by Magnet Yenta Alisa Rivera

So where do we stand with schools in Downtown Los Angeles? On the face of it, it isn’t a pretty picture. Right now, the neighborhood elementary school for kids downtown, 9th Street Elementary, is closed for a $54 million renovation of the campus and isn’t set to reopen until September 2013. The school, located on 9th Street and Towne Avenue on Skid Row, was in deep trouble before the closure. In 2010, LA Weekly wrote a devastating profile of the school, describing it as among LAUSD’s worst. Even using the district’s “similar schools” ranking, in 2010 9th Street ranked 1 out of 10, making it the worst among its peers. At the time of its closure, the school’s API score (a measurement of academic performance of California schools) was 670, far below the state target of 800.
It’s unclear how the campus renovation will impact these grim numbers. The new campus will include a 6-8 middle school run by Para Los Niños, a charter school organization known for its work with at-risk children. Representatives from Para Los Niños have said they will play a role in curriculum development at the elementary school as well. But the organization’s schools, including a charter elementary located near the American Apparel Factory on 7th Street, have also lagged academically. In 2010, the 7th Street school received a similar schools rank of 2 out of 10.

At this point you’re probably thinking, “Honey, pack up the loft and the kid, we’re moving to Burbank.” But don’t panic! The good news is that there are some great school options in the neighborhoods immediately surrounding downtown and thanks to the magic of something called “open enrollment” your child can apply to attend any neighborhood school in LAUSD that has openings. We also happen to be in a bit of a demographic slump at the moment, with school enrollments down across the district, which means it’s never been easier to get your kid into the neighborhood school of your choice. Plus LAUSD’s magnet schools offer even more choices. You’ll have to invest time and energy in research, school visits, and paperwork—but you’d have to do that even if you opted for a pricey private school.

High-performing schools within a 15 minute drive of downtown include Clifford Street Elementary in Echo Park (named a 2010 Blue Ribbon School of Excellence by the U.S. Department of Education with an API of 844), Dorris Place Elementary in Elysian Valley (API: 884), and Solano Avenue Elementary just north of Chinatown (API: 922).

In addition to the school options in surrounding neighborhoods, a group of DTLA parents have seized the day and have won approval to launch Metro Charter School, downtown’s first parent-run elementary charter school (learn more at With a target opening date of September 2013, it won’t be long before we get a quality school option right here in downtown.

To learn more about school options in downtown LA, visit

Alisa is a writer whose work has been featured in the Oregonian, the Syracuse Post-Standard, Latina magazine and other publications. She has also had her short fiction published in the Berkely Fiction Review and Iris: A Journal About Women. Alisa and her husband, James Hightower, have been happily raising their son, Nathan, in downtown Los Angeles since 2008. You can see more of Alisa’s work at and


37 thoughts on “Downtown

  1. While we didn’t want to scare Li off, in our enthusiasm several of us Magnet Yentas did pounce on our newbie rather quickly (within the hour). . . And I thought we should open a brand new page devoted to the Downtown L.A. public school renaissance WHICH HAS NOW OFFICIALLY BEGUN. . .

    Based on exactly one downtown-mom-of-an-18-month-old’s vision. To that end, we quote Goethe:

    “Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.”

    But how. . . ?

  2. Wow. You guys are fast! No worries, I’m not easy to scare. In fact, I’m totally psyched! What do I do first? *running around in enthusiastic circles*

  3. Okay, I think I’ve figured out the first step–actually visit the local elementary school. But what do I do when I get there? What am I looking for? What kinds of questions do I ask?

  4. Here’s one place to begin: my initial take on the top ten
    things to look for when parents tour an elementary school. Like the Yentas, I recommend you first visit your neighborhood school, meet with the Principal, visit classrooms (not just the ones on
    the tour), go to the PTA and “booster club” or “friends of” meetings (if they don’t exist, here’s where your activism skills get sharpened)
    and ask about the decision-making councils, meet other parents and ask
    them what they like and don’t like…some of them take the time to
    volunteer while their kids are still in preschool, a good idea since it
    can give you an idea of the school’s strengths and weaknesses before you enroll
    your child.

