An Open Letter to LAUSD Board Members,
I work for an organization that works to improve public schools, representing parents who are demanding that the public school system provide their children an excellent school in our neighborhood. Today, I’m writing this letter not on behalf of that organization, but I am writing on behalf of myself as a daughter of Los Angeles, a mother of a soon-to-be Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) student, and a product of this city’s entire education system—from LAUSD public schools, to UCLA for undergraduate, and USC Sol Price School of Public Policy for graduate school.
I grew up in South Los Angeles near the Watts area and my pipeline of schools were Figueroa Street Elementary, Gompers Middle School, and John Locke High School. At that time, all three of these schools were classified as academically failing by the state. But that information wasn’t readily available to my family. Rather, what pushed my mother and father to desperation was how unsafe I was at school. They cared about academics and knew I wasn’t receiving the education I deserved, but first they were afraid they were not leaving me in a safe place when they dropped my sister and I off at school everyday. And they were right.
My mother’s desperation led her to take me out of my school pipeline in sixth grade. I participated in the magnet desegregation program and ended up going to Columbus Middle School magnet program in Canoga Park—34 miles away from my home.
My mom changed her job to clean homes in this neighborhood, so that some days we wouldn’t have to spend three to four hours taking the bus to school. As a 12-year-old, I woke up at 5:00 a.m. every single day to leave my South L.A. neighborhood behind and go to a community that was not my own. A place where I could go to a safe school with a decent academic program. I did this for six years, moving from Columbus Middle School to Canoga Park High School, both LAUSD magnet schools.
I’ve spent my entire career trying to understand how our education is so broken that any child would need to travel two hours away from their home to go to a good school. I am not alone in this struggle. Thousands of children have made this journey. Thousands of students are now able to make shorter journeys to better schools than their neighborhood options.
And that is because of charter schools.
Twenty-one years later, I am faced with the same struggle. Twenty-one years later, my little sisters, Linda and Vanessa Estrada, are set to attend Gompers Middle School, just like I was. Twenty-one years later, this school is still failing. Two out of every 10 students is reading on grade level, and only one out of every 10 is on grade level in math. A third of kids have the chance to participate in algebra by eighth grade (which I know is a gatekeeper class to getting ready for college-track in high school), and over 25 percent of kids are chronically absent.
Just like my mother, I am desperately seeking better public educational options for my sisters. The only two paths they have are magnets and charters, and current demands from the teachers union, United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), seek to limit both of those options.
From 1998 when my mom put me in a magnet school until 2019, not only has Gompers Middle School failed to make any progress, but the educational system itself remains limited in the options it offers families for high quality schools.
I personally moved out of South L.A. and live in Cypress Park near downtown Los Angeles for my work, a neighborhood where the median price of a house is above $700,000 and my rent is $4,000 for a three-bedroom home. And guess what? Do I have access to a high-quality, LAUSD school in my neighborhood? No, I still don’t. Like Gompers, the elementary school in my neighborhood scores only a 1 out of 10 on GreatSchools, where less than every two students out of 10 are on grade level in English and math.
I refuse to accept that my daughter, who is now 1 year old, will have to attend a school where children have a one in 10 chance of getting the education they deserve.
How is it possible, that in this landscape of school quality and the lack of options for parents, city leaders think it is the right option to cap charter schools? Or to limit schools converting to magnet schools. Right now these are the ONLY two avenues to quality schools that low-income families have!
As a daughter of the poor side of Los Angeles, as a Latino woman, as a citizen of this city, as a constituent of LAUSD, I demand that the Board of Education rejects limiting low-income parents’ choices this week. You are directly taking away our ability to demand better schools for our children.
I don’t believe that growing charter schools is the only solution we should consider. In fact, I believe we should find dramatic ways to turnaround chronically failing schools. But the children enrolling in schools now cannot be a lost generation of students until we figure out how to fix Los Angeles’ failing schools.
Jeimee grew up in South Los Angeles near Watts and began her career doing education policy research for Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s Office of Education, the Inner City Education Fund Schools, and the Center on Educational Governance at the University of Southern California (USC). Jeimee holds a B.A. in English and political science from UCLA and a master’s degree in public policy from the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy.
At AIR, Jeimee led several policy and research projects on topics such as the California Local Control Funding Formula, state implementation of the federal flexibility provisions of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and implementation of weighted-student funding formulas. Before AIR, Jeimee was a fiscal and policy analyst at the California Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO), where she provided nonpartisan fiscal and policy advice to the Legislature. She focused on state accountability, teacher workforce and quality issues, charter schools, school district finance, and education data and technology. Jeimee grew up in South Los Angeles near Watts and began her career doing education policy research for Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s Office of Education, the Inner City Education Fund Schools, and the Center on Educational Governance at the University of Southern California (USC). Jeimee holds a B.A. in English and political science from UCLA and a master’s degree in public policy from the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy
Latest posts by Jeimee Estrada (see all)
- Una Carta Abierta a Los Miembros de la Junta del LAUSD - January 29, 2019
- An Open Letter to LAUSD Board Members - January 28, 2019