Hawthorne’s Hip Hop High Loses Its Charter

Mitchell Landsberg, Los Angeles Times, July 10, 2008

Students at Hip Hop High know all about adversity. For many, life has been a minefield of gangs, violence and family chaos. They were academic failures, most of them, kicked out of school after school, allowed to fail their way from one grade to the next.

At their charter school in Hawthorne, they say, they found a home—a place that is quirky and rough-hewn, but one where students are given the motivation to learn.

Now, they fear, a bureaucratic breakdown will cause the school, formally known as the Media Arts Academy Charter School, to close.

The Centinela Valley Union High School District, which charters the school, delivered notice on July 1 that its charter had lapsed and that Media Arts would not be allowed to apply for renewal.

Principal Jennifer Murphy said the decision was the result of a misunderstanding about the terms of the charter, which she thought was valid until 2009. She said she was convinced that the district, intent on closing her school, deliberately failed to warn her that the charter was about to expire.

“They literally have been lying in wait to do this,” she said Tuesday night, after dozens of Media Arts students and parents appeared before the Centinela school board to plead for reconsideration. Murphy said she believes the district used a technicality to avoid a potentially contentious renewal process, which requires a public vote and can be appealed.

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Fernandez said the issue was simple. “Their application expired. They basically ran the clock out,” he said. Asked why he hadn’t given Murphy any warning, Fernandez said, “I think she should know her renewal date better than myself.”

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Media Arts has a mixed academic record, as might be expected from a school whose students have typically failed in traditional public schools. Still, after a rocky start, its Academic Performance Index shot up by more than 150 points in 2007, from 386 to 537, and teachers and parents have said the school improved further this year under Murphy’s direction.

Parents and students say they are grateful to the school for providing an alternative to Centinela Valley’s regular high schools. The district has struggled both academically and fiscally and has an overall API that declined slightly last year to 598. Although one of its schools, Lawndale High, does well academically, the two other comprehensive high schools, Hawthorne and Leuzinger, compare poorly even with schools that serve similarly disadvantaged students. Media Arts does far better academically than the district’s continuation school, which serves similarly at-risk students.

At Tuesday’s school board meeting, district officials outlined plans to open an alternative school this fall that would offer independent study to at-risk students much like those served by Media Arts.

According to the plan, students would attend school for only two hours a week and be on their own to complete their course work the rest of the time. It was presented at the meeting largely as a way for the district to recoup money that is lost when students have poor attendance records, because schools receive state funding based on attendance.

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