A local church gives parents hope of finding quality schools for kids

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Shirley Hammonds was desperate to find a new school for her 8th-grade son. He was attending Orville Wright Middle School in LAUSD’s Local District West and had experienced bouts of bullying and teasing. More than this, she was concerned the school’s curriculum was just not challenging enough for her son.

Not knowing where to start in her process to search for a new school, she turned to an unlikely source of help that had proven to be a great resource to her in the past: her neighborhood church, West Angeles.

For the past year, Shirley’s son had attended the after-school tutoring program led by the church’s Education Ministry to receive help on his school homework. Seeing the positive results that came from his attendance after school, Shirley began to involve her son in more events at the church.

One of those events was the church’s annual High School Fair. This event invited parents to talk one-on-one with local schools to explore the array of affordable and quality school choices in the L.A. and, ultimately, to find the best fit for their child.

Faithful as she was, Shirley attended this fair. Her meeting with an up-and-coming charter school, City Charter School, led to her son eventually being admitted to this smaller, more rigorous academic environment that was more suited to her son’s needs.

On October 26, 2017, West Angeles hosted its 3rd annual School Fair, replete with over a dozen local representatives from a mixture of public, private and charter schools and a bustling crowd of proactive parents.

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The School Fair is designed to help more mothers like Shirley, many of whom feel overwhelmed by the task of picking out the best schools among a sea of choices offered by LAUSD.

And for parents like Shirley, who lived in South L.A., even if they did know where to begin in their school search, they may find disappointing options and a reality where high-achieving schools are slim to none.

Shirley’s outcome was hopeful, but many other parents are left with the feeling of being stuck in a school district that is leaving their children behind. Others, choose to shell out thousands of dollars every year, sometimes beyond what their budgets will truly allow, to send their children to private schools, in hope that their children can have a better education.

The Director of West Angeles’ Education Ministry, John Wilson, believes that parents should not have to make that choice. The idea behind the School Fair is to help students access high-quality, free schools so that parents do not have to choose between paying for groceries or paying their children’s private school tuition.

The church, which is located along the city’s predominantly African-American Crenshaw District, has had a long-term commitment to serving its community both spiritually and socially. With the backing of its visionary leader, Bishop Charles Blake, it has been at the forefront of providing academic enrichment services to its surrounding community for twenty years.

The church’s academic-focused ministry, called the Education & Enrichment Program, emphasizes the need for more churches to get involved in the social needs of their communities. Education continues to be one of the greatest civil rights issues of the 21st century, especially for those within the African American community.

Wilson hopes that more faith-based academic programs will begin to gain a foothold in the Los Angeles area. He believes that South L.A. needs more community-based resource centers for parents. What better place to start than where many black families have traditionally turned to for support than the church.

Epiphanies

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Today, I had one of those "ah ha" moments. I sat down with the executive director of a non-profit that is interested in funding the work I am doing with young boys and men of color. As we were talking, she asked me a few questions to get a better idea of how she can best support my efforts. One of those questions made me pause and think for a moment.

She asked, "What do you want for kids?"

That question caught me off guard because I am often asked about the issues that are important to me as an educational leader and politician, but rarely is it posed in such a way. Essentially, what she was asking is, "If you could craft the best educational experience for kids, what would that entail?"

I had to sum up my response with one word, epiphanies. I want our kids to have an educational experience wrought with epiphanies, moments where students: experience discovery, learn what it’s like to succeed after failing, try new things, travel and learn to utilize knowledge gained to do something meaningful.

In my mind, I could picture my daughter sounding out words in her coloring book one night a few weeks ago. She came home from school discouraged that she could not read as many words as one of her classmates. She said, "Daddy, my friend can read better than me. Does that mean she is smarter than I am?" I looked at her and said, "No, dear, just because someone can do something better than you doesn't mean you can’t work hard to do what they can do even better than they can do it. Whatever you practice, you will get better doing."

I turned to a page in her coloring book and we sounded out the letters on the page one by one for each work. I had her repeat them over and over together and asked her what it sounded like she was saying. Her eyes lit up, and she said, "OH!!! It says, Say yes!"

