Charter Leader Spotlight Series: Gayle Nadler, Executive Director, Multicultural Learning Center
April 28, 2022
Last month, the Multicultural Learning Center received the California Charter Schools Association’s (CCSA) Hart Vision Award for Charter School of the Year (Southern California). The Hart Vision Awards, established in 1995, are named in honor of Gary K. Hart, the former California State Senator and former California Secretary of Education. The prestigious Hart Vision Awards are given annually to individuals and organizations with outstanding records of leadership and excellence in furthering California’s charter public school movement. The award recognizes the work and achievements of exceptional charter public schools, leaders, and advocates.
We’re proud to work with MLC as a longtime client and admire their steadfast commitment to students and families. As a part of our Charter Leader Spotlight Series, we interviewed Gayle Nadler, the co-founder and Executive Director of MLC, to learn more about MLC, how it feels to receive such a prestigious award, and why developing global citizens is such a critical part of the school’s mission and vision!
EdTec: How does it feel to be the winner of the CCSA Hart Vision Award for Charter School of the Year (Southern California)?
Gayle: It’s an honor to receive an award in Gary Hart’s name. I heard him speak at the CCSA conference many years ago and was inspired by him, the movement he started, and his brave work to get charter schools on the map in California back in 1992. He passed away in January this year, so it’s even a little more heartfelt to receive the award in his name.
I was very excited that receiving the award had to do with not only our growth academically but also our innovative dual immersion program along with our emphasis on developing global competencies in our students.
To be honest, the timing was really incredible, coming out of the two years that we’ve just experienced. To be recognized when we have felt so vulnerable shows the impact of the hard work and determination of our community. It really comes down to who you are as an organization and your values, your team, and your community especially in the toughest of times.
It’s MLC’s time to share what we’re doing, and the outcomes we’re achieving. We’re willing to share all the work that we do so that other schools and students can benefit from what we’ve learned. It’s been 20 years of innovation, creation, development, and making mistakes and fixing them. There’s a lot that we can share with developing charter schools and other organizations.
EdTec: Have you ever been approached by other charters for advice?
Gayle: We’re frequently working with other schools on different levels. We’re approached by a lot of developing dual language schools. These schools usually want to hear about how we teach in two languages, what curriculum we use, and where we find bilingual teachers. We’ve also been approached about different things that we do in terms of organizational culture, special programs, instruction, planning, development, and strategy.
MLC is not in this movement for solely our own benefit. We want our school to do well and be successful for the community we serve, but we’re in this movement to improve education for all students, families, and educators in California.
EdTec: What has been the most rewarding part of this 21-year journey for you?
Gayle: The thing that always makes me smile most, is our alumni. It’s most rewarding to hear from the alumni in terms of what they’re doing with their lives, how they furthered their education, and the impact MLC has had on who they have become as global, bilingual citizens.
EdTec: What has been your most valuable lesson learned over the past 21 years?
Gayle: I say this to new charter leaders all the time, the most valuable lesson you can learn as a charter leader is this: there will always be obstacles – that is the job! Don’t hope or wait for the day there will be smooth sailing because it won’t come! The job is riding the waves and sticking to your vision and mission and the reason you opened in the first place. There’s always going to be challenges in front of you and because your vision and mission is so powerful, you have what it takes to overcome them.
EdTec: What is it like working with your mom?
Gayle: For the first eleven years, my mother was the Executive Director and I worked under her as the Program Director. She retired in 2012, so for the last 10 years, I’ve been running the show, although she is on the board and she volunteers in the classrooms. Without her knowledge and powerful ways of making things happen, I don’t know that we would have opened. She got us going, so that I could take the reins one day and take it to the next level.
Honestly, the work is so hard and so demanding, especially in those first 10 years of running a charter school that you don’t even have time to think about anything else! We definitely had to create boundaries and have very clear delineations – “Okay, am I talking to you as your employee or as your daughter?” So, there was a lot of that in the beginning. We were excited to build something together. It really came from our experiences as mother and daughter when I was in public school. The fact that we took this really deep experience from my childhood, and her experience as my mother, and turned it into something that would fulfill us and the community, is a very powerful thing.
EdTec: As a charter school leader, you need a strong support system in place. What kind of support has been key to your success?
Gayle: On the ground, it is having an operational and instructional team that is completely committed to the school, to the vision, to the purpose. You need instructional leadership that is extremely talented and focused on outcomes for students, social, emotional, and academic. And the operations team must have wide knowledge and experience with facilities, finance, and human resources.
Beyond your staff team, you need partners like EdTec! Having a strong, trusting relationship with our back-office provider has been essential because it’s such a fluid relationship. Our relationship with EdTec has been essential in overcoming some of those hurdles that we face on the back end of things, so that the school can operate and have all these outstanding outcomes for kids.
Other community partners and the LA philanthropic community play a critical role. And of course, our parents – they know their students best, they are true partners in their education.
It’s also important to allow an opportunity for all folks, whether they’re administrators, teachers, teaching assistants, after school tutors, custodial staff, to have a voice in the organizational operations, policies, procedures. Your supporting community should have a strong voice and a seat at the table where they can express themselves, where they can share ideas, give feedback, make suggestions, and make decisions. The key to having a strong school organization is a collaborative approach in the truest sense. This requires a lot of listening and a lot of empathy on the part of leaders. It takes a lot to create that in an organization, but that’s a key element in our success.
EdTec: Why is developing global citizens is so important to you?
Gayle: It’s very important for young people to know how to navigate and live in a world with diverse thinking, diverse backgrounds, diverse cultures and language. For young people to be successful in a diverse world, they must be raised in an environment where they not only are taught to be respectful to people who are different, but to live and breathe and share space each day with people who come from diverse backgrounds. The experience at MLC enables young people to think more critically when they’re adults and to look at all sides of a story, to see different perspectives and points of view. Our students can also speak in more than one language which creates greater compassion and understanding. It’s also about having the confidence and the commitment to create change when it’s necessary. Those are the skills that we’re building when we talk about global citizens.
EdTec: What is your vision for the future? What is something you hope to accomplish in the next few years?
Gayle: Right now, we’re working on recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic. I see us bouncing back and getting back into the groove of what we do. Then it’s about what can we do to take us to the next level because we never stop growing. I’d like to see us become more involved in creating change and spreading the word about some of our successful initiatives to influence others and perhaps policy.
I also want to bring in more partners, to engage more folks in the community and perhaps document our work. One of the benefits of being a charter is you’re this little incubator of innovation. But you’re so busy doing it, that you don’t really have time to sit down and document all the wonderful things you’ve done or put it into a guidebook. It would be great to document some of the things that we’ve done so that it can be more easily shared, studied, or developed to influence equitable access to high quality education for all students.
Thank you to Gayle, and congratulations to the MLC community!
CCSA produced a special video series featuring the exemplary charter school leaders who received the 2022 Hart Vision Award. You can view the MLC video here.
The Multicultural Learning Center (MLC) is a K-8 public charter school in Los Angeles founded in 2001 by mother and daughter team Toby Bornstein and Gayle Nadler with the vision to “bring together a diverse community of learners where cultural and individual differences are the building blocks of academic, social, and intrapersonal success.” MLC achieves this vision through the school-wide implementation of a dual immersion program (Spanish/English) and a focus on global and social-emotional competencies.