UCLA Center for Community Schooling Seeks to Make Historic Changes in Public Education

Inaugural convening on Feb. 8-9 gathers meeting of experts, scholars, and key stakeholders at UCLA and at University’s innovative pilot school.

As high school students gave tours of their UCLA Community School campus in the Koreatown-Pico Union neighborhood, they provided their visitors with a new lease on history being made at the former Ambassador Hotel site. UCLA Community School is one of six schools on the Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools campus, which was built in 2010 and named in honor of Kennedy, who after delivering his 1968 California Democratic Primary victory speech was assassinated at the hotel. Part of the program for the inaugural convening of the UCLA Center for Community Schooling, the tours presented a look at the results of a successful collaboration between UCLA, the Los Angeles Unified School District, and the local community served by the school.

Karen Hunter Quartz, founding director, UCLA Center for Community Schooling (at center), and Jody Priselac, UCLA Associate Dean for Community Programs, welcomed José Muñoz, director, National Coalition of Community Schools, to UCLA Community School. Photo by Todd Cheney, UCLA

Karen Hunter Quartz, founding director of the UCLA Center for Community Schooling, welcomed 100 participants representing 36 organizations to the convening, speaking in the former Embassy Ballroom where Sen. Kennedy gave his speech; the space now serves as the school’s library. About half the participants were from higher education and the other half were from K-12 and community organizations—a rich diversity of educators, organizers, coordinators, researchers, teachers, students, and parents.

“With this inaugural convening of the UCLA Center for Community Schooling, we are excited to join with others in a world-building process,” Quartz said, referencing the educational philosophy of Ernest Moore, former Los Angeles school superintendent and co-founder of UCLA. “You are going to hear today about the world we are creating at the UCLA Community School. It’s not a perfect world, but it’s a world committed to the process of becoming better and advancing justice. It’s a world facing head-on the current political context, with agency, love, and support for one another. It’s also a world of engaged scholars who approach problems systematically and with humility.”

Leyda Garcia, principal of UCLA Community School, welcomed the members of the convening and said that the school’s holistic view of students and their lives contributes to the wider needs of the neighborhood, in which two-thirds of the residents are foreign-born, primarily from Mexico, Central America, and Korea—among the highest percentage of immigrants in Los Angeles.

YOUTHphonics, a vocal group made up of UCLA undergraduate volunteers, entertained members of the convening. Photo by Todd Cheney, UCLA

“At our school, we serve the community because we belong to one another, and appreciate the profound richness of cultures, languages, experiences, trajectories, and the future together,” she said.

The two-day convening included small group discussions, posters, and panels that highlighted the research-driven curriculum, student and family supports, and enrichment programs at UCLA Community School. Topics reflected the school’s mission of social justice and community engagement, including “Supporting Our Immigrant Students During Uncertain Times”; “The Senior Internship Program as the Culminating Experience”; “College for All: Inspiring Dreams, Creating Supports, Tracking Success”; “Developing a Dynamic TK-12 Bilingual Program: Capturing Linguistic Diversity Using Formative Assessment”; and “Learning With and From Kids Through Play.” Keynotes were delivered by Ira Harkavy, associate vice president and founding director of the Barbara and Edward Netter Center for Community Partnerships at the University of Pennsylvania, and by José Muñoz, director of the National Coalition of Community Schools.

A roundtable conversation on “How Can University Partners Participate in Solving the Most Pressing Problems Facing Community Schools?” was moderated by Pedro Noguera, UCLA Distinguished Professor of Education and director of the UCLA Center for the Transformation of Schools; participants included Wasserman Dean Marcelo Suárez-Orozco, Leyda Garcia, principal of UCLA Community School, and Elaine Ikeda, executive director of the California Campus Compact. Community school and university students played a prominent part in the convening as speakers in small group and panel discussions, tour guides, and performances by UCLA’s community service a cappella group, YOUTHphonics, and the Mann UCLA Community School Drumline and Band.

(Click here for a complete list of speakers and presenters.)

Ira Harkavy, associate vice president and founding director of the Netter Center, spoke to the convening at the UCLA Luskin Center.
Photo by Don Liebig, UCLA

Queena Kim, founding lead teacher and assistant principal of UCLA Community School and an alumna of UCLA’s Teacher Education Program, facilitated a panel of teachers, parents, students, and UCLA partners. She described her decision to enter TEP and become a part of UCLA’s goals to improve public schools for the most underserved populations.

“The [TEP] Program provided me with the social framework and theoretical foundation that helped me understand the systemic inequities that contribute to the marginalization of minority students in urban schools,” Kim said. “When I read the philosophy of the program, I was so inspired and excited to find a program that connected with me personally and articulated with my own beliefs and wishes for schools in Los Angeles.”

