When Santee Education Complex in South Los Angeles first became part of the Partnership For L.A. Schools in 2008, the campus was covered in graffiti. Fights, gang activity and drug use were common on campus, the teachers were threatening to strike and just 27 percent of students graduated.
By the end of the 2014-15 school year, the campus had experienced a total turnaround. The graduation rate, according to Los Angeles Unified School District preliminary data, jumped to 74.4 percent. And campus culture has shifted as well. Last year, the school implemented a program called Text A Tip, which allows Santee students to text information about problems on campus. “When you have a high school where students are trying to uphold the culture, you know the culture is really thriving,” says Partnership for L.A. Schools Chief Academic Officer Ian Guidera.
Santee is just one of the successes the Partnership – formed in 2008 with the mission of transforming historically underserved LAUSD schools in Watts, South Los Angeles and Boyle Heights – has been able to achieve. Graduation rates at Partnership high schools have more than doubled, and one school, Math Science & Technology Magnet Academy at Roosevelt High School in Boyle Heights, achieved a 100-percent graduation rate.
Transformation of Partnership schools starts with leadership training that teaches principals to implement data-driven instruction and how to build a healthy school culture. In addition, teachers are trained in these methods – and given the opportunity to take on additional leadership responsibilities within their school. “That is a huge lever for transformation in our eyes,” says Guidera. “Principals can’t do it alone.”
The third part of the Partnership model is building engaged and empowered communities. The Parent College program offers monthly classes from September to April that teach 2,000 parents each year about the education system and their rights and responsibilities, so that they can better support their students. There is a Parent Center and a Family Action Team at each Partnership school, and their focus is on the school’s academic goals. At Florence Griffith Joyner Elementary in Watts, for example, the team managed to bring in almost all of the school’s parents for math and literacy nights. “That is the culture we aim to build at all of our schools,” Guidera says.
Of the Partnership’s 17 schools, 15 are among the highest-needs schools in LAUSD, with tough neighborhood conditions, high poverty and few community resources. This makes the Partnership’s progress even more surprising. “Many of our schools were the most challenged, but they’ve moved to the middle of the pack,” Guidera says, despite the fact that the students face the same neighborhood and economic conditions they had at the beginning. And while he acknowledges many schools still have a long way to go, he remains determined and optimistic.
“We’re not going to give up,” he says, “until all our students get the education they deserve.”