A School of Her Own
Gayle Nadler couldn’t be more satisfied with her children’s school; she built it herself.
by Evan Henerson
The seeds for Gayle Nadler’s interest in multicultural education were sown in the late 1970s, when Nadler’s mother put young Gayle on a bus from Canoga Park bound for the 32nd Street Elementary School near downtown Los Angeles, 20 miles away.
“For some reason, I was placed in the bilingual class in the fourth grade,” recalls Nadler. “As a 10-year-old, it was really hard to understand why this great opportunity for me to meet people who were so unique and so different was limited by the fact that we didn’t speak the same language and we lived so far away from each other.”
Nadler envisioned something different for her own children’s education. A couple of decades later, when her mother, Toby Bornstein, proposed that they open a charter school dedicated to providing a diverse, blended education, Nadler jumped at the chance.
“Since I knew what good education looked like across the country, I knew I wasn’t seeing it in my neighborhood,” Nadler says, “and I knew we were going to have to do something.”
The type of charter school Nadler, who was involved in the field of curriculum development, and Bornstein, a former classroom teacher, envisioned would take years to build, and Nadler was a new mom. “I always have this image of the charts and the paper on the floor and my little 6-month-old crawling across them and getting everything tangled,” Nadler says. “Now she’s an eighth-grader here, about to graduate. So she’s been walking all over the process from the very beginning.”
“Here” is the Multicultural Learning Center (MLC), a charter school in Canoga Park (mlccharter.org) that offers a rigorous dual-immersion program: 90 percent Spanish, 10 percent English for both English- and Spanish-speaking students. As its co-founder and current program director, Nadler has had five different titles on her business card since the school opened, all while balancing the demands of being mom to daughter Lexi and son Joey.
“It was really crazy, but I had always worked,” Nadler says. “Once the school opened and I was here all the time, and they were little, it was a huge juggling act, and I had to learn how to trust other people to help me raise my children.”
Nadler gives credit to an Israeli home day care operator for helping raise Lexi and Joey with Jewish values, including Shabbat and fresh challah every Friday. “It was the best thing I could do for them,” she says. “I tell this to parents all the time. My kids learned that there are other adults in the world who love them and care about them and can be part of their lives.”
Once the kids reached school age, they joined their mom on the MLC campus, both during school hours and sometimes on weekends or during summers, when bookcases needed painting or teachers needed help organizing their classrooms.
“They’ve been part of the process of developing the school,” Nadler says. “They have literally thanked me: ‘Thank you, Mom, for building our school.’ ”