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Moving Educational Equity Beyond the Schoolhouse

Professor Tyrone C. Howard, Director of the UCLA Pritzker Center for Strengthening Children and Families and the Black Male Institute at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, discussing report findings. Photo by Diandra Jay / Board of Supervisors

UCLA researchers and local education leaders convened at the Wellnest Avis and Mark Ridley-Thomas Life-Learning Center to discuss the release of Beyond The Schoolhouse, a policy report, examining both in-school and out-of-school risk factors that impact Black children’s educational success in Los Angeles County.

Pedro Noguera, Distinguished Professor of Education and the founder of the Center for the Transformation of Schools at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies. Photo by Diandra Jay / Board of Supervisors

In a presentation that included several specific recommendations for local, state and federal policymakers, the report’s authors urge the development of a targeted Countywide strategic plan to address the needs of Black children. These recommendations come in response to findings that despite California’s growing commitment to equity, on virtually every academic indicator – from achievement in mathematics and English to the completion of A-G requirements for entry into the CSU or UC systems of higher education – Black students in Los Angeles County have consistently trailed behind their non-Black peers. Of note is the finding that academic factors alone do not accurately provide a complete picture of the challenges facing Black students over the course of their education.

Students in attendance during the convening.  Photo by Diandra Jay / Board of Supervisors

Black students, more than any other racial or ethnic group, are more likely to experience homelessness, to be placed in foster care, or to have a parent who is incarcerated. Furthermore, many Black students reside in communities and attend schools that are highly segregated by race and income, have less parks and recreation facilities, and contain environmental hazards that negatively impact their health and well-being, including higher rates of asthma and exposure to lead. Ultimately, Black students must contend with a host of systematic external factors that significantly impact their ability and access to quality education.

“Homelessness, poverty, poor health outcomes and other adverse experiences interfere with our children’s ability to survive, let alone thrive,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “Our commitment to improving student achievement requires that we do as this important report suggest that we do: go beyond the schoolhouse to the communities where black children and families reside to implement solutions that address accumulated disadvantage and expand opportunity for Black children and youth.”

(clockwise) UCLA Professor Kelly Lytle Hernandez, LA County Superintendent Debra Duardo, LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner, and Dr. Shani Byard. Photos by Diandra Jay / Board of Supervisors

“Where a child lives, whether they have access to healthy food, clean air, quality health care and other services has a profound influence on their academic performance and the quality of schools they attend,” said Tyrone C. Howard, Director of the UCLA Pritzker Center for Strengthening Children and Families and the Black Male Institute at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies.

“Our hope is that this new study will not only make clear the urgency of the situation confronting Black students, but that it will inform and fuel a strategic and comprehensive effort to address the accumulation of disadvantage confronting Black youth in order to improve educational and developmental outcomes” says Pedro Noguera, Distinguished Professor of Education and the founder of the Center for the Transformation of Schools at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies. “It is not enough just to improve schools, we must address the out-of-school factors that influence a child’s development. We must do both.”

“The academic achievement of Black and low-income students in California has been a focus for many decades in schools,” says Joseph Bishop, Director of the UCLA Center for the Transformation of Schools. “Yet our failure to recognize that schools alone cannot address poverty and unhealthy community conditions has made it more difficult for social policies to have a positive impact on the needs of our most vulnerable children.

See Exhibit 5, Beyond the Schoolhouse Policy Report: Overcoming & Expanding Opportunity for Black Youth in LA County

Specific Beyond the Schoolhouse findings include:

• Academic performance and health are highly correlated with where a child lives. Whether or not a child has access to healthy food, parks, clean air, or good health services, has a profound influence on their academic performance and the quality of schools they attend.
• Most of the schools where Black children are concentrated have limited resources despite having high numbers of very disadvantaged students (e.g. students in foster care, students who are homeless, in special education, etc.).
• Childhood hardships (e.g. basic needs not met, parental substance abuse, hunger) are highest for Black students (12%) compared to other racial and ethnic groups.
• The suspension rate for Black students in foster care is 16%, higher than any other group of students.

The full study and recommendations are available online at transformschools.ucla.edu/beyond-the-schoolhouse. The report was a joint project of the Black Male Institute and the Center for the Transformation of Schools at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies. The Hewlett Foundation, The California Endowment, the Broad Foundation and the Office of Supervisor Mark-Ridley Thomas provided funding for the study.

