DR. LIZ HICKS
Girls Academic Leadership Academy was founded by Dr. Elizabeth Hicks, the lead writer on the GALA school design, which was unanimously approved by the LAUSD Board of Education. She fought to bring an all-girls PUBLIC school model to LAUSD for over 3 years and her passion for providing a world class STEM education for girls led her to the creation of GALA.
Teacher: A longtime educator in LAUSD, Dr. Hicks started as a history and physical education teacher at Hamilton High School. Principal Josephine Jimenez encouraged Dr. Hicks to become a leader at Hamilton and she held leadership roles as a department chair, United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) representative, athletics director, School Site Council member and Small Learning Community Teacher Lead.
CAA Program founder: Always with an eye towards equity for students, as part of the small school’s reform movement, Dr. Hicks formed a small school within a school, the Communication Arts Academy (CAA) at Hamilton. She wrote and received a California Partnership Academy grant for CAA allowing the school to have a coordinated curriculum and field trips for students.
College Counselor: In response to the need for college counseling for CAA, Dr. Hicks became a college counselor for CAA. Under Dr. Hicks leadership, all students graduated on time and 85% of graduates went on to college. After completing her master’s degree in Educational Leadership at University of La Verne, Dr. Hicks was asked to become the Assistant Principal Secondary Counseling Services (APSCS) at Hamilton. In this position she pushed for access for all students particularly students of color in AP classes. She also held positions as Assistant Principal Instruction and Curriculum for both Beverly Hills High School and Marshall High School.
Local District West Counseling Coordinator: In 2013 Dr. Hicks was recruited to be the counseling coordinator for LAUSD Local District West by then LDW Superintendent, Dr. Michelle King. As a Counseling Coordinator, with a continued focus on equity and college opportunity for all, she helped form the 10-schools project, with a focus on the 10 schools in LD West with the largest population of African American students. Dr. Hicks built a coalition with UCLA increasing enrollment of African American students into UCLA. With Dr. King’s support, Dr. Hicks also worked with other counseling coordinators to align LAUSD graduation requirements with the University of California A-G requirements allowing LAUSD graduates to be eligible for enrollment in the California State and University of California systems. This alignment provided for more clear pathways for students in LAUSD to college.
Dr. Elizabeth Ackerman-Hicks first conceptualized GALA in 2014 after observing the positive experiences her daughters had in an independent all-girls school.Recognizing that all-girls schools in Los Angeles were private and quite expensive, yet provide a unique educational opportunity for young women, Dr. Hicks made it her mission to try to provide the all-girls model for public school girls in LAUSD. Dr. Hicks worked with a group of educators and community members to develop a school plan for an all-girls public school – The Girls Academic Leadership Academy. During the research on girls in LAUSD she found that girls and boys were equal in elementary school in test scores and grades in math and science, but beginning in middle school and into high school, girls scores in these subjects declined and they did not challenge themselves with AP science and math courses, thus the focus of GALA became science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Through research on the all-girls public schools in New York and Texas, through The Young Women’s Leadership Schools (TYWLS) of which GALA is now an affiliate, research shows that the all-girls model is especially effective for girls of color. Girls in these public schools graduate on time and go to college at much higher rates than their coed counterparts.
Proposing GALA: In 2015, Dr. Hicks brought the proposal for GALA to the Pilot School Division where she was told that this idea was too advanced. Undeterred, she approached another department in LAUSD where she was told that in order to approve an all-girls school, the district would also need to open an all- boys school. In response, Dr. Hicks wrote the proposal for the Boys Academic Leadership Academy, based on the example of the Eagle Academy schools in New York. She also approached then Assistant Superintendent Michele King and Board Member District 1 George McKenna with her proposal.
GALA Approved!: Both were very supportive of the idea. After meeting with all Board members, in 2015 the proposal for GALA came before the Board of Education and was unanimously approved by the Board. Then Superintendent Ramon Cortines placed GALA on the site of LA High School and asked Dr. Hicks to become principal of the school.
GALA Opening: Dr. Hicks was given a year to recruit teachers, students and families to the new school that would open in 2016 with grades 6 and 9. During this year, Friends of GALA, the 501c3 fundraising organization was formed by parents. In August 2016 opening ceremonies were held for the Girls Academic Leadership Academy. Speaking at this momentous occasion were among others, Superintendent Dr. Michelle King, Board Member George McKenna, First Lady of Los Angeles, Amy Wakeland. Senator Holly Mitchell, Representative Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, Ann McElanney-Johnson, President of Mount Saint Mary’s University and Maria Klawe, President of Harvey Mudd College. The school opened with 140 students in 6th and 9th.
GALA Growing: The school grew rapidly by two grade levels each year until 2020, reaching 640 students in grades 6 through 12.
GALA GIRLS: Students come from 81 zip codes around Los Angeles with one third of students coming from independent charter and private schools.
Insuring All-Girls Education: In 2017 Senator Holly Mitchell put forward AB23 which would allow single gender schools to exist in the state of California. Dr. Hicks and families from GALA assisted in the process of passing the bill.
First Graduating Class: The first graduating class at GALA was in 2020 and tells a success story of the single gender model with a 100% graduation rate and a 98% college going rate with one student going to the military.
PhD: A life-long learner, at the same time that she started GALA, Dr. Hicks started a doctoral program at USC completing her Doctorate in Educational Change and Leadership. Her thesis concerned the STEM educational and employment gap for women, particularly women of color in the United States.
Speaker and Community Engagement: Dr. Hicks has served on several national panels on equity for women, particularly women of color in the STEM fields.
GALA Looking Forward: She continues to seek opportunities for GALA to grow and develop and continues to work with the amazing educational community at GALA providing an excellent education for young women within Los Angeles Unified School District.
2020 marks the first graduating class of GALA (9th-12th) and 2023 marks the first graduating class that spanned the school from 6th-12th. The legacy of Dr. Hicks' vision for public school girls in Los Angeles will continue to grow, inspire, and empower the future leaders and trailblazers of tomorrow.