Footsteps from the University Park Campus, two magnets – one a math-science high school, the other an arts primary and middle school – draw together sparkling clusters of children in an educational jewel box.

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he teenagers look after the little ones with mock-grudging concern, picking them up and dusting them off after they’ve taken a tumble, bending down to dry their tears in the face of life’s vicissitudes. The smaller children are grateful, if a tad embarrassed, to be on the receiving end of this “grown-up” attention.
As for the adolescents, they know full well that they’re closely observed and admired. The very vulnerability of the 5- to 7-year-olds forces the teens to be responsible role models, to carry themselves as budding adults.
Siblings in a model family?
In a way, yes. Though no blood ties bind these brothers and sisters, they belong to a larger brood that’s no less a family. All are students at the 32nd Street/USC and MaST (Math, Science and Tech-nology) High School – a member of the USC-sponsored Family of Five Schools partnership.
USC’s immediate neighbor to the north is educational home to some 1,000 young people, ranging from rambunctious kindergartners to too-cool high school seniors. Most are bussed to the Jefferson Boulevard campus from across the city to take advantage of these exceptional magnet schools in the L.A. Unified School District.
No small part of what makes 32nd Street/ USC/MaST extraordinary is principal Gail Greer. Like a charismatic preacher, Greer ministers to her charges as if she were on a vast maternal crusade, affectionately referring to all her students – regardless of age – as “my babies.”
Since her arrival in 1998, this Ph.D. candidate from the USC Rossier School of Education has brought stability and pride to an institution that, in the preceding five years, had gone through principals faster than big-city school boards go through superintendents.
Greer can readily talk the mission-statement talk, describing 32nd Street/USC/MaST as “a K-12 multicultural, multilingual and multiethnic school community with a citywide base of student enrollment in a city-center location.” Equally fluent in plain English, she waxes eloquent about “the beauty of K-12 schools” when trying to articulate her institution’s mission.

Three of 32nd Street teacher Jody Krupin’s bright-eyed second-graders, a.k.a. “Krupin’s Kritters:” Dachelle Butler, Valerie Jane Vidal and Brandie Christion

That beauty shines bright in the eyes of Brandie Christion, Valerie Jane Vidal and Dachelle Butler, a giggling threesome of 7- and 8-year-olds. These representatives of “Krupin’s Kritters,” as teacher Jody Krupin’s boisterous second-graders are called, are outspoken advocates of the K-12 experience.
“The big kids teach me how to read better,” declares diminutive Dachelle. “They help us a lot!”
“Yeah,” chimes in Valerie. “On my bus, there’s only one other kid my age. All the rest of them are big kids. But they never pick on us. On the bus, they help me with my reading too.”
Brandie Christion, formerly a shy kid who struggled with reading, has experienced a turnaround socially and academically. She not only reads at second-grade level now – and loves it – but boasts that several of her “best friends” on campus are high schoolers.
The friendships go in both directions. MaST senior Jacob Edwards says he has several chums in sixth and seventh grade. A varsity basketball player who hopes to become a neurobiologist, Edwards knows “the younger kids notice us and look up to us.” The knowledge doesn’t make him arrogant. The campus athlete often volunteers for DJ duty at the little ones’ school dances. “When it comes to just about anything, the younger kids know that if they need help, they can count on us,” he says.
Affirmations like these are what principal Greer lives for. “I love the idea of having children go through their entire K-12 years in one safe and secure location that’s committed to their education,” she gushes.
Parents seem to like this philosophy too. The proof is in the numbers: 32nd Street/USC/MaST has the largest percentage of applications of any magnet school in LAUSD. For last fall’s 100 openings, Greer says her school received a whopping 2,300 applicants (selection for enrollment is completely random; done, in fact, by computer).
The school is something of a rarity – it’s one of only three K-12 schools in the 900-strong LAUSD system (Family of Five member Foshay Learning Center is another).
“Among those three,” Greer notes, “ours is the only school that actually has two schools on its campus, with two different areas of emphasis.”