    1) Are the kids there happy?

    After your visit, do you perhaps entertain thoughts like: “I wish I could start kindergarten here”? Does the school appear friendly?

    2) Are parents welcome at the school?

    As a parent, look for ways to be involved, not just as a member of the
    parents association, but as volunteers in the classrooms? Is the
    principal’s door really open to parents? Does the school invite parents
    to events throughout the school year? Are you welcomed at the front
    office, ignored or made to feel like a pariah?

    3) Size up the principal.

    Principals are “principal teachers”…the good ones can transform
    fair, even underperforming schools into wonderful places in a couple of
    years. A bad principal can allow a school to falter, ruin programs and
    demoralize teachers in the same timeframe. Does the principal put
    children first or does the school appear to cater to adult agendas?
    Does the school’s leadership team support and believe in the
    principal’s vision?

    4) Check for examples of student work

    Look for (or ask to see) student essays, projects and the like
    displayed in classrooms, hallways and on bulletin boards and walls,
    preferably work reflecting individual thought and creativity. Look,
    especially, for examples of student writing – yes, even in the earliest
    grades. Even in tough fiscal times, better schools will have lots of things children can touch and
    feel in math and science including live animals, plants, etc.

    5) Quality of teaching

    What is going on in the classrooms? Are the kids engaged in and
    motivated by what’s going on? I’ll take a non-credentialed teacher over
    a credentialed one if he or she is really connecting with the kids.

    6) Classroom libraries

    Take care to observe that there is no shortage of picture books and (as
    age appropriate) novels, books about historical events, biographies and
    science discovery books. Are they current, interesting? (I would
    question schools that appear to rely heavily on texts).

    7) School atmosphere

    Is it safe, clean, caring and well-organized? Is there natural light?
    Is it noisy? Schools in L.A. have recently been “upgraded” with new
    forced-air heat and air conditioning and in some classrooms, the noise
    levels will actually interfere with learning. You should also be able
    to observe kids socializing with one another in classes. Silence isn’t
    always golden. Teachers should also be meeting regularly to discuss
    everything from curriculum to progress and challenges facing individual
    children. Examine class sizes and the number of children in classes (note:
    this is about to become an issue with the budget cuts).

    8) Ask questions

    Once you’ve completed touring the school, ask about any impressions you
    may have gotten about the philosophy and atmosphere of the school.
    Here’s a hint: don’t put teachers and administrators on the defensive,
    you will probably uncover more by asking them how they deal with
    behavior and discipline problems instead of “Is your school safe?” Ask
    for a copy of the visitation policy so you may check on classes during
    the year and ask to see classrooms NOT on the tour. A school that truly
    values parents as partners is not afraid of what you might see.

    9) Ask to see the school’s Single Plan for Student Achievement and ask
    to review the Safe School Plan.

    The “Single Plan” will include the school’s mission statement, goals
    and the strategies it is employing to meet those goals. If there are
    discrepancies between what is represented in the Single Plan and Safe
    School Plan and what you see going on at the school, make note of them
    and ask about them. Surprisingly, many school leadership teams do not
    clearly understand how to inventory assets and resources and use them
    to meet the needs of the kids. Inquire about any periodic assessments
    which should support good instruction practice.

    10) Evaluate the level of parent and community support

    This is often thought to be the most important finding on research on
    good schools – schools which involve and engage parents are more
    successful. Period. Parents have a role beyond holding bake sales and
    being field trip chaperones – they must be treated as partners in
    establishing a school’s goals and policies including those addressing
    discipline, grading, attendance, safety and testing. If the school you
    are considering for your child does not authentically resonate with you
    as such a place, pay attention to those instincts.

    Hope you find this info helpful.

