P. S. Tikkun Olam: Veteran Jewish educator opens charter school driven by vision of a community


Strolling through his new charter school’s rented quarters on a recent morning, Matt Albert swings open a restroom door and smiles.

“Look,” he said, gesturing toward the tiled space. “Clean bathrooms. Often, that’s the scariest place in a public school.”

The citrus-hued rooms of the Oasis Theatre on Wilshire Boulevard near Highland Avenue might not seem like a standard site for a new public school. But maybe, Albert believes, a little diversity is just what the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) needs.

After two years of fundraising and petitioning the district, Albert is opening the doors of New Los Angeles Charter School (New L.A.) on Sept. 3 to 75 sixth-grade students. The former Milken Community High School educator hopes the middle school’s small class sizes and community-service-oriented curriculum will fill a need in a part of the city that has been underserved for years.

“We want to nurture a diverse body of students who are passionate about learning, engaged in their community and have respect for themselves and others,” said Albert, founder and executive director of New L.A. “We want kids to work on solving problems in their own communities and grow up to become civic-minded adults.”

To Albert, who also served as admissions director at the Los Angeles campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), that means getting the children out of conventional classroom programming and into the world around them. Once a week, students will walk three blocks south to Wilshire Crest Elementary School on Olympic Boulevard to read to second- and third-grade kids, through the Jewish Federation’s KOREH L.A. literacy program. They will aid cleanup efforts at the 200-acre Ballona Wetlands Ecosystem in Marina del Rey. Albert is also trying to partner with a local retirement community so the students can visit the elderly, soak up their oral histories and gain greater appreciation — and empathy — for senior citizens.

These community service activities, Albert said, will foster among New L.A. students a gut-level understanding of what makes up a neighborhood and the hard work, pride and leadership it takes to make one flourish.

“Teaching civic responsibility and the importance of knowing what’s going on in the world is a big part of the mission,” said educator Tanya Kennedy, who will teach Earth science at the school. “We want students to be connected — as part of the school community, the city community and ultimately as a citizen of the world.”

Such a mission would not be easy to carry out at a traditional public school, according to Albert.

“LAUSD is a huge, bureaucratic district with almost 800,000 students,” he said. “There are a lot of obstacles to actually getting things done within the district.”

With a charter school, Albert could create an outside-the-box educational program, while still keeping the school free and open to all L.A. students.

New L.A. is meant to serve students from both the Carthay area, which has not had a local middle school for decades, and the Mid-Wilshire area, which is served by John Burroughs, a large LAUSD middle school a few blocks away from New L.A.’s Wilshire Boulevard site.

“At some public middle schools, there are 2,000 kids,” he said. “You have a 10-year-old walking through the halls, and nobody knows them. This is a critical time for them.”

Private schools can provide a top-notch learning environment for students, Albert said, but soaring tuition fees keep many families out.

Yet charter schools — which collectively serve about 41,000 students in the Los Angeles area — come with their own set of assets and pitfalls. They are authorized and funded by LAUSD, but don’t have to follow the district’s standard classroom protocol. In exchange for greater freedom in terms of budget, curriculum and programming, they must find their own location and startup funds.

New L.A.’s initial enrollment is made up of 75 sixth-graders who will be divided into three classes, and the six classrooms at the Oasis Theatre, owned by the non-denominational Oasis Christian Center, provides ample space.

The school’s faculty will set aside time at the end of the school day for an intervention program that will focus on enrichment and skill-building. Kids will also meet with a student adviser for 30 minutes each day to talk about social and emotional issues, tolerance and community building.

“Our teachers have taken a huge risk coming here,” Albert said. “They’re out of the union; they’ve had to resign their positions at LAUSD. But they are confident about our mission.”

For Adina Ackerman, who will teach language arts and history, the chance to work at New L.A. was “something I couldn’t pass up.”

Ackerman has known Albert since her sophomore year at Milken Community High School, when he was her Jewish history teacher. They also worked together as counselors at Camp Ramah in Ojai.

The Los Angeles native got her start as a fourth-grade teacher at Temple Israel of Hollywood’s day school and then taught third grade at Figueroa Street Elementary School in South Los Angeles.

