Monday, December 12, 2011


A Grass Roots School Shift

Editorial in the  L.A .DOWNTOWN NRWS |

Friday, December 9, 2011 3:36 pm :: DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - A lot of great things have happened in Downtown Los Angeles in the past 10 years. The residential revolution prompted entrepreneurs to open scores of restaurants, bars and service businesses. The community is now lively and full of people who care passionately about Downtown.

Despite this progress, Downtown is still lacking in elementary schools. Unless local institutions are created to serve the growing number of young couples who are starting families, Downtown will suffer. Without quality elementary schools, some of the new inhabitants will leave.

People have been aware of this problem for several years. However, little has been done to address the matter. Although more than $1 billion worth of new high schools have opened in the Downtown environs in the past half decade, Los Angeles Unified School District officials recently stated that there are no plans to create a new local elementary school.

This is why a fledgling effort to start a charter school in Downtown is so important, and why it is worth the time and resources not just of a group of parents, but of the wider community, including the business sector. The neighborhood cannot complete its evolution until all local children have the opportunity to receive a free, quality education.

Last week, Los Angeles Downtown News wrote about how a group of families are beginning to explore opening a charter school. The facility, like all charters in California, would be funded by the local school district (in this case the LAUSD) but would have some freedom from strict district standards and requirements, including the curriculum. Charters also are not bound by union contracts.

The local group is at the beginning, and its members may not be aware of how daunting the process is and how many hoops they will have to leap through. The myriad challenges include fundraising, site location, board development and writing the charter. They will need to find a principal, find teachers, find capable administrative and support staff and, most importantly, find students — this does not mean only the children of local market-rate loft inhabitants who would prefer not to pay for private school. The organizers will have to reach out to the greater community, including those for whom English is not the first language, and convince parents that a new school in Downtown would be right for their child.

The new group hopes to open a school in the fall of 2013 (families with children are asked to fill out a survey at It’s an ambitious timeline, and the only way they will reach that target is if they have the backing and aid of experienced individuals from throughout the community. They will need help from people willing to put in long hours for no pay.

This is a great time to create a Downtown charter school, but the idea is only the start. The process will be difficult, but the result will be worth the work.


Take a Survey, Help Start a School

Story in the L.A, Downtown News |

test4Downtown Families Hope to Start Charter School

Mike McGalliard [SEE smf COMMENT BELOW] with his daughter Sophia, and Simon Ha, with his daughter Zoe, are leading an effort to open a charter elementary school in Downtown by 2013. Costs for a new charter school can range from $250,000 to more than $2 million photo by Gary Leonard |

Friday, December 9, 2011 9:30 am :: DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES-Recently, a group of parents came together in an early effort to explore opening a charter elementary school in Downtown Los Angeles. Now, the Downtown Center Business Improvement District is conducting a survey to help with the effort.

The just-launched online survey is seeking out Downtown parents and asking what they intend to do once their kids reach school age, and if they would consider sending their children to a charter school in the Central City.

To fill out the survey, go to A DCBID official said that, among the first 80 respondents, 40% said the current Downtown school options would prompt them to leave the area once it is time for their kids to start school.

The DCBID is hoping to get responses by Sunday, Dec. 18. The next step would be to meet with charter schools interested in coming to Downtown.

The recently formed group of Downtown parents hope to bring a charter school to the area by the fall of 2013. Information is at


Downtown Families Hope to Start Charter School

by Richard Guzmán City Editor | L.A. Downtown News |

Wednesday, November 30, 2011 10:12 am DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES- Simon Ha has a few choices when it comes to choosing an elementary school for his 4-year-old daughter Zoe. There are several public and charter schools within a couple miles of his South Park home.

However, there's a catch: Those options require a drive, or the schools themselves simply don't meet the academic standards that Ha and his wife want in a school.

Ha is far from alone. In recent years, scores of Downtown parents have encountered the same conundrum, and few have found a satisfactory solution. Some opt for charters outside the area, others pay for expensive private schools, and still others leave Downtown for a neighborhood with better public schools.

Ha and a group of about eight other Downtown families hope to go a different route. They have joined together in an ambitious effort to open a charter school in Downtown Los Angeles by the fall of 2013. The plan calls for the school to start with kindergarten to third grade students

"To support the families that are growing here, you're going to need a school to serve the needs of the local community," Ha said.

Ha, an associate principal at Thomas P. Cox Architects, is working with fellow Downtown resident Mike McGalliard, who co-founded L.A.'s Promise, a nonprofit organization that runs three schools for the LAUSD (the schools are not charters). McGalliard also lives in South Park and has a 3-year-old daughter named Sophia.