(left to right) UCLA Professor Tyrone C. Howard, UCLA Professor Kelly Lytle Hernandez, LA County Superintendent of Schools Debra Duardo, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, Wellnest President Charlene Dimas Peinado, Dr. Shani Byard, Senator Steven Bradford, and UCLA Professor Joseph Bishop.  Photo by Diandra Jay / Board of Supervisors

Strengthening Civilian Oversight of the Sheriff’s Department Through Subpoena Power

Patti Giggans, COC Chair and Executive Director of Peace Over Violence, provides testimony. Photo by Bryan Chan / Board of Supervisors

As part of continued efforts to increase public transparency and accountability over the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a motion by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl to provide recommendations for how to modify County ordinances to grant the Sheriff’s Civilian Oversight Commission (COC) the power to compel, through the Office of Inspector General issuing subpoenas.

The motion directs County Counsel, in consultation with the Inspector General and the Executive Director of the COC, to report back in writing to the Board of Supervisors in 30 days with ways to grant the COC access to Department data, documents, and direct testimony by issuing subpoenas when deemed necessary by a majority of COC commissioners to fulfill its oversight function. County Counsel will also look at the impact this action would have on the March 2020 ballot measure titled “Los Angeles County Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission Ordinance.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas speaks about Civilian Oversight of the Sheriff’s Department at the October 15 meeting of the Board of Supervisors. Photo by Bryan Chan / Board of Supervisors

“Transparency and accountability have been – and remain – critical hallmarks to the reform of the Sheriff’s Department. The COC’s recent lack of access to Sheriff’s Department data, documents and testimony has impeded their ability to perform their core oversight functions,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “Backtracking on progress made is not an option. Given this, the Board must re-think – and must be open to re-configuring – their authority, including granting subpoena power, in the name of stronger reform.”

“External oversight is the only means to which sustainable reform, where checks and balances are robust enough to guard against abuse of power at the top, can truly happen,” said Max Huntsman, Los Angeles County Inspector General. “What we need is a Sheriff’s Civilian Oversight Commission with the power to require compliance with the law and an Inspector General with the investigative power to uncover what may be hidden by the Sheriff’s Department.

“There are moments when we must question the actions of the Sheriff’s Department. It is in those moments that we must have every tool at our disposal to be an effective oversight body and shine a light where one must be shone,” said Patti Giggans, COC Chair and Executive Director of Peace Over Violence. “Subpoena power through the Inspector General would represent a tool of last resort, but one that we hope will give us maximum cooperation with the Sherriff’s Department.”

“As a former prosecutor, working on behalf of the people, you had tools at your disposal to do your job—to get to the truth and ensure that justice was done,” said Brian Williams, Executive Director of the COC. “Similarly, in my position on the Commission, working on behalf of the people, to effectively do our job, we must have tools available to us—to shed a light, to increase trust, and better the transparency of the LASD. Subpoena power helps us with this.”

Recognizing the importance of civilian oversight and the need for access to information, this motion comes after the October 1, 2019 Ridley-Thomas – Solis motion which, unanimously created the Probation Oversight Commission (POC) with a range of authorities, including the power to compel through the Inspector General. Today’s motion will ensure both civilian oversight bodies – the POC and the COC – have access to information from the respective departments they oversee.

Brian Williams, Executive Director of the COC, speaks about the importance of subpoena power. Photo by Bryan Chan / Board of Supervisors

More Magic on Its Way to Willowbrook’s Magic Johnson Park

Renderings courtesy of AHBE

Acting on a motion by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, the Board of Supervisors voted to move forward with the next phase of a master plan that will offer additional new amenities to Magic Johnson Park, a 126-acre park that is on the verge of becoming a community oasis in Willowbrook.

“More magic is on its way to Willowbrook’s Magic Johnson Park,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.  “Our next phase of improvements will focus on outdoor amenities that create inviting gathering space for a host of activities…ranging from a dog park to a place for a community concert. At Magic Johnson Park, our goal is to make sure there is an amenity for everyone. ”

In addition to a dog park, the $7 million being invested in the second phase of improvements will predominantly be used to transform the former Ujima Village housing site, 16 acres of land adjacent to the Park, which has sat vacant since the housing development was demolished in 2013. The investment will be used to incorporate the land into the park with the construction of open green spaces that can be used for concerts and other programming. There will also be new walking paths, landscaping and seating areas.

The LA County Department of Parks and Recreation developed the 2019 Revised Master Plan, which amends the original Master Plan adopted in 2016 by incorporating the dog park, adding two recreational fields, and expanding the size of a future nature lab into the Master Plan. The 2019 Master Plan also shifts a proposed future cultural complex to the western side of the park, as an alternative to the previously proposed equestrian center.

