Interview with Cecilia Melgares: Equitas Academy

I “sat down” with Cecilia Melgares, Managing Director of Operations for Equitas Academy, a charter management organization based in Los Angeles and partner of PCSD since 2010. Cecilia has been with Equitas for almost seven years.

Can you tell me about Equitas? What makes Equitas unique and what inspires you about working there?

What inspires me: The commitment that we have to our scholars and our families to go above and beyond. The emphasis on building character. In education we often focus on the academics, but all the other pieces are just as important in order to create generational change.

What is unique about us and inspires me on a day-to-day basis: The commitment as a staff that we all have to meet scholars and families where they are at. I grew up in LA and went to LAUSD schools. I was an English language learner from a single-family home. Education changed my life! That opportunity is so important. With that perspective I know what it is that our scholars need to be successful.

I understand that Equitas was instrumental in supporting the community surrounding one of your schools. How did you get started and how were you able to sustain the program? Are you still supporting the community in this way and/or has it evolved?

During the pandemic, we felt it was important to meet the basic needs of our families. As soon as we closed down, we were able to serve 200,000 meals by the end of the 2019-2020 school year. In addition, we delivered technology, computers, and internet access. Education is the heart of our mission but students can’t learn if their most basic needs aren’t met.

Although most of the staff were working remotely, the operations team was working on site. We provided breakfast and lunch to the community, including some of our families, at Equitas Flagship (EQ), the headquarters and our flagship school at Pico. All seven of our schools are within 2 miles of each other so the flagship school was easily accessible for all of our families. We were surprised by the number of meals we were serving and had to increase the numbers to meet the needs of the community. We stopped the program in June 2021 when the funding stopped and free breakfast and lunch were offered to all students starting in the 2021-2022 school year.

The response from the community was enormous. We had people who were unhoused who came to pick up food. We had grandparents pick up food. It provided a sense of community for everyone that we were working with. And it showed the community that we were going to be there for our families and community at large.

This year, we have hosted vaccination sites for all our schools over the weekend. It’s open to anyone in the community. We are really mindful of how we bring resources to the community at large.

I would love to hear about your experience working with PCSD. What has been your involvement in working with PCSD? What has surprised you the most?

I worked with PCSD first at Equitas #2 then in 2018, on Equitas #3. We got our Temporary Certificate of Occupancy on Saturday of Labor Day weekend and school started on Tuesday. We had 3 days to get ready. We are now working with PCSD on [Equitas] #5 and #6.

We love working with Joe and previously with Mishelle. They have been an integral part of our project.

Anything else you would like to add?

We are grateful for the partnership [with PCSD] and for the work!! Joe goes above and beyond and always imagines how this is going to impact the scholars and the end work!