McKenna riding decades of experience into District 1 race
Yana Gracile | May 2, 2014
Third in a series of profiles of candidates for LA Unified’s open District 1 board seat.
At 73 years old and now retired as an LAUSD administrator and principal, George McKenna shows no signs of slowing down.
With more than 35 years under his belt, serving in multiple roles in eight different schools in several districts, including principal at George Washington Preparatory High School and Superintendent of the Inglewood Unified School District, he says his vision for LA Unified’s District 1 is focused and clear.
Serving him best as a candidate in the June 3 special election for the district’s open board seat, he says, is an extensive background and deep understanding of the social and economic barriers to a quality education that low-income students face, such as gangs, poverty, learning English, and living in foster and single-parent households. And it’s that empathy, he says, that gives him the tools to help close the achievement gap.
“All of those barometers and measurements are crippling in District 1 and I know that it’s important, and I think I’ll be able to make a difference in board decisions that reflect adequacy of resources as opposed to equal resources when some children need more than others,” he told LA School Report.
He said the neediest children, regardless of what district they are in, should receive more resources because it benefits the entire school district. But he says there should also be a plan that measures the outcome.
“When you pay attention to the ones with the greatest need, you always, eventually advantage the rest of us who thought we had no need at all,” he said.
McKenna advocates a “zero tolerance for dropouts” policy, pointing out that if students are dropping out in third or fourth grades, administrators need to understand the causes of school abandonment to understand how to stop it.
“If you reduce the dropout rate to zero, the rest of us have less to fear,” he said, and it all begins by laying a foundation at the elementary school level.
As a former mathematics teacher, he says he believes the curriculum should go beyond memorization by teaching students early on how to formulate ideas and apply fundamental math and writing skills and concepts, beliefs that are aligned with Common Core principles.
In time, he says, his philosophy can help curb unemployment and other societal issues by providing students with the skills and education to compete for jobs in a global marketplace.
McKenna also says schools need to help parents become more involved by encouraging them to share parenting tips, techniques and strategies with each other, which will eventually lead to healthy habits in the home and success at school.
In a seven-candidate field, McKenna appears to be at least one of the front-runners. He said one poll has him in the lead with 44 percent of voter support. He has been endorsed by the Associated Administrators of Los Angeles, the union that represents principals and other administrators, but he missed out on a nod from the teachers union, UTLA, which endorsed the three teachers in the race — Rachel Johnson, Sherlett Hendy-Newbill and Hattie McFrazier.
McKenna said he supports the teachers union, UTLA, but would will always weigh the needs of children and budgetary concerns when it comes to voting on policy — a sign he’d be a more independent voice on the board than LaMotte, who was a staunch and consistent UTLA supporter.
Through the first reporting period for campaign contributions, his $57,825 put him third behind Alex Johnson ($113,051) and Genethia Hudley-Hayes ($93,070). Among his leading endorsers are the Los Angeles Times, the Los Angeles Sentinel and U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters.
“I don’t vote on the side of anybody. I vote on the side of what I think is appropriate and best for children for the circumstance,” he said. “I’ve been a long time supporter of teachers. I think teachers need additional support, professional development so that they can implement the various new reformed curricula and teaching methodologies that are implemented.”