UCLA graduate researchers shared their work with Joann Weeks, associate director, Netter Center for Community Partnerships; and Frank Worrell, professor and faculty director, CAL Prep, UC Berkeley. Photo by Todd Cheney, UCLA

Jody Priselac, Associate Dean for Community Programs at the UCLA Department of Education, spoke on the history of UCLA’s Center X, which came out of the University’s desire to give back to the wider Los Angeles community following the 1992 L.A. uprising. She noted that the success of UCLA Community Schools stems from acknowledging the needs of students, families, and neighborhoods.

“We as a university wanted to contribute to learning, to teaching, to the community,” said Priselac. “That meant that we work together [and] think about questions that are important to the places where we are working.”

Hugh “Bud” Mehan, professor emeritus, UC San Diego, noted that for a purposeful relationship between a university and schools to develop, there must be “the deep perception of an imperative.”

“There has to be a recognition by all the partners… that they are dealing with a fundamentally important problem in our society,”said Mehan. “It goes by different names: the lack of equity, inequality, the need to develop a more profoundly prepared citizenship. The labels are slightly different, but they revolve around the same set of issues.

“The presence of that kind of imperative can motivate and drive people to go beyond their routine, everyday activities. It [requires] commitment and often it necessitates people willing to bend if not break routines.”

Orlando Johnson, principal of the recently opened Mann UCLA Community School, said that while the input of many voices and stakeholders is needed to drive a community school’s goals, there is one ultimate priority.

Leyda Garcia, principal of UCLA Community School, shared the school’s ethos of “growing together.” Photo by Todd Cheney, UCLA

“I think it’s important to have collaboration,” said Johnson. “That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s an easy thing. The important role a principal plays is to be a facilitator [who keeps] the focus on what’s best for the students.”

Jane Margolis, senior researcher at UCLA’s Department of Education and Center X, spoke on a panel on “Research-Practice Partnerships: Using Theories and Evidence to Solve Problems Together.” She noted that the common thread among her colleagues in the UCLA community schools effort is “research to improve, not prove.”
“We’re all committed to improving the system together and to action – not just having research on the shelf,” she said.

Wendy, who is a senior at UCLA Community School, spoke on behalf of her fellow students. She described growing up in a mixed-status family and how her mother worked as a community organizer and activist, which inspired Wendy to serve her community in the future.

“We all felt as if we were fighting an invisible [fight],” she said. “When I came to UCLA Community School, there were teachers there who gave a face to these oppressions: racism, xenophobia, homophobia. But they didn’t just teach us that – they worked with us to fight against these [oppressions].”

Wendy, a student at UCLA Community School, expressed her appreciation for the school’s supportive teachers and internship opportunities, and gave guidelines for successful community schools from a student point of view. Photo by Don Liebig, UCLA

In the 10th grade, Wendy joined the UCLA Community School chapter of Students Deserve, a citywide coalition of high school students whose goals include ensuring equity and access, learning and care for the whole child, and environmental health and justice. She described a campaign led by the organization against the privatization of education and the work of a corps of teachers who supported families as first responders to ICE raids upon families. Wendy served her senior internship with UCLA Engineering, and created a project to help sustain a supply of clean water in her neighborhood with bio-filters.

“UCLA – the university – not only helped me to find my dream; it helped me find a way to serve my community, with the knowledge of the oppressions I learned about at UCLA Community School, and a knowledge of science,” she said.

When asked what advice she would give to the assembled audience for creating successful community schools, Wendy’s wish list reflected UCLA Community School’s motto, “We grow together.”

“Treat students as people,” she said. “Understand that students have lives outside of the classroom. Teachers at our school, they check in with us. We have three different counselors: behavioral, college, and career counselors. But they are not the only ones helping us grow as people. Well-meaning and dedicated teachers [are] always receptive to new ways of learning. In my math class, my teacher teaches students the basics. But if they find another way to find the answer, she invites them to show students what they have done.

Hugh “Bud” Mehan, professor emeritus, UC San Diego, shared his perspectives on the importance of community engagement in schools. Pictured with José Muñoz, director of the National Coalition of Community Schools. Photo by Don Liebig, UCLA

“To have teachers supporting our communities is so important for our school. It gives us hope.   Students have so many ideas, but if there is no one to support us to make our dreams come true, then nothing happens.”


Above: Karen Hunter Quartz, founding director of the new UCLA Center for Community Schooling (at far left), led an inaugural convening of the center, showcasing UCLA Education’s research on holistic and effective improvements to public schools, including the support of immigrant families, a TK-12 bilingual program, and teacher preparation through school-university partnerships.

L-R: Ung-Sang Lee, Janet Cerda, Shante Stuart McQueen, Marco Murillo, Karla Rivera-Torres, Sidronio Jacobo, and Quartz.

Photo by Don Liebig, UCLA