    Bill Ring
    Candidate, Los Angeles City Board of Education, District #4
    Organizer, Local District 3 Parent Community Advisory Council

  5. Hi Li,

    Congratulations on the forward thinking and kudos to you for getting involved. It makes me want to move downtown!

    I see that Bill Ring has posted a bunch of information and I apologize up front that I haven’t had time to read it yet, but I wanted to get a quick post to you before I am swallowed back up by my day job.

    I think you want to figure out where the majority of downtown pioneer loft-dwelling families are located and what school they are assigned to. All you do is plug in an address at LAUSD’s handy SchoolFinder and you’re set. GO here:

    After you have a list of possible schools (and which schools you are all officially assigned to is not the end of the story, but a good place to start), do additional research on potential schools by checking out and looking at those individual schools. Check out the different percentages and numbers that have meaning to nervous public school wannabes (those of us already in LAUSD neighborhood schools know that these numbers are somewhat meaningless, but we’re not the folks you are trying to convince to join you in your Public School Pilgrimage!) Those stats include API score this year as well as previous years, is this school a “Program Improvement” school, % of Title One children, % of English Language Learners (ELL), most common language among ELL, % of various ethnicities attending the school, GreatSchools ranking, “Similar Schools” ranking, plus any other bits of flotsam & jetsam that might catch your eye (are there parent reviews on GreatSchools?).

    One step at a time, please don’t be overwhelmed by all of the enthusiastic postings flung at you. You consume the elephant one bite at a time.

    So remember….first things first, find out the schools that you are assigned to (“you” being the global “you” of your Conestoga Circle downtown) and which might be the best fit (not necessarily the same school as your assigned school, but wonderful if they dovetail!)

    Let us know what you think!


  6. Hokay, there are three elementary schools zoned for downtown, so far as I can tell:

    9th Street Elementary

    API: 661
    Statewide rank: 1 out of 10
    Great Schools ranking: 2 out of 10
    Ethnic breakdown: 86% Hispanic, 13% Black, 0% White

    Gratts Elementary

    API: 641
    Statewide rank: 1 out of 10
    Great Schools ranking: 1 out of 10
    Ethnic breakdown: 95.5% Hispanic, 3.2% Black, .1% White

    Castelar Elementary

    API: 819
    Statewide rank: 7 out of 10
    Great Schools ranking: 7 out of 10
    Ethnic breakdown: 73.6% Asian, 23.9% Hispanic, 1.1% Black, .6% White

    From what I’ve heard, Castelar is in Chinatown and has kick-ass test scores but apparently is not very good with arts. 9th Street serves Skid Row and has a lot of problems and Gatts serves Westlake, which is a very poor Latino area.

    In terms of Great Schools review, one bad one for 9th Street, mixed reviews for Gratts (but the most positive one is also the most recent) and great reviews for Castelar. But a friend of mine taught at Castelar and didn’t like it because she felt the teachers were too rigid and didn’t encourage creativity.

    My kid is zoned for 9th Street Elementary, as is most of Downtown, as far as I can tell. And they look pretty bad at this point. But am I discouraged? Hell no! Onward and upward, I say. Next stop: school visits!

  7. Li:

    I just read that Castelar has been without a school library since 2002 (!) and plans for a new one have slowed with costs having doubled, etc. The parents are said to be set to protest at an upcoming school board meeting (11/25?). Hmmm…

  8. Bill and Susan, thanks for the feedback–I really appreciate it!

    I really see this as a long-term project and since my son is only 18 months old, I have time. I think the Downtown BID will have to be involved, if I can persuade them that a strong local school will help keep families downtown. This really is going to be a rebuilding process.

    I have to email the folks Sandra referred me to, but I’d also love it if people could post stories of ways they helped to turn schools around.

