Education Lead Story Local News West Edition

PLANNING FOR PARITY

LAUSD launches community school plan at Crenshaw, Dorsey and Washington

SOUTH LOS ANGELES — A comprehensive plan that hopes to achieve parity for low-performing schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District has been launched at three high schools with large African-American student bodies and the middle and elementary schools that feed them. 

At the urging of LAUSD school board member George J. McKenna, the school board last April passed a resolution to increase African-American achievement across the district. The new initiative, Humanizing Education for Equitable Transformation (HEET) Community Schools Plan, will set goals and timelines for increases in proficiency as measured on standardized tests.

“That very notion . . . was the opportunity to come back to where students were aspirational in their goals,” said Darnise Williams, a senior director with LAUSD. “We know nationally that there is a challenge in terms of the scores and performance outcomes for African-American students. We wanted to create a cohort of schools . . . that would be able to look at this problem of practice from an aspirational lens where students want to believe they can do anything, they were taught that they can do anything and become anything, regardless of their circumstances.”

The first professional learning community under this plan consists of three high schools — Crenshaw, Dorsey and Washington Preparatory — and the middle and elementary schools that feed into those campuses. 

“We wanted to create a cohort of schools,” Williams said. “We want to make sure that it was a family of schools . . . so when we come together, we provide professional development and we engage in conversations regarding student performance, teacher development, that we would have consistent conversations that we can take back and that we would provide consistent support and learn from one another.”

The plan calls for specialized training for teachers, instruction that emphasizes improving reading and math skills and additional student supports, especially for those performing below grade level. The efficiency of the program will be measured in a way that hasn’t been done in public schooling before and will strive for equitable representation for the students in every facet of the school setting and climate, said Magan Mitchell, the HEET Equity Director for Local District West. 

One way to measure is via equity audits.

“We will look at the data in such a unique way that we will aggregate it down to the teacher and to the student to measure levels of performance,” Mitchell said. “With that, we are able to pivot our instructional practices to ensure that we are indeed being effective. 

“If we’re not, we can look at other research-based practices and implement those changes quickly.”

HEET also has a partnership with Project for Education Research That Scales, which will measure the level of engagement within the classroom.

“Students and teachers will receive formative feedback on almost a daily basis based on their instructional practices to see if it was impactful and what led to the level of impact,” Mitchell said.

A third way is the state assessment, which HEET will use as a summary of how well it is doing, Mitchell said. 

“Our goal here is to take this work to scale,” Williams said. “If there is something that we need to shift, we want to know that very quickly so that we can pivot and make alterations. We are not going to get rid of those strategies, but we want to continue to strengthen them.”

The HEET plan was co-authored by Williams, Mitchell and KiMi Wilson, an assistant professor of education at Cal State Los Angeles. Over the next three years, the group will look closely at including more schools within the plan.

“We want to raise the systems and the structures that support African-American students that we know indeed work,” Mitchell said. “I want to be able to take this to scale because I am passionate about it, and I know that it works, but I want to see more success stories and more experiences as we have had with the district.”

Principals, teachers, parents and community members from the schools participated in the first meeting on Sept. 16. The keynote speaker was Shaun R. Harper from the USC Race and Equity Center.

“Without urgent actions, black students in general will continue to languish at the bottom of the academic rankings in Los Angeles Unified,” McKenna said. “We have committed for years to close these achievement and opportunity gaps. This new initiative may help to close it more quickly.”

By Kate Dietel

Contributing Writer