A new all-girls school in LAUSD named after former superintendent Michelle King

Girls Academic Leadership Academy provides a supportive setting for STEM success

By Martha Groves

PHOTO BY MARGARET MOLLOY

Encouraging girls to become independent learners is a core mission of the STEM-oriented Girls Academic Leadership Academy in the Mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles. GALA — Los Angeles Unified School District’s first public all girls school — opened in 2016. In March, the school was formerly named Girls Academic Leadership Academy, Dr. Michelle King School for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. It now has 320 students in sixth, seventh, ninth and 10th grades, and will have about 700 girls when it reaches full enrollment in 2020.

These highly motivated students take trains, buses or carpools from 79 zip codes throughout the city to get to GALA, which provides a richness of experience unheard of in their previous schools. They meet female computer engineers and high-speed-rail engineers on their field trips, and that enables them to see themselves in those sorts of jobs.

Principal Elizabeth Hicks, who is wrapping up her EdD degree in Organizational Change and Leadership at USC Rossier, helped draft the proposal for the new school with specific goals in mind.

“We know that girls’ scores in STEM subjects tend to drop from middle school to high school and that fewer girls nationwide are taking AP courses in calculus, chemistry and physics,” she said.

The 6th-12th grade model reflects a conscious strategy to build STEM pathways. “We want to get the girls excited about STEM, keep their skills up and foster the expectations that they will be taking the rigorous courses when they get to high school.”

Teachers are highly collaborative and work together to develop experiential, hands-on projects across the curriculum.

“Because we are getting them early, we build the idea that the more we support each other, the higher we all can get,” says chemistry teacher Emilie Hill. “By the time these girls make it to 12th grade, the sky’s the limit.”

“GALA is a place where girls interested in STEM can continue their pathway and, hopefully, go on to college careers in STEM,” Hicks said. And that’s a good thing, she added, because “we’re going to need to fill 500,000 jobs in the STEM area in the next decade.”