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Finding a Good School in LA

Choosing a school for your kids, especially when moving to Los Angeles is not simple. Being a parent means becoming a specialist on local neighbourhood schools, from magnet schools, charter schools to private schools.

 Finding a Good School in LA

Use our guide to finding a good school in LA below to help relieve the stress of moving.

Local LAUSD neighbourhood school

The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is the second largest school district in the US. If you live in the county of LA, your children are zoned to go to a specific LAUSD school, which should be relatively close to your home.

Finding out about your local LA school

Most neighbourhood schools have websites, and hold open houses usually in the spring to introduce their programmes, administrators, teachers, and families. Check them out to meet families who attend the school and hear what they have to say.

If you are lucky enough to live in an area that has a "good" public school, which means safe environment, high test scores, competent teachers, and a welcoming atmosphere, things are relatively simple.

Applying for a LA public school

All you need to do is obtain an enrollment packet from the main office and fill it out. In this case, you’ll feel an active member of the local community, your kid’s schoolmates will live nearby, and, probably, you won’t have to use your car, which is really important in LA.

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Disadvantages of public school in LA

Disadvantages may include being dependent on the district's budget cuts and feeling that as a parent you have no say in curriculum development, or other decisions impacting your child’s education. However, there are many ways to be involved, from booster clubs to School Site Councils, PTA, and other committees.

Top LA public schools

Below are some of the most well-known public schools in Los Angeles area for both elementary and high school level:

Elementary Schools
Carver Elementary (San Marino)
Palm Crest Elementary (La Canada)
Monterey Hills Elementary (South Pasadena)
Hawthorne Elementary (Beverly Hills)
Celerity Troika Charter (Los Angeles)
Clover Avenue Elementary (Los Angeles)
Balboa Gifted/High Ability Magnet Elementary (Northridge)
Franklin Elementary (Santa Monica)
West Hollywood Elementary
Eagle Rock Elementary (Los Angeles)
High Schools:
Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies (LACES)
La Canada High
San Marino High
South Pasadena Senior High
Downtown Magnets High
Beverly Hills High
Renaissance Arts Academy
Alliance Dr. Olga Mohan High
Arcadia High
Santa Monica High

To help narrow down where you and your family should live in LA, check out our guide to family-friendly areas in Los Angeles, which have their own good schools.

Alternatives to public school in LA

But what happens if your local school doesn’t feel like the right fit? Could you afford a private school? Would you have to move?

Now there are not only many options, but the search of those options has become simple and more convenient.

LAUSD magnet programmes

The LAUSD magnet programme was created in the 1970s as court-ordered voluntary integration opportunities available to students in grades K-12. The goal was to empower parents to be able to choose a school in a different area that might better serve their child.

Magnet schools have a focused theme and aligned curricula in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM), Fine and Performing Arts, International Baccalaureate, International Studies, World Languages and many others.

How magnet schools differ from public schools

They are typically more “hands-on, minds-on” and use an approach to learning that is inquiry or performance/project based. There are approximately 172 Magnet programmes currently within the LAUSD boundaries. A list is available on the Choices section of the LAUSD website.

Applying for magnet school in LA

Most magnet schools do not have entrance criteria, but embody the belief that all students have interests and talents that are better cultivated in a magnet school.

They often use a random computer-based lottery system for admission, such as the mysterious “point system” which considers various factors (matriculation, waiting list, siblings already in the school, overcrowded or minority predominant schools) that add weight to a student's chances at acceptance.

“Talented & Gifted” magnet schools may utilise student assessment data and teacher recommendations for selection. Applications for magnet programmes are due in November for the following school year, through the Choices Catalog.

Charter schools

Charter schools are public schools that are allowed the freedom to be more innovative and develop new practices and teaching models that can help improve all public schools.

High school in Los Angeles

Source Flickr: InSapphoWeTrust

The official LAUSD website states that they view charter schools as "part of the District's family” and as “an asset from which we can learn." In support of this important public school spectrum, LAUSD has developed the Innovation and Charter Schools Division.

Different types of charter schools

LAUSD recognises two types of charter schools: "conversion" and "start-up." A "conversion" charter is an existing district school that later becomes a charter, usually spearheaded by a committee of parents and educators who decide they want greater autonomy over their school.

A "start-up" is a charter school that is created "from scratch" by educators, parents, foundations, in order to provide a model that they feel did not exist within the current system.

Charter schools can also be either "affiliated" with the district or "independent". Affiliated charters require submission of the LAUSD Choices application in December for September start, while most independent ones hold their lotteries in spring. The California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) website provides detailed information.

Private schools

If, for any reason, you are looking into sending your child to a private school, the city has several top ranking options.

Private schools rely on their own financing coming from tuition fees, grants, and donations from alumni, businesses, or organisations. If the school is linked with a religious group, then this organisation, like the Catholic Church in the case of Catholic parochial schools, may be an important source of funding as well.

Since they’re autonomous, private schools can offer religious education, or curriculum not regulated by state standards. Some good schools are not accredited, although most are. Accreditation ensures that the school meets regional or national standards set by a group of peers. It also ensures that the school’s administration and academic programmes undergo review by an outside group at least once every few years.

Applying for private school in LA

Private schools are not required to accept every child. They often require an extensive application process involving multiple interviews, essays, testing and they can be very selective. They choose students based not only on their academic performance but also their origin, religion, as well as the special attributes or assets of their parents.

Washington Irving Middle School in Los Angeles

Source: Flickr | Kent Kanouse

Cost of private school

Tuition can be expensive. Some K-12 boarding schools approach the cost of private universities. Scholarships and loans help to make private schools increasingly diverse, though not as diverse as many public schools.

International schools

For those parents who believe that an international school is a better match for their kids, there are also a number of options around Los Angeles. They promote international education either by adopting a curriculum, such as that of the International Baccalaureate, or by following a national curriculum different from that of the school’s country of residence. Here are some international schools to consider:

International schools in Los Angeles
Eagle Rock Jr./Sr. HS (International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme and Diploma Programme)
El Sereno MS (Middle Years Programme)
Farmdale ES (Primary Years Programme)
Foshay LC (Primary Years Programme and Middle Years Programme)
Meyler ES (Primary Years Programme)
Wilson HS (Middle Years Programme and Diploma Programme)
Downtown Business Magnet (Diploma Programme)
Goethe International Charter School (Primary Years Programme)

All these schools maintain websites providing useful information about their curricula and their educational profile.

Before starting to narrow the list of schools to consider for your child, remember that a school that is “perfect” for one child may not be perfect for another, even in the same family. And that is one of the risks of accepting, without personal verifying, the opinions of other parents or graduates of any school.

There are no “best” schools. Only schools that may be “best” for your child, and only you and your child can determine that. Since every school has its own personality, make sure your child’s personality can blend happily with the school’s philosophy and still develop and grow as a distinct entity. Good luck!