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Update: LA Unified school board approves $1.1M plan to fix Jefferson High class issues

Los Angeles Unified instructional superintendent Tommy Chang speaks to parents at Jefferson High on Oct. 13, 2014 about a plan to fix class scheduling problems at the school.
Los Angeles Unified instructional superintendent Tommy Chang speaks to parents at Jefferson High on Oct. 13, 2014 about a plan to fix class scheduling problems at the school.
KPCC/Adolfo Guzman-Lopez

Less than a week after a judge ordered the state and Los Angeles Unified to fix problems at Jefferson High, the district board unanimously approved a plan to reschedule students, extend the school day and hire more staff.

L.A. Unified officials said as many as 200 Jefferson students will be interviewed and, if necessary, placed in correct classes by Monday. Officials will also examine scheduling at every middle and high school to ensure students are getting the classes they need to graduate.

The board members agreed to spend $1.1 million to carry out the improvements.

The court order stems from a lawsuit brought by ACLU and Public Counsel on behalf of students at schools across California. Last Wednesday, Judge George Hernandez directed state and local officials to devise a plan to fix Jefferson's scheduling woes and present it to the school board.

A district investigation found as many as one in four student schedules at Jefferson are loaded with nonacademic or repeated courses. 

According to a L.A. Unified report released Monday, 48 students are serving as aides or going home early for two or more periods a day, and seven students aren't on track for graduation.

Another 204 juniors and seniors are retaking a course they already passed, but district officials said many of the courses, including band, are intended to be repeated.

"The district has devised a plan with Jefferson staff to meet with each affected student and provide them the option of enrolling in additional foundations and college-prep classes currently not available," according to the report.

At the board meeting, Jefferson students, parents and teachers waited three and half hours for members to emerge from a closed session and take action on the plan. A handful of parents, watching the board's renewal of their children's charter school, showed up the night before in order to be first in line for a speaker spot. 

As Jefferson senior Armani Richards waited to speak, he flipped through a 1965 copy of "Robinson Crusoe" that his English teacher bought at a thrift store. 

He called the delay in the board meeting ironic since some of Jefferson's student complaints deal with the lack of "meaningful learning time." Some students were sent home because they had no classes.

"It was pointless to go home. I wanted a class where I could learn something," Richards said.

Jefferson has had a history of problems. It was designated a priority school for intervention by the district after its students ranked among the bottom in English and math proficiency in 2011 and 2012. Only about 60 percent of students graduated each of the last three years.

But over the last several months, issues at the school escalated. Jefferson suffered reduced funding, staff turnover and a troubled student data system, making the school the focal point for issues affecting many others in the district. 

An independent monitor found 80 percent of schools surveyed had trouble tracking students and vital education information, such as special education needs. 

“We are of the opinion that most of this is due to organizational structure and mismanagement of the process," said David Rostetter, the independent monitor, "not the technical design of the system.”

Rostetter said if top officials had been more transparent about the problem, solutions could have been found sooner.

L.A. Unified officials did not respond to requests for comment on the monitor's report, but have said Jefferson's case is unique. They reported earlier this year that the scheduling troubles were affecting 1 percent of students.

District officials pinned many of Jefferson's issues on a new assistant principal, who had only half of the students scheduled for classes by the Friday before the first day of school. Many schools began scheduling six months in advance.

The unnamed assistant principal was offered help, but he was reluctant to attend the sessions, according to the district's release. He was then directed to attend.

"Unfortunately, he was unable to address the issues with the master schedule in a timely manner," according to the district. 

On Monday evening, a meeting for parents called by district officials drew a small gathering of about 45 people. 

Anabella Sales, mother of an 11th grader at Jefferson High, said she liked the district's plan described by school officials, but remained skeptical.

“[The plan] is not the solution to the larger problem that’s afflicting Jefferson now. Jefferson needs to improve the academic rigor from what it is now,” she said.

Tommy Chang, L.A. Unified instructional superintendent, said the low parent turnout could have been the result of the "last-minute nature" of last week's court order directing the district to devise an improvement plan. 

“We will continue having these conversations with parents. It does not end today,” Chang said.

Bennett Kayser, the school board member who represents the Jefferson High area, said "it's important to involve as many people as you can in something as important as a kid’s learning." But he could not account for the low turnout.

“Maybe it means that everybody is happy,” he said.

The district has until Nov. 3 to implement improvements at Jefferson.