Opinion: It’s Time to Talk About Our Kids

WeHo’s kids need our help. It’s time for the City of West Hollywood to create a dedicated body to address the concerns of children and families. Here are a few reasons why:

Foremost, our schools are struggling. According to a report by school board representative Nick Melvoin’s

office, if the West Hollywood area was its own school district, only 20% of our middle schoolers would meet or exceed expectations in math, and only 37% of middle schoolers would meet or exceed expectations in English and Language Arts[i]. That means 80% and 63%, respectively, of middle school students in the area aren’t performing to the basic standards set for them. Are West Hollywood community members satisfied with these percentages? I hope not. These numbers are shocking, and merit being addressed.

Secondly, our population of children and families has reached a “critical mass.” Currently there are 513 West Hollywood residents attending 70 separate LAUSD campuses spread out across Los Angeles County[ii]. This number does not include kids attending private institutions, home schoolers, or pre-school age children. Our recent community study estimates that 4% of our population is under the age of 18[iii]. Ignoring the 5% margin of error from that study (weird, I know), that would mean at least 1,460 children live in WeHo. But this number doesn’t include their caregivers who, obviously, also have an interest in the needs of children. It’s easy to imagine the total number of residents who are directly impacted by our schools (children + parents + other caregivers + prospective parents, etc.) being three or four times that number. It’s clear that the population is large enough to merit an advisory board, at least.

Nate Clark

And this population is likely to increase as years go by. More same-sex couples are opting to raise kids—my husband and myself included—and we want our kids to grow up among the same WeHo community where we’ve felt safe and welcomed for many years. Regardless, the general lack of affordable housing in the entire SoCal basin makes moving elsewhere “for the schools” no longer a viable option for most people. Gone are the days when families could simply buy a house in the Valley in order to get into a great public school. It’s clear the impacted population is here to stay, and it’s continuing to grow.

Additionally, please consider that we have advisory boards to represent almost every cross-section of our community. Lesbian and gay people, older adults, adults with disabilities, women, transgender adults, and Russian speaking residents are all represented in city government. Likewise, our commissions provide essential community input to the City Council regarding the services that our community members rely on: everything from law enforcement, public spaces, and the arts, to the many essential social services our residents utilize every day. And yet, there is no body to provide input about the schools that serve our city, even though our schools are an “essential service,” too. (The Human Services Commission, on which I serve, does not oversee schools as one of its program areas.)

To be sure, the City of West Hollywood relies on LAUSD to serve our kids’ public school needs. But we should think of LAUSD as a contracted service provider. They are the same as the Sheriff’s Department, or any other service provider that we engage to keep our community healthy and safe. LAUSD is our partner in ensuring a successful education for our children. I believe we’re responsible for providing the same support and input to LAUSD that we provide to any of our contracted service providers. It’s ultimately our responsibility to make sure our schools are successful. An advisory board could help to do that.

I’m not making any suggestions for how to run our schools. I’m not advocating for or against charter schools, UTLA, re-districting, new construction, creating our own school district, joining with other area school districts… or any of the myriad ideas being informally floated by community members. I can’t solve these challenges on my own, in an Op-Ed! We need to engage our entire community to find solutions to these challenges.

That’s why I’m calling on the City of West Hollywood to formally recognize the interests of children and families, the same way we’ve done for so many other segments of our population. WeHo includes a diverse, vibrant, and growing population of children. It’s time for the city to consider the needs of children and families with the same respect and distinction we apply to every other vulnerable population: by creating a dedicated city body made up of parents and community members who can address those needs.

[i] Nick Melvoin, Open Dialogue About Improving Schools in West Hollywood, 04/18/2018

[ii] LAUSD, 2018-19 West Hollywood K-12 Student Count, 02/06/2019

[iii] Raimi + Associates, City of West Hollywood 2019 Community Study Summary of Findings, 03/12/2019

  1. I’ve been thinking about this and wanted to update my previous thoughts which missed the target. Nate’s goals of doing what we can are incredibly noble. Just like seniors want to age in place kids should be able to stay in neighborhood schools.
    But rather than a city council directed commission or board perhaps Mr. Clark should start a West Hollywood Parents Association. Parents of kids, straight and gay, single dads and single moms would have a support group. The WHPA, (not to be confused with the West Hollywood Preservation Alliance) would be in the best position to hold monthly inclusive meetings without city staff getting involved and can speak with one voice similar to say the West Hollywood West Residents Association (WHWRA).

  2. In my experience and that of my wife, who was far better at this than I ever was, the very best “commission” for the needs of children is the one that is assembled from the parents alone. Assessing children’s needs is not for the timid and certainly not for the “experts” which might be contracted by a government (i.e. City Hall, in this case).

