Community groups remain skeptical on LAUSD superintendent search
Mike Szymanski | October 9, 2015
Some community groups deeply involved with Los Angeles education have raised skepticism over how they will be involved in the search and selection of the next LAUSD school superintendent and whether their views will count for anything.
Nearly a dozen groups contacted by LA School Report said they have been unimpressed or uninvolved in efforts so far by the district and the search firm it hired, Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates, to find a replacement for Ramon Cortines.
The district has posted an online survey, asking people to rank qualities sought in a new superintendent; the search firm has said it planned to interview various groups as well as hold community meetings later this month to solicit public input.
One group, Communities for Los Angeles Student Success or CLASS, representing 37 community organizations, has sent a letter to the school board, asking to participate directly in the search for a new superintendent.
Sandra Hamada, director of youth programs for Community Coalition, one of the groups that signed the letter, said it is unclear how the community input will be used in coming up with candidates. “I really do not see how this will make a difference,” she said.
“The survey does not have much depth,” Hamada added. “The survey is very basic, it is a job description. Who would not say ‘yes’ to all of these?”
Hamada echoed other critics of the survey, saying that it isn’t Los Angeles-specific enough and does not go far enough in reflecting the known diverse interests in the community. She and leaders of other groups said they plan to spread the word among their members to get people to weigh in on the survey, but Hamada said she is concerned that “the students and parents that we share this with will be frustrated.”
Teach For America-Los Angeles executive director Lida Jennings said that although no one from her group has been invited individually to participate in the search, she remains hopeful because of board president Steve Zimmer.
“We are optimistic that the community forums, open survey and teacher engagement that president Zimmer routinely exhibits will help the board understand what is important to parents, educators and community leaders,” she said. “However, it is critical that these voices hold real influence in the board’s decision, and that is why we’d like to see a community committee have a seat at the interview table.”
Inner City Struggle executive director Maria Brenes noted that she specifically had not heard about the community survey until two days after its release, and that was a sign, she said, of poor community outreach. She said she hopes the school board will listen to groups like hers, which understand needs of the community, particularly low-income minorities.
“It is so important to have a formalized committee,” Brenes said. “This is such an important issue to the state of education, and the most important decision for the Board of Education to make. There are hundreds in our organization who want to be heard about equal access for youth of color, opportunities for college and the voices of our youth and parents will be heard at the forums.”
Ama Nyamekye, executive director of Educators 4 Excellence-Los Angeles, said the search should be more public. She said she believes groups like hers should be able to interview the final candidates, and if they don’t get that chance, she wonders if it’s all just for show.
“What is this all for? I’m looking for a clear understanding of how they are going about it, one of the ways is survey, and that’s fine, but what will they do with the results of this survey?” Nyamekye asked. “I think every group working with education and children should be part of the process. We would like to be part of the process. We have not been contacted.”
Nyamekye conceded that it is a large, diverse district and not everyone can have a say in the search process, but added, “I would at least like to know who is part of the search process, and what input the board members are getting.”
LA’s Promise executive director Veronica Melvin said she has faith in the search process so far: “There are a broad range of stakeholders who care deeply about finding an effective superintendent to lead the district successfully over the next several years. LAUSD is smart to engage Angelenos in its search to ensure it finds an experienced individual to lead its complex education system so that every student achieves his or her greatest potential.”
Teach Plus hasn’t been that closely involved in the search for the superintendent so far. But, executive director Mike Stryer said, “We and the teachers in our network, who teach in high-need schools in LAUSD, call on the next superintendent to focus on ensuring resource equity for all students and support teacher leadership as a pathway to improving our schools. We welcome for the candidates to meet with our teacher leaders so that they can learn about the great work they are doing in the classroom.”
Sara Mooney, of United Way LA, said the letter that CLASS sent out earlier in the week represents more than 150,000 parents, students and teachers from throughout the district. She said, “It is incumbent on the board to put great stock in their voices and to hold their feedback central to this process.”
CLASS plans to promote the survey to all staff and members of their coalition.
“We appreciate that there is a formal process, that LAUSD has hired a search firm, and that the board is acting with urgency,” Mooney said. “We want to ensure that the community feedback received through the surveys and input sessions influence the search process, characteristics of the next superintendent, and, ultimately, the board’s final decision.”