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Great Public Schools Now announces $3.75M in grants available for LAUSD schools

Sarah Favot | September 29, 2016

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Great Public Schools Now holds a news conference Thursday where it announced $4.5 million in initial grants. Center is GPSN Executive Director Myrna Castrejon.

Great Public Schools Now Executive Director Myrna Castrejon at a June news conference announcing the first three grants.

Great Public Schools Now announced Thursday it will give up to $3.75 million in grant funds next year to expand up to five academically successful LA Unified school campuses in underserved areas — the nonprofit’s first partnership with the school district.

GPSN launched its program in June, when it gave its first grants, totaling $4.5 million, to Teach for America, an after-school program called Heart of LA and Equitas Academy, which runs three charter schools in LA’s Pico-Union neighborhood.

GPSN Executive Director Myrna Castrejon said replicating high-performing schools has not been attempted in Los Angeles before or anywhere in the nation at the same scale, and the organization is encouraging the “best and brightest” in the district to apply for grants to expand their successful schools’ impact on more children in LA.

“We are excited to begin this collaboration with LA Unified schools where we know high-needs students are finding supportive learning environments that result in high achievement,” Castrejon said. “Our goal is to increase the number of students enrolled in high-quality programs, and to do so quickly.”

 GPSN is encouraging schools that fit certain criteria to apply for the grants. Castrejon said her organization wants to help successful leaders do more, rather than tinker with what’s working.

“We feel strongly that it is actually the leaders and the school that have the will and vision to do more that should apply rather than us deciding to do x, y or z,” she said.

“Frankly, I’m really excited to see who will apply,” she said.

Castrejon said her organization has been working with Superintendent Michelle King and her staff to develop the process, which she described as collaborative and open.

“I am excited about the opportunities to increase the number of high-quality choices for our LA Unified families,” King said in a statement. “We have schools in every corner of the district where students are excelling. Investing in these campuses will allow more of our students to attain the knowledge and skills to be successful in college, careers and in life.”

The grants — that will range from $50,000 to $250,000 annually over three years — will only be given to district-run schools. They must be used to expand successful schools by either adding seats or adding a new campus of a school.

Here are some of the criteria:

  • schools must be non-selective, high-performing magnets, pilot or traditional schools;
  • at least half of the students must meet or exceed proficiency in math or English on state tests
  • no fewer than 25 percent of all students must perform at proficient levels
  • schools as a whole must perform significantly better in math and English than surrounding schools with similar demographics
  • schools must enroll special education students and English language learners at rates similar to the district as a whole
  • administrators should have the autonomy to pick their own teaching staffs
  • at least 80 percent of the students qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch

GPSN will also provide up to five planning grants of $20,000 to help schools prepare their applications. The deadline to apply for a planning grant is Oct. 28.

Applications for the grants will be due in February. An advisory committee will vet the applications, and the GPSN board of directors will make a final decision by April.

Castrejon said the grants are not intended to replace traditional funding of schools through ADA but will be used to support school leaders to do effective planning.

King said she has asked local district superintendents to identify the district’s most successful models and to develop competitive proposals.

“These grants can help us bring additional resources to meet our students’ needs,” said Christopher Downing, who oversees 148 schools as superintendent of Local District South. “They deserve every learning opportunity that will create pathways to college and 21st-century careers.”

Map of 10 neighborhoods where Great Public Schools Now will focus its efforts. (image taken from plan)

Map of 10 neighborhoods where Great Public Schools Now will focus its efforts.

GPSN’s areas of focus are in South LA, East LA and the northeast San Fernando Valley because they have “chronically underperforming schools and few high-quality school choices for struggling families,” according to the organization’s plan released in June. In the 10 identified neighborhoods, 160,000 low-income English language learners are enrolled in schools where 80 percent of students are learning below their grade level, according to the plan.

GPSN’s new plan outlines its targeted areas of funding as teacher and leadership pipeline and support, facilities, community engagement and school replication.

GPSN is also holding a town hall meeting Oct. 22 at St. Mark’s Banquet Hall, 14646 Sherman Way, Van Nuys, 91405 from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. to hear feedback from parents and the community on its program. Another event will be held on Dec. 10 in LA, the location will be announced.

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