Dyad School Demonstrates Charters’ Excellence

John Seiler
Former Editorial Writer at the Orange County Register

Are the children learning? Is the school safe? Those are two criteria I’ve always used when judging charter schools. I’ve been writing about these innovative learning environments since they first started in California 25 years ago. Charters are public schools but work outside most of the education bureaucracy’s red tape.

With charters back in the news lately, I visited Celerity Dyad Charter School in Los Angeles, part of the Celerity Educational Group schools. Dyad and nearby Troika were created in 2005 and are two of seven Celerity charter schools in the Southern California region. This week, both schools are up for appeal at the California Board of Education after their renewals were denied last year by the Los Angeles Unified School District.

The elementary school of 693 students is a couple blocks from Central Avenue in Los Angeles. As I drove up, the person I asked about parking turned out to be Principal Patrick Stickley, who was checking the school grounds.

Inside, everything was clean and comfortable. The children wear uniforms. “The key is uniforms take away status competition,” Stickley said. “We’re all on the same page. We focus on the most important thing here – learning.”

Although charters sometimes are branded as benefiting a preppy suburban elite, 98 percent of Dyad’s students are Latino and 96 percent take part in the free and reduced lunch program. “It’s a strong Title III school,” Stickley said. Title III is a federal program to advance language learning, especially among immigrant children.

The test scores tell the story: 54% of students scored English proficient, more than double the 19% of the nearby LAUSD schools; and 50% were proficient in math, triple the LAUSD schools’ 16%.

“The teachers really focus on the kids,” parent Jannette Davila told me; 2nd grader Alexander and 1st grader Hailey walk to school because the family lives nearby. “I like the teachers and staff. They really communicate with the parents about the students. The school is safe. Everyone makes you comfortable. The principal always is greeting everybody. There are only 19 students in each class, so it’s not crowded. The kids get more time.”

On academics, she said, “If the kids have a problem, the teachers tell you how to help at home, such as you could do flash cards for homework. This is an advantage over the kids of my other family members whose students are in schools in this area.”

She said Dyad helped set up the JiJi math computer teaching program in her home. “I love it. I can tell the difference in my kids.”

Even though it’s more than a decade in the future, Davila said she and her husband “encourage our kids to go to college.” And she likes the school uniforms because that means the students are not “thinking about what they wear today, but what they will learn.”

My high-school Spanish is rusty, so I spoke to parent Karla Lavadores through John Gallegos, the school’s interpreter and community liaison the past six years. Lavadores’ two sons, Salvador and Samuel, attend the 5th and 2nd grades.

She said the teacher in the regular LAUSD school claimed, “I can’t stop teaching 20 kids to help one kid.” When Samuel transferred to Dyad at the start of 4th grade, he “was reading at a second-grade level.” She proudly said he is up to grade level and “recently was reclassified as an English-only speaker.”

I talked with Marbella Gil, who teachers 19 2nd-graders in her fifth year at Dyad. “From the beginning, I found this climate is so devoted to the students,” she said. “There’s nothing the teachers won’t do for the students. It’s more like a family. The parents are involved and appreciative. There’s also nonstop teacher training.” That includes: two weeks of professional development a year, more development every other week and every other month what she calls “all Celerity, all day.”

She said great emphasis is put on helping the students learn English, which is “embedded in the instruction through a lot of different strategies, such as pictures and oral practice. You see their progress. One girl came here from Mexico with no English. At the end of the year, she was the top in her class.”

All teachers also have a school cell phone that parents can call for help with homework.

When charters first were advanced back in 1992 by State Sen. Gary Hart, a Democrat, two major reasons were to provide choice to parents and competition for regular schools. Dyad shows that. It currently has 300 applications for 85 kindergarten slots in the fall.

Charters also were supposed to help kids who “fell through the cracks” of the regular schools. Maria Avalos found such help at Dyad. Daughter Elia attends 5th grade and son Brandon 1st grade. She said in pre-kindergarten Brandon needed special therapy in three areas: speech therapy, mobility therapy and fine motor skills.

“We were told if he stayed with the LAUSD, they would cancel two of three services,” she said, leaving only speech therapy. But when he transferred to Dyad, he received all three services. “When I first came to this country, I thought charters were just for rich kids,” she remembered. But Dyad showed they bring excellence to everybody.

I left Dyad thinking my hundreds of articles on charters – for the Orange County Register and other publications – played a part in helping these kids achieve. Dyad and Troika charters deserve to be renewed this week. I hope this academic experiment continues for future students deserving a better education.

John Seiler wrote on education policy for the Orange County Register from 1987 to 2016. He now writes freelance. His email: mailto:[email protected]

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