What happened for Lailah is what I wish for all students. If their educational experiences are missing epiphanies from opportunities to expand their horizons, to discover something new and exciting, to have the joy of mastering a skill or concept or triumph after failure, our students are wasting their time in our schools. These types of experiences are the best way we can foster our youths social-emotional and academic learning wherein they can boldly declare, "I am, I can, and I belong." As parents and as educators, we must facilitate this process for our kids.

 

National Merit Scholarship

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A love for her community and a determination to preserve the global habitat are the driving forces that compel Lynwood High School senior Abieiden Lopez to pursue a career developing and promoting renewable energy. Lopez was recently named a commended National Merit Scholar, placing her in an elite group of students who make up two percent of seniors who received the highest scores across the country.

National Merit Scholarship participants are selected based on how they score on their Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/MSQT), taken during junior year. Of the 1.6 million students who took the exam, 34,000 top scorers received a commendation.

“This is very empowering to me. I’m from Lynwood and I feel if I can do it, anyone can do it,” Lopez said. “I gain a lot of inspiration from my family and teachers, who continually push me to work as hard as I can. I want to receive the best education possible so that I can work on the big issues the world faces today, and come back to Lynwood so that I can be a role model to others and a positive force for change within our community.”

Lopez, who carries a 4.21 GPA, has a passion for both engineering and advocacy, looking to attend a university where she can major in electrical engineering and minor in political science. Taking college courses every semester, Lopez has already received enough credits to receive an AMETLL Certificate of Engineering Design, through a partnership with District partner Cerritos College.

Lopez balances four to five AP classes per semester with a full schedule of extracurricular activities. Lopez is the founder of the Lynwood High Community Service Club, which is now affiliated with the Kiwanis Club, and is currently Vice President of LHS’ National Honor Society chapter. As a strong proponent of developing sustainable energy technologies to combat climate change, Lopez was Director of the District’s second annual Girls STEM Conference, held in April.

During summer break, Lopez attended the Minority Introduction to Engineering and Science (MITES) residency, a six-week science and engineering program at MIT for rising high school seniors from across the country. Upon her return, Lopez participated in a UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science Tech Camp, a four-week program where high school students receive tutorials and mentoring from UCLA engineering students.

Lopez has also been named a finalist for a QuestBridge scholarship which would provide a full, four-year scholarship worth over $200,000 to a QuestBridge partner university.

“Abieiden Lopez is an outstanding student who pushes herself to achieve great things for herself, her family, her classmates and her community,” LUSD Superintendent Gudiel R. Crosthwaite said. “She’s a shining example of what’s possible for all of our Lynwood Unified students.”

 

The GOP Doesn’t Care that Teachers Buy Their Own Classroom Supplies

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By Shawnta Barnes

We give our blood, our sweat, and our tears.  We sacrifice time we should be spending with family and friends.  We spend money from our salaries, which aren’t up to par with other professionals with four-year degrees, to buy supplies for our classrooms and now the GOP wants to eliminate a benefit that helps us with that cost.  

The educator expense deduction allows teachers and administrators to deduct $250 on their taxes for out-of-pocket expenses for classroom items or professional development.  The National School Supply and Equipment Association (NSSEA) and Scholastic recently released studies showing educators are spending hundreds of their hard earned money each year to supply basic necessities to ensure students can learn.  Republicans stated they want to eliminate this deduction to simplify the tax system, but how does this help students who attend resource-strapped schools?

Each school has its own needs.  When I worked in one urban school, most of my students had supplies and the school was able to provide additional supplies I needed, so I did not buy much. When I switched to another school, 15 minutes away, I was in for a rude awakening.  I remember going to the office and asking for the supply form to request some paper, pencils and folders for students to track their own data as I did at my previous school.  The school secretary responded by laughing and then said, “Poor thing, I know you are serious. But if the students don’t bring it, we don’t have money to buy it.”  That school year, I spent my money on class novel sets, data folders, pencils, markers, etc. just to get through the year.  I also went online to DonorsChoose.org to obtain additional novels.  

