George McKenna is often considered one of the more curmudgeonly characters on the LA Unified school board (although he has some competition). As vice president of the board and the senior member of the seven elected members, McKenna is given a lot of leeway and respect when he has something to say at the board meetings.
And when he does, it often turns into a life story, a history lesson or a smart anecdote from his teaching days ranging back to when he started at LA Unified in 1962.
Here are a few choice McKenna-isms we’ve observed at the school board.
On successful teachers . . .
“I don’t feel sorry for you because you chose to do this. You are putting together something that you must sustain. You are like the land. We can devastate everything else, but the land remains. That’s how we plant the seed, and the fruit is our children.”
On bad teachers . . .
“A lousy teacher is a bad thing to have, it’s like having a lousy doctor: you’re not going to make it.”
On ethnic teachers . . .
“The ethnicity of a teacher has nothing to do with their ability to relate to children. It does not require a black teacher to teach a black child, it does not require a Hispanic teacher to teach a Hispanic child. Melanin does not protect you from racial prejudice. It only protects you from sunburn, that’s about all. I have never found anybody that protected a child against prejudice just because they are black.”
On celebrating successful schools . . .
“We don’t need to celebrate successful schools, that should be expected. It’s like when you take an airplane. You expect it to land; you don’t celebrate that, you expect it. That’s what you’re supposed to do.”
On picking a superintendent . . .
“We can have Sleepy, Bashful, Dopey and all of them stand before us, but we are picking a Snow White.”
On the process of picking a superintendent . . .
“We can have all the forms and surveys and input in the world, but what’s going to tell it to me more than anything is when I look the person in the eye and ask them, ‘Why do you want to be superintendent of this district?’ And that’s how I will decide.”
On community input . . .
“You know, I’m all for community involvement and engagement and such, but the community is who picked us to represent them. No one invited me to sit on the board of their organization to give input. The community gave us this responsibility, let us do it.”
On fellow board member Monica Ratliff . . .
“Miss Ratliff is psychic as well as bright. … I appreciate everything she asks about, especially when it concerns the budgets. No one else is going to read through all these papers like she is.”
On unanimous decisions . . .
“That, we all agree, would be a flawed assumption, especially with the bizarreness of one or two of us.”
On a motion to close a charter school in his district . . .
“These are my children, I walk with them to school, they’ve been there since 1965. I’ve been there and know what they are doing. The objections are bureaucratic, not because of instructions. I will not vote for this.”