Colfax Reaches 910 API and Closes Its Doors to New Enrollment
With all the news these days of failing schools, falling test scores and high school graduates who are not prepared for college, the schools that are doing well make the headlines, are celebrated, and publicized as a goal for other schools to emulate.
And then there’s Colfax Charter Elementary School in Valley Village.
It used to be a well-kept secret that Colfax was a great little gem of a school – kind of like Carpenter without the bucks. The school is diverse, with a very active parent base. Its charter dictates that its core academic curriculum be integrated with arts, science and technology, and Colfax’s graduating students easily excel at the middle school level along with high-performing private and public elementary schools that are much more affluent.
Three weeks ago, API (Academic Index Report) scores were announced and Colfax hit an astounding 910 (anything over 900 is considered very impressive). But Colfax is not hanging up its banner to publicize the good news.
Colfax has reached its capacity, and new students – even if they live in the Colfax district – are now being turned away and forced to go to nearby Riverside Drive Elementary School in Sherman Oaks.
In 2008, with just over 500 students, Colfax became an affiliated charter, which means that they are still a part of the Los Angeles Unified School District, but they have flexibility in instructional programs and budgets.
Ten years ago, Parents Association of Colfax Elementary (PACE) had an annual budget of about $3,000 to pay for capital projects and extracurricular activities. Today, the budget has increased 100 fold to nearly $300,000. Parents collectively pay for classroom aides, extra science and math programs, a working farm (with both plants and farm animals), violin and keyboard instruction, chorus, orchestra, visual arts, theatre, dance, a computer lab and laptop carts.
Early this year, principal Susana Gomez-Judkins could see that Colfax was filling up. A well-publicized first day registration in April attracted a line of about 80 families rushing to enroll their children for the fall. More families registered in the following months. A preschool class for special needs children was relocated to Riverside Drive to make room for the additional enrollees. Late spring, an LAUSD redistricting committee closed the option areas that Colfax shared with nearby Carpenter Community Charter School in Studio City, Riverside and Rio Vista in Toluca Lake. But on Aug. 31 – exactly one week before the start of the 2011-2012 school year – Colfax had reached its capacity limit.
“We would love to take everyone in the area and accommodate all the kids,” says principal Gomez-Judkins, but she is adamant about keeping the school small.
She is reluctant to consider constructing additional buildings or bungalows for the school.
“It would impact the ability for us to provide a quality program.” She notes that the original charter dictates that Colfax serves approximately 500 students, yet that number has mushroomed to its current population of 647.
“Obviously we have an obligation to serve all the neighborhood kids,” Gomez-Judkins states, and she finds it heartbreaking to turn away children who live walking distance from the school. Yet she must abide by the policy of “last one in, first one out” when it comes to enrollment.
Although it may at first glance seem like a ruthless task, Gomez-Judkins is actively pursuing families who have lied about their residency and actually live outside the Colfax district. A spot taken by someone who should legally be going to a different school prohibits someone else who rightfully lives in the area from being allowed to attend.
This has sparked occasional rumors from parents who speculate that other students may live outside the area. Gomez-Judkins intends to keep inaccurate rumors from turning into a witch hunt by having parents tell her directly.
“It’s not hearsay, it’s not a rumor, it’s not some other person told me,” Gomez-Judkins advises. “If you have first-hand knowledge about it, don’t gossip about it with your friends. Tell the front office and don’t tell anyone else. That limits the witch hunt mentality.”
An example would be if they were invited for a play date and the house was in Van Nuys. Gomez-Judkins has been known to knock on the door of the home listed on the enrollment form and ask to see the child’s toothbrush.
The principal used to have a hard time playing bad cop in kicking out the families who lied on their application, but now she feels like it’s a necessary evil that’s required to protect the families who deserve to be enrolled.
The cap will have an even greater affect on next year’s enrollment because overcrowding may prompt the necessity for fewer kindergarten classes.
Gomez-Judkins suspects that Colfax grew more popular when it became an affiliated charter.
“But Riverside Drive is now an affiliated charter. Carpenter is an affiliated charter. Sherman Oaks Elementary an affiliated charter,” the principal states. “Increasingly there are more options for people to pursue in the affiliated charter area. There are a lot of great things going on in the local schools. Colfax doesn’t have to be the only one drawing in these kids. There are a lot of other schools looking for those families to change their school communities.”
Perhaps it will be just a matter of time before Riverside Drive Elementary becomes the hot new affiliated charter school and they, too will need to cap their enrollment and send students off to yet another public school.