Charters are independently run public schools funded by the local school district that have freedom from some rigorous district standards and requirements, and are not bound by union contracts. Ha's group is putting together a study to count families with kids interested in attending a Downtown charter school. The next step is conducting a feasibility study to figure out how much it would cost to open the facility. They hope to present their plan to the LAUSD by March and open the school 18 months later.

"I want to feel like we have a neighborhood school," McGalliard said. "A regular school that my kid goes to, that your kid goes to, that other families that live close by can go to. We're missing that."

The Downtown families have a lot of work ahead of them. Not only do they have to find a site for the school, they also have to come up with significant funding - development costs can range from $250,000 to more than $2 million, according to the most recent figures provided by the California Charter Schools Association, an advocacy and resource group for charter schools. The costs include everything from acquiring land to hiring staff to buying office and school supplies.

Right Time

Ha's team is finding support in its cause not just from other parents, but also a local business organization. Hal Bastian, senior vice president and director of economic development for the Downtown Center Business Improvement District, said that the BID for years has been trying to lure a school into Downtown, knowing it is fundamental to keeping families in the area long term.

"This is exactly the right idea at exactly the right time," said Bastian.

Until recently however, Bastian said, the number of families with school age children has not been high enough for a new school to open in Downtown.

Signs of a change, said Bastian, are a recent DCBID Halloween party for kids that drew about 1,000 people, most of them Downtown residents. Additionally, a recent demographics study conducted by the BID found that approximately 1,850 children under the age of 5 live Downtown. That means 6.3% of neighborhood households have kids who are at or approaching school age.

There are several nearby options for older Downtown kids, among them the state-of-the-art High School for the Visual and Performing Arts, the Miguel Contreras Learning Complex, the Edward R. Roybal Learning Center and several charter schools.

Downtown elementary school options are comparatively sparse and not always in neighborhoods parents want. They include the Para Los Niños charter school near Seventh and Alameda streets. There is also the public Ninth Street Elementary, but it was closed for refurbishment in 2009 and won't reopen until 2013. Other LAUSD schools and several charter options are in Chinatown and on the outskirts of the area.

In recent interviews with Los Angeles Downtown News, LAUSD officials said there are no plans to open another elementary school in the core of Downtown. That poses a problem for people like Ha.

"I walk to work, my wife walks to work, and having to drive to Chinatown, or Para Los Niños, it just doesn't work for us," Ha said.

More families are choosing the charter option. A study released last month by the CCSA found charter school enrollment growing 13% for the 2011-12 school year, with 412,00 students attending charters nationwide. This school year, 100 new charter schools opened in California. Los Angeles is leading the way with 30 of those.

Vicky Waters, a spokeswoman for the CCSA, said starting a charter school is a challenging task. Although the Downtown parents' timeline is ambitious, she said it could be accomplished by fall 2013.

"It can take from a year to two years or even more," she said.

While McGalliard and Ha are driven by a need for their own families, they recognize that if they are successful, the benefits will live on for years.

"In order for this community to retain the families and become a community," Ha said, "you have to provide the services necessary to keep the families here. What it's lacking are elementary schools."

Contact Richard Guzmán at

2cents smf: - connecting some dots: The involvement of McGalliard removes any semblance of this being a true grass roots group of downtown parents struggling to start a charter school.

McGalliard is a co founder of LA’s Promise (originally Center for Innovative Education, then Mentor LA, them MLA Schools, now LA’s Promise) . LAP’s Board of Directors chair is Megan Chernin,  also the CEO of The Los Angeles Fund for Public Education, a fund launched by Superintendent John Deasy to boost private philanthropic support for the financially strapped LAUSD.  Before he departed LA’s Promise  in the wake of poor perforamace and general unhappiness at a couple of LAP schools McGalliard was a player/mover+shaker in the Pilot School/Charter School/i-Design/Partnership/®eform community. He has the Charter School Association, the superintendent, Monica Garcia, Mayor Tony, Eli Broad and the Billionaire Boys Club Ed Foundations – as well as celebrities like Ryan Seacrest and Jamie Oliver - programmed into his cell phone. If they don’t take his calls he only has himself to blame.

McGalliard’s blog entry of Nov.15th says “Soon I’ll announce my new venture” …this story broke two weeks later..

Plus, if Mike lives in South Park he is served by the Para Los Ninos operated Gratts Primary Center  - a Public School Choice almost-a-charter school in South Park. It’s a lovely little school with a good program.

