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Building Schools and Community Connections: Outreach and Activism for New Schools in Southeast L.A.


This dissertation examines the district initiated community outreach and grassroots activism that occurred around the development of new schools in Southeast Los Angeles as part of Los Angeles Unified School District's (LAUSD) multi-billion dollar new school construction program. By examining the process by which local communities were involved in this significant public infrastructure program, I explore whether and how community involvement in new school planning informed the development of new school facilities and built a foundation for sustained parent and community engagement in schools. I look at Southeast Los Angeles, where chronically overcrowded campus conditions, and the concomitant need to return schools to two-semester calendars and students to neighborhood schools, necessitated construction of a number of the first new schools under LAUSD's ongoing facilities development program. This qualitative study examines, in particular, LAUSD's Local District 6, which encompasses six small Southeast cities, as a case study to critique the District's outreach practices and to examine the importance of community involvement in schools in underserved immigrant communities. Data was collected from interviews, public meetings and events, school site visits, newspaper articles, websites, and published reports.

This research is framed by two areas of literature, which together, characterize the primary realms within which civic engagement around new school development in Southeast Los Angeles has occurred: participatory planning and community organizing for school reform. In conversation with advocates of a "community approach" to school reform, I contend that parent and community engagement in schools is of the utmost importance in improving urban public schools, and that if building schools is to be integrated into the larger mission of optimizing educational opportunities for all students, school development should authentically capture and address local knowledge and concerns, and capitalize on stakeholder support for new schools to foster sustained engagement. In the context of LAUSD's Local District 6, I argue that despite limitations in institutional and civic capacities, public engagement in the process of new school development has resulted in benefits to school and neighborhood communities, and has established a foundation for sustained parent and community involvement in schools.

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