Teachers should not have to panhandle on the street, create Go Fund Me or Donors Choose campaigns to get supplies and resources.  Why take away this tax credit when we know teachers will still have to continue to go into their own pockets?  Another benefit for teachers is being taken away without solutions being offered to solve the root cause of the problem.  Will this be another reason teachers leave the profession?  How are we going to stop the teacher shortage when we keep taking things away from teachers?

College Accessibility

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Undocumented students do not always know that college is a real possibility for their lives.  Maria Lopez Lozano, a teacher with LAUSD who was an undocumented student, has made it her mission to educate other undocumented students about college accessibility.

“It’s very sad for me to hear my undocumented students saying they didn’t know they can go to college. They never heard from counselors or teachers or even their parents that they can have access to higher education. That means it is a failure in the (school) system.”

Read more here

Weapons Search

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LA Unified School District is conducting random weapons searches, and students have mixed feelings about it.  Some students believe that it is a strong safety feature, while others feel violated. 

“I value my safety and I don’t think it’s a violation, but I was nervous doing it in front of everyone.  I think most of my friends think wanding is very beneficial and know you’re not in trouble if you have to be searched. They are very respectful and not rude.”

Read more here

To Stop The Cycle Of Poverty, We Need To Invest In Mothers

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By Chris Stewart

Traveling back to New Orleans, my birthplace and where I spent all of my years growing up, always brings me to a realization that, while change is happening in this great city, time seems to stand still for those who need change the most. It’s an area where ― although measures are being put in place for some to thrive ― families living in poverty continue to yearn for the basic necessities of life: a quality education, safe communities, affordable housing and the means by which one can attain all three.

Standing at the root of these families is typically a woman. A mom. A warrior. A “she-ro” who is tired and, yet, continues to press on for her family and her community, because if she doesn’t, she knows no one else will.

The Wayfinder Foundation was founded on the principle that if we invest in women, we will change the world. We believe that in order to truly eradicate intergenerational poverty, we must change who we empower by allowing them to be “in power.” We believe what global anti-poverty advocates have learned: by investing in women and girls, we can change a nation.

However, in the United States, we do the opposite. We create welfare policies that perpetuate the cycles of poverty by providing only subsistence-level cash assistance which narrows the doors to education and training, and pushes recipients into low-wage, no-benefit employment. Too often, work requirements for public assistance funnel mothers toward highly feminized industries ― hospitality, retail, low-end health care, etc. ― that pay low wages, offer no sick leave, and have no unemployment benefits. I know this because I worked with these mothers during my employment in the direct social services industry.

Find a job that makes too much money? Your public assistance is cut off. Use your EBT card to buy something that’s not on the “approved” list? You receive a red flag and you’re in trouble. Try to get your child in a high-performing school? The best options are often too far away, or require admission tests or have one of many other barriers.

The average recipient of welfare benefits in Louisiana is a mother with two children, and the average cash grant is $200 per month. For a family of 10, the cash grant tops out at $512 per month. Families can receive assistance for 24 months, but doing so requires jumping through many hoops (which can include drug screening). The system is designed to stabilize a financial crisis, but not to replace it with family economic security. That’s wrong.

After years of education and welfare reform, one thing is clear: we cannot improve child welfare without improving the lives of mothers.

We believe the system must transform from one that sustains poverty to one that supports women entering poverty-ending occupations. That won’t happen without challenging the policies that are failing women today. The solution to these very real woes for women and children in poverty is creating a fund that frees women to become the true advocates they are. We’ve all seen them in our communities. It was common, in my extended community, to find that key person who everyone turned to when they needed help navigating the “system.” She knew exactly who to call, what to say and most importantly, how mobilize parents and community members when needed to make bigger, bolder statements and, ultimately, create the change we needed.

Usually, that woman did it all with no pay. Imagine if someone saw her value to the community and invested in her becoming a leader. How much more impact could she have if she had the resources to do more and to help the masses instead of the few? What type of changes do you think we would see in cities like New Orleans?

After years of education and welfare reform, one thing is clear: We cannot improve child welfare without improving the lives of mothers.Only a two-generation strategy that supports parents and children will make a difference. Where others see deficiencies, lack and want, the Wayfinder Foundation sees opportunity for little revolutions that place demands on power and change systems for the better. We see the need to fight fiercely for foundational supports that strengthen the positions of parents and guardians. We get there by investing directly in the most basic unit of change in a child’s life, their mother.