Others are not so kind, this from the Downtown News Comments:

Robert D. Skeels | | posted at

10:02 am on Fri, Dec 9, 2011 :: It's unfortunate to see such reactionary efforts to bring a privatized charter school rather than an actual public school to Downtown Los Angeles. Aside from being privately controlled and utterly unaccountable to the community and parents they ostensibly serve, charter-voucher schools are notorious for exclusive practices to segregate families by class and race. Given the gentrification of Downtown, this elitist and frankly, racist move isn't surprising to social justice activists.

Richard Guzman's article on this topic in the December 5, 2011 is riddled with misinformation. First he says (p. 12) that "Charters are independently run public schools funded by the local district..." Inasmuch as charters are privately run, they are independent, but calling them public is mendacious and misleading.

Charters are privately managed entities whose only claim to the word public is the fact that they drain public funds. Dozens of court cases have ruled that charter schools are not "public entities." Two well known examples include the following:

The 9th Circuit US Court of Appeals (2010-01-04) which ruled that charter-voucher schools are NOT "public actors."

“Horizon is a private, non-profit corporation that operates a charter school in Arizona”.
“For purposes of the Roster of Public Agencies, “public agency” “means a district, public authority, public agency, and any other political subdivision or public corporation in the state, but does not include the state or a county, city and county, or city.” (§ 53050.) Consistent with our holding above, if it is a nonprofit public benefit corporation, we find that (Palisades Charter High School)  is not a “public agency” within the meaning of section 53050 separately required to register with the Secretary of State and the county clerk for the Roster of Public Agencies.”


Moreover, the US Census Department expressed difficulty in obtaining information from charter-voucher schools because the aren't public entities.

“To gather its data, the Census Bureau relies on reporting from “government entities.” Some charter schools fit this description neatly, such as those operated by governments or government-affiliated bodies, including states, districts, counties, and public universities. But most charter schools are operated by private organizations (mostly non-profits), and finance figures for these schools are not included in the report (the Census classifies them as ‘private charter schools’)”.

I know in the light of all the scandals and bad press ( that supporters of lucrative charters are desperate to paint them as public schools, but outside the corporate spin cycle that is the the school privatization camp, charters have been found to be anything but public.

Guzman's article quotes the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA). The CCSA is a trade association tasked with growing market share for the lucrative charter-voucher industry. Anything they say must be given the same consideration as one would give Philip Morris on questions of the health benefits of tobacco.


Anonymous said...

I don't know SMF, but I find the claim that he knows me so well more than a little disturbing. Especially that he doesn't seem to know me at all!

At any rate, the downtown charter is an ambitious effort. But a lack of options for his/her child will make a parent very ambitious.

- Mike McGalliard, Sophia's dad

Anonymous said...

The downtown charter is an ambitious effort. But it's amazing how ambitious a parent is when there are few suitable options for his/her child.

I appreciate Para Los Ninos, but there is certainly no abundance of good schools locally, as most watchful parents know. Wish us luck, and if you are a downtown parent, connect with me if you want to help us build a great elementary school here.

smf said...

Mike McG: "I don't know SMF, but I find the claim that he knows me so well more than a little disturbing." I consider "Disturbing" a favorable review! I like the use of in this context - it's loaded and fraught with dark undertones of menace. ¶ I don't think I said I know him "so well" - I don't think I said I know him at all. But I'll say it now: I do know him, we have met and have been introduced and all that stuff. We have shared the podium at the dedication of a school given to his organization, I have participated in meetings where he was a participant - neither of of is particularly notable for keeping our opinions to ourselves. ¶ As a member of the Bond Oversight Committee I tried to make a point of meeting the people LAUSD gave the schools the taxpayers and voters invested so much in over to - whether they are principals or teachers or parents or partners or outside operators. ¶ I'm not stalking Mike. I'm just paying attention. I'm sorry if that's disturbing.

Robert D. Skeels * rdsathene said...

How disingenuous of the profiteer McGalliard to feign that he wants to start a lucrative charter downtown because he's a dad. We're all sure it has nothing to do with him being unemployed.

Many of the privatizers -- Rhee, Austin, Klein, etc. -- have massive egos, but McGalliard puts them all to shame. He's the smartest person he knows.

Anonymous said...

@smf I think it's the fact that you speak so confidently about your assessment of me, but yet are so wrong... that's what's disturbing. Not sure where you get your facts (or if you are dealing in facts at all).

I know you love sinister subplots and conspiracy and all that, but don't try so hard.

Anonymous said...

@Skeels My family can't stop laughing at your last comment. Maybe it's the fact you wrote in on Xmas of all days, or the fat that you called me - a nonprofit junkie - a "profiteer." Or question my love for my daughter as authentic motivation for action. Or most of all, that you - of all people - would talk about someone else having a big ego.

Very enjoyable read!