The future of Hollywood, according to Steven Spielberg


Can’t imagine shelling out $25 to see “Iron Man” in the theater? Soon you may not have a choice, says Steven Spielberg.

Per The Hollywood Reporter, the famed director predicts price variances at movie theaters, where “you’re gonna have to pay $25 for the next ‘Iron Man,’ you’re probably only going to have to pay $7 to see ‘Lincoln.’”

Spielberg introduced this theory on Wednesday in a speech at the University of Southern California. He links it to an “implosion” in the film industry brought on by the flopping of a handful of big budget movies. He shared the stage with George Lucas, who says he believes that Hollywood will soon look more like Broadway, putting out fewer films that stay in theaters for longer periods of time.

This made Spielberg dig up a memory from way back in  1982 when “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” stayed on the big screen for a year and four months. Even for a someone like Spielberg, who went on to amass after that hit, making movies is still an uphill battle these days. Lincoln, he says, almost ended up on HBO. He had to co-own his studio, he claims, in order to get Lincoln into theaters.

Not that Spielberg has anything against television—or video games, for that matter. He is currently working on the TV show version fo the Xbox 360 game “Halo.” Sounds interesting, but we’ll stick with his “Lincoln”-type material thank you very much (especially if it costs under $10).

Pittsburgh day schools offering free tuition


Pittsburgh’s Jewish day schools are offering free tuition to new students in grades 3-11 for the coming school year.

The initiative is being paid for by the three schools—the Community Day School, Hillel Academy and Yeshiva Schools, all in the residential Squirrel Hill neighborhood in the east end of the Pennsylvania city—as well as by a grant from the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s Centennial Fund for a Jewish Future.

The free tuition program is for local, permanent residents who apply to one of the day schools for the first time and meet admission guidelines. The student must currently be enrolled in any school in Allegheny County and must be enrolled at one of the day schools prior to the start of the 2011-12 school year.

Nearly 900 students combined are currently enrolled in the three schools. Tuition ranges from more than $4,600 to $14,000 per year, depending on the school and the child’s grade.

“Pittsburgh Jewish day schools provide the highest quality private school education coupled with a deep and lasting connection to Jewish values,” said Chuck Perlow, chairman of the Pittsburgh Jewish Day School Council. “With a strong connection to this community, Hillel Academy, Community Day School and Yeshiva Schools are working collaboratively to give more children and their families the opportunity to experience all that a Jewish day school education has to offer.”

Families Look in Own Back Yards for Summer Fun


Each summer, Erica Groten saves money on summer camp for her son, Ethan, by enrolling him in an exclusive program with only one opening: Camp Mom.

Groten takes Ethan, 6, to places like the Natural History Museum and the Los Angeles Zoo, and organizes beach days with other families and their children. She plans to reprise her role as camp director this summer, creating educational trips for her son.

“We decided that financially, it didn’t make sense to send him away for the summer,” said Groten, of West Hills. “I think he would have a great time at camp, but it just doesn’t work for us. I can create a summer experience for him that would be on par with the camps.”

More parents this year are opting for low-budget alternatives to supplement or substitute for traditional summer camp, turning to backyard camps, mommy camps and round-robin groups where participating families take turns programming for their kids. The move lets families cut the often-hefty cost of tuition from their budgets and allows parents to give their children what some feel is the added benefit of a personalized schedule with mom.

Many Los Angeles mothers turn to Kids Off the Couch, a Web site and free, weekly e-mail newsletter, for tips on inexpensive summer adventures and kid-oriented “staycations.” Co-founders Sarah Bowman and Diane Shakin test-drive all of the day trips outlined on the site with their own children, often using favorite movies or current events as a springboard for educational outings that broaden kids’ horizons.

“Every week, it’s a movie or a book or something to get your kid’s attention, and then we tie it to something to do in the city,” said Bowman. “We’re connecting it to a theme, or to something that’s going on in the world.”

These so-called “popcorn adventures” might involve watching “Little Shop of Horrors” in preparation for a visit to the Conservatory Lab at The Huntington Gardens in Pasadena, or watching the documentary “Paper Clips” before a visit to the Museum of Tolerance to learn about Yom HaShoah. The Web site also offers suggestions for creating a “home curriculum” based on the themes explored in each field trip and conversation-prompters to make sure kids soak up the educational value.

