Armed with nothing more than a small wallet and a giant vision, one teacher defied the odds and created three educational crown jewels in L.A.
On a sun-drenched day in Los Angeles's Crenshaw District neighborhood, Mike Piscal steps onto a tidy playground where a group of boisterous kindergartners from View Park Preparatory Accelerated Charter School line up to change classrooms. Piscal's sudden appearance turns heads among the students of this charter school. Upon seeing Piscal, the founder and head of the school, the young students respond with smiles and, remarkably - these are kindergartners, after all - virtually in unison, with, "Good morning, Mr. Piscal."
It's a scene that is repeated often during a daylong visit to View Park Prep's elementary, middle, and high schools. Indeed, Piscal, a stocky, garrulous 39-year-old ex-rugby player originally from New Jersey, is a magnet for attention. And not just from the 900-plus students. Whether strolling on the sidewalk or driving the streets between View Park Prep's three campuses, Piscal is continuously recognized in the community, eliciting a stream of friendly honks and waves.
There's good reason for the warm reception. Over the past 12 years, Piscal has built from literally nothing what are now far and away the best-performing schools in all of south Los Angeles. In fact, in 2004, all three View Park Prep schools - which, as charter schools, are public and free but largely independent of the mammoth L.A. Unified School District - all ranked eighth in their grade divisions in the entire state of California, based on student performance on standardized tests. The schools have become so popular that they have more than 4,000 people on a waiting list.