InnerCity Struggle Wins Real School Change in East Los Angeles

This spring, InnerCity Struggle won a historic victory for East Los Angeles schools by securing five Pilot Schools for the soon-to-be-opened Esteban E. Torres High School. The five Pilot Schools were approved by the Los Angeles Unified School Board of Education in a 5-2 favorable vote in February 2010.
InnerCity Struggle waged a campaign for two years to build support and awareness of a Pilot School model by organizing local CBO’s, civic leaders, parents and students through the East Los Angeles Education Collaborative. ICS parent and student leaders engaged in mass education and organizing efforts to develop a clear understanding in the community about the need for school transformation in East Los Angeles.
The oldest comprehensive high school, Garfield, houses 4,800 students on a year-round basis in a facility originally built for 1,500. Low-income students represent approximately 75 percent of all students that attend Garfield. The school’s dropout rates dramatically exceed the state average and the four-year graduation rate hovers at 45 percent. Low college acceptance and attendance rates are more challenges facing students and families.
InnerCity Struggle and the Collaborative decided to support Pilot Schools because these schools are models of educational innovation with a 12-year track record of higher achievement levels, test scores and graduation rates in Boston and Los Angeles. Pilot schools have charter-like autonomy over their instructional program; schedule, staffing, calendar and budget yet participate as full members of the district and the teachers union, leveraging change from the inside out.
The School Board’s passage of the Public School Choice Resolution in 2009 presented an opportunity for thousands of students and their families to receive high quality educational options – including Pilots. The Resolution made available new and low-performing schools for an open bid process wherein teachers, charters or non-profits could apply to run these schools. Both Garfield and Torres High were identified as Choice schools. The process also included an advisory vote for community members, students and parents. InnerCity Struggle recognized the opportunity to highlight Pilots as a model for change.
In the month leading up to the Public School Choice Advisory Vote this February, InnerCity Struggle spoke to over 3,000 parents, students and community members to educate them about the voting process. Over 84% of parents, students, teachers, and community members voted in favor of change and the expansion of Pilot Schools as an innovative in-district reform in East Los Angeles.
“We finally changed the direction of our schools in East Los Angeles, as Parents we have a voice and believe that our communities can be successful if given the tools, resources, and autonomy to lead our schools toward success,” expressed Maria Leon, InnerCity Struggle member and parent of a Garfield High School student.
“I’ve worked with the community, teachers, parents and students in this process and was encouraged with their participation. The work of InnerCity Struggle’s members was the key to the Pilot Schools being approved for Esteban E. Torres High School.  I believe the Board of Education in its majority heard the voice of the community and acted accordingly,” said retired U.S. Congressman Esteban E. Torres, the namesake for the new school and a Garfield High School Alumnus.
East Los Angeles schools will have the opportunity to become a model for school transformation through the implementation of five Pilot Schools. Coordinated by the Los Angeles Education Partnership, the five Pilot Schools will work in collaboration as a Community School responsible for the academic success and emotional well-being of students.
The Community-Schools model has the potential to become the first of its kind in the nation by establishing community partnerships to enhance the instructional program. For Torres such partnerships include Bienvenidos for medical services, a student-run bank coordinated by the Pan American Bank, and the first bookstore in East Los Angeles through Tia Chucha’s and author Luis R. Rodriguez.
“As a community we are committed to monitor the five Pilot Schools to ensure they remain accountable to the community and deliver a rigorous and high quality education for all students.”
Maria Brenes
Executive Director for InnerCity Struggle
Republished with permission from InnerCity Struggle.

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