Thursday, September 25, 2008


by Diana Martinez, Editor | San Fernando Valley Sun

Thursday, 25 September 2008  -- Ellen Pais, Executive Director of the Urban Education Partnership based in Los Angeles describes the graduation rate at San Fernando, Sylmar and Arleta High Schools as "horrific" and starting next week the agency, with money from a federal grant, will begin work first at San Fernando High to identify resources that can help students graduate.

San Fernando High will be the first school to participate, followed by Arleta High School next year and Sylmar High in 2010.

A 2.2 million dollar grant will go to the Urban Education Partnership as the lead agency. The money will be doled out over a five-year period to conduct focus groups, evaluate services and coordinate resources. Pais said the goal is to develop partnerships that will identify and create a network of services for students. Using a "community schools" model, Pais said the goal is to improve graduation rates by developing partnerships both on and off campus that can make services accessible to students.

"This is a collaborative with other nonprofits and the schools to marshal the resources and assets in the community to support the kids in the valley that feed into these [three] schools."

Pais described the implementation of the grant as being a work in progress that is fluid and not black and white.

"This isn't about having a cookie cutter program, it's about trying to build relations for kids and see if they are getting the real resources they need," Pais said.

Pais pointed out that there can be social barriers or safety issues for some students that impede their success.

"The goal is to organize resources that might already exist on campus that can support students and to also identify resources that students and families need and look at this as a two -way street, so students and parents can talk about what's missing," Pais said.

"Sometimes there are tutoring services on campus available for kids who are doing well but there may not be alternative tutoring programs for students that aren't doing well or aren't engaged in a traditional academic path. There may also be services spread out at various non-profits in the community but students and in many cases even teachers and school administrators may not be aware that they are available."

The grant money will be used first to hire a coordinator and administrative assistant at each school. "This will free up the school to concentrate on academics and they won't have to freeze up their budget to pay for these services. It allows the school to focus on the teaching aspect and helps to coordinate the other resources," said Pais.

Pais said the three schools in the northeast valley have many students who are not graduating. "They [graduation rates at these schools] can be reported as high as 60 percent or as low as 30 percent. The state and the school district can interpret and calculate graduation figures in a different way, but everyone is in agreement that not enough kids are graduating. "

Pais said they have been meeting at San Fernando High for the last six months with members of other organizations including Project GRAD, Youth Speak Collective, Pacoima Beautiful, Kennedy-San Fernando Adult School and Friends of the Family, to discuss the need for an infrastructure to address the drop out issue over the last few years.

"We are trying to build a system. Several years ago these organizations had been working together in elementary schools and found the work they were doing there with families to organize resources had been very effective and test scores rose so we said let's get together and start working at the high school level where the graduation levels are very low."

San Fernando High School principal Kenneth Lee and LAUSD school board member Julie Korenstein were enthusiastic about the grant. "This is good news for my three valley schools," said Korenstein. "Due to the dedication and outstanding services of these great organizations such as the Pacoima Neighborhood Partnership, students at my school will be linked into services they need to become successful and thrive. Their support and services will be invaluable in helping my students achieve their dreams," said Lee.

The success of the "collaborative" will unfold over the next five years. In the meantime, Pais responded to some of the unknowns.

Will organizing campus resources and building collaborative relationships with community agencies keep students from continuing to fall between the cracks and dropping out? Will it be the cure to transform the schools to become more effective learning environments?

Pais said the bottom line is to create an infrastructure that stays in place long after the federal dollars are gone.

"Right now we know that just having resources in the community doesn't mean that kids are going to graduate, if it did we would be much more successful than we are today," she said.

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