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Community partners with Crenshaw High School to improve quality of education
The scene in Crenshaw Senior High School’s multi-purpose room on Monday was dramatically different than three years ago when the school lost its accreditation. In 2005, the tension-filled room was overflowing with upset parents, students, teachers and community members strongly voicing their opinions while a panel of representatives of the Los Angeles Unified School District defended their actions. Fast-forward to 2008 and the atmosphere is much more joyous and unified.
A room of optimistic students, parents, staff and community members gathered to anxiously await the official announcement that Crenshaw High School will be joining the District’s Innovation Division, a program that is part of Superintendent David Brewer III’s transformation plan to engage parents and community members to improve student achievement at the lowest performing schools. And when that time finally came, an explosion of applause and cheers was right along with it.
“This is a historic moment,” said CHS principal, Sheilah Sanders. “Without the drive and determination of the parents we would not be here today... They took it upon themselves to ensure it happened.”
Last week, parents and teachers of Crenshaw High students overwhelmingly voted to enter the iDivision, a structure that enables a school to continue to receive support form LAUSD for education standards while allowing significantly increased local control over budget, curriculum, resources and other critical decisions. It also calls for a network of local community partners to be responsible for helping create a new school infrastructure and provide resources to facilitate success. Ninety percent of voting parents supported the change along with 80 percent of voting faculty and teachers.
“I am truly numb and excited about the possibilities,” commented Glen Windom, whose child is a senior at CHS. “But, I’m also cautious because we really don’t know what we’re getting into.”
Windom has been an active parent since the beginning—before, during and after the loss of accreditation. He is a member of the Crenshaw Cougar Coalition, a coalition of parents, teachers, students, staff and community members, and has fought long and hard to help the school get where it is today. “It has taken many years of reaching out to the district, letting them know that we want to understand what they are about and find out how we can work truly collaboratively,” he said. “To be honest, it wasn’t until [Superintendent] Brewer got there that we had that feeling of being able to work together. Before that there was a sense of mistrust; the efforts really weren’t sincere.”
Parent Eunice Grisby also commented District’s willingness to openly collaborate. “They’ve really seen that the parents, teachers and community are serious. When we had to really fight for our accreditation, and they saw that we as parents and the community, faculty and the students came together, they said ok they’re willing to take a chance.”
Unable to hold back tears, she said, “I’m excited... It’s just when I think about the opportunity to make a difference in a community that’s dying for a difference, I can’t help but cry.
“I came from here and I remember how we started. As a living cougar of the class of ‘79, there’s nothing like saying I went to Crenshaw High School. Now I have four kids, and three of them so far are Cougars.”
The CHS students, too, had their say in the matter. Their symbolic vote in favor of joining the iDivision, which was a margin of nearly 90 percent, was taken as an important step to gauge their perspective on the significant reform efforts now underway.
Student Body President Elysse Evans spoke on behalf of her schoolmates. “This is a day that students, parents, teachers and community can have great confidence that change is here,” she said. “The history of Crenshaw High School exemplifies that we’ve always been the pioneers, the leaders and innovators.”
Evans, who will be graduating in May and continuing her education as a psychology student at Colorado State University, said that this experience of having to struggle to get resources for the school has taught her how to be a stronger person. She added, “I know that if I can make it here, I can make it anywhere.”