East LA: Bold School Transformation | City Watch

Change that parents and students can stand behind has finally reached East Los Angeles in the form of bold school transformation. 

Over the past few weeks, several plans for school transformation at Garfield High School and the new Esteban E. Torres High School were developed and presented to the community in preparation for a parent and community vote. 

A transformative environment is stirring across the nation to improve public schools in order to prepare a competitive workforce for the 21st century.

President Barack Obama has recently committed to greatly invest in our public school system as he announces available funds of $4 billion for K-12 innovation programs for school improvement. Recent action by the Los Angeles Board of Education led to the passing of the Public Schools Choice Resolution which opens up the process for identifying the best plans for changing our local schools. 

These times present an opportunity to re-shape the public education system in East Los Angeles. We can advocate with greater urgency for quality schools that ensure all students graduate college and career ready. Our schools have the capacity to prevail and succeed, but for that we must support the type of school change that will prepare our students to compete in a global economy.  

The Los Angeles Unified School District has not had the same sense of urgency for change. For example, according to recent district data for Garfield High School only 54% of students graduate within 4 years, of which only 16% graduate having successfully fulfilled the A-G college prep requirements needed to be eligible for a 4-year university. Although we acknowledge the progress made, more must be done.

This community can now make great strides forward in education with the opening of the newly constructed Esteban E. Torres High School this fall. We can take this window for change to come together as a community to demand high expectations, college access, rigorous curriculum and authentic community partnerships. 

Parents, students and community members across the district will be able to vote for reform plans for existing low-performing schools and new schools. The upcoming vote will be administered by the district and eligible voters should take a closer look at models such as the Pilot Schools within the Belmont Zone of Choice in the Pico-Union community of Los Angeles. 

Pilot Schools are an in-district reform effort that has demonstrated success in improving academic achievement over time. This model is now a viable option for Esteban E. Torres High School which will open as five separate schools of 450 students each within the campus.

The opportunity presented at Torres through the Public School Choice Resolution galvanized a group of local teachers to develop five Pilot School plans under various academic themes. The Pilot School proposals demonstrate a great capacity for teacher success because these teachers are highly motivated to work within the structure of Pilots that give greater autonomy over the areas of school funding, curriculum development, governance structure and teacher professional development. 

These plans are also leveraging local community resources to provide comprehensive services to students and families. 

These Pilot Schools have the potential of setting precedence for what a quality public education can achieve when schools intentionally develop strong partnerships with teachers, parents, students and community leaders and organizations with a vision for community schools. More importantly, because Pilot Schools are an in-district reform they have the potential to expand to other Eastside schools.

We can no longer allow for the future of generations of students in East Los Angeles to be jeopardized. In times of crisis we can push for the transformation of outdated models of education. Ultimately, what the families and students of East L.A. deserve are high quality and high performing schools.

The transformation of our schools will not be easy, we must commit to arduous work in the months ahead and participate as parents, students, teachers and community members to ensure that the plans we choose for our schools invest in the potential of every single student. 

(Maria Brenes is the Executive Director of InnerCity Struggle a non-profit organization that organizes parents and students to improve the quality of education on the Eastside.) -cw

Vol 8 Issue 12
Pub: Feb 12, 2010

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