PHOTO: VOCES educator Lucrecia Rentería making sushi rolls with students last spring during a gathering with other schools opening Dream Centers. With the North Valley Military Institute gone, VOCES now has full use of their campus and space for resources such as a Dream Center.

The relentless organizing of Valley Oaks Center for Enriched Studies (VOCES) Span School educators, staff, students, families, and community finally defeated the corrupt North Valley Military Institute charter school co-locating their campus.

Over the nearly ten years before it became VOCES Span School in 2018, Sun Valley High School had a 70% decline in enrollment due to a lack of investment by the district. The North Valley Military Institute took advantage of the school’s declining enrollment and was approved to take over 70% of the campus and classrooms through Proposition 39 — the state law allowing charter schools to co-locate on neighborhood school campuses. 

But in 2017, LAUSD denied North Valley Military Institute’s charter renewal because of financial mismanagement and failure to meet academic performance standards. There was also a lawsuit brought against the Military Institute in 2017 for allegations of sexual abuse against students. Regardless, the Los Angeles County Board of Education authorized the North Valley Military Institute to remain in operation.

German Gurrola, the Community School Coordinator and UTLA Chapter Chair at VOCES organized with other educators, school staff, students, and parents to take a stand. They documented and reported every violation to the LA County Office of Education (LACOE) — including sexual harassment of younger students by older Military Institute students, racial slurs graffitied on school property, and other gross misbehavior by students that went ignored by the Military Institute. VOCES educators and parents also regularly attended LACOE board meetings to make public comment.

When the Military Institute wanted to take over the agricultural space for tactical training, VOCES educators worked with the community to reclaim their space and turn it into a garden. The new HOPE garden became a space for educators to have conversations with the local community about the school’s focus on social and restorative justice. VOCES educators and staff held community events to build community partnerships and empower parents to speak out against the Military Institute.

The organizing work of UTLA educators, students, families, and the VOCES community exposed the corruption and egregious mismanagement of the North Valley Military Institute and maximized the pressure on LACOE to finally shut them down this year. 

German says this victory and the relationships they’ve built with the local community “gave folks here a lot to look forward to.” With the North Valley Military Institute gone, VOCES now has full use of their campus and looks forward to a new eco lab, music lab, Dream center, food pantry, and expanding the school’s cultural programs.

Día de los Muertos community event put on by VOCES educators, students, and parents.