For the last four years, the Academic Perfomance Excellence [APEX] Academy has taken the community's at-risk students, those most in danger of dropping out of high school, and guided them down the path to graduation and college.
Now as budgets shrink and teacher turnover increases at the school, administrators are leading the effort to seek charter school status to help keep the program going.
The school, a neighbor of on North Wilton Place, takes on students once deemed at-risk and gives them the tools to pursue a college education. Last year the school sent-off its .
Principal Cesar Lopez said charter school designation would offset any future budget cuts.
“With the upcoming budget cuts, I don’t see a viable program,” Lopez said. “We wouldn’t be able to offer what we do to the students."
Lopez said as a charter school, APEX would be directly funded by the state, manage the money as an individual school and would be able to maintain its teaching staff.
A united front
About 150 parents, students, and teachers recently marched from Hollywood to the LAUSD offices downtown to drop off a petition with more than 1,600 signatures in favor of charter status, said Alfonso Paz, a lead counselor at the school.
Paz said the students who come from low-income neighborhoods are overcoming obstacles and need the stability of the program.
“Poverty is a big issue,” Paz said. “There are a lot of things that happen in poverty, and how that impacts their ability to learn. We do whatever needs to be done in that moment of crisis, so at least they know they are not alone.”
Lopez pointed out that district wide budget cuts have deeply impacted the school causing at least a 50 percent turnover in staff.
"We can't build a good program with that high turnover. As an independent charter, we would be insulated from that."
In the most recent wave of pink slips, APEX faces losing three teachers, and Lopez said due to next year's budget projections for the school, he will have to cut three more teachers from his staff. APEX had a total of 17 teachers, he said.
Lopez knows making APEX a charter school is something that is generally not looked upon favorably by the Los Angeles Unified School District.
“The district is typically opposed to the conversion because of the fiscal impact,” Lopez said. “As a principal, my job is to remain neutral. I see both sides, but I definitely don’t see how the school can survive next year. Charter seems to be the way to go.”
Making an impact
Alexis Roman, a 17-year-old senior, participated in the march and was one of a handful of students who hand delivered the petition to the office of Steve Zimmer, the LAUSD board member representing District 4 where APEX is located.
“I know what Mr. Lopez and Paz and everybody at APEX can do, and what they’ve done for me,” Roman said. “I feel that every kid at APEX needs that, needs the care that APEX gives and the support.”
Roman, who admits he “messed up” during his sophomore and junior years, is now on track to go to college. Inspired by APEX teachers, he plans to major in early childhood development and become a teacher himself.
“Honestly, I can tell you APEX really saved my life,” said Nina Avetisyan, a junior who also participated in the march.
Avetisyan said she was ill and forced to miss two months of her sophomore year and was taking medicine as a result and feeling depressed.
“They pretty much did just help me go forward,” she said. “They encouraged me to do so much. It was unbelievable what they did for me. The fact they were able to keep me up and keep me going was phenomenal for me.”
Word from the district
As a result of their efforts, APEX was contacted a few days ago by Zimmer’s chief of staff, Sharon Delugach, who ensured them that Zimmer, along with LAUSD Superintendent Dr. John Deasy, is now reviewing their petition.
Zimmer’s office did not return telephone calls or emails from Hollywood Patch.
Paz said APEX is glad to finally have some good news to report to its parents and students.
“The work that the parents did and the students did was acknowledged,” Paz said. “That’s the part I’m happy about because they’re so disenfranchised because of poverty. I want them to not give up and have hope, and that’s really what this school is about.”