This is why the Wayfinder Foundation exists. Through philanthropy, we want to change the game by making direct investments into poverty-ending advocacy by investing in moms. We believe that until women, parents and guardians lead the charge to challenge the systems that serve them ― education, human services and elections ― we can’t expect to win our ceaseless battle against poverty.

This post was first posted on www.huffingtonpost.com

Instability on LAUSD Board

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LAUSD Superintendent, Michelle King, is on medical leave for the rest of 2017.  Acting Supt. Vivian Ekchian is doing well to keep the district moving in the right direction, but questions about King’s health continue.

“There is a lot of instability right now. People would like clarity, but we don’t have it. I have respected the rights of Supt. King under the law. She is covered by all laws that protect employees.”

Read more here

Project 2-INSPIRE

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Since joining Lynwood Unified’s Project 2-INSPIRE program, district parent Patricia-Laura Ramirez-Beltran has newfound confidence to serve as a mentor to other parents throughout the district as she actively participates within the school community and shares her motivation with others.   

Ramirez-Beltran is one of nine parents of Lynwood Unified School District students to recently receive certification for becoming parent leaders and completing the Project 2-INSPIRE program, which aims to develop leadership skills and teaches parents to be actively engaged in their child’s education.

Project 2-INSPIRE started at Lynwood Unified in 2013, with courses organized through the California Association for Bilingual Education (CABE), to teach parents how to create a positive learning environment at home and how to engage and motivate their children’s success at school. The program has helped empower parents to become leaders as they pave the way for other parents and strengthen the Lynwood community.

“Parents are the biggest advocates for their children so they can help ensure their students receive the best education possible,” said Jasmine Muñoz-Velasco, Lynwood Unified’s Parent Involvement Specialist. “It is powerful for parents to see parents like themselves in leadership roles and it encourages others to get involved.  In turn, they can also become role models and mentors.”

The program is structured into four sections with level one being awareness, level two being mastery, level three as expert and the final level is advanced. At the first stage, basic content and skill development is addressed, such as how to create connections within the school and how to set personal and academic goals. Each level then goes more in-depth by addressing points like collaborative strategic planning and how to address a diverse community.

After completing the four levels of the program, parent leaders are certified to teach the level one workshop series to new participants and they will serve as mentors to build a parent community throughout the district.

“This program helped me to grow and learn about different topics related to education, and in that way, guide, motivate and encourage my children to achieve their greatest academic performance,” parent leader Ramirez-Beltran said. “It has helped me to become more secure with public speaking and I have developed personally and professionally.”

The most recent level one series started Oct. 6, and for the next 12-weeks parent leaders will present a wide range of topics including early childhood education, financing higher education, A-G requirements and common core standards.

The next three Friday sessions will cover the following topics: Education in the Digital Era, The U.S. Education System and The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

The workshops are held 9 to 11 a.m. on scheduled Fridays at Cesar Chavez Middle School, with childcare and interpretation services provided. Presenters conduct the workshops in Spanish but the material for the series is provided in English and Spanish. Maria del Rocio Romero, another recent Project 2-INSPIRE certified parent, said that the program has helped her grow comfortable with public speaking while further teaching the value of education to her child.

“Preparing our students for the future requires a collective effort by our staff, parents and the surrounding community. Our goal is to empower parents to be active participants in their children’s education,” Superintendent Gudiel R. Crosthwaite said. “Congratulations to our parent leaders and to the incoming participants for their dedication to their students and the district.”

When Teachers Fear Parents the Child Loses

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By Shawnta Barnes

In Pittsburgh, a parent followed a teacher in a vehicle and attacked her with a brick at an intersection because the teacher confiscated her daughter’s cell phone, an item prohibited by the school.  Although this is an extreme and disturbing case, enraged parents can strike fear in teachers and make them feel unsafe.

