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Bridging the Achievement Gap

To any parent the quality of their child’s education is the most important priority. Loyola Marymount University recognizes this and through the LMU Family of Schools, has united with the Westchester community to improve K-12 education.

In the fall of 2006, LAUSD and LMU established a formal partnership that allows LMU to work with the Westchester/Playa Education Foundation, the Westchester Neighborhood Council and other community groups to improve the area’s seven public schools: Westchester High School, Orville Wright Middle School, Cowan Avenue Elementary, Kentwood Elementary, Loyola Village Elementary, Paseo del Rey Elementary and Westport Heights Elementary.

The five-year partnership enables LMU to provide professional development services and support to the Westchester schools in a wide variety of ways, bringing to bear the resources of a world-class university and school of education.

According to Shane P. Martin, dean of the LMU School of Education, there were many reasons to be excited about the partnership. The seven schools that would be part of the “family” were located right in LMU’s neighborhood. That this was a cluster of schools – with the elementary schools all feeding into the middle school which feeds into the high school – was also appealing.

“The idea of looking at school clusters as a unit and establishing meaningful relationships among the schools is a major part of the regional and national dialogue on educational reform,” Martin says, adding that Westchester schools face challenges that are similar to those faced by urban schools in the region and nationally.

In the Westchester cluster, Martin also saw a cohesive community motivated to address its schools’ achievement gaps.

“Westchester is a community that’s very engaged and interested in public education, and wants strong schools,” Martin says. He envisioned the School of Education, in conjunction with the rest of the university, taking on a leadership role as a facilitator that would bring together the Westchester schools’ teachers, students, parents, and community and business leaders, all working toward achieving a shared vision. This would be a partnership that could be replicated in other communities, and eventually become a national model.

Although the initial stages of the program have focused around data collection and needs assessment, already there are many significant accomplishments: LMU sponsored seven counseling staff at a national training conference; Approximately 15 LMU student teachers, counselors and school psychologists are assisting all seven schools as part of their training; Three of the schools have voted to join the LAUSD’s newly formed Innovation Division, which moves budget and decision-making authority over instructional and staffing choices to each school locally.

The LMU Family of Schools represents an opportunity for Westchester – as well as a chance for the School of Education to take the leadership reins in developing a model that could have implications far beyond that community.

“We see this partnership as a way to strengthen the educational pipeline in a community LMU has long supported,” he says. “But this is not simply a local story. This collaboration will make a difference for thousands of students, but it’s also something that can be modeled in the future, across the state and country.”

For more information, see http://fos.lmu.edu