Creating an Oasis in South LA

Creating an Oasis in South LA

David Carr is the principal of LA Promise Charter Middle School #1, which opened last year in South LA. The school offers project-based learning, one-to-one technology, free after school, and much more. It’s all part of the LA Promise Fund’s goal to bring essential resources to underserved communities and students. Graduates of the middle school can continue their studies at LA Promise Charter High School #1, opening on August 15th in South LA.

Here, we sit down with the man leading LA Promise Charter Middle School #1.

What does it mean to be the principal of LA Promise Charter Middle School #1?

I’m in charge of the instructional program here for the middle school students and staff. I support the teachers so that they can best support the students. My role expands to everything and anything — counselor, sometimes benevolent dictator, sometimes doctor. It’s the nature of the beast.

Why LA Promise Charter Middle School #1?

The LA Promise Fund presents a unique opportunity. It’s working with three standalone LAUSD schools and opening charter schools. There should and will be some synergy between the public charter world and the non-charter public world when it comes to education. I don’t see us in competition — I see us trying to work together to educate all kids all the time, no matter what. The LA Promise Fund — the way it’s set up – lends itself to that. That, to me, is unique.

For me, the main reason I chose to be principal of a charter rather than in the district is that I got to hire my own staff. I had the autonomy to pick the teachers, to interview them, to see them in action — to see if our philosophies really connect with regards to ensuring every kid has access to an excellent education.

What’s your favorite thing about coming to work each day?

My favorite thing is — no matter how rough and how tough the paperwork, the craziness, sometimes the politics — I know that I can walk into a classroom and see good teaching happening. I also know that when I tell that teacher that – this one thing you did is excellent – #1, it’s gratifying for me, #2 for the teacher, and #3, which is the biggest payoff, it gets the teacher motivated to work even harder. These guys are already working hard. Can I catch them in the act of doing something great? Nine times out of ten, I can. When I verbalize that – then I can see that their impetus is to work even harder.

What do you do in your time off?

What time off I do have, I try to spend as much time with my boys as possible. I have a 6 year old and a 3 year old. I want to make sure they’re not only getting a good education, but that they’re growing into themselves.

I also sing for two bands now – one located in LA, the other in Northern California. And I like to run. I’ve done a couple marathons, a ton of half marathons. The best thing to clear mind is to go for a run on the beach.

What do you hope for the students at LAPCMS?

On a purely academic level, I want them to be reading and writing and executing math on or above grade level. I also want them to come away with a love of learning. I want them to understand that everything we’re doing for them is to support them and their families. I want to get them the knowledge and the skills that they need to succeed in this society.

What is your vision for this school?

I want to see the school be a shining beacon of light in this community. I’ve dealt with and worked in and out of this neighborhood from ‘93 until now. One of the biggest thing that happens for folks who live here is this becomes their world — this block — all of the good things and maybe not so good things. I want them to know: At this school, the world is your world. You can venture out, and you belong. You will get the skills and the knowledge so that you can navigate in any part of LA, California, the United States, the world. I need people to know and understand that – and the only way to make it happen is through academics.

With this school, we have a rare opportunity – to harken back to what the charter movement was all about in the late 80s/ early 90s: to be different, to do things differently. Those charter schools that are part of a huge network start to look and feel like a district school. There’s more leeway here, more freedom to act and think and lead creatively.

So far, David’s school is showing promising academic results. His students outperformed similar neighborhood schools on the SBAC (Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium – California’s standardized test) English Language Arts test by more than twofold, and on the Math test by more than threefold.