Unlikely Duo Brings Silicon Valley to South L.A., Part 2

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Margeaux Randolph and Qiana Patterson, both former teachers who found success in the tech industry, plan to blend their roots in education and technology by creating an innovative charter school that forges a pathway for public school students to enter into careers in science and technology.

The school, named the L.A. School for Creativity and Technology (C-Tech), will teach students a curriculum focused on building their skills in computer science, design thinking, creative problem solving, business leadership and entrepreneurship.

This dynamic duo wants to teach students not only how to navigate a smart device, but also know how to design the code on which that device runs. C-Tech students will not only be able to play phone apps, but they will also know how to raise the investment capital needed to build and sell one.

The irony of Randolph and Patterson’s vision to start a tech-focused school in South L.A. is not lost on either of the education pioneers. It is rare that two African American women, who are, by nature of their gender and ethnicity, unlikely occupiers of the tech space, would be the very ones to bring change within it. But both women are well-suited for the task ahead.

They understand that the socio-economic realities that exist in South L.A. will make their job more difficult. But they welcome the challenge.

In fact, they want to locate C-Tech in an underserved neighborhood. These young professionals have leveraged hi-tech geographic information systems to pinpoint exact areas of South L.A. that are in the direst need for quality school options and economic revitalization. They call these areas charter zones which describe places where there are no good educational choices among local traditional, charter, and magnet schools. In these zones, all neighboring schools are chronically underperforming.

For Randolph especially, the move to launch a new charter school is just a natural progression of her current work as the VP of Leadership at charter school incubator, ReFrame Labs. At ReFrame, Margeaux has helped other education entrepreneurs to start cutting-edge schools. Now, it is her turn to create a school that will serve as a vehicle for social change.

I recently sat down with Margeaux to discuss her views on Los Angeles’ education system and how ReFrame Labs and schools like C-Tech can radically change education by integrating science and technology.

With so many other charter schools in existence, what makes ReFrame schools stand out from the crowd?

We design innovative schools that partner with the community. And we’re rethinking the whole term “school” to include learning environments that are highly adaptable like mobile schools and future tech schools that focus on intelligence systems, on social justice and activism, and on creating the next generation of leaders. We see schools as ecosystems for the community to bring people together and to bring opportunity and innovation.  

It’s true that in Los Angeles charters are oversaturated but there is still a high demand for quality.

Some charter critics say that charters don’t really serve black and brown kids. How would you respond?

First, charter schools are public schools. They’re open to everyone. So anyone can enroll in a charter school. And if you look at the data, particularly the data from California Charter Schools Association, which does really good data analysis, they specifically did a study on subgroups and one on African American populations.

And it turns out that there are substantial numbers of African American kids in charter schools. And in those schools, particularly the high schools, about 70% of African American kids in charter high schools meet the college A-G requirement.  This is compared to the district which is around 18%. That is a huge difference. So when black kids are in charter schools, they get one more month of learning than they would in the district. When they are in charter schools they are being served adequately.

But one problem, both in charter and in districts, is the suspension rates for black kids. They are still high across the board and are still an area that we at ReFrame are really thinking about.

What are you most hopeful and most worried about regarding the state of education in Los Angeles today?

Well, I’m most hopeful about the new [LAUSD] board and the possibilities for collaboration. And I am hopeful about the ventures around parent engagement that Parent Revolution and Kids First are doing.

What I’m still nervous about is that there are still parts of deep-south L.A., like Watts and Westmont, where all of the schools are struggling – district, charter and magnet.

And I think there needs to be a call to the district for a deeper, deeper, deeper focus because these are areas with high poverty, low unemployment, and low economic opportunity. And all of the schools there are struggling. And I also think it requires a deep focus on black and brown tensions because they are real and not working for the good of kids. So, there needs to be more focus on how to move the entire community forward.