Monday, September 20, 2010


by Jonathan Dobrer

Sept 19, 2010 - Most of us know journalist Daniel Pearl’s name because of how he died. He was executed by the Taliban while trying to get a story that would have given them a human voice. They chose inhumanity and ended the life of a passionate journalist, a gifted musician and a loving man.

Yes, you know his name because of how he died, but his true legacy is in how he lived. His legacy is thriving, fittingly near where he grew up in the San Fernando Valley, and is taking form at the Daniel Pearl Magnet High School. Here three hundred and fifteen students are learning not simply about journalism; they are learning and doing journalism. They are learning investigative journalism, straight reporting and opinion. They are learning to write, to think and to edit the news. They are learning to create stories for ink and paper, for the Internet and for webcasting. Their skills span journalism from yesterday to today and both point them towards tomorrow. But their curriculum is far wider than simply being a kind of journalistic trade school. They are challenged to be and become leaders and communicators whatever field they may ultimately choose. Ethics and judgment are an important focus of their education.


Daniel Pearl Magnet High School - Center for Journalism & Communications has openings in their current enrollment and is NOW accepting applications from students interested in attending or transferring from other schools.

Apply or enquire directly to Principal Janet Kiddoo


6649 Balboa Blvd.
Van Nuys, CA  91406-5529

(818) 654-3775

Not only is there a great spectrum of journalistic learning taking place, there is a much wider vision. This is a comprehensive magnet. They study math, history, English and science. They also play—music and sports. Their teachers are dedicated and seem to thrive in, what is for public education, an amazingly intimate environment.

Along with Daniel’s parents, Dr. Judea and Ruth Pearl, I toured their new facility—actually a recycled and refurbished 1940s era military hospital with many courtyards and patios. I was impressed that Principal Janet Kiddoo knew the names of nearly everyone we saw in the halls and in the six classrooms we visited. With only 315 students, and room for 150 more, there is no place either to hide or to get lost. The full staff is there with and for the students. And what students! The spectrum of students is as wide as the subject matter. The classrooms look like America. The students are of all our ethnicities—and when they greeted each other at the start of the semester, they did so in 12 languages.

Their parents and grandparents came from all over the globe, and they come from all across Southern California: From Carson to Eagle Rock, from Down Town to the West Side. Some, it is rumored, come from the San Fernando Valley! Every class we visited reflected our rich diversity. The students in science reflected exactly the same spectrum of ethnicities as the Advanced Placement class.

There are students with physical, social and learning challenges ahead of them—but they have support. There are outstanding students who bring much to share with others. They too will be challenged. In this small school environment there is a visible degree of attention, community and dedication that is literally priceless. One teacher actually turned down a full-time position to be half time in this unique educational environment.

It looks good. It feels good. It sounds good. But does it work? Well, last year, their first graduating class graduated 65 students out of a class of 68. Compare this rate of 95.5% with the 53% rate for the district! Seven of their graduates were accepted at UCLA, with others going to USCSB, Irvine and Santa Cruz—as well as Pepperdine and Syracuse.

The Daniel Pearl High School Magnet is exemplified by last year’s valedictorian, Patricia Equiza. Born in the Philippines, raised here in the Valley, she plays sports, loves to compete and writes with wit, clarity and passion. She is so attached to the school that she came in to help conduct our tour just as she is starting her college career at UCLA.

When I say that she is attached to the school, what I mean is not an abstraction. She loves the students with whom she spent three years. She clearly is close to Principal Kiddoo and the teachers—all of whom greeted her by name. She too knew the name of every student—save the new kid who just showed up that day. She knew his name by the time we left.

This school is formed around a vision that exemplifies the values of Daniel Pearl. Ultimately it is about teachers and students creating an environment of learning, respect for learning, respect for the truth, respect for each other and for themselves. Does it work? The smiles on the faces of the Pearls and the enthusiasm in the eyes of the students, brought tears to the eyes of this writer. Does it work? I wish my kids were younger and could attend. I can’t wait for my 5 Valley grandchildren to be ready. I’ll volunteer in their classes. But why wait? I’ll volunteer now.

  • Jonathan Dobrer is a professor of comparative religion at the University of Judaism in Bel-Air, is a frequent contributor to the Op-Ed page of the Los Angeles Daily News, and writes a syndicated column, Out of My Mind, which is carried by the Fullerton Observer. He blogs at Write to him by e-mail at

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