LA Unified is fresh, clean, safe and on the upswing.
That was the message Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, LA Unified Superintendent Michelle King, school board President Steve Zimmer, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education James Cole Jr. and board member George McKenna delivered at a news conference from the library of John C. Fremont High School in South LA this morning to help kick off the first official day of classes at the district.
The location of the library was strategically chosen, as it is brand new.
“We are so excited that this district and this city and our voters have given us the resources to do this, to take a school district that just a decade ago was literally falling apart and now has some of the most shining examples of what we should make our campuses feel like and look like,” said Garcetti, referring to the district’s $27 billion bond program to build 131 new schools, the last of which are set to be completed next year.
All of the leaders who took to the podium highlighted various positive aspects of the district, in a coordinated effort to project LA Unified as a place with a bright future — and not one facing serious budget shortfalls, potential labor unrest and continued declining enrollment.
Zimmer started off, setting the tone. “We have an unprecedented and I would say best-in-the-nation partnership with the city of Los Angeles.”
Garcetti took the opportunity to highlight the numerous ways the city and the district partner together and how the city directly aids LA’s youth. The programs he highlighted included the family source centers and other shared facilities, a summer jobs program called Hire LA’s Youth, anti-gang efforts like Summer Night Lights, an initiative to get LA Unified students signed up for library cards and efforts to boost graduation like Student Recovery Day. He also discussed a new program, Los Angeles College Promise, in which the city has partnered with the Los Angeles Community College District and LA Unified to offer a free year of community college to district graduates.
Referring to a group of high school students who were lined up behind the podium, Garcetti said, “So for our seniors here today, this is our promise to you. When you graduate, community college will be free this next year.”
Garcetti also had high praise for King, who took over as superintendent in January. Referring to her recent efforts to cool relations between the district and charter schools at the “Promising Practices” forum, Garcetti said King is “building a bridge” between reformers and teachers.
During her turn at the podium, King also spoke of the library card program, saying the district and the city are working together “for each and every LA Unified student to have a library card. There are applications in each and every enrollment packet.”
Cole, who said he grew up in a rough neighborhood in Chicago, praised LA Unified for its leadership in the nation on issues like LGBTQ student rights and restorative justice. He then remembered a high school teacher who encouraged him to “dream big” and get a college degree. Speaking to the students, he said, “So what I encourage each and every one of you to do is to find a teacher, find a coach, find a mentor who can help you along the way and help you do great things while you are here at Fremont.”
All in all, the message was clear, and perhaps best summed up by Zimmer in his remarks: “Fremont, this library, the enrollment today, and what you can see in the classes here and the amazing young people that stand with us today represent what is possible when dreams come true though public education.”