Friday, September 2, 2011


SLI is pleased to share the following press release from Para Los Ninos:

Increases at two schools are result of comprehensive focus on education, health and well-being of students

With improved Academic Performance Index (API) scores at both the Para Los Niños charter elementary school and middle school, there is growing optimism that the organization’s comprehensive focus on the education, health and well-being of its students is making a positive difference.

The middle school’s rise of 123 points, from 708 in 2010 to 831 in 2011, indicates that Para Los Niños sixth graders have surpassed the average increases at the Los Angeles Unified School District and across the State of California.

While the middle school sampling was small (only 43 sixth grade students), increases were also experienced at the Para Los Niños charter elementary school (K-5), where the API jumped 38 points for the 202 students tested, also outperforming the LAUSD and state averages.

Gisselle Acevedo, president and chief executive officer of Para Los Niños, was pleased with the newly announced results but emphasized that there is still much ground to cover. “I am very proud that all the hard work of our students and teachers this past year paid off, but in order to ensure that our students are competitive in the real world, we must do better and continue this upward trend.

“In our Para Los Niños schools we look at children in their entirety, responding to their physical, emotional, and academic needs in an integrated way. We know that our students are highly motivated to learn, and our parents feel connected in partnership with the school, yet over the past several years our students have not been as effectively demonstrating their knowledge on standardized testing as we would like. To counter that, we sought new supports, and I am cautiously optimistic today that our approach is moving us in the right direction.”

Last fall, Para Los Niños retained Strategic Learning Initiatives (SLI), headed by John Simmons, thanks to a grant from the Drown Foundation. Strategic Learning Initiatives is a Chicago-based nonprofit organization dedicated to accelerating student and adult learning that over the past 20 years has worked with more than 65 schools serving low-income children and families.
SLI puts into practice national research that reveals the qualities that must be found in a school in order for it to thrive and works with schools to ensure they are in place. It is a turnaround strategy that builds on and invests in the leadership and skills of the staff already working in the schools that has proven highly effective
This strategy, referred to as SLI’s Focused Instruction Process, includes five components: shared leadership, on-site professional development, rigorous instruction, parent engagement and a culture of trust and continuous improvement.
Para Los Niños administrators and teachers were enthusiastic about this new comprehensive methodology and embraced their opportunities for professional development. “This new approach really taught me how to better assess our students so that they may fully develop the skills they will need to be successful in life,” said 5th grade teacher Celeste Ruano.

“Reading and writing lessons were taught with a specific objective, in which academic skills were embedded. Through classroom-focused lessons, specific standards were reinforced and solidified. Children were able to then make connections to other academic areas, such as science and social studies. We knew at that point that the learnings were deeply rooted for long term application.”

Additional investments were also made by Para Los Niños last year to close the achievement gap. They bought a web-based instructional program focused on how teachers can support students in mastering state standards; brought in an exceptional new principal; and created a new position of Curriculum Coordinator, which will, among other objectives, analyze student data, and ensure a stronger academic continuum between the school day and the time students spend in the after-school program.

The results of the PLN approach specifically on the standardized API test, which is just one measurement of a student’s success, were promising:

PLN Charter Elementary School (202 low-income 2nd-5th grade students)
The growth target established for the Academic Performance Index (API) was 5 points; which was exceeded by actual growth of 38 points (from and API of 699 in 2010 to 737 in 2011).

The Charter Elementary School’s API of 737 outperformed the API for LAUSD of 728. Growth in API from 2010 to 2011 was more significant for the PLN CES than for LAUSD or the State as a whole (which grew by 38 points, 19 points, and 10 points respectively).

PLN Charter Middle School (43 low-income 6th grade students)
The growth target established for the Academic Performance Index (API) was 5 points; which was exceeded by actual growth of 123 points (from an API of 708 in 2010 to 831 in 2011).

The Charter Middle School’s API of 831 outperformed the API for LAUSD of 728 and that of the State of 778 (please note that this represents the performance of a single Grade level with a small number of students). Growth in API from 2010 to 2011 was more significant for the PLN CMS than for LAUSD or the State as a whole (which grew by 123 points, 19 points, and 10 points respectively).
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Para Los Niños is a nonprofit organization that has worked for more than thirty years to support academic success and social well-being for children. Through early education centers, charter schools, and wellness centers, our high-quality education, integrated with family supports, mental health services, and community engagement opportunities, annually benefit 20,000 children and families living in at-risk neighborhoods in Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties. For more information visit

Thursday, September 1, 2011

September Spotlight Staff Member

SLI is pleased and proud to announce that the September Spotlight Staff Member of the month is none other than Kathy Berry!

Kathy is the Vice President of Operations and Director of the Professional Development Team at SLI, and an amazing asset to the organization!  Let's get to know a little more about Mrs. Berry...

SLI: How did you become involved in the organization, Kathy?

KB: When I was teaching at Johnson school, John (Simmons, President of SLI), was hired as a consultant to assist us with School Improvement planning and Looking at Student Work protocols.  When I left teaching to have children, I stayed in touch with John and began working as a consultant for SLI.

SLI: What is the biggest change you'd like to see in education in the future?

KB: The biggest change I would like to see is empowerment for principals, teachers, parents and students.  It is critical that the key stakeholders solve the issues and resolve the problems facing the schools.  They are an untapped resource and have the answers.  They just need to be heard and given the authority and the resources to act.

SLI: What are you currently reading?

KB: The Help by Kathryn Stockett and Focus by Mike Schmoker

SLI: Who inspires you?

KB: I am inspired by friends and family who are facing obstacles and are able to keep a positive mental outlook and treat each day as a blessing.

SLI: What is your favorite hobby?

KB: I enjoy singing and spending time with my family and friends.  I love to laugh and make others laugh as well.  Research shows we will live longer!

SLI: What would be your dream vacation?

KB: I would like to go to New York for an extended period of time and see every musical that is currently playing on Broadway at least once.

SLI: Tell us one secret about yourself...

KB: For those of you that know me I tend to share all my secrets, but one thing you may not know is that I do have a “shy” side when I am in new situations with new people.

SLI: Where do you see yourself in ten years?

KB: Just finishing seeing my daughters graduating from college and I see myself with a doctorate in education/human resources.  In the next ten years I would like to be working in a role that utilizes my expertise and talents in human resources and education.
Thanks for letting us get to know you, Kathy, and Congratulations on a job well done!!