It has contributed $110 million in New York City, the nation’s most populous school district; $36 million to Chicago schools; and $14 million to San Diego, said Marie Groark, senior policy officer with the foundation. Los Angeles, the second-largest school district in the nation with about 740,000 students, has previously received $22 million from the Gates Foundation, but in a series of grants much smaller than the $7.4 million. Most of the money has been invested in new schools including Green Dot, Aspire and several early-college high schools. On Wednesday, foundation officials said they have held off on establishing a more committed and consistent relationship with the Los Angeles district because its moves toward building smaller learning communities are in the fledgling stage. “Even though we know Los Angeles is in great need, we needed to wait until the district was ready, the schools were ready, and the pieces were in place,” Groark said. And the right time, district and foundation officials said, is now. Romer has been pushing forward on a massive $10 billion school construction project, and in June the district adopted a college-prep curriculum that all students will be required to complete, starting with the Class of 2008. “The superintendent’s been trying to build a foundation on which to innovate with a greater probability of success. Without the foundation, the innovation will crash and burn,” said Steven Seleznow, program director for the Gates Foundation. “I say they’ve done a lot of heavy lifting so far.” But some district officials question Romer’s commitment to developing small learning communities. Less than one month ago, the school board demanded that Romer present a concrete plan for the effort, including a budget and projections of resources needed and staffing patterns. Board member Mike Lansing, who chairs the district’s committee on small learning communities, said that while he welcomes the Gates investment, he’s also concerned. “You can’t just break a school up into smaller groups and sing ‘Kumbaya,”‘ he said. “The plan has to come forward, and the board has to make the monetary commitment to this comprehensive plan, or else this is all a waste of time. “Now it’s up to us to put up or shut up in terms of truly implementing and supporting small learning communities.” Board member David Tokofsky said he hopes the investment teaches the district how to build innovative campuses. “I appreciate the foundation hanging in there as long as they have. The money is helpful, and I hope it lets us get greater traction and understanding of how to truly develop small learning communities,” Tokofsky said. “But buzzwords and bricks and mortar don’t make a committed campus with solid teacher and student successes.” The $7.4 million foundation grant will go to three national organizations – the Institute for Research and Reform in Education, Talent Development High Schools and Architects of Achievement – to bring in strategies needed to strengthen instruction, student support and facility designs at four high schools with 14,000 students: Carson, Jordan, Fremont and Washington Prep. The work is expected to begin immediately, and Romer said he hopes to take the lessons and apply them districtwide. Although Seleznow would not quantify any possible future investments, he said the foundation is interested in continuing its relationship with the LAUSD. “We’re prepared to work with the superintendent and his team on whatever next steps he’s looking at in terms of change and innovation,” he said. “We see L.A. as a critically important city.” Naush Boghossian, (818) 713-3722 [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREWalnut’s Malik Khouzam voted Southern California Boys Athlete of the Week “The amount of money, $7 million, compared to hundreds of millions given to other urban school districts, is a significant statement that there continues to be little confidence … that Los Angeles Unified is ready and committed to its reform or how it delivers quality education to its children and families.” Romer defended his progress and commitment, saying all new high schools have incorporated a small learning community design. Since 2003, he said, he has been introducing the concept to administrators and teachers. Rather than rushing into building the communities, he’s been waiting until more schools opened before partnering with the foundation, he said. “I have not been dragging my feet in creating small learning communities,” he said. “We have been patient in this progress because you need to have people own it and buy into change, rather than its being forced top-down.” Since 2001, the Gates Foundation has invested more than $1 billion to foster small learning communities designed to ease overcrowding and improve academic achievement and graduation rates in school districts throughout the nation. Amid increased pressure to develop a plan to build small learning communities, officials are set to announce today that Los Angeles schools have received a $7.4 million grant from the prestigious Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to boost these efforts. But the grant, the foundation’s first sizable sum to the Los Angeles Unified School District, falls far short of investments the foundation has made across the country to smaller districts – a disparity some officials blame on the LAUSD’s lack of a comprehensive plan. And critics said Wednesday that, despite years of discussions with the Gates Foundation, the district superintendent, Roy Romer, has been unwilling to relinquish any control and create a partnership with the foundation to build the smaller learning environments that require autonomy to succeed – a charge Romer strongly denies. “There still remains the sense in the larger foundation world that Los Angeles Unified is reluctant to give away centralized management of schools and (is) focused on the building of seats rather than schools that are designed to give quality education to the people it serves,” said David Abel, chairman of New Schools Better Neighborhoods, a civic advocacy organization that promotes a 21st-century vision for California’s urban school districts.