“There is very little freedom within the curriculum and a huge emphasis on testing,” she said of her experience with LAUSD. “You can’t really be a great teacher because you’re spending all your time preparing for tests.”

South Africa native Tanya Kennedy said she was also drawn to New L.A.’s creative atmosphere after three years teaching second and third grade at an inner city San Diego school.

The other two teachers on Albert’s five-member staff bring a range of personal talents to the mix. Math teacher Lena Liu, fresh from a five-year stint at an elementary school in Koreatown, is also a violinist who has played with hip-hop orchestra daKah, MC Mos Def and musician Rahzel. Humanities teacher Stephen De Sal has 20 years’ teaching experience, including for gifted and talented students in the Pasadena Unified School District.

Checklist: What to do when someone dies


Make sure to contact the hospital or mortuary so that you can fill out any paperwork, i.e., death certificate, as soon after the death as possible.

If you have preplanned:

  1. Contact the doctor to fill out any paperwork.
  2. Contact the funeral director (who should have a list of arrangements).
  3. Call your synagogue and speak with the rabbi about possible times for the service.
  4. Register the death with the synagogue.
  5. Re-contact the funeral home/mortuary to arrange for a funeral time.
  6. Contact close friends and family/chavurah so they can help relay funeral time and information.
  7. Decide for how many days you will sit shiva. Your friends/chavurah can arrange for people to sit shiva with you and your family.

If you have not preplanned:

  1. Contact the doctor to fill out any paperwork.
  2. Call a Jewish funeral director to arrange for someone to pick up the body and to discuss available times for the funeral at a Jewish cemetery.
  3. Call your synagogue and speak with the rabbi about possible times for the service.
  4. Register the death with the synagogue.
  5. After speaking with both the director of the cemetery and the rabbi, arrange for a funeral time.
  6. Call a mortuary that may or may not be affiliated with the cemetery (depending upon which cemetery you use). Set up a service time that is convenient both for the rabbi and the mortuary.
  7. Have your friends/family/chavurah make calls to friends/family/loved ones to relay funeral time and information.
  8. Decide for how many days you will sit shiva. Your friends/chavurah can arrange for people to sit shiva with you and your family.


ALTTEXT
Resources

Web sites:

Jewish Funerals, Burial and Mourning, published by Kavod v’Nichum and the Jewish Funeral Practices Committee of Greater Washington

“My Jewish Learning Death and Funeral Practices

“A Guide to Jewish Burial and Mourning Practices” published by the Funeral Practices Committee of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California

A Guide to Jewish Mourning and Condolence” by Jerry Rabow, Valley Beth Shalom

Funerals: A Consumer Guide (Federal Trade Commission)

Consumer Guide to Funeral & Cemetery Purchases (California Department of Consumer Affairs Cemetery & Funeral Bureau)

Funeral Consumers Alliance

The Green Funeral Site

Books

“Mourning & Mitzvah: A Guided Journey for Walking the Mourner’s Path Through Grief to Healing” by Anne Brener (Jewish Lights Publishing, 2001)

“The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning” by Maurice Lamm (Jonathan David Publishers, 2000)

“So That Your Values Live on: Ethical Wills and How to Prepare Them” by Jack Riemer and Nathan Stampfer (Jewish Lights Publishing, 1994)

“A Time to Mourn, a Time to Comfort: A Guide to Jewish Bereavement” Ron Wolfson (Jewish Lights Publishing, 2005)

— Jane Ulman



JEWISH CEMETERIES AND MORTUARIES IN LOS ANGELES

CEMETERIES

AGUDATH ACHIM CEMETERY
1022 S. Downey Road
Los Angeles, CA 90023
323 653-8886
800 654-6772

Opened in 1919. Owned and operated by Chevra Kadisha Mortuary.

BETH ISRAEL CEMETERY
1068 S. Downey Road
Los Angeles, CA 90023
213 653-8886
800 654-6772

Opened in 1907. Owned and operated by Chevra Kadisha Mortuary.

BETH OLAM CEMETERY OF HOLLYWOOD
900 N. Gower Street
Hollywood, CA 90038
323 469-2322
877 238-4652
www.betholam.com

Opened around 1927. Organized as the Jewish section within the larger Hollywood Memorial Park Cemetery, now called Hollywood Forever.