I have had two incidents during my career where a parent made me feel unsafe.  One time a parent drove his job issued vehicle to the school, slipped past the front office, entered my room and began yelling at me about his daughter’s grade in my class.  My desk was in the corner and he stood in front of it and I could not get around him. The dad demanded a grade change or else.  My colleague across the hall rushed in, but the parent wouldn’t get out of my face or leave.  After the principal came, the parent finally left.    

At another school, a parent slipped by the front office staff, made her way to my room and hurled threats at me about how I was going to be sorry for stealing her son’s jacket.  I informed the parent I didn’t confiscate her son’s jacket. After administration escorted this parent away, she was shown video of the passing period before he entered my class where he wasn’t wearing a jacket.  At both of my previous schools, after the incident, the parents were restricted from entering classrooms.

I’m a parent and I get it.  You feel the teacher has wronged your child and you are angry.  I’ve been there, but I also know I have to think about how my actions will affect my relationship with my child’s teacher and how my actions might change the relationship between the teacher and my child.  Just like all human beings, teachers make mistakes and can be wrong.  Whether the teacher is right or wrong, parents need to keep their cool in order to work towards a solution.  Parents are teachers partners in education.  Certain actions could cause a parent to lose access to the school and the person who gets hurt most is the child.

If you are a parent and you are angry at your child’s teacher, think before you act.  Talk about what happened with someone else and take time to consider what actions you would like to pursue before you take them.  Remember, you are in a relationship with your child’s teacher for the rest of the school year and a poor relationship between you and your child’s teacher could affect your child’s emotional and academic growth that school year.  Don’t let one moment of anger fracture your relationship with your child’s teacher or like the Pittsburgh parent, land you in jail.

Savvy Gap

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Underrepresented and students from low-wealth families do not always have access to professionals and opportunities for internships that students from wealthy students have.  Academia Avance, an independent charter school in Los Angeles, is closing the savvy gap by providing internships for it’s seniors.

“Income, travels, and parents’ education level, all of that have a huge determination on the achievement of the children. The savvy gap is determined by those factors and by who has those professional connections — the parent that calls his buddy from college who is a doctor, a lawyer for his son to spend a summer working with them.”

Read more here

STEAM Lab

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Lynwood Unified students will watch curriculum come to life when school leaders unveil a $250,000 mobile science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM) classroom.

The classroom on wheels, donated by the National College Resources Foundation (NCRF), will arrive equipped with Mac computers, coding programs, and 3-D printers to inspire student interest in STEAM-related careers.

Founded in 1999 with the advent of the Black College Expo, the mission of the National College Resources Foundation's mission is to curtail the high school dropout rate and increase degree and certificate enrollment among underserved and underrepresented youth.

"Our year-round outreach program connects students directly to colleges and certificate programs, provides scholarships, offers tutorial programs for college readiness, intervention, mentorship, and guidance for students toward positive post-secondary pursuits. These extensive outreach activities and linked learning application methods will continue to produce competitive and productive citizens who will positively influence their communities and our nation. Since 1999, we have helped over 450 students gain admission into colleges, awarded over $600,000 in scholarships and aligned students with $100 million in scholarships and financial assistance," says NCRF Founder, Dr. Theresa Price.

NCRF's "The Movement Enrichment Program" which helps students daily with intervention, mentoring, tutoring, college, and career planning, and also assists student-athletes, first launched the mobile STEAM lab. Seeing the overwhelming response to the mobile lab, NCRF decided to make Lynwood its permanent home.

The NCRF donated the mobile classroom, which can accommodate 18 students and two educators, to promote advanced learning. The STEAM classroom will offer an early introduction to STEAM-related career fields, a growing emphasis for Lynwood Unified.

Lynwood Unified Superintendent Gudiel R. Crosthwaite, Board President Alma-Delia Renteria, and local elected officials will attend a ribbon-cutting celebration for the new instructional tool. Guests will tour the mobile classroom, which will be stationed at Lynwood Middle School throughout the year; starting in 2018-19, the classroom will cycle to a new school each year.

The ribbon-cutting ceremony will feature a performance by the Lynwood Middle School band.