  9. Dear Li,
    The nice thing about living downtown is that you can practically (or actually?) walk to school board meetings at Beaudry. Talk about going green.
    If Bill is right, the school board meeting today might be an interesting field trip, but truly not for the faint of heart (nor for lovers of witty discourse). The soul-crushing bureaucracy and endless yakity-yak of a school board meeting is not the best introduction to the joy of public schools. It’s really the opposite. So, I recommend against, unless you approach it as an anthropologist studying a strange foreign tribe and their rituals. The better use of your time is to meet Richard Alonzo, your Local District 4 Superintendent and my favorite LAUSD employee ever. In the odd boundary setting that is oh-so-LAUSD, Carthay Center (my school), just outside Beverly Hills’ borders, and your trio of downtown schools are both in Local District 4 (not to be confused with School Board District 2, which you are also in). Richard Alonzo is a GIFT to LAUSD, an entity that too often receives coal in its stocking. Let’s talk off-list and I’m happy to make an introduction.

  10. I want to echo and amplify the praises of Dr. Alonso. He is the Dumblebore of LAUSD, as near as I can tell.

    My other piece of advice, in terms of working with schools, is that in addition to visiting the school, another huge first step is networking with other parents downtown. Our experience in Highland Park was that indvidual schools were often resistent to working with us, because they did not have hte budget, or were afraid, or didn’t know what to do. But once you have a group of parents who have a list of things they want, district officials, like Dumbledore/Alonso, can wave a wand and make it happen.

    The district wants to get middle class kids back into the school district and if a group of parents come to them with a doable wish list and a committment to support the teachers and the school, it can be a real win win

  11. The parent networking is going to be challenging. So far I’m having very limited success just getting people together for playdates. There are three other families that I guess will be supportive of this–I haven’t sprung anything on them yet because I want to get more concrete info before I approach anyone. There is also a woman, Keller Shields, who has been working with the Downtown BID and trying to get the powers that be to understand that yes, there are families downtown. Keller’s out of town but I will be speaking to her as well.

    Meanwhile, as a very newbie parent, I’m not sure what I should want in a school. I mean, I want it to be safe and I want my kid to learn…but what specifically should I be asking for? Any suggestions?

  12. Hi,
    It may not be in downtown proper, but City Terrace Elementary (right across the freeway from Cal State LA) has an amazing dual-language Mandarin/English program. My daughter is in Kinder there and, no joke, is already speaking some basic Mandarin–beautifully accented, thank you. The teachers are amazing and my only fear is for budget cuts in the next year. But it’s definitely worth checking out.

    • Hi Mari,
      Thank you for your post! I would love to know more details about City Terrace. We have another year before Kindergarten, so we have some time, but I visited the school, am very interested, and would love to know more about your decision making process in sending your daughter to City Terrace. We live in a great school district (Franklin Avenue Elementary in Los Feliz) but Mandarin is really important to us. I’ve spoken to the LAUSD dual-language coordinator who is amazingly helpful, but her approach is more macro as opposed to ground-level, which is why I’d love to hear your feedback.

      Do you feel like your daughter is getting an overall great education? What would you change about the program? Is there a really involved parent group? Have you seen any effects of the budget cuts taking place? Are the students in the Mandarin classes integrated into the rest of the school? Are there support programs in the summer time to keep up Mandarin language retention? Did your daughter take Mandarin before entering City Terrace kindergarten?

      Sorry for all the questions and thanks so much in advance for your help and insight!

  13. Just wanted to quickly update y’all: I paid a visit to our zoned school and…it’s bad. Really really really bad. Trailers on a lot in an industrial area bordered by homeless shelters. There is no way in hell any middle class parents would send their kids to this school. I wouldn’t send my son there and I went to public school in New York City. Even if we worked to make the school better (and God knows the kids who go to school there deserve much better), I can’t see yuppie parents sending their kids to any school in that neighborhood.

    So I’m trying to figure out what’s the next step. I went to a holiday party for downtown families today and there are a lot of parents who would love to send their kids to public school if there were a decent alternative. I’m wondering if a charter school might be the answer…but I have no idea at all what’s involved in starting a charter school.