EASTERN COMMUNITY JEWISH CEMETERY
15270 Woodcrest Dr.
Whittier, CA 90604
310 943-3170

Opened in 1987.

EDEN MEMORIAL PARK
11500 Sepulveda Blvd.
Mission Hills, CA 91345
818 361-7161
800 441-7161

Opened in 1954. Acquired by Service Corporation International (SCI) in 1985.

HILLSIDE MEMORIAL PARK
6001 Centinela Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90045
(800) 576-1994
www.hillsidememorial.org

Opened in 1946. Owned by Temple Israel of Hollywood since the 1950s.

HOME OF PEACE MEMORIAL PARK
4334 Whittier Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90023
323 261-6135
800 300-0223
www.homeofpeacememorialpark.com

Opened in 1902 in current location. Owned and operated by Rose Hills Memorial Park.

MOUNT CARMEL CEMETERY
6505 E. Gage Ave.
City of Commerce, CA 90040
(323) 653-8886
(800) 654-6772

Opened in 1931. Owned and operated by Chevra Kadisha Mortuary.

MOUNT OLIVE MEMORIAL PARK
7231 E. Slauson Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90040
323 721-4729

Opened in 1948. Donated to Chabad of California in the 1980s.

MOUNT SINAI MEMORIAL PARKS
5950 Forest Lawn Dr.
Los Angeles, CA 90068
(800) 600-0076
(323) 469-6000
www.mt-sinai.com

Originally founded by Forest Lawn in 1953 and exclusively Jewish since 1959. Owned by Sinai Temple since 1967.

6150 Mount Sinai Drive
Simi Valley, CA 93063
(800) 600-0076
www.mt-sinai.com

160-acre site purchased in 1997 and opened in 2002. Owned by Sinai Temple.

MOUNT ZION CEMETERY
1030 S. Downey Rd.
Los Angeles, CA 90023

Opened in 1916. Currently owned by Jewish Federation Council of Los Angeles and operated by Rose Hills Memorial Park, which owns Home of Peace.

SHOLOM MEMORIAL PARK
13017 N. Lopez Canyon Road
San Fernando, CA 91342
818 899-5216

Founded in 1951. Privately owned.

YOUNG ISRAEL CEMETERY
13622 Curtis and King Road
Norwalk, CA 90650
(213) 653-8886

Opened in 1938. Owned and operated by Chevra Kadisha Mortuary.

JEWISH MORTUARIES

CHEVRA KADISHA MORTUAR
7832 Santa Monica Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90046
800 654-6772
323 653-8886
www.chevrakadisha.com

Founded in 1976 as a private organization and not a traditional “chevra kadisha.”

R.L. MALINOW GLASBAND WEINSTEIN MORTUARIES
7700 Santa Monica Blvd.
West Hollywood, CA 90046
800 300-0223
323 656-6260

GROMAN EDEN MORTUARIES
11500 Sepulveda Blvd,
Mission Hills, CA 91345
800 522-4875
www.gromaneden.com

GROMAN MORTUARIES
830 W. Washington Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90015
213 748-2201

HILLSIDE MORTUARY
6001 W. Centinela Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90045
800 576-1994
310 641-0707
www.hillsidememorial.org

Founded in 1946 in association with Hillside Memorial Park.

MOUNT SINAI MORTUARIES
5950 Forest Lawn Drive
Los Angeles, CA 90068
800 600-0076
323 469-6000
www.mt-sinai.com

6150 Mount Sinai Drive
Simi Valley, CA 93063
800 600-0076
323 469-6000
www.mt-sinai.com

Associated with Mount Sinai Memorial Parks.

MALINOW AND SILVERMAN MORTUARY
7366 S. Osage Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90045
(800) 710-7100

SHOLOM MEMORIAL PARK MORTUARIES
8629 W. Pico Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90035
310 659-3055
www.sholomchapels.com

13017 N. Lopez Canyon Road
San Fernando, CA 91342
818 899-5211
www.sholomchapels.com

Founded in 1951. Associated with Sholom Memorial Park

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Compiled by Molly Binenfeld and Jane Ulman