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Charter School Expansion Changes Face of South L.A. Education

Wave Newspapers, News Report, Leiloni De Gruy Posted: Oct 28, 2008

With $30 million expansion hoped to be completed by 2016, half of all students in region could attend schools run by organization with high success rate.

Inner City Education Foundation (ICEF) Public Schools announced this month that it will bring 22 additional charter schools to what the organization calls its Education Corridor a 45-square-mile region bound by the 405, 110, 105 and 10 freeways by 2016.

We did a study of six comprehensive high schools in Inglewood and L.A. that serve the community of South L.A. between the freeways, and we found that there were about 5,000 freshman at those six high schools Crenshaw, Dorsey, Immaculate Heart, Washington Preparatory, Morningside and Inglewood and less than 2,000 graduate from high school and then less than 500 graduate from college, said Michael Piscal, CEO and founder of ICEF. So, we thought that if we could increase the number of college graduates from below 500 to 2,500 and have half the children of the community as college graduates, that would change the size of the middle class every year, and it would result in better jobs and just improve the overall quality of life.

ICEF currently has 13 schools four elementary schools, five middle schools and four high schools and in the 2007 and 2008 graduating classes, 100 percent of its students graduated. More than 87 percent now attend four-year colleges, with the remainder attending two-year institutions. One student chose to join the armed forces.

View Park definitely prepared me for college quite well, said Brittany Carraby, who graduated from View Park Preparatory Accelerated Charter High School in 2007 and currently attends UCLA. First, View Parks goal is to prepare students to attend the top 100 colleges and universities in the nation, so with that goal they definitely use certain methods to prepare us. Within our curriculum we had to fulfill the [basic college] requirements and early on they took us to different colleges to kind of expose us to the college life.

According to ICEF Chief Academic Officer Robert Schwartz, the strength of our program [is that] we teach all the students as if they are gifted, and we provide all of the support that they need in order to get them to that level. For some students it might take two or three years for them to get it, and for some students it may be two or three months and for some students they might get it right away. But because we have all of these support mechanisms built in we have Saturday school and intervention classes all sorts of things built into the curriculum itself it really supports all types of learners.

Piscal added: We have a curriculum that is research-based and its a proven model. We have a writing program that we teach with almost a fanaticism because most of college is based on your written work so we really focus on students abilities to write college-level essays.

ICEFs View Park Preparatory schools, in particular, have been in high demand due to their success rate and rigorous training methods. Of those attending View Park Preparatory High School, 95 percent have already taken college entrance exams by their senior year, and nearly all have completed the classes required to attend Californias public universities.

ICEF has an incredible success rate, and I believe its Education Corridor will drive a fundamental transformation of education in South L.A. and in the community itself, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said in a statement. I believe this will kick their work into overdrive, transforming the South L.A. community itself into one where every child goes to college.

Both Piscal and Schwartz believe the expansion which involves opening two to four schools each year until there is a total of 35 high, middle and elementary school campuses will accommodate more students than the 6,000 currently on the ICEF waiting list. At the end of the expansion, it is estimated that about half of all South Los Angeles students will have the option of attending an ICEF high school.

Our ultimate goal is to produce 2,000 college graduates a year, said Piscal. So if there are 5,000 freshman right now attending high school in South L.A., we want to make sure that over half of them are graduating from college.

The expansion is expected to cost approximately $30 million, which ICEF officials hope to secure through federal and state funding as well as though philanthropic support and local foundations.

ICEF is well-positioned to dramatically overhaul the educational environment in South Los Angeles through its Education Corridor, especially since theyve spent a decade proving their model and establishing themselves in the community, said Guilbert Hentschke, Cooper Chair in Public School Administration at the USC Rossier School of Education. This unprecedented approach of concentrating their efforts on such a defined and underserved geographic region, and enrolling kids beginning in kindergarten and educating them through graduation, potentially lays the groundwork for a national model of reform.

Piscal said that he hopes ICEF provides a model that other high schools can follow. In particular, he hopes that the six local high schools he cited with dismal graduation rates will raise the bar, adding that less than 25 percent of the students that do receive diplomas from those institutions lack the coursework to be considered for four-year college admission.

What you can do with your life with a college degree is so much greater than what you can do without, he said, and we really drive that home with the students.

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