This post has very little to do with running. But that’s the point of my blog. My life is only 5% running. Part of the challenge of setting PRs is figuring out how to do it with work and life. Being a Founding Principal is a huge part of my identity. I think it’s pretty obvious that I absolutely love my job, but all I can say about this past week is WOW. I’m supposed to be in taper mode, relaxing and taking it easy. Yeah, not so much. I am so grateful for my team. They show endless support, and are so committed to our scholars and our school.
In September of 2015 I helped open the third Equitas school. There was demand for more Equitas schools in Pico Union. We weren’t able to provide seats for all interested families, resulting in long waitlists at Equitas Flagship and Equitas #2 Middle School. I knew opening a school would bring a variety of challenges, but I wasn’t sure what they’d be. Year one the biggest challenge was shifting to lower elementary. Kinder is scary to someone with eight years of middle school experience. I spent the year learning how to talk to five year olds, learning how to share space with our middle school, learning how to teach kids how to read, and learning how to be a boss. Below you’ll see us on the last day of our founding year. We ended the year with 100% of our scholars reading at or above reading level. We met our ambitious MAP NWEA goals in math and reading. 100% of our teachers returned for year two, something uncommon in urban education. We were cautiously optimistic about making our dream a reality, that there would be no achievement gap at EQ3.
This year our school grew to K-1. We moved to a temporary site at an apartment building half a mile from our first home. Moving is never easy, and it’s especially hard with families and kids. And our current site isn’t exactly ideal. It doesn’t handle rain very well. And this winter was particularly rainy in LA.
Our classrooms often leak and flood. Ms. Vega had to move her classroom to a cold ballroom attached to our site one morning. Teaching out of an old, cold, echoing ballroom with no whiteboard and no internet access is not ideal. That’s why we call her gritty Gabby.
Here she is holding chart paper, trying to teach her writing lesson. It’s really hard leading a school, and putting your teachers through this. But we knew it was temporary. Just one year. Fall of 2017 was when our shiny beautiful facility would be ready, but you know how it is with construction. It’s never ready on time. In late December our builders shared the bad news that our site wasn’t going to be ready until Fall of 2018. So the next dilemma was finding yet another temporary space to house our growing school. Next year we’ll serve K-2. We decided to apply for a Prop. 39 placement, requesting 12 classrooms for one academic year. We were granted the space at a nearby elementary school, just half a mile from our permanent site. Rent is affordable and the site is in our community. Although sharing a building isn’t ideal, we’re a “find a way or make one” kind of school. We’ll make it work. Well, not everyone is as optimistic about our co-location. Our partner school got a little cozy at their site, understandably they used the extra space due to lowering enrollment for parent centers, art classrooms, computer labs. I’d probably do the same thing if I had extra space, but we’ve been forced to be resourceful with very limited space. Over the past few weeks we’ve had several protests, community flyering, union members and parents attending our meetings, all speaking out against us moving into their space. There’s a facebook group against us, and an anti-Equitas hashtag.
Again, I get it. Nobody wants to give up space, but we’re both publicly funded. And less space doesn’t mean programs have to disappear. At Equitas we’ve never had and likely never will have computer labs. Our yoga teacher doesn’t have a classroom. She hopes for clear days to teach on our patch of grass. Our first year we didn’t have a playground. Our Special Education staff members share my office. We don’t have a teacher’s lounge. This is how I feel when asking the district for space….
This week got very interesting. At our monthly Cafecito (Coffee with the Principal) parents expressed fear. They shared they’re scared to wear Equitas sweaters in our community. They fear their students attending a school where they’re not welcome. I told them I felt confident we could resolve the conflict. I told them this was the time to unite as a community. Pico Union cannot be divided, and we cannot teach our students to hate. I see this experience as an opportunity to work collaboratively, show our students we can work together, and to teach acceptance and kindness. Maybe I see the world with rose-colored glasses, and don’t truly understand the district/charter divide, but I’m not going to contribute to the problem. We can and we must work together.
Thursday evening during a protest at my school I was at LAUSD’s headquarters in Downtown LA meeting with the Local Superintendent, Equitas’ CEO and COO, other district employees, a School Board representative, and the Principal at the school we’ll be housed at next year. Our CEO and COO worked incredibly hard to schedule the meeting. Thank you for all your hard work in making this happen. At first it felt a bit hostile. But as the meeting progressed, it felt more positive. The Principal hadn’t gotten any information regarding our co-location. He was asked why he hadn’t been communicating with his families, and he responded with “Communicate what? I haven’t gotten any information. All I know is through rumors.” For whatever reason he was under the impression we were coming with middle schoolers. He was rightfully upset about 7th and 8th graders sharing space with his elementary school students. He also had no idea the deal was done, and thought there was still time to negotiate. He also thought this was a longer term deal. He didn’t know we’d be in and out in a year.
Our CEO and I expressed over and over that we recognized we were guests, that we were grateful for any and all space, that we’d collaborative as much or as little as he requested, and that we were willing to share some of our resources. He warmed up to us, and the meeting ended with a commitment to work with our families to understand that it is our responsibility to model positive co-existence to our students.
He asked to check-in with Malka and I after the meeting. We exchanged contact information, and I’m so grateful that he invited me to visit the space. The next day I lyfted to the school, hid my face, and made my way to the main office. I appreciated the Principal’s professionalism, and he was so kind in spending time showing me the space. The students at the school clearly love and respect him. I was amazed at how many names he knew considering it’s a school of 1200 students. He’s built strong rapport and I was impressed with how his language was so student centered. He stated “These classrooms will be most comfortable for your Kindergarteners” and “This space might be best for your recess and PE.” There was no talk of inconvenience towards adults, and this made me feel hopeful and excited about collaborating with him.
There is much work to do, but I’m glad there is some sort of resolution as I head into Spring Break. Knowing I’ve connected with the Principal and we’re both committed to professional and positive co-location will allow me focus on visiting Michigan and Ohio, and making my way to Boston for the marathon next weekend.
Although I’m an Equitas employee, this experience has made me realize just how much we need support as a network. We’re not given space, we have to fundraise for it. Our per-pupil funding is less than that of traditional public schools. We rely heavily on grants and donors. Despite less funding, Equitas Academy is a top performing network in Los Angeles. This might make little sense, but yesterday I decided to become a reoccurring donor to Equitas Academy. I’m giving $50 a month to support a cause that I know is making a positive impact and is closing the achievement gap for it’s scholars. Why wouldn’t I give to the cause I care about most? I ask you to join me in becoming a donor at Equitas Academy. $50 a month can help build a classroom library, help us provide free uniforms to families who cannot afford them, and can help us purchase classroom materials and supplies. Bigger gifts can help us with providing stronger professional development for our teachers, provide more programs for our students, and secure space for our growing network. I didn’t start this post intending to ask for your support!
So now I rest for a week, take my mind off my #1 passion, my school, and shift focus to my two other passions, running and family (yes Alaina, you’re family). It’s time to rest, eat, foam roll, stretch, relax, see family, and re-energize so that I can come back to school on April 19th ready to finding off the 2016-2017 year strong. Spring Break started with a bang, at MB Post with Alaina and Cecilia. Cocktails during taper time is a great idea, right 🙂