72,000 L.A. students show up for school on first day of winter break

72,000 L.A. students show up for school on first day of winter break

“Acceleration days” — two extra days of school over winter break — were a no-brainer for the brainy Kimberly Sanchez, a senior at the Maywood Center for Enriched Studies. If there had been five extra days, she’d have done them all. She did not need the all-out sales pitch and communication blitz of the last few weeks from school officials urging students to attend.

After a slow start in registrations, about 72,000 Los Angeles students were back in the classroom on their first day of winter break Monday, an increase from about two weeks ago when some 45,000 of the district’s 422,276 students had signed up and the deadline was removed.

L.A. schools Supt. Alberto Carvalho declared victory, saying the enrollment of one in six district students surpassed what could be reasonably expected — even though an earlier plan, which was rejected by the teachers union, was set up to attract the majority of students.

“Over 500 … bus routes are active as we speak, thousands of students being transported across the district,” Carvalho said during a visit to the Maywood campus, which serves grades 6 through 12. “We have 304 schools open. We actually had to open more schools than we had initially envisioned as a result of increased demand.”

“If 180 days of schooling is good, then four additional days have to be good,” he added. “Why? Because what I will be seeing and participating in is nothing more, nothing less, than that chemical magic between a student and a teacher in a classroom. But this time around with lower class sizes, with lower ratios of more individualized, personalized attention, looking at what the students are lacking and providing them what they need.”

The original plan for the optional acceleration days scheduled them on Wednesdays at strategic points during the academic calendar. That plan required extending the end of the school year by four days. Officials figured more students would take advantage of the special learning time during a regular week.

However the teachers union, United Teachers Los Angeles, objected, saying the extra days needed to be the subject of labor negotiations. The union filed a legal challenge and also called on teachers to boycott the extra learning time.

District officials capitulated, but also obtained union consent to the back-up plan. Two acceleration days are taking place this week, during winter break. Two other days are planned for the first two days of spring break.

The entire process also is an experiment for L.A. Unified. The format will vary from school to school and grade level to grade level. Even though teachers union leaders had expressed skepticism, about a third of teachers volunteered to take on the extra days — for which they will be paid. Even non-participating teachers had a role to play — they had to decide what and how much work would be necessary for a student to raise a grade, which could mean the difference between passing and failing a class for some.

Carvalho estimated that two-thirds of participating students are those who most need the extra help — although that did not include Kimberly at the Maywood campus, who will be using the time for extra work in AP Biology and second-year calculus.

“I need to come to these opportunities and do my part, too, because I know that my teachers work hard for me to thrive and for me to get a higher education,” she said. But if I don’t put in my part, there’s no way that I’m going to make it out of here.”