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Change is in the air for probation camps

Posted: November 2, 2008 5:44 p.m.
Updated: January 4, 2009 5:00 a.m.
 
Officials for two local juvenile probation centers want to convert traditional on-site schools to charter schools.

But one teacher thinks part of the conversion could seriously cripple the camps.

The camps' Comprehensive Education Reform Report contains 35 items intended to improve education for Los Angles County Juvenile Probation Centers. The two local camps affected are Camp Joseph Scott and Camp Kenyon Scudder for girls, both in Saugus. The facilities take hardened juveniles and try to turn out productive members of society, said Roger Gitling, teacher at Camp Joseph Scudder.

The new recommendations are lofty and mark an improvement in education standards for the facilities, Gitlin said.

"I like 34 of the 35 recommendations," he said. "It's the charter school idea that is the problem."

The report calls for a possible charter school arrangement that shifts the educational responsibilities from the Los Angeles County Office of Education to the Los Angeles Department of Probation, Gitlin said.

"This is a power play by Probation," Gitlin said.

Los Angeles County Office of Education and probation split responsibilities, with probation handling the law enforcement and supervision duties and the office of education focused on the classroom. The new agreement gives probation unfettered control, Gitlin said.

The recommendation also calls for teacher salary cuts and Gitling thinks some current teachers will balk at lower salaries, forcing the school to hire new teachers.

"The idea of a charter school compromises teachers," Gitlin said.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved the report in a unanimous 5-0 vote Oct. 14, according to Anna Pembedjian, justice deputy for Fifth District Supervisor Michael Antonovich.

"It plays a key role in securing a more successful future for our youth," Pembedjian said.

As a former educator, Antonovich's stance supports any plan that features innovative and creative ways to help the youth, she said.

"It doesn't mean every camp would become a charter," she said. The option is being explored to see whether the change will help the youth learn better."

For instance, special needs haven't been doing well in a traditional school setting, Pembedjian said.

"The issue is how we can improve the delivery of education," she said.

But Gitlin is worried the possible change could hinder the youth at the camps.

"Most of the kids follow directions well, but made mistakes before and are trying not to repeat those mistakes," he said. "If these young people will come back into the community without proper training there is a 100 percent chance they will re-offend."

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