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You Always Have a Choice: Charter, Magnet or Zoned School

By Susana Benavidez
Published: Friday, January 16, 2009, at 09:11AM

The quest for a school in Downtown L.A. has brought me in contact with wonderful people. I met with Ted Morris, founder of FuturoPrep Charter School, who proved to be a wealth of information and a perfect source for little nudges in the right direction. I contacted Councilwoman Jan Perry, whom responded incredibly fast and referred me to a few charter schools and to her Education Director: Pamela Huntoon.

The meeting we set up at Urth Caffé, which was attended by parents and Ted Morris, was successful in identifying that we need a guide to find the right elementary school. Through research on the LAUSD website, and individual school websites, I was able to compile data on test scores, the diversity breakdown, and state ratings on the public, charter, and magnet schools that surround Downtown.

First a little information on what each type of school means.

You have public schools, which you are zoned to based on your residence. Go to to find your school. There are vouchers and permits provided by LAUSD to send your child to a specific school in order to promote diversity in “good” schools; information on permits and vouchers will be discussed in future articles.

Charter schools are open enrollment, funded by state and federal sources. One of the perks of a charter is that you can apply to as many schools as you want in all of California. You are not forced to go to a charter based on your address. All students and parents at a charter school are there by choice; you need to apply to get in. Most deadlines to apply are the last week of March or first week of April. Charters have the freedom to hire non-union teachers, focus on a teaching method or subject. Charter schools are still held to California state testing and core curriculum standards.

Magnet schools have an emphasis in a field: math and science, performing arts, liberal science, music, etc. You must have applied by the January 9th deadline. You can find more information on magnets at

At our meeting on Sunday, we were able to pick the brain of Ted Morris. Charter schools seem to be the new answer for parents zoned to low-performing schools. It was refreshing to listen to Mr. Morris break down what you need to look for in a charter to identify it as a good school. API scores can be deceiving since they are based on test scores, socio-economic backgrounds, diversity, etc. The best thing to do is choose a few schools that interest you, look for test scores and diversity (if that is what you want) and then plan a visit to the school. Finding the right school is like finding your first home: you have a wish list, you go on a house hunt and then you see which one “feels right”, sometimes compromising a few items on the list.

Morris is currently working to open a charter elementary school named FuturoPrep in Boyle Heights or possibly Little Tokyo. It is amazing to see the possibilities that are opened once you delve into the “charter” world. The parents at the meeting and myself were excited to hear of the possibility of FuturoPrep coming to Little Tokyo. He has two other locations in mind that are in Boyle Heights (which doesn’t seem so far with the Gold Line opening soon). If you would like to contact Mr. Morris or know of any other interested parents, please email me at

Pamela Huntoon sent me a booklet with a list of elementary schools. She would be happy to send more out to any interested parties.

This article is more data and less emotion. When your child’s education is at stake, you are bound to get frustrated, upset and very emotional. The best you can do is focus on what YOU can do to prep your young one for school. Reading every day, whether it be a kids book or your favorite newspaper, encourages literacy and creates family bonding. You can make flash cards of the alphabet, numbers and even phonics so that they are as advanced as possible when they start kindergarten.

The best thing about living in Downtown L.A. as far as raising children is that we are rich in resources such as the public libraries, MOCA, JANM , the Music Center, and public transportation to take you anywhere else!

Want to check out the info on Downtown-adjacent elementaries?

View the Spreadsheet Online.

This Week's Kid-Friendly Picks

Central Library

Saturday Jan 17 2pm-3pm at Children’s Literature. CeCe Antoinette – The AWE Series. (Performance) Learn about the lives of great African and African-American Women of Endeavors in this entertaining and education show.

Sunday Jan 18 2pm-4pm at the Rotunda. Map Art. (Arts and Crafts) Visit the Getty Gallery’s “LA Unfolded: Maps from the Los Angeles Public Library” exhibit, then join artists from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to create maps and art of your very own.

Tuesday Jan 20 11:00 am- 11:30 am at Children’s Literature. Pre-School Storytime. Stories and more for ages 3-5. Reservations required for groups of five or more. Call 213-228-7250.

Saturday Jan 24 2pm-3pm at the Mark Taper Auditorium. Storyteller Barbara Wong. (Performance) Get ready to celebrate the Year of the Ox with stories and more from this first-rate storyteller.  

630 W. 5th / 213-228-7000

Little Tokyo Library
: Wednesday Jan 21 10:30 am. Pre-School Storytime. Join us for stories, songs, and fingerplays. For ages 3-5. 
203 S. Los Angeles / 213-612-0525

Chinatown Library

Tuesday Jan 20 3pm. LACMA Art Class. Create your own artwork and learn different art techniques with a real artist from the Los Angles County Museum of Art.

Friday Jan 23 3pm. Lunar New Year Stories & Crafts. Join us in celebrating the Lunar New Year (Year of the Ox) with stories, songs, and crafts!

Monday Jan 26 4pm. Pre-school Storytime. Join us for stories, songs, and fingerplays. For ages 3-5.

639 N. Hill / 213-620-0925

Music Center

Pillow Theatre is a free performance series designed specifically for families with children ages 3 through 6.

January 24th, starts at 10am. Jim Gamble, founding director of the Arts of Puppets and Marionettes, is recognized as one of this country's finest puppeteers and is an internationally respected puppet designer. Skilled puppeteers bring Hansel and Gretel to life, making the children dance and the witch fly in this colorful and magical puppet theatre performance. 
Free Tickets: Distributed on the morning of the performance on a first-come basis in front of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion beginning one hour prior to each performance; 9:00 AM for the first performance, and again at 10:00 AM for the second performance. Venue: The Grand Hall of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Children can sit on one of our colorful pillows or are welcome to bring their own.

World City

Saturday Jan 17th. Directed by Taiwan's leading female puppeteer, Shi-Mei Chiang, Chen Kuai Le Puppet Theater has devoted itself to the preservation of traditional arts and the training of new generations of performers. The company is accompanied by live traditional Taiwanese music and uses masterful puppet-manipulating skills, and vivid narratives to present this beloved art form. Takes place at the W.M. Keck Foundation Children's Amphitheatre at Walt Disney Concert Hall. To complement the performances, the Music Center offers pre- & post-family workshops in the adjacent Blue Ribbon Garden. The first show is at 11:00 am with a repeat performance at 12:30. Free Tickets: All tickets are free and are distributed on Grand Avenue at 2nd Street. Tickets for 11:00am performance distributed beginning at 10:00am. Tickets for 12:30pm performance distributed beginning at 11:00am.


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