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Meet Dr. Liz Hicks of Girls Academic Leadership Academy

Today we’d like to introduce you to Dr. Liz Hicks.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Dr. Liz. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
As a longtime Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) employee (teacher, coach, counselor, administrator), I have always worked for equity and access for my students. So, it was with some trepidation that our family accepted a scholarship for the prestigious Marlborough School, an all-girls college preparatory school for my biracial daughters. I soon found that Marlborough provided a high-quality education and a diverse and welcoming community to my daughters. I started to wonder, “Why can’t we offer this single-gender college preparatory model in the public school system?”

After consulting with the National Coalition of Girls Schools (NCGS), the international organization for girls schools and the Young Women’s Leadership Network (YWLN), the organization of public schools in New York, I discovered that legally we could offer this model, and that the model showed phenomenal results particularly for girls of color in an urban setting. I formed a committee of educators, community members and parents and we wrote a school plan for the Girls Academic Leadership Academy (GALA). Our research on girls within LAUSD revealed that girls were not succeeding in Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) courses in middle school and were not taking the rigorous Advanced Placement (AP) science, math and computer science courses in high school that could lead to college acceptance in STEM majors. We also found very few women of color in STEM majors in college and in STEM careers. So we focused GALA towards a rigorous STEM curriculum, providing a pathway for girls to college and STEM careers.

We worked several years through many “no’s” to try to get the GALA school plan accepted and approved by LAUSD, and finally in 2015 the LAUSD School Board unanimously approved the GALA plan. GALA opened in 2016 with 140 6th and 9th graders, grew to 320 6th,7th,9th and 10th graders in 2017 and next year will have 520 6th through 11th-grade girls with the first graduating class in 2020. The school is economically (58% Title One Free and Reduced Lunch), geographically (girls come from 79 zip codes around LA) and racially (25% African American, 11% Asian, 28 % Caucasian, 30% Hispanic, 6% other) diverse and finished it’s first year with some of the highest test scores in LAUSD.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Changing anything within a large school system takes time and patience, as well as a splash of stubbornness. For three long years, everyone in LAUSD said “no” to the idea of a single-gender school. But when you know that what you are doing is the right thing to do- offering a strong educational model to families in LA- and will positively affect the future of the girls involved, the motivation is strong and you continue to work until you find someone who sees the vision and says “yes.”

I was lucky early on to find Dr. George McKenna, LAUSD District 1 school board member who attended an all-boys high school and believed in the GALA vision and in fact, asked us to write a plan for an all-boys school, Boys Academic Leadership Academy (BALA) which we did and it opened in 2017. Another amazing supporter was Dr. Michelle King, the first African-American women superintendent of LAUSD who supported the concept from day one. In fact, last year to honor her, we added Dr. Michelle Kings name to our school.

So, I found that not only knowing that something is the right thing to do, being persistent but also finding other like-minded individuals is important in any attempt at change.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Girls Academic Leadership Academy story. Tell us more about the business.
GALA is the first all-girls public school in LAUSD and actually in the state of California.

We are quite diverse and offer a high-level rigorous STEM curriculum as well as many field trips to local STEM industries such as Aerospace Corporation, Space X. Google, Snap among others. We feel it is important for girls to be exposed early and often to women, particularly women of color in STEM companies.

Girls at GALA regularly talk about being happy to be at a place where it’s cool to be smart, and that they have both challenges and assistance to reach those challenges.

GALA families have formed a Friends of GALA organization and are consistently involved in volunteering and fundraising. We are excited about the diverse and welcoming community that is GALA.

Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
I don’t think that luck plays a large part in things. Most of my achievements and achievements from those around me have come from hard work and persistence. There are some happy coincidences that occur in life and work, but for the most part, hard work, belief in your work, and service to others is what is important.

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