Mendez High Makes Small Gains

By Gloria Angelina Castillo, EGP Staff Writer

As the first school built in Boyle Heights in over 80 years, the Felicitas and Gonzalo Mendez Learning Center’s opening in 2009 seemed to present, for the first time in generations, an opportunity to improve the educational outcomes for students in the area.

The school was built to relieve overcrowding at area schools including Roosevelt and Garfield High Schools.

But two years after it’s opening, the four-year graduation rate at one of the campus’ two schools is well below the Los Angeles Unified School District’s (LAUSD) disappointing average, and just slightly above the LAUSD average at the second school.

Lea esta nota EN ESPAÑOL: Méndez Hace Pequeños Logros

Related story: Community to Discuss Roosevelt’s Progress, Future

The available data, however, might not be telling the full story.

According to LAUSD’s 2010-2011 School Report Card, Mendez’s School of Math and Science’s four-year graduation rate was 35 percent—much lower than the district’s average of 54 percent.

Mendez’s School of Engineering and Technology is just above the district average with a 60 percent four-year graduation rate.

A student waits to ask a question during a study session in the library on Monday, March 5. EGP Photo by Gloria Angelina Castillo

The two high schools are managed by the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools (PLAS), and combined have about 750 students. Mendez graduated its first senior class last year.

Giving a school that has only been open for two years a four-year graduation rate can be misleading, say Mendez administrators.

“When we opened in 2009, we opened with a class of 9th, 10th and 11th grade—that 35 percent reflects the students who came to us as 11th graders,” Math and Science Principal Mauro Bautista told EGP on Monday. “Both schools made significant efforts in graduating as many of those 11th graders as we could, but those 11th graders took data from their 9th grade cohort that did not begin with us,” he said.

LAUSD calculates the four-year graduation rate based on the four-year student cohort, and a graduation rate is calculated for every school with a senior class regardless of the number of years it has been open, according to Gayle Pollard-Terry, LAUSD Communication Deputy Director.

In other words, the data for Mendez’s first class of 11th graders includes data from their first two years at another LAUSD high school.

Mendez administrators are quick to point out that both schools on the campus are doing much better than the 35 percent graduation rate for one of their school’s seems to indicate. While still lower than the state target of 800 points, last year the School of Math and Science API Score was 599, a 51 point increase from the year prior. Most eastside schools, excluding magnets, have an API score of 640 or lower.

The school also had the second highest percentage of advanced and early advanced for Local District 5 Schools on the California English Language Development Test (CELDT), with two students in the Advanced category and 46 students placing in the Early Advanced category, according to Mendez administrators.

Mendez’s School of Engineering and Technology’s API Score increased 58 points last year to 606, and it had the third highest improvement rate for LAUSD tenth graders passing both sections of the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE) exam. Still, both schools were below the school district passage rate of 66 percent of students passing the CAHSEE in their sophomore year.

“We all understand that graduation rates in the City in general, and Boyle Heights in particular, have not been where we all want them to be,” Bautista said. “So this year we reached out to our community partners” to help us with the work of graduating a majority of our students, he said.

Mendez is at the heart of the Boyle Heights Promise Neighborhood Plan, developed with funding from the US Department of Education. While no federal funding was awarded for the implementation of the holistic plan to improve youth outcomes, Mendez staff and numerous community organizations and stakeholders are meeting monthly to carry out the plan, Alex Avila, principal of the School of Engineering and Technology told EGP.

(EGP Photo)

InnerCity Struggles is one of several education-based community organizations involved in the Promise collaborative and Executive Director Maria Brenes says they are hopeful the school’s new administration will make a difference. Both Bautista and Avila became principals this year.

“I think the future is promising for Mendez and it does start with looking at the data and being clear about the challenges, and the administration has been more than open about that,” she told EGP.

As a result of the collaborative work, Bautista points out, the Mendez schools have developed a color-coded tracking system that identifies which students need additional support. It’s a system that is being adopted by other Partnership schools, according to Jessica de Barros, PLAS director of Impact.

The color-coded chart is posted in plain sight and seniors can look up their status using their student identification numbers. The charts for the other grades are not posted.

The Class of 2013— made up of students who entered Mendez as freshmen—already has far more students meeting graduating requirements, according to Bautista.

There are currently 49 seniors at the two schools who do not have enough credits to graduate, but an effort is underway to match them with mentors to help them get on track, and if needed, connect them to community resources.

As with many other urban neighborhoods, Mendez students come from low-income, working class families, some come from single-parent households, and some are homeless, Bautista said.

Recognizing that student achievement is influenced by what’s going on inside the school, as well as outside in the community, the Boyle Heights Promise is about taking ownership of the students’ success, according to Proyecto Pastoral’s Deycy Avitia.

“Ultimately, we want graduation rates in Boyle Heights to be a community effort. So it’s all on us [the community]…it’s not just ‘how is the school doing,’” Avitia said, “but how are we as a community doing in terms of graduation rates and outcomes for our students.”

Mentor a Mendez Senior

As part of the Boyle Heights Promise Neighborhood plan, Proyecto Pastoral is seeking volunteers to become “Ambassador for Success” mentors to students who are at risk of not meeting graduation requirements. Candidates can be college students, young professionals, and parents who are eager to help students reach graduation this June and access college and career opportunities.

Each mentor will be paired with one to three high school students and should be available to spend about one hour a week working with each of their assigned on following through on their graduation plan developed by counselors and community organizations, according to Proyecto Pastoral.

For more information, contact Deycy Avitia at or call (323) 881-0018.

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March 8, 2012  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.


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