||USC President Steven B. Sample laid down the challenge after the Los Angeles riots of 1992: We want parents from all over the region to look at our community schools and say, Thats where I want to send my child.
This challenge was translated into action by Jane Pisano, now senior vice president for external relations, and USCs Office of Civic and Community Relations, led by executive director Kay Kyung-Sook Song. Pisano began meeting with principals of five local schools in fall 1994, and out of these meetings developed a partnership among the schools, the university and a wide array of community agencies, including the Los Angeles Police Department.
One of the first challenges identified by the principals was the need to improve safety in the schools and surrounding neighborhoods. The measures that grew from this need the identification of safe walking routes to and from each school; Kid Watch, in which local residents look out for children as they walk those routes; after-school programs; graffiti removal initiatives; and parents workshops are still in place. And still need to be.
But the group is now giving more of its attention to other important matters, classroom learning not least among them.
Up until recently, weve been dealing with matters that support education, says Song. In general, what we want to see now is increased academic achievement. Our next challenge is to raise students standardized test scores.
With this issue, USC Trojan Family Magazine begins an intermittent series of articles profiling each member of the Family of Five Schools Foshay Learning Center (K-12), Norwood Street School (K-5), 32nd Street/USC Magnet Center (K-12), Vermont Avenue School (K-5) and L.B. Weemes School (K-5).
We begin with Foshay Learning Center.
Less than a decade ago, Foshay was one of the worst schools in the city, with kids not attending class and dropping out. Now, says principal Howard Lappin, parents beg to get their children in.The anatomy of a turnaround.
THE STUNNING TURNAROUND at Foshay Learning Center is by now a familiar success story within the USC Family of Five Schools and beyond, but its no less remarkable for that.
Led by the vision of principal Howard Lappin, teachers, staff and parents made a radical decision to reverse hopelessness. They began by holding a weekend retreat in 1989 to discuss how they could cure the schools seemingly incurable ills.
The retreat was emotional for many of us and life-changing for all, recalls Lappin.
The personal attention of Foshay principal Howard Lappin has helped increase attendance and decrease dropouts.
The result was that Foshay became one of the first Los Angeles schools to adopt the LEARN (Los Angeles Educational Alliance for Restructuring Now) reform plan. Under LEARN, schools become semiautonomous campuses, free to make choices that range from staff hiring to curriculum innovations to budgeting. Authority rests with the schools principal, teachers, staff, parents and students, all of whom receive training for such decision-making.
By voting to join LEARN, retreat participants made a strong commitment to creating a school that would be student-focused; and the Foshay community endorsed the idea that it would do whatever it took to help its children learn at their maximum level.
Among the aggressive steps that followed was an experiment to end the all-too-common practice of social promotions passing a student to the next grade when this was not truly merited academically. From that point on, if a child did not meet grade-level requirements, he or she was counseled on performance and required to attend a newly instituted after-school tutorial program. At first, nearly half of the students were retained due to this program; they were later promoted after achieving passing scores.
Other steps Foshay took to overcome underachievement included developing academic standards consistent with district standards, coordinating team-teaching techniques for middle-school instructors, launching after-school and Saturday tutorial programs and requiring every eighth-grader to learn algebra.
By the fall of 1994, USC entered the picture. Jane Pisano, then vice president for external relations, set up meetings with the principals of the five neighborhood schools that would become the Family of Five, as well as the deans of USCs schools of education and social work and the staff of USCs Civic and Community Relations office.
Howard was an enthusiastic supporter of the universitys involvement, she says. From the very beginning he was active in this partnership that involves all of us.
THE FOSHAY OF TODAY has an array of academic and social support programs that are prospering with assistance from USC and other institutions and individuals. Approximately 100 different outreach efforts developed with USC have helped Foshays rejuvenation, according to Samuel Mark, USC assistant vice president for civic and community relations, who is in charge of staff support for the Family of Five Schools.
Particularly significant programs implemented in the past couple of years include:
The Internet Linkup Project. Foshay is the hub of a network that brings the Internet from USC to Foshay, and eventually will extend it from Foshay to its four sister schools. Foshay has the technology to do this, says James Pepin, executive director of USCs University Computing Services. USC is
offering free Internet access to Foshay. The other schools can then plug into Foshay and have access that way.
Stone Soup Child Care. This Encino, Calif.-based, non-profit organization, named after the Napoleonic childrens story about how a starving community was able to feed every citizen by pooling its resources, provides daily child care on a sliding fee scale. The care is available not only for families of Foshay students, but for any low-income residents of the community. USC connections sparked the emergence of this benefit: Law School dean Scott Bice, who is a member of the Stone Soup board of directors, provided information about the organization to Jane Pisano. She forwarded it to Samuel Mark who in turn sent it to Lappin. A certain symmetry was completed when Lappin and Mark then asked Steve Wachs, a graduate student in the School of Social Work who is interning at Foshay, to help implement the Stone Soup program. Interconnections between Foshay and USC are made in many different ways, says Mark.
In Foshay's new library, the attention is on reading.
LEARN/LAAMP Family in the Manual Arts Cluster. Foshay is playing a leading role in this school-reform effort, which uses funding provided by the Los Angeles Annenberg Metropolitan Project (LAAMP) for a comprehensive set of initiatives to improve student achievement, with a focus on literacy, technology and parental involvement. Foshay, 32nd Street/USC Magnet Center and Norwood Street School have developed a plan of action for what they want to do, says Guilbert Hentschke, dean of USCs School of Education and chair of the Family of Fives Education Task Force. Theyre identifying their goals, how much its going to cost and funding sources. The LAAMP grant requires that all of its funds to the schools be matched; USC has been the largest donor to the program.
School-Based Health Clinic. A just-completed medical clinic encompasses 2,300 square feet and includes three examining rooms, a waiting room, a laboratory area, nurses station and medical directors office. A mental health component features soundproof consulting rooms, an observation room and the mental health clinic directors office. In March, the USC-affiliated California Hospital began
offering services through the clinic. It serves not only students and their parents, says Lappin, but all local residents.
THE TERM "SCHOOL" or even learning center hardly does justice to Foshay on the eve of a new century. Its like a human service center, suggests Mark. In addition to K-12 education, it provides child care, health care, parent education and student enrichment programs six days a week.
Although Howard Lappin has been the primary force, he stresses the importance of partnership in the schools transformation. Ive always said we couldnt have done what weve done without USC, he says. Ive spent my entire life in Los Angeles, and its exciting to see the interest and involvement the university has exhibited in the neighborhood.
Its recognized as a positive force in this community.