Navigating the system: Los Angeles
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Learn more on what to look for when touring schools in these videos:
Video: How to find a middle school
Video: A guide to private schools
By Brad Munson
Schools for Advanced Studies (SAS)
The district’s magnet program has been a success, but even 173 separate schools couldn’t meet the demand of local parents. So they began to create yet another variation, the Schools for Advanced Studies (SAS), which function outside the official magnet system. This, too, is far more than a GATE program; SAS students are grouped together and challenged by some pretty demanding curriculum, and schools throughout the district, especially in the San Fernando Valley, are creating SAS programs all the time.
Generally, they are far more available than the gifted magnet schools but may offer a more intensified learning experience than a typical neighborhood school. Their biggest drawback: no bussing is available for these schools, so transportation can be an issue. (Go here to learn more information on the Schools for Advanced Studies.)
Finally, charter schools – each with its own unique philosophy, but all adhering to state standards and closely observed and measured by the district or other governmental chartering bodies – are very popular in the L.A. area as well. One recent study observed there are more charters in the LAUSD territory than any other district in the country.
Here, too, it can take some serious shopping around to find the right fit. Note that Angela Ortiz found great success with a local charter for her son from K-8, and plenty of other parents have found them to be a decent option as well. The district has set up a separate clearing-house of information on charters as well, available through California's Deparetment of Education web site, the LAUSD web site, or the Charter School Division at 213-241-2665.
Bottom line: do your homework
It can take some time, and you may even have to take some chances, but in the end the available choices – neighborhood, SAS, or magnets – can provide many students and their families with a good fit.
"The thing is, you have to keep looking," says Zobel-Rodriguez. "Go to the open houses in November. Talk to teachers, other parents, friends, and neighbors. Use magnet time in December, and open enrollment in the spring to apply to multiple SAS schools, as well as your neighborhood school. If you get into more than one, you can always call and give up the space. But most important: don’t settle. There is a good match for your child out there. You just have to look."