With more than 1,000 public and charter schools, Los Angeles Unified School District is fighting to regain its reputation from the 1950s, when it was a stellar academic system that taught kids to excel in math, reading, science and writing. Today, though, finding a good school in a neighborhood that won't cost an arm and a leg often feels impossible.
So we dug up some hidden gems — elementary schools located in L.A. neighborhoods that aren't rich white enclaves, but that are producing at the highest levels of academic achievement.
In California, Great Schools rates all public and charter schools based on how well students perform academically. The highest a school can earn is a 10, the lowest is a 1. In no particular order, here are six L.A. standouts in neighborhoods that won't break the bank.
6. Garza (Carmen Lomas) Primary Center, Boyle Heights
Garza (Carmen Lomas) Primary Center, with a shining 8 rating, is a fantastic school compared to neighboring schools, which don’t rate higher than a dismal 3. In fact, it's very tough to find an LAUSD grade school in the vast area east of downtown Los Angeles with a rating better than a 5.
Garza is in Boyle Heights, one of the most densely populated communities in L.A. County (some say it's the next target of gentrifiers thanks to its DTLA-adjacent locale). You can currently nab a two-bedroom apartment being advertised on Zillow.com for $1,100, and a four-bedroom condo for $1,550. Seriously.
The entire student population is minority—99 percent Hispanic and 1 percent black. With 98 percent of the students at Garza eligible for free or reduced-price lunch programs, the school's 8 academic rating is a sign of the children’s, teachers’ and principal's success.
Garza only serves K-2, so if you live in the school's boundaries between the L.A. River and the jagged border lines of, roughly, Olympic Boulevard, South Evergreen Avenue and Washington Boulevard, you'll still need to have a plan for third grade after Garza.
5. Charles H. Kim Elementary School, Koreatown
If you can find a place to live in this narrow section of Koreatown between Beverly Boulevard and West 7th Street, which is packed with apartment complexes and bisected by Western Avenue’s bustling business district, you could get your children access to Charles H. Kim Elementary School.
The predominantly Latino and Asian or Asian/Pacific Islander school serves grades K-5. It stands out in this dense urban area with its 8 rating. The area isn't dirt cheap, but it's still a lot cheaper than Playa Vista. The typical monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment here is about $1,200 or so.
4. Vena Avenue Elementary School, Arleta
In the northern San Fernando Valley's working-class neighborhood of Arleta, you'll find Vena Avenue Elementary School, the highest-rated public school in the area, according to Great Schools. Parents say principal Maria Nichols, the faculty and staff all go above and beyond their “titles” and offer a challenging and strong curriculum for students. That's how Vena Avenue gets its glowing rating of 9.
Vena Avenue serves grades K-5 and its student body is heavily Latino, with about 9 percent Asian or Asian/Pacific Islander and 7 percent white students. Nearly 80 percent are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch programs.
To get your child into this school, you can actually buy a three-bedroom home within the enrollment boundaries for $250,000. And rentals, according to Zillow.com, can go as low as $2,200 per month for a three-bedroom home.
3. Clover Avenue Elementary School, Palms
If you’re looking for a school with high-performing students and teachers on the Westside — but not in an impossibly expensive area, where homes get snapped up at $1 million-plus — then Clover Avenue Elementary School between Sawtelle Boulevard and Overland Avenue is the school for you.
Nearly half of Clover’s student population is Asian or Asian/Pacific Islander, one-third is white and the rest is split between black and Latino students.
With an outstanding and very rare 10 rating, Clover Avenue is doing it right on a quiet street in Palms, an area long mocked for its endless rows of ugly apartment complexes — not to mention its reputation as a crime magnet. But these days, Palms has become a destination for millennials thanks to the area's decent rental prices and its nearness to UCLA and popular Westside hangouts.
Surrounded by wealthy neighborhoods such as Cheviot Hills and Mar Vista, it's going to cost you a bit more to live close to Clover Avenue School than other areas on this list. Still, the average monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment is $1,550.
2. KIPP Empower Academy Charter School, Vermont Knolls
In South Los Angeles, with its dearth of high-performance schools, there's one particular standout – KIPP Empower Academy, a charter grade school whose teachers and principal prove that it doesn't matter what neighborhood a school is in, or how poor the parents may be.
Rated as an exceptional 10, KIPP charter school exceeds any and all other schools in the entirety of Los Angeles south of the 10 freeway, with the exception of Clover Avenue Elementary School in Palms (see above).
At KIPP, 99 percent of the students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch program. But as one parent puts it: “The school does offer the surrounding area a sense of pride for kids who would not get this type of education in a public school.”
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1. Solano Avenue Elementary School, Elysian Park
Solano Avenue Elementary, serving K-6, is in Elysian Park, an older community near Dodger Stadium where you can still find a few reasonable apartments in a fast-changing area. Great Schools rates Solano as a 9, which is impressive — even more so considering that 99 percent of Solano Avenue students aren't the children of local hipsters, but rather come from working-class and low-income families. Nearly all are eligible for the federal free or reduced-price lunch programs, nearly double California's average of 55 percent.
One drawback to the area is that crime is up, as it is in the entire Northeast Division of LAPD covering Echo Park, Atwater Village Mt. Washington, Glassell Park and environs.
But the crime here is nothing like the gang violence that haunted this area from the 1980s through early 2000s, and the LAPD says it's on the case. In the mean time, and what's really important here, is that Solano Avenue Elementary students continue to achieve. Your child would be lucky to join them.
See also: "Here is Where Violent Crime is Surging in L.A."