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LAUSD’s school board can begin superintendent search; Ekchian is named interim head

Mike Szymanski | January 9, 2018

Vivian Ekchian is named interim superintendent for LA Unified.

LA Unified’s school board can begin the search for a new superintendent immediately, the district’s lead attorney said Tuesday, and the board president said members will hold weekly discussions as they move to bring stability to a district that has had nine superintendents in 20 years.

The school board held its first meeting of the new year without any public discussion of Superintendent Michelle King’s announcement last week that she will retire or what the next steps might be. But in a closed session later Tuesday afternoon, the seven-member board unanimously decided to name acting superintendent Vivian Ekchian as interim superintendent.

“We had a very substantial conversation, and the board decided we would talk about this weekly as we figure out the next steps in the search process,” said board President Mónica García after the closed session.

Last Friday, King announced that she will retire when her contract is up for review at the end of June, remaining on medical leave until then, and that cancer is the reason she has been out since September. García, who said she has met with King, said she heard much well-wishing as she toured schools on Monday. “There was a flood of humanity and concern for Dr. King’s well-being,” she said.

LA Unified General Counsel David Holmquist confirmed in an email that “the board is free to begin a search immediately.” He noted that King would need to apply to the California State Teachers’ Retirement System prior to her retirement in order for it to become effective.

In the last superintendent search, which concluded with King’s selection two years ago this month, a search firm was hired for $160,000 to hold more than 100 community forums to seek input on what would make an ideal candidate. About 1,600 people attended, and the search firm also conducted a survey that was taken by nearly 9,500 people. Board members at the time said they thought the input was minimal and unnecessary. The overall expense for that search process was $250,000.

“It will be interesting to see if they want to survey all the stakeholders again,” former board member David Tokofsky said. “But it’s a new board, so they will probably want their constituents to have input.”

Another question is how transparent the process will be this time. LA Unified’s last superintendent search, two years ago, was conducted in secret, unlike in 1997, when Tokofsky was on the board. He said the final three candidates were announced to the public and held a debate before the board picked Ruben Zacarias.

Ekchian’s selection as interim superintendent was unanimous by the board, which asked Holmquist to negotiate and finalize an employment agreement. Ekchian has served as acting superintendent since October, and previously was a local district superintendent, chief labor negotiator, and human resources director. She started with the district as a teacher in 1985.

Chicago’s school district is also headed by an interim CEO after the previous leader resigned under allegations of lying in an ethics investigation. New York City’s chancellor announced in December that she was retiring, so the nation’s three largest school districts are seeking new leadership.

Mayor Eric Garcetti called Ekchian a “wise choice” who “will provide the strong leadership and dedication that our young people deserve, and build on the progress that Michelle King delivered in her time leading the district.”

Garcia said the board will likely discuss the superintendent search in open session at the next regular school board meeting Jan. 16.


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