(left to right) Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, and CBS’ Jim Hill at Magic Johnson Park Renovation Groundbreaking. Photo by Martin Zamora / Board of Supervisors

“For almost 25 years, the Magic Johnson Park has been used for daily exercise, family outings, and celebrations,” said Johnson, after whom the park was named in 1994 following his retirement from the NBA. “I’m excited about this significant investment by Los Angeles County which provides a safe, scenic space for Willowbrook residents and increases the community’s engagement with the park.”

The initial improvements at the park, which are slated for completion in Fall 2020, include a 20,000-square foot state-of-the-art community events center for holding weddings, conferences and other large gatherings; an outdoor wedding pavilion; a splash pad and children’s play areas; improved walking paths with security lighting; and acres upon acres of new landscaping that will give the park an entirely fresh look.

The lake that is currently the centerpiece of the park will be getting an innovative feature that will help address both water conservation and water quality goals. It will divert storm runoff from surrounding neighborhoods and the nearby Compton Creek, clean it and then use it to fill the lower lake and irrigate 30 acres of the park, creating a wetland experience for park goers.

County Parks and Recreation Director John Wicker ensured that there was a comprehensive and community-driven process to prioritize new amenities for Magic Johnson Park. “We are grateful to Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and partners that are committed to developing and investing in this new, state-of-the-art and LEED Gold facility,” he said. “As a collective, we will build a park for the Willowbrook community to be active and participate in the year-round programs, as well as come together to make memories that will last a lifetime.”

The Magic Johnson Park renovation is only the latest of many investments that have transformed the community of Willowbrook. Over the last several years, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas has championed a building boom that included the Martin Luther King Medical Campus, Willowbrook Library and Senior Center, AC Bilbrew Library, the development of hundreds of units of affordable housing, and upgrades to Metro’s Rosa Parks Station.

Investing in the Community

LINC Housing Nightingale Apartments Ribbon Cutting. Photo by Martin Zamora / Board of Supervisors

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas led the ribbon cutting ceremony during the grand opening of the Nightingale Apartments in Florence Firestone, which will house  29 formerly homeless clients of the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services (DHS).

Developed by Linc Housing, the beautiful four-story building has 29 one-bedroom apartments, many of them designed to accommodate people with disabilities, as well as an apartment for the on-site manager. Amenities include on-site supportive services, a community room with computer lab, a multi-purpose room, private meeting rooms for service providers and case management, and an outdoor BBQ and seating area with a community garden. Residents will receive wraparound intensive supportive services from The People Concern, resident services programming from LINC Cares, and move-in support from Brilliant Corners.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas and Florence Firestone Community Sheriff. Photo by Martin Zamora / Board of Supervisors

The Nightingale Apartments are the latest proof of Supervisor Ridley-Thomas’ commitment to Florence Firestone. He has overseen over $100 million in investment capital and social programs for the community, including affordable housing projects, an improved senior services and constituent service center, streetscape improvements, park renovations, and in art programming and economic development activities.

“To The Nightingale apartments’ new residents, congratulations and welcome to the neighborhood. To Linc Housing, thank you for being a partner in our effort to lift people out of homelessness,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “We need a coordinated and comprehensive crisis response to homelessness, but the backbone of our effort must continue to be affordable housing with support services. Grand opening ceremonies like this remind us that with a house key, we can change the course of someone’s life. And we must not rest until everyone who calls Los Angeles County home has the same opportunity to live a life of dignity and purpose.”

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas greets community members at the Ribbon Cutting. Photo by Martin Zamora / Board of Supervisors

When Cleveland, a resident at The Nightingale, heard he’d been approved to move in, he had two reasons to celebrate – he was getting off the street, and he had just completed his last round of chemotherapy. He would finally have a home where he could recover and heal. He became homeless in 2014 due to a series of unfortunate events, including his own illness, his mother’s passing, and losing their home to foreclosure. Cleveland said the scariest part of living on the streets was worrying about his safety. “I tried to fit in as best I could,” he said. “Now that I have stable housing, I’m trying to do things that I never learned how to do before.” He’s been learning to use computers. He hopes to leave a legacy of his life experiences by writing a book, and he’s determined to take better care of his health now that he’s housed.

“Linc Housing continues its commitment to building affordable housing with supportive services to create stronger neighborhoods,” said Linc president and CEO Rebecca Clark. “The support from the community and our elected officials is unprecedented. We’re grateful so many people recognize that the homelessness crisis must be addressed. Linc and our partners are doing all we can to be part of the solution.”

California State Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer, Sr., representatives of the DHS, the Los Angeles County Development Authority and other partners also attended the grand opening ceremony.

