In Partnership with The 74

LAUSD’s graduation rate a record 75 percent, Michelle King announces at her first State of the District address

Mike Szymanski | August 9, 2016



Michelle King announced a record 75 percent graduation rate at her first State of the District address as superintendent of LA Unified, “a district on the move,” she proclaimed Tuesday.

King noted that the 75 percent rate is based on “preliminary data” as she addressed 1,500 principals, assistant principals and district administrators at the annual kick-off to the school year, held at Garfield High School in East Los Angeles.

“We are a district on the move,” King said after her speech, when asked what she wants the general public to know about the second-largest school district in the country. “The movement and trajectory is from the earliest youth, pre-K and not just stopping at high school but through college. Right now our preliminary data shows that the class of 2016 is at 75 percent graduation. It Is supposed to be as high as we can get it. It is better than we’ve done in the past. Last year was 72 percent, and we’ve exceeded that.”

The graduation rate jumped nearly 3 percentage points over last year despite a new requirement that students pass a rigorous college-prep curriculum in order to earn a diploma. The slate of classes known as the “A-G curriculum” qualifies students to attend California’s public universities.

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Michelle King at her first State of the District address.

She added, “This is exceeding expectations of those who said our students couldn’t do it. Today we say our students can and will thrive to meet the standards to be college-ready.”

The theme of King’s address was “A District on the Move,” and she introduced a promotional video of the same name showing the district’s successes. She also emphasized that “we’re in it together,” and she peppered her speech with more than a dozen names of principals and administrators in the audience that she congratulated for their successes.

Among those she called out included: California’s National Distinguished Principal Marcia S. Reed of 186th Street Elementary School in Gardena; teachers Anthony Yom and Sam Luu and Principal Jose Torres of Lincoln High School who helped every student pass the demanding Calculus Advanced Placement examinations; and Hesby Oaks Leadership Charter Principal Movses Tarakhchyan who required all of his staff to learn CPR and then saved a cafeteria worker when she collapsed this year.

“Together we are turning the tide in a district on the move,” King said. “We are at our best when we are unified and working together as a team.”

All of the school board members except Ref Rodriguez and Richard Vladovic attended the speech, held one week before the Aug. 16 start of school. School board President Steve Zimmer gave a rousing introduction, calling King “not only the best but most qualified leader in public education in the United States.”

Zimmer thanked his fellow board members, school police and principals for their response to the terrorist threat that closed down the schools on Dec. 15. “We hope that never happens again, but if it does, LA became the model on how we all come together and work together and be strong together in the face of danger.”

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Marcia Reed, in white sweater, was one of the principals honored by Michelle King.

King noted safety as a top priority. “As I talk to parents, one topic that continuously emerges is school safety in this time when the headlines are dominated by tragedy and violence. Our students, families and employees want to feel safe, and I am committed to ensuring that they do.”

King also announced:

• Preliminary results of last year’s Smarter Balanced Assessments show that some math and English scores have improved by as much as 7 percent.

• Nearly 200 Title III coaches for English learners have been added.

• 1,000 classrooms in bungalows will be replaced this year with new, modern classrooms.

• Linked Learning will expand to 20,000 students.

• 16 new magnet schools will start this year, including firefighter academies at Wilson and Banning high schools and the very first robotics magnet at Mulholland Middle School.

• There have been 20,000 fewer days lost to suspensions over the last three years thanks to the district’s restorative justice program.

• Nearly 90 programs will offer Arabic, Armenian, Mandarin, Korean and French this year, and multilingualism will be required throughout LA Unified.

• The district is working on a plan to allow more students to earn community college credits while they are still in high school.

• A landmark academy for gifted students and gifted students with autism is coming to the district.

• The district has distributed more than 342,000 instructional technology devices and will expand online gradebook pilots to 54 schools this year, with full districtwide implementation planned for the 2017-2018 school year.

• Students will receive more support. A specialized counselor will be assigned this year to high-needs high schools, helping students stay on track to graduate, while college and career coaches support struggling middle schools. Additional resources will be dedicated to help English-language learners, who make up nearly one-third of LA Unified’s enrollment.

King’s speech brought the principals to their feet for a standing ovation at least three times. Many of the administrators arrived on buses provided by the district, and they divided up afterward into groups such as “new principals” and other groups for professional development training.

Some of the biggest applause and whoops from the crowd came when King discussed “decentralization” and allowing “greater decisions to be made by the school community.”

King touted her “listen and learn” tour, the successful relocation of two schools during the Porter Ranch gas leak and the “Promising Practices” forum with charter and traditional educators which she wants to make a biannual event.

She pointed out that the “district is facing a deficit of hundreds of millions of dollars and we need to prioritize investments in what gives greater results,” and added, “We are spending more money than we are taking in.” She pointed out that the people in the audience could help by making school more attractive, because the district could save $42 million by raising the attendance rate by 1 percent. She pointed out that around Garfield High are banners on Atlantic Boulevard of successful high school graduates, and that keeps students wanting to come back.

She gave props to Kim Bruno, the teacher who created a play about the LA riots at the Ramón C. Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts, Shelby Sims, who transformed Western Avenue Elementary School into a technology hub with an annual technology fair, and Garry Joseph at Millikan Middle School who won a Fulbright Award  to connect students with those in India to collaborate on a science fair.

She also honored longtime activist Scott Folsom who died last week, calling him “the conscience of the district” and saying he would be truly missed.

The Garfield High JROTC color guard and cadets brought out the flags at the opening of the ceremony, the Verdugo Hills High School choir sang, Danielle Rawles from Westchester Enriched Science Magnet High recited the Pledge of Allegiance and Eileen Garrido from Ramón C. Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts sang the National Anthem, receiving a standing ovation.

“It is critical that we continue the momentum of all these efforts through the year,” King said. “We have to keep it moving.

“All students can succeed.”

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