AEA parents frustrated in transfer process to Hart District schools

Albert Einstein Academy for Letters, Arts and Sciences students, parents and administration fill the William S. Hart Union High School District Governing Board room before the district's board meeting in March 2016. Christina Cox/The Signal

After a lengthy charter petition appeals process, many parents and students from Albert Einstein Academy for Letters, Arts and Sciences’ middle school and high school are cutting their losses and filing transfer requests for schools in the William S. Hart Union High School District.

However, the transfer process has not been an easy one as students who were “guaranteed” spots at any Hart District school of their choice—except for Valencia High School which is said to be at full capacity or more – found themselves on transfer wait lists or lost in the registration process.

“I don’t think the Hart people are thinking about how hard this has been on the kids,” said Joanne Ainsworth whose child will be a sophomore at Saugus High School in the fall.  “They’re losing their social network, they’re losing their home and they’re losing their academic environment.”

Two of the parents who expressed frustration that their children, and several others, were on a wait list for more than a month at West Ranch High School, said they were still waiting to see if their child would be admitted to the school so they could begin summer homework for AP classes and participate in summer sports camps.

When The Signal asked the Hart district about the transfer wait lists Wednesday, no time frame was given for the resolution of the requests; however, later that night, the district removed several students from the wait list and admitted them to West Ranch High School.

“Students have the 100 percent right to attend their home school and we are doing everything we can to accommodate those wanting to attend another school in our district,” Dave Caldwell, public relations officer for the Hart District told The Signal Wednesday.

Wait list Woes

After the Hart District denied the charter school’s renewal petition March 1 and the Los Angeles County Board of Education denied its appeal May 16, the Hart District sent a letter to Einstein parents about the district’s transfer process.

“Given the unique circumstances this year, the Hart District is offering a temporary open-enrollment opportunity as space remains available,” the letter read.  “This opportunity is offered exclusively to current Einstein families who are planning to enroll children with the Hart District for the upcoming school year.”

The letter told parents they could enroll their child at any school in the district, except for Valencia, during the upcoming school year and that the district would be holding informational meetings and open houses at school sites.

According to Einstein parents, however, problems arose at school site tours when representatives told parents not to rush on the transfer process and that they could wait weeks to turn in registration forms to each school’s registrar.

“Parents were told by representatives that transfers would be fast-tracked,” parent Alison Needham said.  “They told us not to worry about rushing, that there was plenty of room and plenty of time for our students.”

Until Wednesday night, Needham’s son, an incoming senior, was on the wait list for West Ranch High School – and had been for a month.

Most of the charter school’s new senior class opted to transfer to West Ranch, as the tight-knit group wanted to stay together during their final year of high school.  That meant that approximately 65 students filed transfer requests to the high school in the senior class alone.

While the Hart district said, through its spokesman, it was prepared for the influx of new students, parents don’t have that perception and believe the school staff became overwhelmed with requests, causing the Hart District to send out another letter to parents.

Don’t call us, we’ll call you

An emailed letter sent by the Hart District to parents like Alison Needham after her child was put on the waitlist at West Ranch High School.

In that letter, parents were asked not to contact officials as they re-evaluated each school’s capacity to serve students at both Rancho Pico Junior High School and West Ranch High School.

“During this period of re-evaluation, Hart District will need to place a temporary hold on all requests for transfer to these two school sites,” the June 8 letter read.  “The District will notify all parents who have been placed on the temporary hold via email as soon as the re-evaluation of these sites in complete.”

Caldwell said the district constantly reevaluates enrollment at each of its school sites to provide additional staffing and classroom space to adequately serve students.

“We need to know how many students are at a school to staff it properly, the sooner we know the easier we can staff those sites,” Caldwell said.  “A lot of people decided they wanted to go there… That was suddenly pushing the capacity of those schools.”

The second letter, however, sparked frustration and stress for the Einstein families who have children in AP and honors classes or in high school athletics, and did not know what summer homework to complete or summer sports programs to enroll in.

In the lurch

“It’s very frustrating for all of us.  Not only are the kids completely devastated that the school is closing, now they have to deal with all of this stuff,” Needham told the Signal Monday.  “A lot of families are committed to moving their kids into the Hart District, but they want to be treated fairly and have a new home that will welcome their kids.”

Needham was considering home schooling her son or sending him to College of the Canyons (COC) in the fall before she received an email from Hart District Assistant Superintendent Mike Kuhlman Wednesday night.

Now the major problem seems to be resolved for Needham’s son, but parents still have concerns about class availability, sports programs and community networks.

Transfer Difficulties

For those who could enroll their students at school sites of their choice, they say the process has still been a difficult and complicated one.

Robin Bratslavsky has both an incoming freshman and junior who will be attending two different Hart District schools in the fall.

“We were fortunate that we were able to choose the school where the bulk of his friends were going,” Bratslavsky said of her 11th grader.  “The Hart schools are all academically equal and I just wanted him to have the easiest transition.  High school is hard enough, why make it harder?”

For many, the change in school environment and size has been an overwhelming one.

Another concern for parents is the availability of regular, honor and AP classes needed for students to continue on the same path to graduation.

“I don’t put any of the blame on the individual schools or teachers, my blame is on the board and the staff,” Bratslavsky said.  “The school board decided, ‘Let’s drop 450 kids on these additional schools without any additional resources.'”

As for Ainsworth, whose child will be attending Saugus, she had to return to the school more than five times to fill out additional registration forms for her son, she said.

And she expressed frustration over finding class books, knowing summer homework assignments and being welcomed into the Hart District.

“Why are the AEA kids being treated that way?  No tour is available and the books are hard to come by, everyone is so clueless,” she said.  “It seems very unorganized and almost a deterrent, it’s a lot of hoops to go through.”

Given the uncertainty of Einstein’s charter petition with the state, the parents are unopposed to sending their children to Hart District schools next year; however, they said they want the transition to be as painless and fair as possible.

“At the initial denial meeting the Hart Board said they cared about the kids and wanted to do the best for them and now I feel like we’re being treated like an annoyance,” Needham said.

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On Twitter as @_ChristinaCox_

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