Ivy Bound Academy Charter School in Sherman Oaks is the only middle school in Los Angeles to rank in the top 10 percent of public schools statewide, according to information released Thursday by the state Department of Education.
"We are ecstatic," a staff member at the school told Patch late Thursday afternoon.
In a county that has posted a high school dropout rate in the 40 percent range over the past 20 years, Ivy Bound is one of the shining stars in the Los Angeles Unified School District. The charter school has ranked in the state’s top 10 percent of schools every year since it opened in 2007.
The state rankings are based on the school’s base Academic Performance Index, which is calculated for elementary, middle and high schools based on the results of the Standardized Testing and Reporting program and the California High School Exit Exam.
In the LAUSD, 24 elementary schools received the highest rank of 10, placing them in the highest 10 percent of elementary schools statewide, according to a City News Service report.
Six high schools placed in the top 10 percent—College Ready Academy High #4, Environmental Science and Technology High School, Granada Hills Charter High, Harbor Teacher Preparation Academy, Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies and Sherman Oaks Center for Enriched Studies.
Ivy Bound got its start from the vision of one man.
“Every year I was talking to families who were saying that their kids were not being educated,” said Kiumar Arzani, the school's executive director and founder. “We came down the path of founding a charter school because we felt we could do better.”
As a young man, Arzani had originally intended to be a doctor. His first stint as an educator came when he worked as a science teacher at Portola Middle School in Tarzana while awaiting acceptance into Columbia University’s medical program. He loved teaching, but headed to New York City to study medicine.
In his third year at Columbia, fate would intervene.
When his father died, Arzani returned to Los Angeles to help support his family, and he again got a job at Portola teaching science. Deciding that he loved teaching more than medicine, Arzani did not return to Columbia.
While working at Millikan Middle School in Sherman Oaks, Arzani began tutoring students after school. The demand he saw in the community for a tutoring center, combined with what he described as his dismay at the emphasis on school politics over student learning, compelled him to open the Ivy Bound Educational Center, a tutoring center, in 1994.
Arzani reached another turning point in 2005 as he listened to parents complain about the schools in Los Angeles.
Because of his experience at running the tutoring center, he believed he could create programs capable of turning the weakest students into straight-A students. He decided to found a charter school and gathered like-minded parents and business people to form a board.
Arzani drafted a “petition” with the state that outlined the proposed curriculum and addressed other requirements for starting a charter school. The petition included a strong emphasis on technology to enable students to master software programs such as Microsoft Word, PowerPoint and Excel by the time they graduated.
“I realized when I went to my son’s school that it looked the same as when I went to middle school nearly 40 years ago,” Arzani said. “It had the same chalkboards and no computers. My son was only receiving a half-hour of computer instruction a week.”
For the 250 students in grades five to eight at Ivy Bound, the school day is eight periods long, rather than six periods, as at most traditional middle schools.
There is a waiting list to get in each fall. New students are selected based on a lottery system.
While the school embraces technology, the primary emphasis is on making sure students leave each grade with the knowledge the state mandates for each grade level. When a student leaves fifth grade, he or she is fully prepared for sixth grade, unlike students at many Los Angeles schools who end up with holes in their knowledge and fall farther behind, Arzani said.
Area high school principals have been impressed by how prepared Ivy Bound students are for high school, he said.
“It is clear that Ivy Bound students have had a rigorous curriculum throughout middle school with high expectations,” said Marsha Witten Rybin, the principal of High Tech Los Angeles Charter High School. “They are used to working hard and thinking critically, which isn’t the case for the students at many of the feeder schools that come to us.”