At a recent meeting in Watts of the community partners involved with the group of six schools over which Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has direct jurisdiction, L.A.’s top elected official discussed what his goals were for the institutions, and reiterated that it would take everyone pitching in to help.
He cautioned that change would not happen over night, and reminded everyone there that instead of “cherry picking” the easier schools to turn around, he and his team “wanted the schools most challenged because I believe in these kids.”
“I want to give these kids hope. Our goal is to get everyone to graduate but the real goal is give the kids hope,” Villaraigosa told those assembled at the newly constructed Charles Mingus Art Center on the grounds of the Watts Towers.
Once again calling education the “civil rights issue of our time,” Villaraigosa said if he and his teams can make his six-schools experiment work in Los Angeles, it can work around the nation.
Markham and Gompers are two local campuses that are part of the Mayor’s partnership of schools, and among the changes parents and students will see, when the school year begins on Sept. 3 is a new leadership team with a different attitude, said Angela Bass, superintendent of the 10-school partnership.
This new attitude has special implications for African American children, said Bass, who herself is African American.
“Historically African American children have been given a generic curriculum but they should have a different one that acknowledges that they have their own culture and language . . . We haven’t paid attention to that; with Hispanics we have.”
Acknowledging that language and culture means not negating the way the children speak and think but helping them transition into using academic language is one of the changes that Bass and her team intend to train teachers to do.
African American children in particular need to learn how to code switch, when it comes to language, noted Bass, and that falls in line with another partnership goal of ramping up expectations instead of watering them and the language down.
The other differences Villaraigosa’s team have brought include fully staffed schools.
“Historically, Gompers and Markham have started the school year with 13 or 14 vacancies,” said Kennon Mitchell, one of the Family of Schools instructional leaders. This year the classrooms have teachers as well as new principals at each school.
Stability at the leadership level is also going to be another priority, added Mitchell, who pointed out that Gompers has had seven different principals in nine years and Markham has faced a similar situation.
Bass and her team will also make the instructional curriculum a data-driven effort, and a two-year professional development program will be established for teachers. Here educators will learn to focus on teaching. That includes learning how to teach in a real world context with rich literature content. Students will no longer learn by rote memorization, but will learn concepts in context, and focus on how they are interrelated across the curriculum. Another goal is also to help them learn to connect what they are learning to their own experiences.
Perhaps one of the most important changes in the approach, said Bass, is how they will approach it. “We will identify strategies based on the teachers (at the school), the community and the administration,” instead of a one-size fits all approach.
Some of the most elemental goals are to insure that the school atmosphere is very different with computers in every class, and white boards that are usable for instruction in every room.