Two L.A. Unified schools win grants to re-create themselves elsewhere

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A private effort to reshape public education in Los Angeles took its next step Thursday with the announcement that two public schools would receive $750,000 grants to re-create themselves in other locations.

Public Service Community School and King/Drew Magnet High School of Medicine and Science, both located south of downtown L.A., got the money from Great Public Schools Now, a nonprofit group that says it wants to replicate successful schools of any kind.

Although the group is closely associated with efforts to expand the number of charter schools in L.A., it has made a point of also sharing funding under its control with programs of the Los Angeles Unified School District.


“We believe this strategy of dramatically expanding schools is a smart way of ensuring that all students will have access to the best that schools have to offer,” Myrna Castrejón, executive director of Great Public Schools Now, said in a statement.

Union leaders and charter school critics remain skeptical of Great Public Schools Now, which is less than two years old. They’ve called its aid to L.A. Unified a form of tokenism compared with relatively vast sums that well-heeled backers of the group have provided in years past to charter operators. These critics have said they expect Great Public Schools Now to continue that pattern.

Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, the local teachers union, said of the grants, “This is the same old bait and switch.”

Great Public Schools Now, he said, is one component of a broader effort to move more of the public education system into private control, including for-profit entities.

Charters are privately operated public schools that are free from some restrictions that govern traditional campuses. Most are nonunion.

The new district schools would retain union representation.

“This is a new opportunity for our district, and when these funds became available, it was always our goal to seek them,” said Chris Downing, superintendent of L.A. Unified’s 148 Local District South schools. “We feel confident we’re going to do a good job with it.”


Downing oversaw both successful proposals — it isn’t clear that there were any other submissions — with teams made up of his central-office staff and the principals of each school. Up to this point, teachers have not played a crucial role, although faculty at Public Service provided some feedback “about what makes their school a quality school,” Downing said.

The teachers talked about Public Service’s instructional focus and its ongoing teacher training, Downing added.

A portion of the funding could go to training or to free teachers and administrators from some of their normal duties during the planning phase. The schools are expected to open in fall 2018.

Both Public Service and King/Drew opened on new campuses, which is not likely to be the case with their clones. No decision has been made on locations, other than that they’ll be in South Los Angeles.

The schools currently enroll a combined 2,000 students; the goal is to serve 1,000 more. Both schools have low-income, minority populations and have achieved higher test scores than some surrounding campuses.

“These schools are two great examples of success at L.A. Unified,” said district Supt. Michelle King. “We are happy to serve more students and give them the quality education they deserve.”


If King could win these additional students back from charter schools, other school districts or private schools, she’d be achieving one of her major goals: reversing years of declining enrollment. If, instead, the students are pulled from other district programs, possibly weakening their viability — not so much.

The grant submissions — about 30 pages long — were reviewed by a selection committee, which also conducted interviews.

Its members were Derrick Chau, senior executive director of instruction for L.A. Unified, who was chosen by King; Elmer Roldan, director of education policy for United Way of Greater L.A. and a former senior staff member for school board member Monica Garcia; Dan Nieman, corporate citizenship manager at Northrop Grumman, who was once a senior staff member of former school board member Marlene Canter; Maria Casillas, a Great Public Schools Now board member and former L.A. Unified senior administrator who became a charter school backer; and education consultants Becca Bunn and Jamie Prijatel.

Earlier grant-winners have included: Teach For America, a two-year teaching program; Heart of Los Angeles, an enrichment program for students; Equitas Academy Charter Schools, for a building project; and several charter schools hoping to build on efforts to retain successful teachers.

To read the article in Spanish, click here




6:15 p.m.: This article was updated to include a quote from the president of the local teachers union.

This article was originally published at 5 a.m.