One woman saving L.A. schools, one charter at a time
By Danielle Cralle, Contributing Writer
Published March 19, 2015
Dr. Jeanette Grattan Parker
Hailing from the projects of Birmingham, Alabama, Dr. Jeanette Grattan Parker moved to California shortly after high school. After years of hard work, she found herself in an unusual position. She was one of the few Black residents of Beverly Hills, the founder and superintendent of five charter school sites, and a community leader, all due to a calling to help better Black and brown children through education.
“Growing up in Birmingham Alabama was an interesting experience,” said Parker, who also pioneered the very first Los Angeles Crenshaw parade says. Her mother, Ethel Mae Grattan, shielded her and her siblings from the harsh realities of their environment, encouraging them to focus on things that were important instead.
For Parker, that was education.
As a child she tutored her peers in school at the request of her teachers. She also taught younger children during Sunday school lessons at the church.
“Education was in my blood,” Parker said. It was a path that seemed natural, like a calling, she said.
Dr. Parker talks to a teacher during recess
Today’s Fresh Start, a K through 8th grade school, is comprised of free, quality education centered on individually teaching children towards academic advancement and emotional maturity, Parker said.
In reality, many of the students attending Today’s Fresh Start may not have been afforded the same educational opportunities as their peers from different socioeconomic backgrounds, but Parker hopes that her schools can provide parents and students with a quality service that’s needed.
And the results support her thinking.
According to Parker the school meets and exceeds state targets. Additionally, Today’s Fresh Start touts high Academic Performance Index (API) scores, ranking 7 out of 10 in the GreatSchools ranking.
Despite her success, Parker believes that it has been her own background that’s led her to touch a certain group of students.
“I grew up in the housing project in Birmingham, socioeconomically disadvantaged, and so I have a heart for that,” she said. “My heart is to help those children.”
It was her heart that led her to found Today’s Fresh Start Charter School. Leaning on her experience as an educator, Parker conceived an idea to help public students like the ones she helped in Birmingham.
“I started a foundation to tutor children who were failing in the public schools,” she said. The foundation offered one-on-one help to students, Saturday sessions, and even implemented computers into public schools for individuals who needed the help.
“We had like a hundred students on Saturdays coming to be tutored,” Parker said.
At the advice of a peer, Parker decided to turn her successful tutoring endeavors into a full-fledged school, and that’s how Today’s Fresh Start Charter School was borne. Currently there are about 1200 of students, with 60% of them being Black.
The building blocks for success
The “I Have a Dream” wall in one of the classrooms
Parker, for all of her accomplishments, is focused not on her own success but the success of her students.
Reflecting on her youth in Birmingham, Parker remembers seeing a lack of enthusiasm about learning, as well several different domestic situations that undoubtedly affected students’ progress.
“I want to see something better for our children here,” Parker said.
As a result, the idea of college becomes a reality for students at Today’s Fresh Start. Classes are set up to prepare students for college. There’s a college theme in nearly every classroom and students visit neighboring colleges and universities. Additionally, many classrooms contain an “I Have a Dream” corner where students can write about their future plans.
“You have to have a vision,” Parker said. “Have something in your head that you want to see materialize for your life.”
Currently Today’s Fresh Start Charter School operates in five locations in the Vernon, West Adams, Compton, Hyde Park, and Inglewood areas.
For more information go to: www.todaysfreshstart.org.