Reading scores reflect love of

Before you can appreciate what the new library means to the 500 students at Plainview Avenue Elementary School in Tujunga, you should know this: More than 67 percent of them live in families with incomes at or below the poverty line. Almost 75 percent are eligible for free or reduced-cost lunches every day.

"Our population is a needy population," said Principal Pam Warden. "We feel what happens has to happen at school."

It isn't difficult to read between the lines of what she is saying. The parents of these kids may work hard and still not earn all they need to pay the rent and put food on the table. They may want only the best education for their kids, but desire doesn't pay for things like books.

Money does. And that's something they don't have much of.

What happens for these kids has to happen at school. And it's happening.

Little Plainview Avenue Elementary is quickly becoming the poster child for what's right in the schools.

For the last three years, it has received the Governor's Performance Award for making significant gains in math and reading test scores, and it has been recognized by the state as one of 13 high-achieving schools serving mainly low-income students in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

"In three years, our standardized test scores went from 530 to 700, the most significant point gain of any school in District B," Warden said, proudly displaying a letter from district officials congratulating the school.

District B encompasses more than 70 schools in the San Fernando Valley.

To meet the minimum requirement, a school had to lift its test scores 10 points a year. Plainview lifted its scores by almost 60 points a year.

And when it came time for the teachers and parents to decide how to spend the money that came every year with the performance award, they decided not to spend a dime for a while.

"The Plainview staff and parents had many choices of how to use the funds they earned from the Governor's Performance Award, and they chose to save for three years to give their kids a state-of-the-art library," said Sue Shannon, LAUSD superintendent for District B.

"By their selfless actions, the staff and parents demonstrated their dedication to literacy," she said.

They put the money in the bank until they had enough -- $51,000 -- to turn a cramped, one-classroom library into a two-classroom, state-of-the art library.

Or, as fifth-grader Vaneh Barouni, 10, worded it when she walked into the new library: "It's just like a real grown-up library."

In the old library, space was so tight that the few dozen students who could squeeze into it sat back to back in chairs, and there wasn't enough shelf space to put out all the books. Many books stayed in boxes.

That had to end, said teacher Gloria Nazario. "We were in the process of getting rid of our old books from the 1960s and '70s to get new ones," she said.

"It defeats the purpose to have marvelous new books but no place to show them off and not enough room for more than just a handful of kids to come in to read them."

Now there's plenty of room for the books. And plenty of kids want to read them.

"We want reading to be fun, and from our rising test scores, it's obvious we're teaching more of our kids to love reading," Warden said.

But rising test scores don't explain this: The morning recess bell had rung Monday, and instead of going out to play dodge ball or grab a snack, a few dozen students headed for the library.

"It's fun to be in here reading all these new books," said Summer Ray, 10.

"We'd rather do this than go to recess," said her friend Vaneh.

Parent Sharon Snow just shook her head and smiled. "This library has created a whole new excitement in the school," she said. "I'm starting to see kindergarten teachers bring their classes over, and they never did that before."

Principal Warden's right. What happens for these kids has to happen at school.

Dennis McCarthy's column appears Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday. l=8s=8 Dennis McCarthy, (818) 713-3749