All of the Nightingale’s residents were referred by the DHS through the Coordinated Entry System (CES). With the urgent need for more housing to help address the region’s homelessness crisis, Linc was able to work with the County of Los Angeles and its inspectors to fast track the permitting and approval processes. The homes were filled in record time, demonstrating the high demand for supportive housing and the County’s commitment to move as quickly as possible.

Services include mental health and physical health services, employment counseling and job placement, education, substance abuse counseling, money management, assistance in obtaining and maintaining benefits, and referrals to community-based services and resources. Linc Cares also supports residents with a variety of services to promote community, health and wellness. Several Linc Cares programs are already underway at The Nightingale, including computer classes, yoga, sustainable living workshops, gardening club, healthy eating and cooking classes, and a monthly food bank.

Community Room at the LINC Housing Nightingale Apartments. Photo by Martin Zamora / Board of Supervisors

Historic Vote Strengthens Oversight of Probation Department

Probation Oversight Commission and Inspector General to Have Unprecedented Powers

Acting on a motion by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Hilda Solis, and guided by a yearlong public process, the Board of Supervisors voted to overhaul and strengthen oversight of the long troubled Probation Department, including by creating a Probation Oversight Commission (POC) with unprecedented authority. The POC would have the power to compel the Probation Department, via subpoenas issued by the Office of Inspector General (OIG), to provide information and testimony required for its investigations.

The POC will be endowed with all the authority currently vested in the existing Probation Commission, as well as new powers, including the ability to:

  • advise the department and the Board on wide-ranging matters that affect the well-being of department staff as well as youth and adult probationers, guided by the Probation Reform and Implementation Team (PRIT)’s Reform Plan;
  • conduct investigations through the OIG;
  • access department data, documents and direct testimony, and have the authority to  compel its production through the  OIG;
  • conduct facility inspections; and
  • establish an independent grievance process for  the public and probation clients, and a process for advising on systemic staff issues.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas speaks during the historic vote on October 1, 2019. Photo by Dave Franco / Board of Supervisors

“Reforming the Probation Department has never been more urgent, with both youth and staff in our juvenile facilities reporting feeling unsafe,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “Robust oversight of the largest and most complex department of its kind is long overdue and critical to the success of any reform, and this motion is intended to enhance transparency and accountability and, ultimately, restore the public’s trust in Probation.”

“The new Probation Oversight Commission will help guide the Probation Department toward positive culture change, reduced juvenile facilities, expanded and improved community services, and strengthened accountability and performance management,” Supervisor Solis said. “The Probation Oversight Commission will ensure that changes to the Probation Department are aligned with a truly transformational mission and vision, supported by modern best practices, and are created in partnership with community and labor stakeholders. This large leap forward will provide the public with ongoing opportunities to shape the future of probation in LA County.”

Earlier this year, the OIG demonstrated its ability to shed light on important issues involving the Probation Department, including investigating its use of pepper spray.

“As we’ve been reminded by events at the Sheriff’s Department in recent months, robust civilian oversight is critical for justice system fairness,” Inspector General Max Huntsman said. “Empowering the Probation Oversight Commission based on lessons learned in a way that maximizes access and input is essential to reform.  The Office of Inspector General looks forward to providing the same investigative support to the Probation Oversight Commission that it has provided to the Civilian Oversight Commission for the Sheriff’s Department.”

Composed of experts in criminal justice, violence prevention and intervention, as well as social justice advocacy, the PRIT worked over a year to engage the community to help design the oversight structure for the Probation Department. They held 14 public hearings, many of which were attended by hundreds of stakeholders.

PRIT Executive Director Saul Sarabia provides testimony to the Board.  Photo by Dave Franco / Board of Supervisors

“The motion approved by the Board adopts many of the powers and authorities the PRIT recommended based on input from the community,” PRIT Executive Director Saul Sarabia said. “By erecting a robust Probation Oversight Commission, the Board has created a venue that all county stakeholders can work with to achieve accountability and transparency.”

Susan Burton, founder of the justice advocacy group, A New Way of Life, said, “For decades, probationers have been under the authority of a Probation Department with no oversight, and probationers have suffered from this lack of checks and balances. I’m excited to see the Board listen to the people and create a Probation Oversight Commission with the authority to compel the information it needs to ensure public safety as well as the health and wellbeing of the people of Los Angeles County.”

The Probation Department has a budget of almost $1 billion and supervisory responsibility for more than 40,000 adult clients and about 8,000 youth, more than 900 of whom are detained as juvenile clients in the halls, camps and other facilities.

The Probation Oversight Commission would consist of nine members, including positions reserved for a person who has been an adult or youth probationer, a family member of someone who has been on probation, and a legal defense expert.

Community advocate demonstrates support for probation oversight during the historic board vote. Photo by Dave Franco / Board of Supervisors