    Anyway, any tips/advice/leads/information are greatly appreciated. Also, Sandra, I’ve been thinking of asking the BID to sponsor a meeting on navigating the LAUSD–with you as the guest speaker. Interested?

  14. Dear Li,

    Yikes. . . Next step: Dr. Richard Alonso? Did you try contacting him? Please report back if/when you do, happy to work with you on this, use it as a test case. The question, do you NEED to go charter to get a better school (particularly as charter schools themselves struggle with space)? Did you talk to any teachers/administrators at the school?

    And sure, I’ll be happy to speak at a BID thing, but let’s make a plan better than “how to frantically get your kid into Community Magnet.”

    Courage, strong heart, good vibes, happy new year!

  15. I’d forgotten about Richard Alonso–thanks for the reminder! I’ll contact him today.

    I didn’t talk to anyone at the school because I was so freaked by the neighborhood. But I should talk to them just to get their perspective.

    Another problem with the school’s location is that it’s located east of downtown and most parents work west of downtown. It’s not a very convenient trip for most parents, esp. since a lot of downtown parents use public transit to go to work (I walk). The parents I spoke with on Saturday would ideally like a school that’s more centrally located.

    Anywhoodle, first things first. Off to contact Richard!

  16. Hey girl,

    One more tip suggested by the fabulous Robyn Ritter-Simon (one of the OG Beverlywood Moms, who walked the same walk you’re walking 12 years ago and helped transform Canfield Ave. into the desirable el. it is today) is also to contact your city council person Jan Perry (it is Jan Perry, no?).

    I’m interested in making that next visit to the school with you, because now I’m damn curious (perhaps during week of Jan. 12, when school starts again?). I will bring bolstering, cheer and coffee–and if we need it for afterwards, vodka by Burning Moms sponsor. . . MODERN SPIRITS (TM)! Also a camera, at least for the outside view (where it is legal).

    Happy New Year, courage,

  17. Oh, that would be fantastic! I’d love to get your in-person perspective on all this. I’ll freely admit that I may be overreacting and in fact the school isn’t that bad. Email me and let me know what works for you. That week looks good for me so far.

    Thank you!!!

    Google maps has photos of the school. Alas, it looks better in Google than it does in person.

  18. PS:

    Other contacts of ours suggest:

    They should contact Raf Rodriguez with PUC Charters about starting a charter, or South of downtown there is the Synergy charter. Another excellent (although hard to get into?) down choice is The Accelerated School.

    However, the point is, you’ve been Burning Mom’ed. . . We’re now on the case and will definitely get back to you re: scheduling a visit week of
    Jan. 12. . .

    And now it is truly time to go off and celebrate New Year’s. . . !

  19. Li’s recruiting has been successful!
    My partner and I have a little (4-month) old daughter. He and I have lived downtown since 2004 and can’t imagine calling anywhere else home. There’s a bunch of us down here with kids too young for school, but there is a good number of families downtown who are getting ready to have school-aged children.

    Alex and I have seen the 9th Street Elementary School. So far, not excited about sending Iolani there. Considering there are a lot of new people paying property taxes and living downtown, they will have greater expectations of their local schools. Hopefully we can get them engaged right now, so four or five years from now, we can have kindergarten classrooms to be excited about.

    Thank you Li!!!

  20. Oh Ginny,

    What a beautiful day, possibly a Meryl Streep movie! Except for the fact that I appear to have jury duty the week of Jan. 12, although that does put me downtown and could facilitate at least a lunch trip, Li and I will coordinate another school visit, all interested parties invited. We’ll post the coordinates here when we know.

    All good things. . .

