D2D California Dreaming Series

Education Dreams and Nightmares

Once upon a time, California's public schools were highly regarded, but now they're ranking at the bottom of the list of public schools in the United States.

On today's "California Dreamin'" radio segment, NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates profiles a public school in Los Angeles trying to tackle these difficult issues. West Adams Preparatory High School is one of Los Angeles' newest schools, the first class will graduate in 2009. The 2,600 students are divided into smaller schools that reflect their career interests. The "school within a school" structure is intended to keep students from getting lost in the shuffle.

But what do YOU think California needs to do to improve the public school system? Are you a graduate of the California public schools? Share your thoughts, and, if you have a public school dream or nightmare, tell us about it below. We want to hear from you matter where you live.

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West Adams Prep is one of 130 new schools planned as part of LAUSD's multi-billion dollar building boom. Number 67 on the assembly line, "Central Los Angeles Area High School #2" didn't become West Adams Prep until the surrounding community claimed it and made it their own. MLA Partner Schools, a local nonprofit that has served the community for years, facilitated months of planning with hundreds of stakeholders. Certainly the six small schools make West Adams distinct, but those are only some of the many features that were carefully designed before the school even opened. The Advisory program provides college awareness and career education to every single student; the "7 to 7" program creates a longer school day offering a diversity of classes for entire families; school administrators, even the principal, teach classes; students wear uniforms proudly sporting the school crest; on any given day you'll see teachers, students and parents talking together, eating together, and generally having a great time being at school. West Adams is the product of thoughtful design and careful execution with parents, teachers, and administrators working with MLA in unprecedented collaboration to change the culture of urban public schooling and ensure that we all meet a goal: a college-ready education for every student. West Adams may not seem like an LAUSD school, but it is: it is non-charter and 100% accessible to every neighborhood child.

In a suffering district like LAUSD, a new school is a chance to start from scratch. But a clean, fresh building doesn't guarantee a clean fresh start. West Adams is an intentional, carefully scripted effort to make an exceptional school. With 60 new schools still on the horizon, LA has 60 more chances to get it right.

Sent by Mike McGalliard | 3:06 PM | 8-27-2008

As the MLA Site Director here at West Adams Prep, I am proud to work side by side with our Principal, Dr. Edward Robillard and to be associated with the staff and students who were interviewed in your recent story. It is rewarding to hear how engaged and hopeful our students are after only one year of operations. How we got to this point, however, is important to clarify for your listeners. Besides hard work and years of strategic planning, the establishment of this unique school, I believe, is the result of two things: authentic community participation and an unprecedented private/public partnership between MLA Partner Schools and LAUSD.

Hearing our students discuss their dreams, some for the first time in their lives, drives us to do whatever it takes to prepare them. Some students, like Bolivar and Siedah, arguably just needed the opportunity to be taken seriously and took immediate advantage of the additional programs available here at West Adams. Other students began to turn around later in the year during our recent summer school program and are now taking the steps necessary to catch up. In addition, we are well aware that many of our students may take several years to understand and seize the opportunity that they have been given.

But we believe that this is what a true neighborhood school must do. We do not selectively admit students through a competitive application. As long as students have a valid address within our school boundary, we treat them with the same respect that magnet, charter and private schools are known for. They dress for success (our school uniforms) and every child is expected to be college ready and to have a meaningful next step plan by the time they graduate--no matter what their history or challenges. This is what all students in Los Angeles deserve and we believe that all of our neighborhood students will achieve this if they are given the right support and opportunities. Considering the decades of disenfranchisement that communities of color here in South LA have survived, we are under no illusions that this transformation will happen overnight. It takes patience (and years) to repair and heal the systemic neglect of the past.

Your story talks about West Adams as a potential "model for the future." I believe that West Adams represents what can be accomplished when the private sector is a true partner in the daily management of the school and shares in the accountability of its outcomes alongside the faculty and staff. It also demonstrates what can be done when teachers and principals are supported and parents are welcomed, included and empowered.

As we embark on year two of school operations next week, we feel hopeful but also a sense of immense responsibility. But we wouldn't have it any other way. Our parents and students give our staff as much strength and support as we give them--no matter what challenges we have faced and will face together in the years to come.

And this is what truly what makes us different.

Here's to the Senior Class of 2009--the first in the history of West Adams Preparatory High School.

GO PANTHERS!

Sent by John Holcomb | 11:41 PM | 8-28-2008

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