Susan Wang has worked in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) for 22 years and has a strong background in special education.
She was assistant principal for six years at two schools before coming to Broadway Elementary School in Venice three years ago.
“I thought this would be a good opportunity to work with a Title I school,” she says. “I’m interested in working with children who might need a little extra support and expertise and I want to devote myself to that work.”
Thanks to Wang, positive changes are happening on the campus.
“It takes time and patience when you want to improve a school,” she says. “Step by step we want to see little results along the way and, after a period of time, it will add up to big results.”
Based on statistics, the biggest problem to overcome at Broadway Elementary is declining enrollment.
“As the neighborhood changes, and it’s continuing to change, many families can no longer afford to live here,” says Wang. “The newer families are not as familiar with the school.”
There is a concentrated effort to increase enrollment through test scores, and Wang realizes that is the bottom line for parents.
“We are working to make our instructional program data-based,” she says. “There are a lot of old habits in educators to put energy in planning beautiful lessons without looking at individual learners in the classroom.”
With the new system, teachers focus on who the lesson reached and who didn’t have a good understanding of it. Now, in addition to refining the first lesson, teachers look at the data to make sure the second lesson, which is an intervention, is comprehensive and includes both academic and social skills.
Wang recognizes the need for her students to be competitive when they grow up to face the global work force. She has made a personal commitment to bring the Mandarin Academy, the only one on the Westside, to Broadway Elementary.
“I don’t want them (students) to be in their little personal world and then when they grow up they’re shocked by the real world,” she says. “I want them to be prepared.”
According to a Feb. 11 Los Angeles Times article, experts say that with China rising as an economic power, the popularity of Mandarin has exploded around the world. There are now around 700 Asian and non-Asian registered members of the Mandarin Friends in Los Angeles. The article stated this coincided with a growing demand for U.S. schools to teach Mandarin, a trend that is likely to continue.
Implemented last year, the Mandarin Academy at Broadway begins in kindergarten for 30 minutes a day several times a week. As the students move up they will learn their grade-level content in Mandarin and English and ultimately learn how to read, write and do mathematical problems in both languages.
“By starting in kindergarten, we are sure the children will have the dual language proficiency to handle the academic demand,” says Wang.
There is no PTA (Parent Teacher Association) or a Booster Club, but the teacher says she is determined to get parents involved in the education of their children. There is some participation through the school councils, but the main need is to help academically.
Last year the teachers provided classes for parents to give them tools to help their children at home. This year Wang is looking into ways to help the non-English speaking parents learn English in a learning center at the school.
“The details have not been worked out but this is something I’m pursuing,” she says. “We want the parents to come in on their own time schedule to learn as much English as possible and then we will provide classes to learn the strategies to help their children at home.
“We want to put as many tools in our parents’ hands as possible to empower them to help the kids and inform them and educate them so that they will want to be part of this education process.”
There are three school councils. The Title I Council is a group of parents and staff who identify students from economically disadvantaged families who may qualify for free and reduced breakfast and lunch programs. They also identify students who are at risk and underperforming academically to qualify for funding to help them close the achievement gap and succeed in their studies.
The Bilingual Council, with parents and staff, determines how to spend bilingual funding to help students learning English close their achievement gap. Both councils act in an advisory capacity to the School Site Council, which makes decisions for the entire school focusing on the budget as the major issue.
So far, Title I federal stimulus money has helped purchase services. It is anticipated that there will be a significant reduction in funding that will translate into a greater reduction in services. Community members are urged to contact Wang for financial contributions or volunteer time.
Currently the student population is made up of 85 percent Hispanic, 13 percent African American and 2 percent other ethnicities.
“As sweet as this is, we don’t represent Venice,” she says. “I would love to see Broadway with more diversity that represents Venice and Los Angeles. Venice is a little bit of every part of the rainbow. I don’t want to replace our kids, but to add to them. That is my goal.”
Wang has found that parents touring the school are pleasantly surprised. She would like to encourage neighborhood parents to see for themselves. “The school is so clean and charming and positive and supportive,” she says. “Children don’t have to go to charters, private or other public schools. They will see that we are offering a quality program here.”
Information, www.lausd.net/broadway/. To schedule a tour, (310) 392-4944.