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California Alternative Education Initiative

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The Gardner Center is a leader in conducting research and descriptive studies of California’s growing alternative schools.  The California Department of Education (CDE) identifies more than 1000 public alternative schools across the state (predominantly high schools) designed to meet the needs of credit-deficient and other youth vulnerable to dropping out before completing the minimum requirements for a regular high school diploma.

In 2007, founding director Milbrey McLaughlin led Gardner Center staff on site visits to over 40 alternative high schools in 26 school districts across California. This began a decades-long exploration of state policy and emerging “better practices” that characterize the more successful alternative schools.

California Advisory Task Force on Alternative Schools

Since 2018, the Gardner Center has served as convener of the California Advisory Task Force on Alternative Schools. The Task Force is led by Gardner Center Deputy Director Jorge Ruiz de Velasco and is comprised of district and county administrators and school leaders who are experts in alternative education. Task Force members advise the CDE on the development of a robust state school accountability system that will incentivize school improvement and promote better outcomes for youth in alternative school settings. In September 2020, the Task Force has issued a Report & Recommendations of the California Advisory Task Force on Alternative Schools to the State Board of Education.

California Learning Collaborative on Alternative Education

Today, the Gardner Center is home to the California Learning Collaborative on Alternative Education. The Collaborative includes participants from school districts in Los Angeles, Oakland, Fresno, Ventura, Long Beach, Corona-Norco, Hemet, Monterey, and San Bernardino and is focused on the organizational effectiveness of continuation high schools in California and outcomes for the youth who enroll in them. For more information about the California Learning Collaborative on Alternative Education, contact

Case Studies & Profiles

Learn more about what schools and educators across the state are doing to help students succeed in their pursuit of college and career readiness.

Actionable Data

An important step in improving student outcomes is the development of a set of accurate and actionable data about youth in alternative settings. Notably, our alternative school system enrolls large numbers of students each year. In the 2021-22 school year, for example, California’s alternative schools enrolled approximately 11.4 percent of all youth in public school grades 10-12 (9th graders are generally not eligible for voluntary enrollment in alternative schools).

These data will assist the CDE and other stakeholders to better understand the scale and scope of the system, as well as prioritize and design a long-term policy and learning agenda. Gardner Center research aims to fill some of these data gaps in the following demographic and school performance briefs.

Data Briefs

Policy area

College, Career, and Civic Readiness


Robert Eiseman

Robert Eiseman 

BA, Environmental Biology, CSU Northridge
MA, Education Administration, CSU Northridge

Robert Eiseman CV.pdf (136.97 KB)

The majority of my career in education has been dedicated to working with at-risk youth. During this time, I have been a teacher, principal, and the first LAUSD Educational Options Director supervising and/or supporting (e.g., WASC, budget development, professional development, curriculum and instruction, leadership and team building, operational concerns, and personnel matters) 55 alternative education schools including: City of Angels K-12, Independent Studies, Pregnant Minor Schools, Youth Opportunities Unlimited Alternative High School, Carlson Home/Hospital School, Continuation High Schools, Community Day Schools, and Opportunity Schools. After retiring from the LAUSD, I accepted an administrative position as the Foreign Principal of an international secondary school in Tongli, China. It was a fantastic experience. Currently, I am honored to be part of the California Learning Collaborative on Alternative Education where I am able to continue supporting alternative education schools.

ASK ME ABOUT ... my experiences introducing project-based learning to an international secondary school in China.


Robin Geissler

Robin Geissler

BA, Literature, Pepperdine University
MA, Education, California Lutheran University
MA, Administration, California Lutheran University

Robin Geissler_CV.pdf (170.39 KB)

As a recently retired continuation high school principal from Southern California, I understand the challenges, the highs, and lows of building a learning community of excellence. During my nearly 20 years at Jereann Bowman High School, a Title I school, we increased graduation from 26 students a year to 300 graduates. We sustained a 97% graduation rate with 80% of our graduates attending universities, community colleges, technical and art schools or joining the military. During my term Bowman earned a 6-year, clear accreditation. Bowman first achieved California Model Continuation School status in my second year as an administrator and remains a Model School to this day.

I am proud that we leveraged funding to include two full time academic counselors and a full-time therapist, an on-site social worker, and DIS counselors. All staff, from teachers to office support and campus supervisors were trained in Trauma Informed Practices. The list of expanded electives included:  AP Computer Science; ACTION (substance abuse intervention); Digital Music; Guitar; Culinary Arts (career pathway); Equine Therapy; Teen Leadership; ERWC (Cal State Northridge Writing Project); Theater Arts; and a Paxton Patterson STEM lab (career pathways).

