Navigating the Southern California independent schools admissions process is a tall order under any circumstances. For families of color, historic underrepresentation, concerns about diversity and inclusion and, in some cases, financial constraints can make an independent-school education seem out of reach. Fortunately for Los Angeles families, The Independent School Alliance (the Alliance) provides support and resources every step of the way.
Since its inception in 1985, the Alliance has helped more than 2,500 children of color navigate the independent school application process. The Alliance assists families through admissions applications, interviews, financial aid applications and more. The organization offers robust workshops, admissions counseling, interview and visit guidance and counsel on entrance exams.
The organization also has a unique partnership with its member schools. It launched with 18 partner schools in 1985. Today, more than 50 independent schools are part of the Alliance’s membership program.
I recently connected with Rob Evans, executive director of the Alliance for the last four years. Instantly, I recognized his passion for his work, colleagues, students and families and the Alliance. Gregarious and outgoing, Evans has dedicated his entire career to excelling and growing in the field of education.
Having worked in nearly every aspect of education, he brings to this position a sense of well-roundedness combined with knowledge and experience. As a Black man who grew up in Memphis, Tenn., graduated from a historically Black college and later earned higher degrees in education, Evans is no stranger to the unique challenges facing students of color.
Tell me a little about your background.
I’m a career educator. I’ve worked in education in so many capacities – from teacher, department chair, site director, consultant, vice principal, principal and, now, executive director of a nonprofit. Also, my wife is an educator at an independent school and my two youngest children are students at independent schools.
What services does the Alliance provide?
We are a community-based service organization that advocates for families of color and students who come from low-income families. We serve approximately 150-200 students in K-12 each year (this year is slightly less due to COVID-19). Overall, we have about 900 kids placed in 50 partner schools in the area.
How do students navigate the program?
In order to become a member of our organization, the student begins at the applicant phase. Once the student is admitted to the program, they’re in the candidate phase. For these students, we have candidate camp wherein we have orientations for students and parents to go over the upcoming steps of the program. During this time, we work with our families during the fall and winter to prepare for admission. Admissions decisions are announced in March. After admissions are determined, our students who are accepted and enrolled are now in the enrolled student program.
Our main function is helping the students and their families navigate the admissions process. But once they’re in the enrolled student program, our support is ongoing. We check in with the kids, keep in touch with parents to provide support and resources. The students can win college scholarships through their involvement with the program. We have leadership programs established for the kids where we discuss what’s going on at their schools and how to navigate those things. This is also a good way for us to communicate their feedback to the school heads so that the schools can stay on top of the students’ needs as well.
Why is the partnership between the organization and the schools so important?
One reason is because we offer professional development to the schools and assist them in their efforts to deal with diversity and multicultural education. For instance, we recently did a workshop on “How to Be An Anti-Racist Educator” for K-12 independent schools. This topic came about as a result of direct feedback from parents.
We work closely with our parents to make sure that we are able to communicate their experiences to the schools. From the issues our families highlight and share with us, we are able to share that data with the schools and also with the National Association for Independent Schools.
One hundred percent of your reporting seniors are enrolled in college. To what do you attribute that level of success?
Easily, the biggest key to success is the kids and their families. All we have to do is get folks access, make sure they know about the program and the schools. We are talking about really great kids. These kids are going to be successful; it’s just a matter of finding them the right fit and access to the right resources. These are truly great kids!
Also, this isn’t just about what the kids get. Schools can’t be world class if they’re homogeneous. They don’t have cultural competence if they don’t have the competence to communicate across communities.
We have to ask ourselves, “What’s our moral imperative? Why do we exist?” It can’t be just to get Black and Brown kids into the schools for the sake of getting them there. We’re trying to transform not only independent schools, but society. We want to create empathetic leaders who can navigate diverse settings.
What are some ways the community can support the Alliance?
We are a nonprofit organization, and we rely on financial support, so donations are always welcome! There are many ways folks can support if they’re eager and willing to do the work. We are always looking for strong partnerships. We recently partnered with Open Paths Counseling Center to make sure our students had access to mental health resources during these times. Even translation, sometimes we need assistance with that. But I definitely have to emphasize the need for donations. We also [take donations] through the Amazon Smile Program. u