South L.A. youth group, Long Beach educator among award winners

South L.A. youth group, Long Beach educator among award winners
Millikan High School counselor Michelle Ponce, center, talks to Fernando Fuentes, left and Edward Yacuta. Long Beach City College started a pilot program allowing local high school students who earn an A or B in their senior year to enroll in college-level English, no matter what they score on placement tests. (Bob Chamberlin, Los Angeles Times)

Leaders of a South Los Angeles program that has helped thousands of young people succeed and a Long Beach educator who has guided a model community college transfer program were among six recipients Thursday of the James Irvine Foundation Leadership Awards.

The awards, which are in their ninth year, recognize individuals who have developed creative and effective solutions in education, social, health and other challenges facing the state.


"These leaders advance effective solutions to some of California's most difficult problems," Don Howard, interim president and chief executive of the foundation, said in a statement. "They do this by listening to the people they serve, working with the community, maximizing every dollar they use and then sharing what they learn. We are thrilled to help their work progress."

The awards were presented at a ceremony in Sacramento. Recipients received a grant of $125,000 as well as support in publicizing and educating policymakers and others about programs.

Charisse Bremond Weaver and George Weaver were recognized for improving the academic achievement and health of thousands of young people through the Brotherhood Crusade, founded by CEO Charisse Bremond Weaver's father in 1968.

The program develops personalized growth, education and job plans for participants and provides mentoring, remedial education, science and technology training as well as sports and arts opportunities for low-income youths who are at risk of becoming involved in crime and other problems.

Results cited by the Irvine Foundation include threefold improvements in math, English and science scores on state standardized tests as well as improved physical health.

The Weavers plan to use the award money to help better evaluate and strengthen programs and purchase transportation to help participants safely reach programs.

"What this award represents for us is people not settling for whatever is there but striving for perfection," said program Director George Weaver. "It represents an entire team of people who have made the commitment to truly make a difference in our community."

The foundation also cited the work of Long Beach City College President Eloy Ortiz Oakley in boosting the success of community college students through a program called Promise Pathways, which uses high school performance to place students in college-level transfer courses.

The college found that the use of traditional placement tests frequently misplaced students into remedial math and English courses where they struggled, taking three or more years to finish a degree or transfer.

Using the Pathways program, the college has tripled the number of students completing college-level math and nearly quadrupled the number of those completing college-level English in the first year.

At least 10 other community colleges are now using the approach, which has been endorsed by the American Assn. of Community Colleges.

"Hopefully, this recognition will lead more policymakers and more colleges to look at using multiple measures of where a student should be placed," Oakley said.

Other award winners are Nadine Burke Harris and Suzy Loftus of the Center for Youth Wellness in San Francisco, which developed a screening tool to treat early childhood trauma; Susan Burton of A New Way of Life Reentry Project in Los Angeles, which helps formerly incarcerated women reenter society; Mari Riddle of Centro Latino for Literacy in Los Angeles, which uses online courses to increase literacy and computer skills among immigrants and J. Eugene Grigsby III and Paul Leon of the National Health Foundation and Illumination Foundation, in Los Angeles and Orange counties, for developing cost-saving medical care for homeless patients.