Alumni Story

Transforming the education system from within

Melanie Lundquist ’71, MA ’73 is advancing educational equity in underserved schools throughout Los Angeles.

By Katrina Nash Published on

Melanie Lundquist ’71, MA ’73 is a change agent who does not shy away from sharing the honest truth about what she believes needs to change in public education. After graduating from the Los Angeles Unified School District in 1967, Lundquist watched as the public school system eroded over five decades, as California ranked 36th in the nation for eighth-grade math scores in 2022. Realizing she was fortunate enough to obtain an excellent education through LAUSD, Lundquist set out to ensure today’s students receive the same quality education.

A lifelong Angeleno, Lundquist holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from USC, and her husband, Richard Lundquist BS ’72 from Marshall, is a Trojan, too. The pair also received honorary doctor of humane letters degrees from McPherson College. The Lundquists are signatories of the Giving Pledge and have appeared five times on the Philanthropy 50, the annual list of America’s 50 most generous philanthropists.

In 2007, Richard and Melanie Lundquist became co-founders, with then-L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, of the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, providing a $50 million commitment to launch the organization. Melanie Lundquist believes that “because of system breakage in our country, in fact in our civilization, in every way shape and form possible, you must work inside the system, bottom-up and inside out, to see exactly what the problems are and what the solutions can be.” So, to ensure revolutionary education change is made in the broadest way possible, the Partnership operates within LAUSD.

Today, the Partnership is a group of 20 K–12 schools, all in Boyle Heights, South L.A. and Watts, that were in the lowest 10% of performance when they were brought into the Partnership. Lundquist always goes where the need is greatest, often noting that “a person’s ZIP code should not equal their destiny, and poverty should not equal their destiny, either.” There are now over 13,500 students in K–12 Partnership schools, the size of most school districts in the United States. This scale proves that changes made within Partnership schools can serve as a model that can be replicated across the country.

The outcomes of students attending Partnership schools speak for themselves. Graduation rates started out at 35–36%; today, they are at 86%, and college admissions have tripled. Wanting to make an even greater impact, Lundquist and the Partnership created the Playbook for School Transformation, a free resource that outlines a path forward for public school systems to accelerate equity for low-income students and students of color.

The Partnership is one of many educational causes Lundquist backs. Among her philanthropic efforts, she also supports AltaSea at the Port of Los Angeles, the only U.S.-based urban ocean cleantech incubator partnering with a consortium of universities. Lundquist is a passionate supporter of the News Literacy Project, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that is the country’s largest provider of news literacy education.

For Lundquist, another essential part of transforming education is to make sure those on the front lines— the teachers—are supported. When speaking with new teachers, Lundquist often hears them say, “I wasn’t trained to do this.” USC Rossier’s Teacher Preparation Residency program is pushing to change this narrative. In partnership with LAUSD, the program recruits talented educators who reflect the diversity of Los Angeles. Residents gain experience in LAUSD classrooms and are provided with a full tuition scholarship and a $20,000 living stipend. Lundquist is a proud donor to the program because she has seen first-hand that the program produces “incredibly well-trained teachers who have the tools, foundation and footing they need to get excited about being in front of students.”

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