  21. Hi you guys! I’ve met Li and her beautiful son. I am writing a weekly article about having a family downtown but I am also facing the same difficulties in meeting other parents. I have been meeting with Jan Perry her education coordinator, Hal Bastian from the Downtown BID and the neighborhood council education coordinators and quite frankly anyone and everyone that will listen. We had a possible lead on a charter school with Ted Morris whom Li also met but after attempts to contact him and no response I’ve given up hope on him. Accelerated School is no longer an option- their teachers recently voted to join the union because of administrative issues and declining test scores. Synergy is quite a ways off and has a long waiting list. Their tests scores are sporadic as well, declining in the 4th grade when they start testing for reading comprehension. Castelar gets a lot of underserved credit. Their test scores aren’t so hot either just a lot better than the surrounding areas. As Angel mentioned- I have a 3yr old and a 4 yr old which makes my case a little more urgent. Moving is not an option- not in this economy so I am going to apply for magnet schools. I’ve been very diligent about studying with Bella and Iza si that they can get accepted to a high performing school- well atleast bella, Iza is endearingly dizzy. 🙂 I think she’ll do better in a performing arts school as she likes to sing and dance.

    I would love to meet with some of you and get further advice in choosing the right school while continuing to improve downtown’s prospects. As for 9th school elementary- one thing you need to know is that their student base is transitional. They have the highest percentage of students considered “homeless”- those that reside in temporary housing, SRO’s, residential hotels and the homeless missions. The students are predominantly Latino, speak only Spanish, and only stay in the school for 1-2 years before teh parents relocate. This makes the reality a lot harsher and less conceivable when applying the same tactics used to turn around other low performing schools.

    I publised an excel sheet with the test scores, API scores and test rankings among other information for all schools in downtown or South of Downtown on Blogdowntown and the results are not pretty.

    PLEASE PLEASE help us.

    I am organizing a parent get together since I understand the importance of unity and numbers when presentinga case in front of LAUSD.

    Thank you so much

    Susana Benavidez

    • Good lord, Susana, yes, this is urgent. . . And it really is a story that should be written up. . . Who is your LAUSD school board member? Should we set up a meeting? Several of us will gladly come on down. . .

  22. Here is an update. I am going to 9th St ELementary with two board members of the Downtown LA Neighborhood Council at 2pm. I have my list of questions to ask and list of observations to make- thanks to everyone on this blog. Thank you! I will give you a detailed update when I finish the tour.

    Hopefully then we can organize a larger scale visit to the school witha strong parent presence.

    Thank you guys- you’ll hear from me soon


  23. Hi everyone,

    Here is the article that Susana Benavidez wrote regarding her visit to 9th Street Elementary:

    Some highlights:

    There is only so much reporting you can do from your computer or phone- so on Friday, March 20th, Danielle Duran, Kathleen McMullin, General Jeff and I visited 9th Street Elementary to meet the new principal, Ms. Anne Barry. The school grounds were clean, the children loud and happy. They waved as we walked by, and the administrative assistant was very kind- good so far. It only got better as we sat down to introduce ourselves and take advantage of her generosity with her time.

    Ms. Barry started with 9th St. Elementary for the 2008-09 school year. In the short time that she has been there, she has quickly acquainted herself with the issues that the children, teachers and the school building itself are faced with.

    The children at this school are overwhelmingly placed in a group labeled as homeless. They do not live on the streets but they do reside in residential hotels, the missions and other homeless services housing facilities. The majority of the student body is labeled ESL, which means that English is their second language. The food bank delivers food every Friday to the children. Do not despair, it is not as bad as it sounds- don’t shake your head- really it’s not that bad. Improvements can be made with the early participation and volunteering of Downtown L.A. residents.

    Principal Barry was a delight to meet and a bursting ball of creativity and energy; I feel confident in the future of 9th St Elementary if the new residents of Downtown L.A. choose to adopt their own school and help it transform into a wonderful place. They currently are without a PTA (parents and teachers association), do not have a Read-a-thon program, and are in great need of parent leadership and community outreach.

