Got What We Wanted/Lost What We Had

El Segundo High School

The other day, as I was rounding the corner in my car and preparing to pull into my driveway, my neighbor Christina waved at me to stop. She looked exultant. "The kids got in," she said. "They got in!"

I was first startled by the news, then happy for her. And then I didn't know what to feel. We're in Inglewood. For months, Christina and her husband had been trying to enroll their teenage kids in El Segundo High School; El Segundo is not far west of us, but it's essentially another universe. A very pleasant town that, ethnically speaking, is about as hermetically sealed as they come in Southern California. I've been there countless times (just to visit, of course) and can count the number of black faces I've seen on two hands (and they were probably visiting too). I could count the number Asians and Latinos on maybe three. It was kind of astounding.

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But there are a few ways to crack the seal. There's a state law that allows parents to cross district lines--to bail out-- if their local schools are low-performing and generally not up to snuff. The two high schools in Inglewood unfortunately fall in that category. Christina had been telling me how she and her husband had been petitioning El Segundo for admission since Christmas and getting a bureaucratic runaround that made her head spin. They didn't say no, but they didn't say yes either--they said come back tomorrow, we'll be back to you, that sort of thing. I was indignant on one hand, uneasy on the other. Of course she deserved equal consideration from El Segundo, which probably wasn't thrilled with the prospect of taking in kids from Inglewood. But Christina and her husband are exactly the sort of parents Inglewood schools need holding its feet to the fire; her kids are bright and creative and exactly the kind of students the community at large needs to thrive as a community.

I applauded her triumph, gave her a fist pump. But after I got home and thought about it, the triumph felt hollow. My garden looked less lovely. It was the old paradox of integration that was best expressed by a black oldtimer from the Eastside who put it this way after racial housing covenants were struck down in 1948: we got what we wanted, but lost what we had. We're still losing.

Journalist and op-ed columnist Erin Aubry Kaplan's first-person accounts of politics and identity in Los Angeles, with an eye towards the city's African American community, appear every Thursday at 2 p.m. on KCET's SoCal Focus blog.

The photo used on this post is by Flickr user T Hoffarth. It was used under a Creative Commons License.

About the Author

Journalist and op-ed columnist Erin Aubry Kaplan's first-person accounts of politics and identity in L.A., with an eye toward the city's African American community, appear weekly on KCET's SoCal Focus blog.
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I take issue with the level of racial prejudice inferred in the story. If you were to pass by the campus as school was letting out, you'd see a much diverse student body than you imply. Come by the 4th of July celebration at Recreation Park this summer and you'll see how diverse this little town actually is.


There are several reasons which explain why permit applications are denied. First, each year the school board has to project how many open slots there will be in a particular grade, taking into account families that move away, and other families which move into the city, something that's not always easy to predict. It is, in fact, in the best interest of the school district to accommodate as many students as possible because school districts receive state funding for each student that's enrolled. However, the school district has to balance increasing enrollment against maintaining a low enough student-to-teacher ratio so that the quality of education doesn't suffer.


Priority, of course, has to go to El Segundo residents, and as the reputation of the school district spreads throughout the Los Angeles area, more and more families are moving into the city so they don't have to hassle with the permit process. We moved to El Segundo back in 2001 for that reason, and I personally know of three other families who have moved here in the past five years so their kids could enter the school system. That decreases the number of slots available to permit transfers. We have a close family friend who lives in Hawthorne, and they first had their request for their youngest son to transfer in denied, even though they have had two older children attending El Segundo schools for several years. He was eventually able to get in the following year, but that illustrates how strong the demand for slots is.


If you want to guarantee your son gets into an El Segundo school, then move here. Yes, the housing costs are higher than in other parts of Los Angeles. We moved from a 2-story, 3200+ sq ft, 4 bedroom home just outside Marina del Rey to a 1-story, 1700 sq. ft, 3 bedroom fixer-upper (which still needs fixing). We know of other families who have sold their homes and moved into apartments or who are renting town homes, but those families made the sacrifice to downsize because their children's education was that important to them.


I understand the frustration of parents trying to get their kids into better schools because I've been there myself. Instead of slamming a community because your son can't get into their school (which I don't think is going to help your cause), I think the bigger story you should have written about is why your own local school can't provide the kind of education that you want for your children.

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Latest US News & World Report shows the student body of El Segundo High School to have a higher percentage of minorities (53%) than white (47%).
http://www.usnews.com/education/best-high-schools/california/districts/el-segundo-unified-school-district/el-segundo-high-school-2124/student-body

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Latest US News & World Report shows the student body of El Segundo High School to have a higher percentage of minorities (53%) than white (47%).
http://www.usnews.com/education/best-high-schools/california/districts/el-segundo-unified-school-district/el-segundo-high-school-2124/student-body

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Latest US News & World Report shows the student body of El Segundo High School to have a higher percentage of minorities (53%) than white (47%).
http://www.usnews.com/education/best-high-schools/california/districts/el-segundo-unified-school-district/el-segundo-high-school-2124/student-body

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Sorry for the duplicate posts. Somehow the CGI page got hung up, and I guess it must have posted the same comment multiple times when I did a page refresh, then tried to back up.