John Deasy and Keeping Students Front and Center in the Political Battles of LA

Los Angeles Unified School District recently announced a 15-point increase in its graduation rate. This is cause for immense celebration as more students are on their pathways out of poverty.

George David Kieffer

George David Kieffer

Yet the headlines in Los Angeles are consumed not with recent successes but with reports of board and superintendent conflict.

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What gets lost in all of the political maneuvering is the very real progress that Los Angeles has made.

Supt. John Deasy and the board have together brought an unrelenting focus on poor children of color and there has been much progress as a result of his leadership including increased graduation and attendance rates, increases in the numbers of African American and Latino students taking Advanced Placement courses and exams, and reduced suspensions along with an overhaul of the school discipline policy.

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It is equally important to note the day-to-day real contributions of teachers to this recent progress.

Voters in Los Angeles reinforced their confidence in this progress when they voted approval of Proposition 30 which allowed us to make key investments in our schools.

“We have a responsibility to work together and bring the focus back to improving academic achievement for our students. They cannot wait.”

Supt. Deasy and the Board of Education wisely invested these resources in hiring more teachers, counselors, and principals after devastating budget cuts, and developed a strategy to bridge the technology gap for poor students. They also worked with community partners to develop a plan for investing Prop 30 tax dollars for our most at-risk students including foster children, special needs students and English language learners.

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So, how do we find ourselves in this divisive environment? What’s more important is how we get out.

Should he remain as Superintendent, Supt. Deasy needs to balance his urgency, which is absolutely appropriate, with the need to bring others along, including the school board, teachers and principals.

Our school board members need to work with the Superintendent and not micromanage him.

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Our teachers’ union leadership needs to utilize the common ground that exists with the focus on equity and work in partnership with the Superintendent, the board and community partners.

They have only to look at the leadership of our classified workers at SEIU (Service Employees International Union) to understand that collaboration works in Los Angeles, not attacks.

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Whether the Superintendent and Board can continue to work together appears to be an open question. But Los Angeles is at another crossroads. In moving forward under John Deasy or any successor, unless we pull together as Board, teachers, and full civic community, we run the risk of losing the student achievement gains we have made during a short period of time.

We have a responsibility to work together and bring the focus back to improving academic achievement for our students. They cannot wait.

[Cross-posted at The Hechinger Report]

George Kieffer

George Kieffer serves on the Board of Regents of the University of California, is former chair of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, and chairs the Los Angeles Civic Alliance. He is the author of The Strategy of Meetings and contributing author of Governing Public Colleges & Universities.