This helps explain the name, which few would dispute could use some work. 32nd Street School /USC/MaST High School – what a mouthful!
Technically, the slash-happy abbreviation stands for “32nd Street/USC Visual and Performing Arts Magnet K-8” and “USC/Math, Science and Technology Magnet High School 9-12.” The two schools on the 32nd Street campus are distinct magnets, each with its own history.
The original 32nd Street School opened about 70 years ago. Today, it’s a kindergarten-through-eighth-grade visual and performing arts magnet. As the designation suggests, humanities education is central to the curriculum of the 750-student school. (Despite this arts niche, most 32nd Street graduates try to continue their education at MaST, though the 70-student freshman class is selected randomly.)

Another of “Krupin’s Kritters” Andrea Bautista.

The LAUSD/USC Math, Science and Tech-nology (MaST) High School began in 1994 as a collaboration between LAUSD, USC and the California National Guard (initial plans called for temporarily housing the school in National Guard facilities). The magnet was designed for college-bound students focusing on basic and applied sciences, math and technology. MaST opened – temporarily, it was thought – on the 32nd Street/USC School campus until another location could be found.
Five years and four principals later, MaST was still looking. And it would be looking now if not for Greer’s intervention.
Arriving two years ago, the new principal was surprised to find that the little kids owned the entire campus. Any space other than their classrooms was pretty much off-limits to the 250 high schoolers. MaST students didn’t even have access to the cafeteria.
It wasn’t an easy fix. Space was and remains a problem. (“We don’t have any,” Greer quips.) Cramped bungalows house most classrooms on the small urban campus. When she took the helm, the current principal could readily understand the primary/middle school’s reluctance to share. “The presence of the high school was considered ‘temporary,’” she recalls. “But I couldn’t help but wonder how two [groups] could live on a dime and not speak with each other. Soon after I became principal, I made a pact in my mind to bridge the schools.”
The figurative bridge-building is now well underway, but real-world engineering challenges remain. With little likelihood of expanding horizontally, Greer has begun lobbying to build up. “I’d like to have Waite Phillips Hall on our campus,” she jokes, referring to the 11-story structure that’s home to USC’s Rossier School. “But I’ll settle for adding second stories to our existing bungalows.”

The school’s proximity to and relationship with USC strongly influences the education of Greer’s several hundred “babies.” Certainly more than a few university faculty and staff members begin the day by dropping their children here.
One such child is 16-year-old Nakul Shankar, who entered MaST four years ago, when his Indian parents came to Los Angeles to do graduate work at USC. His father, Atul Gupta MA ’97, is working on his doctorate in economics, and his mother, Dipa Gupta, is pursuing a master’s degree in sociology. Nakul hopes this fall to follow in both his parents’ footsteps as a physics major at USC.

More of teacher Jody Krupin’s second-graders: Prince Geronimo and Celeste Garrett.

Though proximity is important, USC-based parents choose 32nd Street/USC/MaST for a variety of other reasons – among them, the school’s magnet status, its relatively small enrollment size and its high academic standards.
“It’s a tight school,” says Jacob Edwards, the MaST hoop star. “When we talk to friends who go to bigger schools – and that aren’t next door to USC – we realize how lucky we are.”
His classmate Sheryl Reyes points to another perk: “Unlike a lot of other schools, it’s safe here. We don’t have to worry about violence,” says the 18-year-old senior, who like Nakul Shankar has close ties to the Trojan Family. Her mother, Evangeline Reyes, is employed as a budget/business technician in the USC School of Engineering.
Because “USC” is in the school’s name, people often mistakenly assume it’s a feeder to the university. “We battle an information myth,” says high school coordinator Claudia Lopez-Gil, “that 32nd Street/USC and MaST are some kind of junior academy whose students are automatically guaranteed acceptance to USC. Not so.”
USC was added to the moniker in 1978, when the original 32nd Street School became a citywide magnet institution.
“Naturally, the benefits to students of being so close to the campus help make us a magnet,” says Barbara Lesure, coordinator of the visual and performing arts school. “USC is a gold mine right across the street.”
The mine’s bounty has yielded, among other things, a cache of able employees for the neighboring school. Lopez-Gil was a second-year student at USC Law School when she first started volunteering at 32nd Street School. A leave of absence turned into a job offer and a new-found calling in education. “Many of our teachers and staff are alumni of USC,” she says, “so we’re not shy about pointing our students across the street after they’ve graduated.”

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Photography by Philip Channing

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