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Dr. Daniel Lee

James Lawson Institute
Project Director
Education has been a passion of mine since I was a young boy growing up in the South. But, my decision to run in LAUSD has been shaped by my experiences in LA County.
During the second year of my MSW program at UCLA, I was placed at Community Coalition in South Los Angeles. In addition to working in the video production, community organizing and development departments, I worked with students from LAUSD augmenting the work of school organizers in the SCYEA (South Central Youth Empowered Through Action) program. In addition to this, I directed a mental health screening process for 40 of these young people and used the anonymous data that was compiled to create a wellness retreat where my team attempted to address as many of the students’ concerns as possible.
Their concerns echoed those that I heard when I worked as a social worker at Malibu High School and Malibu middle school the prior year. Though the work was in the Santa Monica Malibu School District, my clients were primarily from LAUSD District 1 and on permit because their parents worked in the area. In both cases, students spoke of issues around body image, gender identity, sexuality, interpersonal relationships, anxiety, depression and, of course, academic success. But, time and time again in the course of my therapeutic and advisement appointments, it became clear that issues that fall outside the realm of education were impeding my clients’ abilities to succeed. I would later learn that many, if not all, of the issues creating toxic stress and preventing my clients from performing their best could be grouped into a set known as Adverse Childhood Experiences or ACEs.
In the course of my doctoral study at USC, I focused squarely on ACEs. Well, ACEs along with place- based interventions such as those in the Harlem Children’s Zone, Community Schools and Schools with Trauma Informed Instruction and Administration and how to scale their implementation. I firmly believe that this type of place based intervention should be standard for all schools. The 19 Wellness Centers active around LAUSD are a good start. But, they are not nearly enough. Many are understaffed and do not have consistent hours. Their counterparts, mental and physical health professionals assigned to individual schools, have overstacked case loads and serve multiple schools. 
If we want students to succeed, we must arm them with the tools to do so while removing any barriers that impede their progress.
I have personally had the privilege of attending well funded public magnet or international baccalaureate schools in middle school and high school. I firmly believe that every student should have the experience where teachers have extra time and schools have the resources to make sure that every student succeeds. Too often the students who have the most external support receive the most internal support from school districts, while students whose external support is low languish. This must change.