“You could do a vacation in your own city, and not spend a lot of money, and have a lot of fun,” Bowman said. “You can pick and choose locations and create a pretty neat itinerary for exploring parts of your city you don’t really know.”

Kids can also have just as much fun doing activities at home, said Esther Simon, a professional home organizer and mother of seven children who hosted mommy camps at her Santa Monica house for more than a decade.

Erica Groten and her son, Ethan, picked vegetables and strawberries at Underwood Family Farms in Moorpark last year as part of Groten’s “Camp Mom.”

Families should first settle on a budget and then make that figure stretch throughout the week with reasonably priced outings and projects, she said. One day could be dedicated to paid activities such as going out to museums, movies or miniature golf. Another day could be reserved for in-home arts and crafts, such as making birdhouses, pencil boxes or beaded jewelry.

Holding a weekly cooking class for kids is entertaining and teaches life skills, said Simon, who would often let her children write up a menu of simple items — macaroni and cheese, pizza and cookies, for example — and then invite friends over to share the meal. “It’s fun to make your kitchen into a little restaurant, and it teaches independence,” she said.

Other mommy camp activities could include holding scavenger hunts at the mall or on the beach, playing games with sidewalk chalk, planting a garden or holding relay races at a local park. Families can even incorporate tikkun olam (repairing the world) into their camp curriculum by having kids volunteer at a hospital or home for the elderly.

“You have to start out the activities with them, and as much enthusiasm as you show, that’s how much they will get into it,” she said.

If both parents in the family work, Simon added, they can hire a local teacher or teenager to host a backyard camp for them. Five of Simon’s six daughters have hosted backyard camps — both for their siblings and for other neighborhood children.

One backyard camp with an educational bent will be offering themed, weeklong camp sessions this July for preschool-aged kids. Karyn Saffro, who founded the in-home preschool Berwick Buddies at her Brentwood house in January, is letting parents sign up for a full month of summer programming or take it week by week for a cheaper alternative.

Weekly themes include Aloha Paradise, in which kids will learn about Hawaii, the ocean, and make volcanoes as a science project, and Pirate Adventure, which will feature scavenger hunts and water play.

Saffro — a 14-year teacher who spent half her career at Stephen S. Wise Temple Elementary School — incorporates the Reggio Emilia instructional method, in which learning is directed by the students. Whatever kids want to explore — be it octopi or fire trucks — she facilitates their educational desires with books, projects and experiential activities.

“The fact that it comes from the kids keeps it interesting and ever changing,” she said. “Our Hawaii week could be all about hula dancing, if that’s what they’re interested in, or fish or surfing,” she said. “There are things I’ll offer and show them, and we’ll see where they take it.”

The whole month costs $900, and a single week is $250. The price includes a full day of programming and healthy snacks.

Parents still seeking a traditional camp experience have a range of options available to help defray the cost. Most local overnight camps offer need-based scholarships, or “camperships,” and discounts for early registration and sibling enrollments. In addition, incentive grants of up to $1,500 are available to families of first-time campers through a partnership between The Jewish Federation of Los Angeles and the national Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC). For families who still feel they can’t make overnight camp work in the current economy, day camp is increasingly seen as a viable, less-pricey option.

Most of Erica Groten’s friends enroll their children in summer camps, but she maintains that not everyone should follow the flock.

“Every parent needs to find what’s right for them and their child,” she said.

To learn more about Kids Off the Couch, visit www.kidsoffthecouch.com. To learn more about Esther Simon’s mommy camp tips, visit ” title=”www.berwickbuddies.com” target=”_blank”>www.berwickbuddies.com.

Will recession fuel a return to public schools?


Throughout the Los Angeles Unified School District, the recession is prompting middle-class parents to take a look at public middle and high schools they have long disdained. Private schools are just too expensive for many people.

A large number of Jews, whose heritage and culture put a high value on education, are in this economically stressed category. That is why the present and future of the Los Angeles schools is a Jewish issue, one that deserves a place high up on the community’s agenda.

