LA Unified Enrollment War’s newest battleground is a boys’ school

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Christina Fuller was on the line.

With less than a week to go for the new school year, mom Willowbrook who works in student services at Santa Monica College still had no idea where her son would start in sixth grade.

So one evening last week, she took Robert, a calm 11-year-old boy wearing a Minecraft t-shirt, to an orientation she came across online for the district’s latest offering: Boys Academic Leadership Academy.

The school, known as BALA, emphasizes science, technology, arts, engineering and math, or STEAM education. Classes at the Washington Prep campus in South LA begin Tuesday.

LA Unified opened a boys‘ school in part to conform to its interpretation of federal regulations after it launched the Girls Academic Leadership Academy in Mid-City last year. But it’s also the kind of unusual offer the district hopes to help in its ongoing struggle to recoup lost enrollment – and revenue – to charter schools.

“The district is trying to give parents a unique opportunity that they feel they can’t get at charter schools,” said Tyrone Howard, professor and associate dean for equity and inclusion in the school of education. and information from UCLA. But, he said, “you can’t just say it, you have to guarantee the quality of the school.”

We also have to get students to register, which has been a problem so far. The school was to accommodate 200 students in the first year, sixth and seventh years, with plans to eventually add an eighth grade and a high school. As of Friday, Principal Donald Moorer said, about 100 were registered.

Fuller was one of BALA’s three parents or guardians that evening – although Moorer said it was because the school had already held many such sessions.

Moorer is the second director of BALA. The district named the first last year, promoting a career administrator, Jeremy McDavid. McDavid hired teachers and designed the school’s curriculum. In July, he transferred to View Park Continuation School, on the Dorsey High School campus in Crenshaw, to swap places with Moorer, its principal.

The change of direction has been noticed. During the orientation, Amber Banks, who attended on behalf of a foster child, asked McDavid because she learned about the school from him during a presentation at a scout troop.

McDavid declined to speak on the case. “He’s moved on to another school where he can run a school that already has a high enrollment rate,” LA Unified spokesperson Sam Gilstrap said.

Moorer said he was happy to inherit a fully developed program. “Growing up, I would have benefited from this program,” he said.

When Moorer started BALA, 30 students were enrolled, he said. “A lot of it has to do with marketing and the dissemination of information,” he said. “I knocked on doors.

For her part, Fuller said she was looking for a place where “Robert won’t just go through school.”

Sixth graders each run to school for the Boys Academic Leadership Academy in South LA

(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

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BALA is inspired by the Eagle Academies, a group of boys’ schools in New York City. Rosemary Salomone, a professor at St. John’s University Law School who wrote the book “Same, Different, Equal: Rethinking Single-Sex Schooling,” said she was impressed with the community feel of the site. Bronx. It gave the students, she said, “a positive image of what it means to be an African American male.”

Others question the need for schools. Sarah Bradshaw, West Coast policy director of the Feminist Majority Foundation, said creating a boys-only school focused on STEM only widens the gap between the men and women represented in these fields. “How do you catch up when additional resources are diverted to … support boys’ education?” ” she said.

During the orientation, Moorer spoke about the new school in a newly renovated classroom. Its eight offices had been divided into two groups to facilitate collaboration.

Each day at BALA, he said, will begin with a school-wide town hall in which a student would be chosen to pour “libations”. The boys will also recite the poem “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley: “I am the master of my destiny: I am the captain of my soul. “

John Aquino, the school counselor, carried a small potted tree and filled a black pitcher with water.

Students will say what they are grateful for during the libation, which involves watering the tree, Moorer said. “You will come back every day with a positive feeling. “

Only one young man, Robert, was present for the orientation, so Moorer asked him to come forward and say what made him grateful. “Come on, tell us what interests you, I appreciate you,” said the new manager.

Robert walked over slowly and said softly, “I’m grateful for my family.” Moorer applauded and thanked him for his courage.

He said he wanted to create a culture where right answers are rewarded and students feel comfortable taking on what they don’t know. Each class, he said, will have an “error board” on which a student can post their “mistake of the day” so that the other boys can learn from it.

The school, Moorer said, will be divided into four houses, which will compete for points and rewards based on character. Boys who misbehave or struggle will not be suspended. They will face a tribunal or a “circle of intervention” or a “circle of prejudice” to discuss the root causes.

There will be a mentoring program, a digital portfolio of student work, an effort to teach students to be aware of their way of thinking and processing information. Each student will take music lessons and consider college early by visiting USC on the first day of school. Eighth-graders, Moorer said, can earn college credit at nearby Middle City College.

While Moorer described a daily “wellness break,” an afternoon period in which boys will recharge through tai chi, yoga or meditation, Fuller sat higher and nod. After his presentation, Moorer said he was confident about the school’s future.

“As the word spreads, because they really need us, it’s going to grow,” he said.

Fuller has been sold. She said she thought BALA would give Robert a full education – he was especially excited about a possible robotics competition.

“I always want him to socialize with the girls,” Fuller said. “It’s a good idea to be with all the boys who are learning these subjects. But maybe this is just an idealized, romantic view of education.

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