I have been an active member of the Association of California School Administrators (ACSA) since 1999, serving as President, ACSA Continuation Principal of the Year, California Education Association Administrator of the Year (CEA); and State California League of High Schools Educator of the Year honoree.

My commitments to “of promise” students remains steadfast and in the forefront of my life. It is part of who I am. Currently, I am in the application process to volunteer with the 2,000 unaccompanied, immigrant minors soon to be relocated to the Long Beach Convention Center. My mission is to ensure that these children receive the critical services and support they deserve.

ASK ME ABOUT ... meditation practices!


Els Prigmore photo

Els Prigmore

BA, Kinesiology and Exercise Science, CSU Sacramento
MA, Community Health Services, CSU Chico

Elsbeth Prigmore CV.pdf (150.7 KB)

A native of California, I have lived in two other countries for a short period of time. One of the best jobs in the world I have is 'Mom.' I competed nationally and internationally in the sport of fast pitch softball - competitive nature is in my blood. Athletics saved my life as did great mentors and a step-dad I would color as love. I'm a member of a few teams: this Collaborative, Mercy Associates, United Way, Catalyst Mentoring and ACSA. I am grateful for all that I've been blessed with, especially family, friends, colleagues and meaningful work with kids.

ASK ME ABOUT ... social emotional learning and conflict resolution

Talma Schultz photo

Talma Schultz

PhD, Neurobiology, Weizmann Institute of Science
BA, Pharmaceutical Chemistry, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México

Talma Shultz CV.pdf (222.22 KB)

Dr. Talma Shultz is an advocate for equitable education and youth development to ensure that every young person is prepared and able to draw from their strength, assets, and lived experiences to pursue their dreams. She has served as a curriculum designer, has coached teams in creating and sustaining career-themed high schools to prepare students for college and career in traditional and alternative education settings, and established systems and tools for integrated student supports.  She has also trained and coached numerous teams to expand on their coaching skills to sustain their school reform efforts. She weaves  the science of learning (adults and youth), neuroscience, the arts, and a trauma-healing youth development framework in her work.

Dr. Shultz was a Program Associate  at Facing History, and Ourselves and worked for County Commissions on Human Relations: She developed and implemented cultural diversity programs to address inter-group relations, violence prevention, and understanding and appreciation of cultural differences. As a  teacher, Dr. Shultz led student advisory and taught science with an emphasis on environmental, social justice.  As a college instructor, she taught Teaching for Social Justice courses in teacher preparation programs. She began her career in education as a research scientist exploring the biology of the brain. 

Dr. Shultz has a Ph.D. in Neurobiology from the Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel, graduate studies in Education and Psychology and a B.A. in Pharmaceutical Chemistry and Biochemistry from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. She is a student and practitioner of restorative practices integrating, somatic work,  the arts and mindfulness.

Her passion is supporting youth to pursue their dreams.

ASK ME ABOUT ...  trauma-informed social-emotional learning, pathway development, integrating students support aligned with the school outcomes, preparations for work-based learning, and internships.


Diana Walsh-Reuss photo

Diana Walsh-Reuss

Diana Walsh-Ruess Resume.pdf (102.95 KB)

Throughout her career in education, Dr. Diana Walsh-Reuss has focused on supporting students with the greatest needs. She is dedicated to the success of at-risk students and to her unwavering belief that "All students can succeed.”  Recently retired, Dr. Walsh-Reuss has served as Riverside County Associate Superintendent leading Alternative Education, Special Education, Head Start, State Preschool, Child Care, Migrant Head Start, Migrant Education and the county office in a variety of capacities. During her tenure with the county office, all alternative programs achieved WASC accreditation and she facilitated the creation of three charter high schools. Other career experiences have included teaching pre-K through adult education as well as being an assistant principal, principal, director, assistant superintendent and serving in leadership roles in state-level organizations and committees.

Prior to joining the county office, Dr. Walsh-Reuss served and supported students as a special education teacher, coach and mentor as well as serving in multiple administrative positions in a large, diverse suburban school district. Before moving to California, she taught general and special education in Michigan. Currently, she consults with and coaches educational leader and works with several universities, chairs the Board of Directors for two nonprofit and currently serves of the WASC Accrediting Commission Executive Board.

ASK ME ABOUT ... systems to support student success.