Lydia Grant: From Quiet Volunteer to Leading LAUSD Reform Firebrand

“Before I came out to the neighborhood council, I didn’t even want to speak at meetings. I was active as a volunteer, but I didn’t have a voice,” explained Lydia Grant, of the Sunland-Tujunga Neighborhood Council.

Grant is now recognized as a leader in education reform in Los Angeles. She has led delegations to Sacramento in support of major legislation and media sources seek her input on school-related issues on a regular basis.

The problems she witnessed as her three children attended LAUSD schools led her to take an active role in education reform.

Grant recalled, “I had a child at the middle school, and his education was not that great. I ended up having to pull him out and put him in home schooling. Later, he did return to high school. The problem was, he did not really get the education he deserved… There were a lot of things that were cropping up that in my opinion made the school unsafe… The problems had escalated to the point where action had to be taken to protect the kids.”

In 2007, she turned to the Sunland-Tujunga Neighborhood Council and found a group willing to assist her in her cause. Grant became the Board’s education representative and insists, “It was not until I was in the Council, and found support among the other members, that I realized I could speak out and change things.”

With the aid of the other councilmembers, Grant became one of the loudest voices in the city promoting the controversial “Parent Trigger” legislation. Under that law, parents of students at persistently low-performing schools may sign a petition and force the district to implement one of four turnaround models.

In 2010, Grant and others from the Sunland-Tujunga Neighborhood Council traveled to Sacramento and spoke on behalf of the law. After hearing their appeals, the California legislature became the first in the nation to pass Parent Trigger.

Since then, lawmakers have adopted Parent Trigger in Mississippi and Texas and introduced the legislation in another 20 states. The fight for the law’s passage in California is the subject of “Won’t Back Down,” an upcoming major feature film, starring Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal.

Grant spends much of her time these days advising other neighborhood councils on education-related issues. She believes in the power of neighborhood councils, because it was through the neighborhood council that she found the confidence to speak out and actually change the problems afflicting her community.

“Neighborhood councils are so critical,” she said. “Each community has a unique voice, and that gets lost when we move away from the community level… The neighborhood councils are the only voice of the people we have left.”