A nonprofit attempts a makeover at Crenshaw


The three-story high school in the Mesa Park district of South Los Angeles is for many a testament to failing urban education. But a new nonprofit that includes a civil rights organization, a university’s school of education and a leading foundation is intent on turning around the fortunes at Crenshaw High School.

The nonprofit Greater Crenshaw Educational Partnership (GCEP) this fall assumed control of the 40-year-old campus that lost its state accreditation in 2005 before regaining it a year later. Plans for school improvement are ambitious by GCEP members, a nonprofit whose members include the Los Angeles Urban League, the Tom and Ethel Bradley Foundation and the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education.


Dr. Sylvia Rousseau talks to reporters Amber Mobley and
Brian Frank about how GCEP came about, what makes it
unique, and how it will benefit both Crenshaw High and
the surrounding community in South L.A.
Under the Los Angeles Urban League’s five-year "Neighborhoods at Work" plan, GCEP has set lofty goals for Crenshaw and its surrounding area: raise the number of Crenshaw students who enroll in college from 4 percent to 60 percent and increase the number of Crenshaw-area residents with a college education from 47 percent to 80 percent. Led by Sylvia Rousseau, the interim GCEP executive director and a USC Rossier professor, Crenshaw is working on a strategic plan to win the school a “California Distinguished School” designation by 2012.

GCEP's ammunition: Small learning communities with college-like focuses such as media, art and design and social justice and law, supported by a diverse group of community organizations that form the organization of GCEP itself. Key to any success is increased family involvement. “We can’t do this without the parents,” said Crenshaw’s Dean of Students Bill Vanderberg. “Without getting them involved, we’re going to be dead in the water.” So the faculty pushes parental involvement through everything from meeting parents at the curb – especially the ones dropping their children off late at school – to more one-on-one parent/teacher meetings and consistently sending information home with students. If the school’s first open house this fall is any indication of GCEP’s early – and future - impact, the nonprofit appears to be moving in the right direction. Cars filled the parking lots and lined the streets around Crenshaw High that night.

Calling education “the civil rights issue of this day,” the Rev. Eric Lee, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Los Angeles, encouraged the hundreds of parents attending the Crenshaw open house to pursue a three-step movement for a better future. "Educate, organize, mobilize,” he said. “We deserve nothing less than what they get in the Hills, the Valley and the beach communities."