    Public schools are monoliths and their response is often cumbersome and inadequate as their mission has been clouded by the demands of their employees and lurking politicians. Private schools maintain the inequality we see today in our entire culture.

    Parents who are truly interested must get together, converse, consider, plan and act.

  3. Another do nothing commission for council members to reward supporters and bloat city staff. For the money it costs to host 2 city staffers plus benefits could be five hundred thousand dollars for these 500 kids. Spend that on 500 seniors.

  4. Parents are in the best position to effectuate change, but it’s not easy. Eliminate or significantly restrict TV and internet and create a reading culture at home. Family reading hour is fun. Can’t just blame schools and teachers. A home culture that values reading is critical . It worked for our kids! You should be commended for trying to help kids achieve basic skills required to succeed in life. Is it true that Cary already read Cervantes Don Quixote and Ibsen’s A Dolls House?

  5. is it possible that the author has a child and cannot afford a private school and just wants our local public schools improved? i commend him for that. but i do not think a local advisory board of selected neighbors with inside connections will speak for all of us.

  6. What??? You mean Drag Queen Reading Hours at the West Hollywood Public Library aren’t getting the job done? I’m shocked, absolutely shocked.

  7. California schools are not really paid for with property taxes. Their biggest source of funding comes from income and sales tax. (It changed in an attempt to equalize school quality between wealthy towns with higher property values, and low-income neighborhoods with inadequate property tax rolls.)

    LAUSD still doesn’t have enough $, so Measure EE is on the ballot in June to add a parcel tax earmarked for education. (Parcel tax, as in size of parcel only; not property tax, as in value of property. And property owners over 65 are exempt.)

    But back to the point of this op-ed. West Hollywood has ZERO authority over LAUSD. You cannot think of LAUSD as a contracted service provider any more than you can think of the staff at the DMV as paid consultants.

    If you want to form an advisory committee, it would have to be for LAUSD, but guess what. Education reform and improvements science are actual fields of academic study. The last thing we need are the knuckleheads in city hall getting involved in that. They can’t even clean a sidewalk with $300,000 and a map.

  8. Thank you Nate for your insightful and articulate commentary.
    It would probably be futile to think we can come up with a community consensus on how LAUSD should be run and even if we could, we are such a small part of the population the District serves, our input may not matter.

    But we can insure a fresh look at Social Services and other City programs. Moving beyond attention grabbing programs such as Drag Queens reading children’s books at our library, we should have real programs that provide tutoring in math and reading for school age kids. We can help to insure our local schools have sufficient class room supplies. We can foster volunteer programs to assist teachers or school librarians. A local advisory board could be a great vehicle formulate meaningful programing and enhance community involvement.

    We have seen a steady increase in the number of children living in our community. Those numbers are going to jump in the coming decade. While other communities are strapped for cash, West Hollywood has the resources to invest in the next generation. A West Hollywood advisory board could be an excellent vehicle for creating meaningful child-centric programs

    1. Back to the classics, they NEVER fail especially when the schools and parents are on the same wave length and reinforce each other. The opportunity to get acquainted with ethics, respect, discipline and responsibility no matter what courses are offered is vital regardless of how crazy outside culture gets. Restricted tv, internet and other devices factor in. A child never gets another chance to get these foundational aspects in line and learn how to stay in the right lane.

  9. Well, not understanding Larry’s point at all and the logic and math are off. It’s a very WeHo specific POV especially when WeHo thrives because of its relationship with the surrounding communities. Funding for public schools is not only from property taxes. If anything, given his line of reasoning, West Hollywood is being financed by the property taxes of other property owners outside of WeHo who contribute to the funds of LAUSD. There is a definite need to have citizens even outside of WeHo residents have a voice in the shaping of schools within WeHo. A dedicated advisory board is just a start to what is needed.

  10. West Hollywood offers a multi-million dollar recreation program that has over 1 city employees for every 10 kids in the city of West Hollywood and programming is in the millions of dollars that adds up to over $10,000 per child. (5 million dollars divided by 387 kids (387 kids estimated on zillow city stats) for staff and programming. these programs include tots programs to daily and weekend programs for kids and a small fraction towards seniors or other programming. There is no question schools can be better places of learning but local schools are paid for with property tax dollars. Many homeowners or condo owners have no children but are paying property taxes that go to our local school districts. Our small city is filled with 80% renters who do not pay property taxes and enjoy public schools with little direct cost. We should think of creative ways to improve school programs, as we should think of creative ways to improve our local police patrol. But our sheriff is contracted with Los Angeles and our schools are part of LA Unified School District. If we are to improve things we need to do that with LA Unified though the PTA instead of limiting the number of people included to 5 or 7 ‘commission or board members who may not speak for all the parents and kids needs.

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