"The effort to transform public education is going to happen within the public education arena," Pechthalt said. "Our contention is that if everybody stayed in the game and began to work together in a united way to make those changes, we'd get there a lot sooner."
Priscilla Wohlstetter, a professor of educational governance at USC, said new alternatives and more collaboration between schools will benefit everyone.
"It's the right kind of school to scale up because it's got a good track record," Wohlstetter said. "The idea of partnerships has taken off across the country in places like Chicago and Philadelphia, but Los Angeles has been slow to come to that realization."
Kennedy conceded there may be initial misgivings that the new campuses will draw talent away from public schools. He is setting up talks with Los Angeles Unified officials, including local district superintendents, on how the schools can work together.
"We share common goals," Kennedy said. "We're there to be partners and I envision working together. We're not competitors."
The community classrooms have broad support from families and teachers, said Christopher Knight, an investment firm manager whose 12-year-old son attends UES and whose oldest son graduated three years ago.
"What Jim has pointed out to parents is that the addition of community-based classrooms is not going to detract from the quality of education here, and because of our research function it can only benefit," said Knight, who also heads the school's board of advisors. "This will be a great opportunity to show people what UES does."
The initiative is only one of the new ideas being developed by Kennedy, an energetic reformer who previously ran L.A. Unified's Magnolia Elementary School near downtown. He's also been principal at a San Fernando Valley math and science magnet school, supervised elementary math programs for L.A. Unified and taught math and research methods to teachers at Cal State Northridge. Kennedy holds a doctorate in educational leadership from UCLA and had hired several teachers from UCLA's teacher education program at Magnolia.
The Seeds schools provide all of the challenges of improving education for low-income families that he relished at Magnolia, but with more flexibility for him to implement his ideas on a wider scale, Kennedy said.
"I'm like a fish out of water in some ways," he said, "but very anxious to start making a difference."