Superintendent Michelle King Inspired Me To Be An Educator for Our Community: I Am Her Legacy

The historical selection of Superintendent Michelle King as the first African American woman to lead the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) reminded me that anything is possible; she inspired me to be an educator when she was my teacher in middle school. Here we are all these years later, I’m following her path, as a Black educator striving for excellence and on the brink of becoming a principal to serve the children of Los Angeles.   

I grew up in the Southeast part of Los Angeles and was raised by a single mom. When I was a small child, my grandmother was my primary caretaker. My home school was 28th Street Elementary School in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

As a small child, my teacher, Ms. Mitchell, talked to my mom and grandmother about testing me for the gifted magnet program. I was about five years old at the time, and after taking the test, I qualified for the program, which took me from 28th Street Elementary School in East Los Angeles to Kester Elementary in Sherman Oaks. This was an over 20-mile commute, and I had to get up at 5:30 AM to travel from the Eastside of LA to the Valley. If there had been a gifted magnet school closer to our home, I wouldn’t have had to travel out of my community for this opportunity.

Eventually, my mom moved my sister and me to the Valley so I could be closer to school and where the educational opportunities were. But this move also took us away from my grandmother, who I was particularly close to. My mom invested in my education and had a lot of trust in the magnet program, so she was willing to make sacrifices for my future.

From Kester Elementary, I attended Porter Middle School in North Hills, where I was one of Michelle King’s middle school science students. Michelle King, recently named superintendent of LAUSD, was pivotal to my education for a few reasons. She was one of only two black teachers who I had in K-12, she was strong and nurturing as an educator, and she consistently upheld high expectations for all of her students. As the only black girl in my cohort of peers at Porter Gifted Magnet, I looked up to Ms. King as a role model, as a living representation of who I could become. Science wasn’t one of my favorite subjects, but Ms. King made it palatable to me. As a child attending schools in the valley where I was the only black student in the cohort, to see a black woman teaching in this advanced program was a very powerful visual to me. If Ms. King could become an educator and teach in a high quality program, I felt that I could do it too.

Beyond learning science, I learned that Ms. King went to UCLA. This inspired me to think about attending UCLA when I was in the 7th grade. Five years later, after graduating from Granada Hills High School, I was accepted into UCLA where I eventually earned both my bachelor’s degree in English and master’s degree in Urban Education.

I started my career teaching 7th grade English in Compton for seven years. In 2008, I started at KIPP LA College Preparatory Academy and taught for seven years before moving up to assistant principal. Currently, I’m a Fisher Fellow, which is a one-year fellowship before I will found my own school this upcoming fall in Huntington Park.

I will get to build a school from the ground up. And there are three themes that will guide my school. The first will be a strong literacy foundation, which draws upon my experience as an English teacher. The second is experiential learning because hands-on learning was important to me and so was being able to get out in the field. I don’t want students to feel captive to their community. My family relied on school to give me these experiences of going to museums and cultural events, and many families from limited means count on this as well to give their children the cultural capital that they need to succeed in college. The third theme for my school is differentiated instruction with small cohorts with a lower student to teacher ratio.

Finally, I want my school to be community-based to build a school that is part of a community, not just a school operating in it. I want to bring parents and community organizations into the school, and I want my teachers to know the community to understand what their students experience outside of the classroom. Every student deserves a chance to learn, grow, and be ready for the challenges of the 21st century. I’m building a quality school with high expectations so children in Huntington Park don’t have to leave their community to have the opportunities that I did.

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D'Anza Smith

D'Anza Smith

D'Anza Smith is a Fisher Fellow with KIPP Public Charter Schools. Next year, D’Anza will be the founding School Leader of a KIPP middle school in Huntington Park which is part of LAUSD. Currently, she is an Assistant School Leader at KIPP Los Angeles College Preparatory Academy where she manages and coaches the English Language Arts department and serves as the CELDT Coordinator. As coach of the English Language Arts department, 81% of students scored Proficient or Advanced on the ELA California Standards Test (CST). In addition to her leadership role at KIPP LA Prep, she has also served as Interim School Leader at KIPP Sol Academy and KIPP Scholar Academy and was both a Miles Family Fellow and Teacher Leader with the KIPP School Leadership Program. Prior to transitioning into leadership, D’Anza taught 7th Grade English Language Arts, where she served as both Grade Level and Department Chair. D’Anza received her Bachelors of Arts degree in English from UCLA, as well as her Masters in Education from UCLA’s Principal Leadership Institute. In addition to being passionate about urban education and social justice, D’Anza enjoys reading, traveling, and relaxing with her husband and son.

“My vision is to design and build out a school that provides a top-­notch educational experience for each student who enters its doors.”

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