"God forbid a school should do something on its own."
Howard Lappin of Los Angeles' James A. Foshay Middle School provided the Commission with a solid example of a multitrack "year-round education" program in operation.
Foshay sits on the edge of the South Central Los Angeles region that suffered the worst damage during the civil disturbances that broke out in 1992 following the verdict in the intensely watched trial of the police officers accused in the beating of Rodney King. Visitors to the school cannot help noticing the metal bars protecting practically every home, business, and church in the neighborhood, the 8-by-15 foot chain-link fence shielding the school from its surroundings, and the guard at the school door. Visitors cannot help noticing something else too: inside, the school is an island of tranquillity. The school is clean. The atmosphere is relaxed. Occasional groups of students in the hall are alert and polite. Classes are focused on academic work. "We demand a lot from these kids," said Lappin.
Despite fires near the school during the riots in 1992, and the presence of a gang in a house across the street, "Here in this school, the students are safe. And they know they are safe," said Lappin. "On the streets, they are worried."
Lappin described his efforts to turn Foshay around since arriving as principal four years ago. Until recently, he said, the school enrollment was 90 to 100 percent African American. Today, two-thirds of the enrollment is Hispanic, with 50 percent of the students classified as having "Limited English Proficiency." "You can tell what is happening in Central America based on how our enrollment changes from month to month," said Lappin. "Just in the last two weeks, 50 new students enrolled, and we have an 80 percent transience rate annually." Three-quarters of the students' families qualify for public assistance, and 97 percent of those enrolled come from low-income families.
When Lappin arrived at the school, Foshay was one of 31 schools in the state defined as "at risk," that is, the state was threatening to take away its Chapter 1 and bilingual education funding because the achievement of its students was so low: on a scale of 1(low) to 100 (high) in California standings, Foshay stood at 2. Its language and mathematics achievement scores on the California Test of Basic Skills (CTBS) were in the 15 to 20 percent range. The dropout rate annually reached 21 percent. Today, Foshay is not on the "at risk" list; its language and math scores on CTBS reach 30 to 40 percent, respectively, and the dropout rate has fallen to 5 percent. The principal and his multicultural staff are clearly proud of what they have accomplished.
Lappin captured the difficulty of changing an individual school within a larger school bureaucracy with the phrase, "God forbid a school should do something on its own." A year-round calendar is only one aspect of Foshay's turnaround, he said. Foshay has also implemented school-based management and has successfully competed for one of 130 state grants for school restructuring, succeeding among 800 applicants. "But despite our effort to restructure and the fact that we are a site-based school," he complained, "our school site committee has almost no control over the school's budget. And we really have no control over our staffing -- the district hires teachers district wide. We are eligible for what Chapter 1 calls 'schoolwide projects,' but the district will not approve it."
Despite such difficulties, the Foshay staff persevered. Included in the turnaround were several factors: an emphasis on order in the school, site-based management efforts in which Lappin and the staff make decisions about the school jointly; restructuring; and a year-round/multitrack calendar. The year-round effort has, in essence, created four separate schools within Foshay's walls. Each of four tracks begins and ends at a different time of the year so that, although students normally spend only 180 days at school, the school facility is used year round. Inter-sessions between school semesters permit students to receive an additional 60 hours (ten days) of instruction if needed.
Moreover, the school operates some Saturday classes for both students and parents, including a joint effort with the University of Southern California. The "Neighborhood Academic Initiative" enrolls 60 students who are guaranteed full assistance to attend the University if they persist and complete the Scholastic Aptitude Test with combined scores of 1000. The joint program requires mandatory Saturday classes for the students and their parents. With the assistance of USC, Foshay is also opening a social service center on campus to provide health care screening, pediatric care, a dental van and visits from professionals affiliated with the School of Social Work.
For additional information:
James A. Foshay Middle School
3751 South Harvard Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90018