    The school is participating in Big Sunday on May 3, a volunteer event sponsored by Coca Cola. The Curtis School will be sending 200 volunteers to help spruce up the school grounds.

    The principal is very open to input from the community so I think this is a wonderful opportunity to get involved and begin to turn this school around. Any advice you Magnet Yentas can offer will be greatly appreciated!

  24. This is last minute (sorry, just found out myself) but in case anyone in the West Valley is interested, our School Board Member, Tamar Galatzan (District 3), is making a presentation and taking questions regarding the dire budget issues facing the LAUSD.

    Monday, April 13
    6:30-7:30 p.m.
    Dearborn Elementary Auditorium
    9240 Wish Ave, Northridge 91325

  25. Hi everyone,

    It’s been a while since I’ve posted here but I wanted to give an update on 9th Street Elementary. I met with the Downtown LA Neighborhood Council’s education committee last night. In attendance was a rep from the LAUSD who oversees programs for homeless children. Unfortunately, he didn’t have a lot of good things to say about 9th Street.

    Approximately 75 percent of the children at the school are homeless. The school has some of the lowest test scores in the LAUSD. In addition, the school has “safety issues” (his wording, so I’m not sure exactly what that means) and they also have a big problem with churn–kids entering and leaving the school mid-year because of their housing situation. In addition, because LAUSD has eliminated summer school for the elementary grades, these kids are not getting free breakfast and lunch during the summer and there are concerns about basic nutrition.

    It’s a pretty dire situation overall and the DLANC is trying to launch volunteer efforts to support the school as well as reach out to businesses based downtown to get some financial support for the school.

    In terms of middle class parents downtown, I really think that there is no way in the foreseeable future that middle class families will be able to send their kids to 9th Street. The reality is that the school is struggling to adequately serve the poorest and most at risk kids in the city. With the economic crisis and a lack of a stable population base (which means no stable community of parents to organize and rally around school reform), I don’t see the situation changing.

    I’m still going to be doing volunteer work with DLANC and the school because they need all the support they can get. But it really looks like I’ll have to move out of the community when my kid reaches school age. Luckily I’m a renter so it’s easy for me to do, but I feel for parents who bought and can’t sell their property.

  26. We’re interested in the City Terrace dual language immersion program, and would love to hear more about this from parents whose children attend.

    We have a 4.5 year old daughter. We’ve visited the school, but instead of the regular teacher, there was a substitute, so we did not see the much-loved kindergarten teacher in action.

    Our local elementary is Franklin Avenue and it’s terrific, but we speak Mandarin at home and would love to have our daughter learn the language more formally.

    Do you feel like your kids are getting an overall great education? What would you change about the program? Is there a really involved parent group? Have you seen any effects of the budget cuts taking place? Are the students in the Mandarin classes integrated into the rest of the school? Are there support programs in the summer time to keep up Mandarin language retention? Did your child take Mandarin before entering City Terrace kindergarten?

    Thanks in advance for any and all responses!

  27. Hello concerned mothers! I am also a concerned mother living near downtown. And, I happen to be a 5th grade teacher at Ninth Streeet Elementary. I entered an outreach program that the district piloted 8 years ago to recruit individuals out of their job and into the teaching profession. I was fortunate to obtain a position at Ninth Street. I do understand the concerns surrounding our school site. Let me state that the staff works very hard to provide a quality education to our students with the same belief that many of you hold, because they deserve it. Many of us have been struggling for some time to really find a way to make a difference at this school. The biggest struggle is the lack of consistency and interest in our school. Ms. Barry is the 3rd principal we have had in 8 years. It is the same for our Vice Principal. Basic needs such as air conditioning and safety gates have gone long ignored by the district. Although these issues seem “bad, really, really bad”, they remain that way because that’s all people say before they turn their heads and look for another option. We could really use the care, concern, and investment that some of you are talking about. Trust me, there are many of us there. And many of us would be willing to go the distance for our little school. We’ve already been invested for years.

