INSIDE OUR APPROACH
“From the bottom up and the inside out—that’s the secret to the Partnership: working inside Los Angeles Unified to change the system. This Playbook is our way to help others benefit from our experience while we continue to strive for constant improvement. The Partnership’s model and 10 years of results were validated in an independent report by Public Impact, showing that ‘slow and steady’ transformation works. I hope this Playbook serves as a blueprint for others to join in improving our public schools across America.”Melanie Lundquist
Partnership Co-Founder & Vice Chair of the Board
The Partnership for Los Angeles Schools launched in 2007 as a collaboration between the Los Angeles Unified School District, our founding donors Richard and Melanie Lundquist, the City of Los Angeles, and a coalition of public and private partners.
We offer an in-district approach to school transformation: we are one of a handful of organizations nationwide managing a network of schools inside a large district, specifically focused on narrowing opportunity and achievement gaps in high-need schools. As an independent non-profit with access to philanthropy, we have raised and invested over $100M in traditional public schools in Los Angeles since our founding. Philanthropy sustains our annual investment in our schools on top of standard operational funding allocated by LA Unified, allowing us to enhance district supports, scale programs to address gaps, and demonstrate that change is possible within existing district budgets if they are allocated based on need. Unlike charter schools that seek to be independent of the school district, we intentionally partner with LA Unified under a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that preserves collective bargaining agreements for school staff and grants us authority and a few critical autonomies to implement our model.
We are proud to enter our second decade in service of our mission: to transform schools and revolutionize school systems to empower all students with a high-quality education. We are dedicated to ensuring the 13,500 TK-12 students in our 18 schools have access to the education they deserve on their journey to and through college and beyond. Many of the schools in our network – concentrated in the communities of Watts, South Los Angeles, and Boyle Heights – are among LA Unified’s highest-need schools as identified on an index of student equity that assesses a school’s needs based on a comprehensive set of indicators, such as student demographics, incoming student data, school climate, and community indicators including asthma rates and exposure to violence.
HOW WE OPERATE
We work within the system so we can complement existing supports for schools and develop sustainable solutions that can be replicated system-wide.
Our success is enhanced by our unique position: we operate as an independently governed 501(c)(3) non-profit but partner closely with LA Unified to manage schools.
This in-district partner position gives us an understanding of the ways in which the District operates, supported by ongoing relationships with key District leaders, elected officials, and community partners.
Along with granting us authority over the management of our network of schools, our MOU with the District guarantees us a small set of critical autonomies to implement our model. These limited autonomies ensure we have the flexibility needed to implement systems that improve student outcomes, including the right to hire and evaluate principals, select and implement curricula and assessments, and design and implement professional development and coaching. With this flexibility, we work within the system so we can complement existing supports for schools and develop sustainable solutions that can be replicated system-wide.
Being an in-district partner gives us the opportunity to identify and pilot innovative programs and curricula and address common challenges that impact all students. It also means that our schools operate under most of the constraints experienced by traditional district schools and are, in almost every way, the same schools on paper. Over a decade of experience managing high-need schools within a district context has given us the legitimacy and expertise needed to promote effective practices that can be scaled in district systems. We are fierce advocates for the kind of policy and systems change we see the need for every day in our schools.
Our work to transform schools is rooted in a vision in which all schools have great leaders, highly-effective teachers, and engaged and empowered communities who support positive student outcomes.
Because we intentionally work within a large district system, we have direct, on-the-ground knowledge about the factors that disproportionately impact the highest-need schools. This doesn’t mean that we know exactly what it takes to transform high-need schools everywhere, but it has shed light on important lessons learned that may be helpful for other districts struggling to find solutions to persistent opportunity and achievement gaps.
Our Two-Pronged Approach to School Transformation
The Partnership’s unique approach to school transformation is sparked by synergy between our capacity building and advocacy work. The acceleration of student achievement within our 18 network schools – a result of the Partnership’s capacity building work – reinforces our influence with the District as we press for wide-reaching systems change. At the same time, our success in removing systemic barriers to equity and scaling innovative best practices promotes student learning and school transformation both in our schools and in other high-need district schools.
We focus on building the capacity of school leaders, teachers, families, and community partners to implement robust school-site systems that act as the foundation for sustainable, long-term progress.
1. Capacity Building
We believe that the leadership schools need already lives in the communities we serve and that the work of school transformation is – at its core – about changing, building, and strengthening systems within a school. As a result, we focus on building the capacity of school leaders, teachers, families, and community partners to implement robust school-site systems that act as the foundation for sustainable, long-term progress.
We equip school leaders (principals and assistant principals) with the learning, skills, and coaching support to develop and implement strong visions and systems with their faculty and staff.
We provide leadership opportunities and support Partnership teachers who seek to impact their school community by taking on leadership roles in instruction, school culture, family engagement, and the arts.
We engage parents and families to establish and realize a common vision that understands and supports student achievement.
We collaborate with community partners to leverage additional supports and resources for the individualized needs and goals of our schools and to build courageous coalitions that work together to close equity gaps.
Our role as school-level practitioners uniquely positions us for systems change.
We advocate to change the system when we see barriers to success for students, especially low-income students and students of color. We work to remove those barriers and scale successes District-wide. Our role as school-level practitioners with a deep understanding of the needs, challenges, and successes of high-need schools, powers our work as education policy advocates and uniquely positions us for systems change.
• We are deeply embedded in school-level and district practice and, as a result, have a unique on-the-ground perspective on the barriers and challenges that face high-need schools.
• To provide students with equitable access to a high-quality education, we conduct a range of activities including direct advocacy, policy analysis, coalition building, impact litigation support, and parent organizing.
• Our access and flexibility allow us to identify and pilot innovative best practices and scale them across the District.
• We have demonstrated impact by piloting programs that LA Unified has subsequently implemented at scale. We support this scaling by sharing lessons learned from our implementation experience.
Informed by our core values of Courage, Creativity, Continuous Improvement, and Collective Action, we operate with a unique set of operating principles that guide our decision-making and actions to support school transformation and drive systemic change.