December 2, 1999
Reviving a Public School
How Parents United to Turn Canfield Elementary Around
Simon, who grew up in West Los Angeles and met her husband at Emerson Junior High School, was a strong believer in the public school experience. So she won permission to shlep Brandon to Westwood Charter Elementary, a school she regards as a model of enlightened diversity. Still, she continued to look longingly at the school down the street, wishing she could bring to Canfield some of the strong neighborhood support that made Westwood Charter so attractive.
In 1996, while pushing her twins in their stroller, Simon met three other mothers who shared her hopes for Canfield. Though their children were still toddlers, they began to strategize, working closely with principal Sylvia Rogers to address Canfield's needs. Each of the four found her own area of expertise. Denise Neumann, a former interior designer, dug gardens, organized campus beautification days, and ultimately became president of the Friends of Canfield booster club. Nicole Gorak, a photographer with a background in public relations, spread the word to other parents and owners of local businesses. Teresa Grossman, who works as a bookkeeper for actors and musicians, learned the art of grant writing and helped Canfield win funds for new playground equipment. Simon, a journalist who once hosted a public affairs television show, lobbied Los Angeles Unified School District bureaucrats on Canfield's behalf.