"Football With a Purpose": Super Bowl Party Tackles L.A.'s Education Issues

Courtesy of Elaine Lee
From left: Sharon Davis, Cherna Gitnick, Dr. Gary Gitnick and former California Gov. Gray Davis

Dr. Gary Gitnick and his wife Cherna have been hosting the event, featuring a panel discussion during halftime, at their home for 20 years.

If this was Super Bowl LI for the NFL, then it was viewing party XX for Dr. Gary Gitnick and his wife Cherna, who for the past two decades have used the NFL championship game to bring attention to local education issues. "Football with a purpose," is the way former California Gov. Gray Davis describes the annual party/discussion group held in the Gitnicks' Encino home.

The affair begins with 200 guests watching the game's first half on monitors set throughout the house; then, at halftime, there’s a panel discussion in a tented area attached to the house.

"I look at the party as a unique opportunity to bring together people with a passion for education,” says Dr. Gitnick, who founded the Fulfillment Fund, a nonprofit that aids economically challenged students with graduating from high school and attending college. "This isn't union vs. non-union or charter school vs. non-charter. We share a bad situation that needs to be improved."

The panel this year included moderator Todd Hawkins, Los Angeles Unified School District president Steve Zimmer, Fulfillment Fund CEO Maria Espinosa Booth, LAUSD superintendent Michelle King and education nonprofit CEO Veronica Melvin. Guests included former Los Angeles County supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who described the crowd as "movers and shakers who share a passion for improving our education system."

Among the matters discussed and numbers thrown out was that, of the LAUSD's 664,000 students, a third are on the free or reduced lunch program, 8 percent are homeless and 8,000 are in the foster care system. "The district has made tremendous strides forward in just the past few years," says Booth. "It's gone from a 54 percent graduation rate to 76 percent. There's a lot more to be done, but there are encouraging signs."

Though the issues discussed were a lot larger than anything that can be resolved during a halftime break, Dr. Gitnick feels bringing elements of the education community together is worth the effort. "The schools cannot do it alone, especially when the state provides only $9,000 per student annually as opposed to the $19,000 that’s spent in other states," he says. "We need to come together to improve the education system."

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