Magazine article The Crisis

Veteran Educator Changes Lives with Charter Schools

Magazine article The Crisis

Veteran Educator Changes Lives with Charter Schools

Article excerpt

In 2004, Vielka McFarlane was making $110,000 a year as a district-level administrator in the Los Angeles Unified School District. But few things had changed in her 15-year career as an educator, which included stints as a teacher and principal. Schools in minority neighborhoods, McFarlane noted, still had lots of violence, low achievement scores and high dropout rates. She knew that things had to change.

"We needed to work differently," says McFarlane. "I needed to create something that I really thought would work."

McFarlane says her parents taught her and her two siblings that education was the way out of poverty. So she believed the best way to serve the struggling students in her community was to start a school.

But when McFarlane went to banks and nonprofit groups to secure funding for the school, she got doors slammed in her face.

"Everybody laughed and said 'You're crazy,'" remembers McFarlane. "They said 'You don't know the first thing about building a school.'"

Not one to give up easily, McFarlane mortgaged her home - taking out $500,000. Two of her colleagues also mortgaged their homes and McFarlane was able to put a five-year lease on a building in one of the disadvantaged areas in the city. She recruited teachers and a principal (who worked months without pay), and was able to get books, furniture and office supplies donated. They canvassed the neighborhood - visiting salons, beauty supply and grocery stores, corner markets, laundry mats, churches and parks to get the word out about the new school.

Celerity (which means speed) Nascent Charter School opened in September 2005 with 330 students in kindergarten through 6th grade. …

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