 

1260 Hours Without Black Male Teachers

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I did not have a class with a black male teacher until my junior year in high school. This might not seem alarming to most, but to a young black boy yearning for positive male role models, this could have been damaging in my formative years. Thankfully, I had many positive male role models to choose from outside of school.

Transitions of any kind at any age can be difficult, and if not done right, damaging. When it comes to young boys of color, their development is often stifled by the lack of positive male role models.  This also applies to those young men who are fortunate to have their fathers at home. The transition from boyhood to manhood is made more difficult when boys do not have a positive example of a man who has successfully made that transition. There is a blueprint, and not everyone has it.

Our young people model the negative and positive traits they see in the adults they spend the most time. Often, the adults they interact with most are school teachers.  A looming teacher shortage exaggerates this lack of positive male models for our young boys of color. That is not to say that a custodian, bus driver, or coach cannot also be a positive role model for our boys. Unfortunately, we miss an opportunity to have that role filled by a teacher they will spend 1,260 hours with a year.

On average, students spend at least 1,260 hours with their teachers each school year. To build the active, engaged, thoughtful, life-long learners, we endeavor to make the generation to come, we must make sure they see themselves in the people who embody those traits. Most often, their teachers reflect what they wish to become. There are some steps we have to take to ensure more of our students don't have to survive formative years without role models they can emulate and glean positive traits.

Remove the Stigma

There is an unspoken stigma around being a teacher that says black males don't fit the role of a teacher; this is especially true for elementary school educators as black men are often not seen as nurturing. Elementary school years are of the most important for students as these formative years lay the foundation for student success or struggle for all students. If we remove the stigma that black males don't fit the role of the nurturing elementary school teacher, we will ensure more young black boys have role models with which they will spend over 1,260 hours annually. They will have the fortune of having extensive interactions with teachers that reflect who they are and can become in the literal and figurative sense.

Make Teaching More Affordable

Aside from paying teachers what they are worth, we have to make the profession of teaching more affordable. We can do this by expanding student loan forgiveness programs, offering tax credits or tax-exempt status for teachers and supporting them with affordable housing options and expanded access to home loan programs.

Teacher Preparation Academies

One way we can curtail the teacher shortage is making teacher preparation programs available at more high schools while creating pathways to local universities. Over the past two years, I have had the pleasure of partnering with the Mountain View School District and Mountain View High School to provide their Teacher Preparation Academy students with opportunities to gain experience working with students while earning money towards stipends and scholarships for college. The next steps for this program include creating a pathway to local colleges where students receive credit for their work with elementary school students and move right into a career pathway that saves them money and time in school as well as provides job placement. This program, which is a finalist for a California School Board Association Golden Bell Award, features workshops around job training and financial literacy. Replication of this program and other teacher preparation programs directly impact the teacher shortage. In expanding such programs, we must reach out directly to black males.

Research says that young black male students perform better when they are taught by black male teachers; that is not to say they ought to be guided by only black male teachers. Great educators have a significant impact on students regardless of their race or ethnicity, but it would be ill-advised to ignore data that says our young black boys need more teachers that look like them. With enrollment in university-level teacher training programs declining, and teachers leaving the profession because of their inability to match their cost of living with their teaching salary, we need to do what we know will have the most significant impact now to secure a brighter future for all students, especially our most vulnerable. We can maximize the 1,260 hours our students spend with their teachers with opportunities for those hours to be spent building solid connections where students can model their behavior and aspirations after the people the often hold in the highest regard, their teachers.

 

Building a Future for the Children

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TyAnthony Davis and Devon Carr are two attorneys who are working toward opening charter schools in Los Angeles.  They have similar educational backgrounds where they beat the odds to become successful.

Both men had brothers and sisters at home who, denied the same opportunities, fell further and further behind. Each understood the crucial lever that flipped was the expectation in their new schools that they could and would achieve. Juris doctor degrees in hand, they were positioned for careers ripe with paychecks and prestige.

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Taking a Knee for Students

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The achievement gap between majority students and underrepresented students still looms in California.  Education leaders must continue to make noise and shake things up to draw attention to the lack of equity.

"In our governor’s eyes, it seems the state’s enormous racial and economic gaps in education don’t require closing because California needs a permanent underclass to fuel the economy."

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