Mary Atwater James joins USC Rossier’s Board of Councilors

October 13, 2015

Early supporter of USC Hybrid High School

By Mike Branom

Mary Atwater James grew up in a household that emphasized the importance of scholarship, and she loved learning at the two Ivy League schools she attended.

Mary James

Mary Atwater James. Photo by T.Wu Photography.

So after her son transferred to the University of Southern California in 2010 and she began thinking of ways to support the university, James identified a focus: education.

In the process, James became one of the earliest supporters of USC Hybrid High School, the charter school established by USC Rossier in downtown Los Angeles in the fall of 2012. This month she joined USC Rossier’s Board of Councilors, the 16member advisory panel that assists the dean in achieving the stated goals and mission of the school.

“Supporters like Mary pride themselves on helping our school do work that has direct impact on K-12 schools, colleges and universities,” says USC Rossier Dean Karen Symms Gallagher.

Dean Gallagher also chairs the board of directors of Ednovate Inc., the charter management company created by USC Rossier to run Hybrid High and now a second school, USC East College Prep, which opened in August.

“Supporters like Mary pride themselves on helping our school do work that has direct impact on K-12 schools, colleges and universities.”

—USC Rossier Dean Karen Symms Gallagher.

“A new charter school is like a start-up for the first four or five years of its existence before it can operate fully on public funds, and Mary’s generosity has helped us reach fiscal sustainability,” Gallagher said. “We’re thrilled to add her voice and vision to our board of councilors.”

James became interested in charter schools almost immediately after her relocation from the East Coast to the West. She currently serves on the board of directors at the Los Angeles Leadership Academy, one of the few K­–12 charter schools in Los Angeles.

As a benefactor of USC Hybrid High, she praised the institution as a “petri dish” where educators can pick apart results to learn the best ways of educating 21st-century high school students.

James’ commendation of Hybrid High as a place of experimentation is an element of her admiration overall for Rossier’s commitment to using the knowledge gained from research in a practical manner. As an example, she cited the practice of facilitating students’ individualized learning through a careful balance of independent study, group interactions and one-on-one instruction from teachers.

“Four years in, the school has data that shows how the kids are benefitting from this approach, and that’s exciting,” James said. “We’re in the beginning of the process, but I have great faith in Ednovate’s teachers as well as in USC Rossier researchers, who will continue to strive for maximum impact.”

James wants to elevate the public profile of Rossier, which she said gets overlooked compared to, say, the School of Cinematic Arts’ flash. And she believes she can raise awareness by raising money—a “hand-in-hand” relationship.

“Rossier is one of the more innovative education schools in the country—and people should know that,” James said.

Along with her work at L.A. Leadership, James also devotes time to the boards of Heart of Los Angeles, which works with disadvantaged youth, and the environmental publisher Island Press. In addition, James is a former trustee of Planned Parenthood of Los Angeles.

Helping guide USC’s institutions is something of a family affair, as her husband, Daniel, is a councilor to the Dornsife School of Letters, Arts and Sciences. It was from Dornsife where her son, Charles, earned a B.A. in economics in 2014.