If you live in LA -- or if you're even vaguely interested in education -- you were probably on pins and needles on Oct. 29, when the fate of LA Unified School Supt. John Deasy was debated in a five-hour, closed-door Board of Education session. As we now know, Deasy will remain in charge of the second-largest school district until 2016.
But do you know how John Deasy spent his morning?
He was launching our new school, and despite the tense negotiation that would take place later that day, he was all smiles.
Actually we all grinned as we cut the ribbon at the spanking new 9th Street School, comprising both a district-run K-5 elementary school and the Para los Niños Charter Middle School. Located in the shadow of Skid Row, the immaculate campus replaces what had been one of the worst performing elementary schools in the District - one that had been housed entirely in portable bungalows until it closed in 2010. The new facility was built using voter-approved bond monies.
What's more, 9th Street is a true charter-district partnership, as opposed to the forced coupling known as "co-location," where charters and district schools share real estate and can be as awkward and short-lived as a blind date. 9th Street was designed and built for both schools, to foster a culture of cooperation and innovation that results from cross-pollination. And Para los Niños, a nonprofit that has served the children of Skid Row for more than 30 years, will be providing mental health and other supportive services to students from both schools at the on-site Family Center.
What must have tickled Deasy was the pure joy of it all: the children's chorus belting Petula Clark ("Downtown") beneath a Tiffany-blue sky, the balloon rainbow arch stretching in the fall breeze. Here was social justice, pure and simple: a state-of-the art school with knockout views of the downtown skyline built for the most marginalized kids in town. Eventually the two schools will serve nearly 900 students.
"You deserve it," was how Deasy put it to the kids and parents.
LAUSD and Para Los Niños share a vision for high-quality STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) programming integrated with the services and supports needed by families living in poverty. It wouldn't be California without Jan and Dean - Janet Alvarez and Dean Simpson, the middle and elementary school principals. Wearing the school colors chosen by School Board member Monica Garcia (orange for elementary and purple for middle school), Alvarez and Simpson shared the podium on Tuesday. Their camaraderie and vibrant leadership are the keys to the bright future they and all of us imagine for the students of 9th Street.
And it will take all this to ready the students of 9th Street for college: not just a gleaming building with a gym and a running track and dance studios and science labs and a gorgeous library; but also great teachers, setting high expectations for their students while tending to their individual needs; a supportive and symbiotic administration, focused on building a school culture of shared values and inclusion of all students; and the love and continued goodwill of all the adults gathered that day - parents, elected officials, community organizations and dedicated, talented teachers.
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