    • Hi Andrea

      I read your post on my story in Blogdowntown. I am very glad that you are involved and would like to set up a meeting with the teachers at 9th St. Elementary. Is there a way I can contact you? My email is susana@ blogdowntown or

      I would love to meet other teachers like you at 9th St Elementary. There’s no way that the school will improve if a PTA isn’t formed and the attention and work of parents isn’t involved.

      We met with Ms. Barry because there was not a parent or teacher association we were aware of to contact. The neighborhood council used to work with the previous Principal which from my understanding retired.

      Please don’t take offence when parents are “put off” by the prospect of 9th St.’s location, demographic and test scores. Every parent’s priority will always be his or hers own child. Sometimes those parents have the resources to take their children elsewhere and no one can hold that against them.

      I grew up by McArthur Park and Boyle Heights. I am not wealthy nor do I turn my nose to the needs of the students at 9th St. Elementary. I have formed a parent group for downtown residents on Facebook and have found an overwhelming response and activity. The difficult thing is asking parents to commit to a school when their children are only 2 years old or younger. Their life is consumed in caring for young children and working so the idea of school is a very detached and far off concept that does not arrest their immediate attention. There are only so many Alisa’s that care enough for their own children’s education that they start looking 3 years in advance.

      You have many allies in downtown. I am very passionate about every student having an equal opportunity when it comes to education. My kids will start Kinder next year and I will continue to look for the best option available to them. No one is nay-saying one option or another- we are openly discussing what we feel is best for our priority- our children.

      Again, I would love to be able to contact you. I responded to your post on blogdowntown but have not heard back from you directly.

      Anxiously waiting for your email!! 🙂

      Susana Benavidez

  28. Hi everyone,

    Good news for 9th Street Elementary:

    35-year-old portable bungalows could soon give way to a new $58-million facility at Downtown’s 9th Street Elementary.

    The Los Angeles Unified School District and family service organization Para Los Ninos (PLN) are nearing final agreement on a plan in which the district would construct two new schools on the site: a 450-seat elementary to be operated by LAUSD and a 405-seat middle school operated by PLN.

    The project would provide 855 seats, nearly double what is on the site today. The two schools would share certain core facilities, and the project would also provide for a health center to be operated by PLN. The middle school would take in students from both the 9th Street elementary and from PLN’s Charter Elementary School.

    Elena Stern, PLN Vice President for Communications & External Affairs, said that the organization’s “holistic and integrated approach” to providing physical and mental health services at its school sites was a key part of what made the partnership attractive to the district.

    “The model [of providing health and wellness services on-site] could be a national model,” said Stern.

    PLN is no stranger to the 9th Street school, having operated after-school services for the campus since it opened. The organization was founded not far from the site, opening its doors in response to a 1979 L.A. Times article chronicling the plight of children on Skid Row. Today the non-profit operates at 27 sites, including seven preschools, the elementary school and the middle school.

    The existing 9th Street site will be slightly enlarged by the project, expanding to take in the full block with LAUSD’s purchase of a lot on the corner of 8th and Stanford. According to LAUSD documents, the school currently has an enrollment of 337 students, with 161 coming from the surrounding resident area and the rest brought in from overcrowded facilities.

    This is wonderful news. Para Los Niños is a very well respected organization and the medical and mental health services that will be provided on-site are badly needed by the children who attend this school. Let’s hope that this is just the first step in investing in 9th Street Elementary.

  29. Hi folks, just wanted to let you know that LAUSD approved downtown LA’s first elementary school charter school, Metro Charter. The school is accepting applications now.

    • Metro Charter will open in the Fall 2013
    • It will be located in Downtown LA (final location to-be-determined)
    • The school will open with 120-150 students in grades K-2. The school will grow to 500 students in grades K-5 over the coming years.
    • Special features include: small classes, full-day Kindergarten, free after school programs, free hot lunch, and individual attention

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