Chartered Governance of Urban Public Schools
Bruno V. Manno
The Annie E. Casey Foundation
The motto Climbing New Heights Together was chosen by the struggling Fenton Avenue School when it decided to go charter in 1994. Located in the northeast San Fernando Valley in the city of Lake View Terrace, Fenton Avenue was a troubled Los Angeles Unified District elementary school in the late 1980s when Joe Lucente was assigned as its principal. It had the usual ills of urban schools: meager pupil and teacher attendance, weak student achievement, scant parent involvement, gang activity, and dilapidated facilities.
Lucente was warned that a major challenge faced him. “I heard stories of how bad it was at the school, ” he recalled. “It went through four principals in 5 years. But I never realized it was as bad as it was until that day I met with the superintendent and he told me for just over an hour in graphic terms about the school.”
The new principal struggled like Sisyphus within the confines of the district system to turn his school around. And though some things did improve, overall the system cramped Lucente and his team in too many ways. He saw key staff people leaving in frustration. He, too, began to think about leaving:
We had reached the point where we couldn't go any further unless we got the state and the district with all their rules and regulations