never stepped foot on our campus can create a six period traditional schedule that does not meet the needs of that community. The core curriculum that is coming, is going to be taught to all of our students, for them to look outside the box into that grey area, (no more standardized multiple choice tests) and that is what they are going to be tested on in 2 to 3 years. How can we prepare them for that standard if our district can’t see that they need to look into that grey area to meet that need?  This is not a one school issue, it is a district issue. Where are we to go if the School Board and the superintendent are not even willing to discuss the issue, technology and the world is changing too fast? We all, as stakeholders  in the Norwalk and La Mirada school district at every school should be very concerned for our leadership if they are not willing to talk about a valid concern and issue.

Susie Carabajal

Concerned Parent

Benton Middle School

La Mirada