“The number of people who can’t afford private school is increasing,” said Marlene Canter, the Los Angeles school board member who has for two terms represented the Westside and its many Jewish residents and who is about to step down. I met with Canter and her field representative, Paola Santana, for breakfast last week in Westwood to talk about her efforts to persuade Westside residents to send their children to public schools. She represents the Fourth District, which extends from the Palisades and Brentwood to Marina del Rey and includes Mar Vista, Palms, Westwood, Westchester and Venice. It also reaches as far east as Hollywood.

We discussed the current recession’s impact on Jewish families who began abandoning the LAUSD generations ago, when court-ordered desegregation touched off a white exodus from the school system. While this was happening, Los Angeles’ population was changing, and many schools became predominantly Latino. The change is reflected in high schools in Canter’s district.

University High School’s student body is almost 60 percent Latino, 18.6 percent black, 8.9 per cent Asian and 10.3 percent white. At Venice High, Latinos comprise almost 73 percent, whites 11 percent, blacks almost 11 percent and Asians almost 4 percent. Hollywood High School’s students are 77.8 percent Latino, 9.4 percent white, 4.7 percent black and 3.8 percent Asian.

Canter said she starts with the premise that “every child should have an opportunity to get a great public education in a public school.”

You can’t very well make the argument that the schools throughout the Los Angeles district are great schools. The district is huge and covers the Southland’s poorest and toughest neighborhoods. LAUSD’s leadership is unstable and uncertain, smothering initiative with a huge blanket of bureaucracy. The teachers’ union opposes attempts to change work rules that shelter the incompetent. So does the principals’ union. (Yes, unbelievably, they have a union, too).

But there are many talented teachers and principals in the Los Angeles schools. I saw some bad principals, but good ones, too, when I wrote about the schools for the Los Angeles Times more than a decade ago, and I was reminded of the high-quality personnel in September when I met with Los Angeles High School teachers for a column for Truthdig, the web magazine. I was impressed.

In this climate, Canter is stepping up her efforts to urge parents to consider sending their children to middle and high schools in their neighborhoods. There are, she acknowledged, other choices within LAUSD — charter schools and magnets. But charters are often located far from home, and for admission to magnets, parents must navigate through a complicated lottery system based on points. Local schools are making an attempt to improve, and they could be an attractive choice.

What’s more, many public schools aren’t the same monolithic campuses that they once were. There’s been a movement to create small learning centers, offering special programs known as Schools for Advanced Studies, for example, for honors students, or specialized “academies” for kids particularly interested in math, science or performing arts, among others. These schools-within-schools are very popular, creating not only specialized learning centers for the students, but also a sense of community. And they take only a simple application for admission. You can find them in many LAUSD middle and high schools.

Earlier this year, Canter arranged for Ray Cortines, the recently named LAUSD school superintendent who at the time was deputy superintendent, to meet with a group of parents at a Westside Coffee Bean to tout the virtues of University High. Kathy Gonnella, principal of Emerson Middle School, has also hosted a wine and cheese evening for parents. My daughter, mother of two children, went to the latter and came back impressed. Earlier this year, I attended an evening meeting at Webster Middle School, where several principals pitched their Westside middle and high schools.

“What we are doing is breaking down perceptions,” Canter said, attitudes that have been 30 years in the making, dating back to the desegregation controversy.

She said the principals and teachers have to play a big role in bringing about the change. “Principals in private schools spend a lot of time marketing themselves,” she said. But in the past, she said, “our principals have never tried.” The schools, she said, “must open the doors to the parents.”

In addition, she said, the school board must make marketing LAUSD a high priority.

Of course the need to bring back middle-class parents extends far beyond the Jewish community. It is important throughout the district. It is unfair, unjust and simply dead wrong for a parent to be forced to mortgage the family future to send a kid to a private school that may or may not provide the education the child needs. Harvard Westlake is a good school, but graduation from there is not an automatic ticket to the Ivy League.

Los Angeles’ public high schools should be a path to Harvard, UCLA, Berkeley, USC, Cal State Northridge or any other college. As a matter of fact, they already often are. The district is making an effort to improve and has succeeded in many schools.

With more parents considering such an alternative, it is up to the L.A. school district to convince them that it is a good choice.

Until leaving the Los Angeles Times in 2001, Bill Boyarsky worked as a political correspondent, a Metro columnist for nine years and as city editor for three years. You can reach him at bw.boyarsky@verizon.net.