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A tale of two high schools, stakeholders and LAUSD

Cynthia E. Griffin | 10/10/2012, 5 p.m.

Students, parents, teachers, and community stakeholders at Crenshaw and Dorsey high schools are fighting for the school's existence and, according to Kokayi Kwa Jitahidi, community activist and co-founder of the Ma'at Institute for Community Change, they are determined that instead of continuing to make and break promises the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is going to step up to the plate and partner with the struggling inner city campuses.

One of the next steps in this effort is to ask LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy to meet with the coalition of organizations, parents, and community stakeholders to see how he and the district can truly meet the needs of the two schools.

The formation of this plan followed in the wake of several community meetings held to alert people about what is happening at the two schools.

According to 14-year veteran teacher Noah Lippe-Klein, Dorsey is part of the district's reform effort called Public School Choice 4.0. In this program, groups submit plans to win the right to take over operations of consistently low-performing schools.

The state calls these schools program-improvement campuses, and Dorsey has been in PI for five years. During the 2011 academic year it did not meet its annual progress target. This is happening despite the fact that its Academic Performance Index (API) score has gone up nearly 100 points since 2005--from 501 to 596.

A group headed by Dorsey administrators, teachers, staff and parents, along with alumni and other community stakeholders, last year won the right to run the school, but Deasy rejected the plan.

Lippe-Klein, who is also the United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) chapter chair at the school, said they were told their plan lacked urgency and did not meet the expectations of the superintendent. They are in the process of rewriting the plan utilizing the comments Deasy provided.

Crenshaw, too, has consistently underperformed academically and even temporarily had its accreditation suspended in 2005 by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

And according to recently released data, the majority of students at the school are not proficient in either English or math.

Attempts to turn the situation around have been ongoing. They include creating a partnership that consists of the school, its staff, community members, the Los Angeles Urban League, and the Tom and Ethel Bradley Foundation. Additionally, the school voted to become part of the LAUSD's iDesign division in 2008. Under this program, the lead partner, the Urban League, signs a memorandum of understanding with the district that spells out what areas of responsibility they will undertake.

Ideally, being part of this division gives schools more flexibility for innovation.

In the case of Crenshaw, the three key organizations involved in the turn-around efforts created another nonprofit organization called the Greater Crenshaw Educational Partnership (GCEP).

According to Chris Strudwick-Turner, the L.A. Urban League's vice president of marketing and communication, the Urban League was never in charge of the academic turn-around. Instead the agreement with the LAUSD addressed the wrap-around services that the school would be provided.
Crenshaw's academics have been rocky. The school's API score grew anemically from 505 in 2005 to 554 in 2011.