August 28, 2008
P. S. Tikkun Olam: Veteran Jewish educator opens charter school driven by vision of a community
(Page 2 - Previous Page)Much of New L.A.'s design is shaped by Albert's own background.
Growing up in Brentwood, he went to Jewish day school at Temple Emanuel until sixth grade and then attended public middle and high schools. He went to Camp Ramah and stayed on as a counselor while an undergraduate at UCSD. He continued to work for Camp Ramah in Israel after graduation.
When he returned from Israel, Albert enrolled in a political science doctorate program at Columbia University and worked as a Hebrew school teacher and tutor on the side. But he realized he enjoyed teaching more than his doctoral program, so he quit. Back in Los Angeles, he took a job teaching history at Milken, where he eventually moved up to positions as dean and assistant principal. He worked toward his doctorate in education at UCLA at night.
After 10 years at Milken, Albert took a job at HUC-JIR as admissions director, but dreamed of getting back into the classroom.
The concept for New L.A. was a notion Albert had been kicking around while still at Milken.
"I wanted to be in public education," he said. "I felt that the inequalities in society in general were so large that opening another private school wasn't going to address that."
Founding the school as a nonprofit, he recruited a set of colleagues to the board who worked to get New L.A. up and running. The group petitioned LAUSD and drew up a comprehensive education plan. After the district authorized the school in April, they obtained startup funds through private grants (state funding doesn't kick in until the students arrive), including a $250,000 donation from the Walton Family Foundation. Then they held interviews and hired the teachers, and negotiated a deal with Oasis.
"It's not ideal," Albert said. "If you walk into a private school and then you walk into a charter school, there are major differences. The parents who are sending their kids here understand that there is no huge soccer field and there's no swimming pool. But that's the tradeoff."
Craig Englander, a Marina del Rey-based lawyer, said he knew little about New L.A. when he sent in an application for his daughter, Samantha, 11. But he was impressed by Albert's vision.
"He had a concept I really liked, with a focus on social justice," Englander said. "I liked that it was a small school that would be able to devote energy to each individual student. It seemed like it would offer more than a run-of-the-mill public school."
Some of those offerings include an organic lunch program through Los Angeles-based Revolution Foods, yoga classes, a personal MacBook laptop for each student, after-school care and monthly field trips to LACMA.
New L.A. received more than 200 applications for its 75 spots. Next year the school will add a seventh grade, and the year after that they will begin working at full capacity, serving 225 students in sixth through eighth.
"This project comes out of a desire to do tikkun olam -- to repair the world," Albert said. "That's why our mission is based on social justice. It isn't a uniquely Jewish value, and the school is totally secular, but that's what made this happen."
For more information on the New Los Angeles Charter School, visit http://www.newlosangeles.org
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