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By Blair Taylor, President, Los Angeles Urban League
This past week the depth of the crisis within the schools of the Inner City Education Fund (ICEF) finally became clear. The schools are in serious financial condition with millions owed to creditors and a real need for immediate attention. If ever there is a need for the African American community to react swiftly to a crisis, the ICEF crisis is the one. The 15 campuses of ICEF cover grades K-12, serving approximately 4,600 students and 3,000 families. More than 90% of ICEF students are African American and the campuses are educating nearly 7% of all African American students within LAUSD. However, perhaps even more important than the demographics and number of students, are the ICEF results. Over the past 12 years, ICEF schools have outperformed the vast majority of schools in LAUSD. API scores for many ICEF schools have exceeded 800, placing the schools in the top 10% of schools of the entire District. Moreover at the ICEF high schools in the past two years, more than 95% of the students have matriculated to colleges and universities. It is even more significant to note that although there are a few schools within LAUSD which outperform ICEF schools, there are scant instances where African American students within those higher performing schools out-perform African American students within ICEF. In other words, ICEF has found a formula for effectively educating African American students. ICEF founder Mike Piscal has certainly had major financial issues arise recently – issues that could have been handled more effectively but which appear to be the result of misfeasance and not malfeasance. Regardless of the current state of affairs however, overall Piscal must be commended for the dedication he has shown toward the children and the vision he executed over the past 12 years. Rapid campus expansion and California’s financial dilemma has contributed to ICEF’s financial condition. However, Piscal’s results in educational outcomes over a sustained period of time have been stellar and speak for themselves. Fortunately, the first part of the crisis has passed. The ICEF schools have been stabilized financially for the short-term, thanks to several quick moves. Former Mayor Richard Riordan and others have invested capital and Mr. Riordan has also been inserted as the new Chairman of the ICEF Board. Caprice Young, the talented former Board President of LAUSD and founder of the California Charter Schools Association, has also come on to oversee all operations during the transitional period. Riordan, Young and many others are now involved as a result of their deep concern about the future of public education, the impact of a potential ICEF failure to the charter system and most importantly, because of their unwavering commitment to the children who attend ICEF schools each and every day.
The full support of our community is required to complete this significant task. The ICEF crisis is far from over and our community must remain vigilant and involved. Part of the reason schools fail is when parents and community residents step back and allow school and/or a school system's leadership too much latitude with little oversight. Similar to the three branches of government, schools were made to operate optimally when three pillars are vibrantly present: 1) strong governance via a district, or other systemic oversight; 2) a great principal and strong teaching staff; and 3) a set of parents and community stakeholders that are intimately familiar with the school and rigorously monitor it, engaging with the other two pillars, being openly challenging when necessary. In this instance it is clear that there was a break-down in the oversight or governance arm of the mandatory triumvirate. But what is also clear – if the parents and the community do not rise and keep fully informed about the state of affairs within ICEF, is that we can never expect ICEF schools, or any other schools within LAUSD for that matter, to properly perform in the long run. The Los Angeles Urban League has pledged its unwavering support for ICEF schools and is helping the new leadership galvanize resources and support for the steps that must be taken to get the schools back on track. This, however, will not be enough without a concerted effort from our community. Now is not the time for another blow to the African American community. We cannot possibly afford to lose ICEF, nor can we afford to have its outstanding performance deteriorate even slightly as a result of the current issues. We must thoughtfully engage with ICEF's new leadership immediately. We must recognize that serious adjustments and changes must be made to reduce operating costs. This fact should not be a surprise to anyone and those adjustments must be made with the involvement and input of the parents and our community. Every one of us has a responsibility to the 4,600 students to see that their educational futures are solidly preserved. The great scholar and leader W.E.B. Dubois once said that “education is that whole system of human training, within and without the school house walls, which molds and develops men." With respect to our children, the obligation to support them is as great as their obligation to learn. There is no option to wait until tomorrow. ICEF is but a microcosm of the full court press that is required from our community to reverse the deteriorating status quo of the educational systems – particularly with respect to African American children. The educational crisis is upon us and we must act deliberately, today. Please visit the ICEF Website at www.icefla.org to learn more and stay involved.
The Los Angeles Sentinel extends its sincerest apologies for mistakenly attributing the above article incorrectly. The author, as stated above, is Mr. Blair Taylor, president of the Los Angeles Urban League and not Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League. We pride ourselves with accurate reporting and pledge to continue to do so. Furthermore, we regret any inconvenience suffered by the aforementioned parties.