Stronger Partnerships Between Local Schools and Universities Can Help Reform Failing Schools

I have heard discussions about “failing schools” since I was an elementary student. Even though I can almost guarantee that I would not have been able to elaborate what the concept of “failing schools” meant, I do remember not wanting to be in specific classes where students were being tracked into lower levels or the ones with the teachers that were known for not being very good. I also remember that as a middle school student, when we lost a teacher for one reason or another, it would take months to find a replacement which meant a rolling basis of substitutes covering content areas that they knew very little of. This only added to gaps in knowledge that eventually resulted in low test scores. As a high school student, I witnessed the lack of quality teachers and its effects more directly as I myself struggled with pre-calculus after having wasted a year in an algebra 2/trigonometry class led by an under-qualified teacher who had little content expertise. However, in college, I began to understand how my own educational experiences had been shaped by the lack of access to quality teachers and the lack of access to supplemental support.

I like to share that it was these experiences that motivated me to join the education profession. Once I began my own research on teacher preparation programs, I leaned towards universities that had strong partnerships with local schools and allowed for hands-on learning rather than the traditional theoretical approach. I wanted to be the best teacher I could be for my future students, and I knew this would only be possible if I was able to apply my learning as I went rather than learn in the form of theory.

Given my personal struggles with math in high school and my experience as an AmeriCorps tutor right after college, where I served 7th grade students at John Leichty Middle School (serving students in the MacArthur Park community) where I saw first-hand the huge gaps in basic math and English skills, I ended up choosing to apply to Loyola Marymount Graduate School of Education. While I had very little knowledge on everything LMU had to offer, my research allowed me to learn about the strong partnership between Teach For America and LMU and how practical their teacher preparation program was as it placed teachers in schools with most need. Additionally, LMU had a strong presence in education reform as it had relationships to multiple charter management organizations. LMU’s education faculty were practitioners, focusing less on theory and providing more opportunities for experiential learning.

Recently, while reading an article in the Los Angeles Times about allowing universities to be more useful in reforming failing schools, I couldn’t help but wonder why this wasn’t a common practice yet. The reality is that we are looking towards one of the biggest teacher shortages ahead and with tight budgets, funding supplemental support (like tutors) will be more and more challenging. Filling vacancies in high-need communities is already difficult, but finding qualified educators may be an even more difficult issue given how unattractive the profession has become with low salaries and the high costs of certification programs. Perhaps stronger partnerships with local universities can not only alleviate issues with vacancies within local schools, but can also allow for new teachers to benefit from experiential learning as well as allow for college students to benefit from the experience of serving as tutors while the students receive the much needed supplemental learning guidance and support they need. While UCLA and LMU are both great examples of how universities can support education reform through community-school partnerships, there are many other universities like CSULB, CSUDH and CSULA that offer great education programs and can provide the extra support needed by may of our local struggling schools.

It will be important and necessary for more districts to look into the opportunities available to collaborate with more of our local universities as it can benefit our students’ success as well as help promote the teaching profession by highlighting the fact that support will be provided to teachers on an ongoing basis.

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Alma Renteria

Alma Renteria

Alma-Delia Renteria is a proud product of Lynwood schools. After graduating UC Riverside, with a B.A. in English and a year earlier than anticipated, she decided to commit her “gap year” to City Year. After City Year Los Angeles, Alma went on to purse a teaching career with Teach For America Los Angeles. Upon joining TFA, Alma began her education career as a middle school teacher. It was while teaching that she realized the need to do her part to help serve the community she grew up in and decided to run for office, getting elected to the Lynwood School Board at only 23 years old. Alma completed her first Master’s degree in Urban Education at Loyola Marymount University and a 2nd Masters in Educational Leadership along with her Admin Credential at Concordia University. She was appointed by the Speaker to the Instructional Quality Commission and re-elected to the Lynwood School Board in 2018. She currently serves as the Principal at a local elementary school in Pico Rivera, where she hopes to demonstrate that magic is possible when thee right people are given opportunities to lead.

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