THE BLOG
10/10/2007 10:44 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Renewed Hope for LA's Public Schools

Few would argue with the fact that we have an educational crisis in South Los Angeles. Consider this: of the close to 4,000 kids that enter a ninth grade public school each year in the 45 square-mile area between USC and the Los Angeles Airport, fewer than 1,600 of them actually graduate. Of those, less than 300 of them eventually receive a college diploma.

With 12 out of 13 ninth-graders failing to graduate college, our college graduation rates are not even remotely high enough to ensure that we can create a sustainable middle class. In fact, South Los Angeles is currently forced to import 90 percent of its doctors, lawyers, accountants and even teachers in order to sustain a vibrant, economically healthy community. This has to change.

How are we then going to transform a community that has been under-served for far too long? How can we create new opportunities for the many African-American kids who are assigned by the Los Angeles Unified School District to attend failed public schools merely because they live in a particular zip code? It is tough because the teachers' unions (UTLA, CTA, NEA, and AFT) all stand in the way of any meaningful reform. The bureaucracy, long ago admitted defeat, and new leadership, even rigorous bold new leadership, finds itself unable to even implement a new payroll system. It's a lose, lose, lose scenario for management, teachers, and students.

ICEF Public Schools was created to offer under-served students another option within the public school system free from the defeatism and entrenched interests. Started in 1994, ICEF is building an "Education Corridor" of high performing public schools in this community in order to increase the number of college graduates in South Los Angeles and thereby to bring about a radical economic transformation.

ICEF's flagship school, View Park Preparatory Charter High School, graduated its first class in June with 100 percent of its graduates prepared to attend a four-year university. Of its 71 graduates, all are UC or CSU eligible. Sixty-five ICEF graduates are now attending four-year universities, with six students headed to junior colleges. All of these students are African-American. View Park Prep has quickly established itself as one of the premiere public high schools in the state for educating African-American students.

How do we do it with the same kids when other public schools seem to get it so wrong? Simple. Every one of our teachers has bought into the belief that every child can achieve a college preparatory education. We employ a rigorous academic model, high expectations and mandated parental involvement to accomplish our mission. Each school, and each class, is small. When an academic challenge arises, we are nimble enough to intervene early to ensure that all students are able to get back on track to performing at a high level. ICEF's mission is to prepare each high school student to attend and to graduate from a top 100 college or university in America.

In South Los Angeles, where the need is so great, ICEF cannot grow fast enough. This fall, ICEF replicated the View Park Prep model and opened four new schools, bring to nine the total number of ICEF Public Schools in South Los Angeles. Still, we can't expand fast enough to meet our demand. More than 5,000 students eagerly sit on our waiting list - the longest waiting list for any public school in the state - desperate for that opportunity for a new seat to open up.

ICEF plans to meet this demand and open more schools until we help produce 2,000 college graduates each year in South Los Angeles. Many of these students, born and raised in South Los Angeles, will return to our community to guide its redevelopment and revitalization for future generations. We believe that when we are producing 2,000 college graduates a year from the ICEF Public Schools in South Los Angeles, real and lasting change will come to our community.

In the meantime, challenges persist. UCLA recently reported that it has accepted just over 200 African-American students into this fall's freshman class, up from less than 100, including scholarship athletes, a year ago. Many other institutions of higher learning are finding that same problem: finding and attracting enough African-American students that are qualified to even enter into college.

These persistent problems need to be fixed earlier, before these kids even enter high school. The "ICEF Education Corridor" is set to alleviate these challenges by replicating our existing, successful schools to reach more of these needy students. At full capacity, close to one in three students in South Los Angeles will be able to attend an ICEF Public School. Los Angeles will eventually benefit from the thousands of well-prepared students who will go on to college, graduate, and return to the community set to bring with them economic development and hope. The dilemma that remains is whether the nearby public schools serving the remaining two-thirds of South Los Angeles' students will respond and help us end this crisis once-and-for-all.

Mike Piscal, a former high school teacher at the elite Harvard-Westlake private school in Los Angeles, left his teaching position to found ICEF Public Schools with the goal of preparing the students of South Los Angeles to attend and graduate from the top colleges and universities in the nation. Visit ICEF Public Schools at www.icefla.org