Zimmer, other LA Unified board members offer their thanks

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Steve Zimmer joins a pre-Thanksgiving meal.

Several members of the LA Unified board are using their websites to reflect on what they’re thankful for with the long Thanksgiving weekend just ahead.

Board President Steve Zimmer focused on education in his newsletter.

He writes: “The recent attacks on liberty and peace in Paris, Mali, and across the Middle East shake our hearts and our spirit. Here at home, the violence that has afflicted South Los Angeles also gives us pause and reflect. We remember each young soul lost in the terror that has become so commonplace that it rarely makes the news. But every life is sacred and for the school children who awaken to yellow police tape and altars in the streets the toll is every bit as devastating.

“Even as we remember and as we reflect, we are grateful for the blessings of family, community and of mission. Our children’s dreams demand that we look all around us and recognize the many who support and elevate hope in these difficult times.”

He thanks teachers and the entire LA Unified family, with a special shoutout to the outgoing superintendent, saying his “return to LA Unified at 83 years young is one of the greatest acts of public service this generation has seen.”

Board member Mónica García collected Thanksgiving messages from others for her newsletter, including one from Cortines. “I’m thankful for all of the progress that we at LAUSD have made together over the past year. There is much to celebrate and much to get done,” Cortines said. She collected messages from three Local District superintendents, chief deputy superintendent Michelle King, principals, parents, teachers and even a school bus driver.”

She also includes a message from a district school bus driver Orlando Perez, who said, “As we come to the holidays we tend to realize how life can be so precious. At this time I start realizing on all the matters I should be thankful for, one of these is my family. I can always count on them. Secondly, my job, not only has it provided me with a stable life, it is now giving me the opportunity to get a greater education so I can promote, and last but not least my friends.”

Board member Richard Vladovic has a cartoon of a wise old owl offering a “Happy Thanksgiving” that vaguely resembles him on his Facebook page.


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After hot debate, LAUSD board refines superintendent criteria

SteveZimmer8After 90 minutes of contentious debate, the LAUSD school board agreed on a list of desired characteristics for the superintendent candidates they will begin interviewing.

The discussion ran the gamut from the definition of the word “bold” to whether the members wanted someone with experience in an “urban environment.”

Ultimately, the one-page list of desired characteristics they approved is only a template, more guidelines than a mandate. The list is designed to help the search firm, Hazard, Young Attea and Associates, find suitable candidates to be interviewed but will not keep candidates from consideration if they don’t meet all the criteria.

“We won’t take someone out because they do not meet all the characteristics on this document,” said search firm president Hank Gmitro, adding, “The idea behind the critieria is to find the ideal person, and as we look at resumes, we will assess and match them against that criteria and see how well they fit in that profile.”

From this point, the next major phases of the search process will be conducted largely in private. The board intends to develop questions for candidates as they come forward, leading to a list of finalists. The goal is to have a successor to Ramon Cortines in place by Jan. 1. Cortines, who is 83, said he intends to step down by the end of the year.

The 7-0 vote to approve the profile came after several members campaigned hard to insert or change language as they wrangled over additions they felt were ignored or underemphasized in the draft document before them.

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Charter schools accuse LA Unified of ‘unlawful’ use of bond money


Charter schools are asking for input into getting their fair share of LA Unified’s bond program funding.

The dispute is particularly about the reallocation of $339 million after the planned Mandarin Foreign Language Immersion Program Elementary School project was cancelled. The district board voted last week to use the money for upgrades to school facilities to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and to expand wellness clinics as well as installing air conditions in some gyms.

Winston Stromberg an attorney who is representing the California Charter School Association, presented a letter to the school board last week, asking the school board to delay the decision so that the public and other interested stakeholders could have their input.

In the letter, obtained by the LA School Report, Stromberg said that the superintendent’s staff “unnecessarily and unlawfully seeks to fund a substantial portion of the structural changes using nearly $90 million of bond funding designated for charter school facilities that the voters approved when they passed Measure Q in 2008.”

The letter said that the district rushed into “a major financial decision that could impact future facilities options for thousands of public school students attending charter schools.”

Stromberg said, “There has simply not been enough time to fully understand all of the issues implicated by the proposal.”

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LAUSD board says no decision yet on moving Emerson adult school

RamonCortinesWavingStudents and staff at the Emerson Adult Center are concerned that their building will be taken over by a charter school and that LA Unified is growing less committed to adult education.

The message from LA Unified’s board: relax. The board and LAUSD officials say there is no commitment to separate the adult programs from the Westchester site and that further hearings will be scheduled before a decision is made.

At last week’s school board meeting, at least half a dozen students and teachers who have benefitted from the adult community school spoke in favor of keeping it all at the Emerson location on a quiet dead-end street near LAX. They cited personal stories of academic successes and noted that the neighborhood adults depend on the local school.

It’s one of the 10 adult community schools with its own campus in the LAUSD system, which has 89,340 adult students this year.

At the board meeting, board president Steve Zimmer, whose district includes the school, assured the speakers. “Adult education is important to the district and there is no proposal to close the school. No decision has been made.”

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College students find gaps in LAUSD superintendent search process


Christelle Rocha waited nine hours to speak to the board.

A group of college students told the LA Unified board this week that its effort to reach non-Internet-connected people as part of the superintendent search was inadequate.

“We walked through neighborhoods and found more than 200 community members who lacked Internet access and didn’t have a means of travel to the community meetings, but care about education and weren’t able to provide their input,” said Christelle Rocha, the chapter leader of the Students for Education Reform. Rocha said it was well worth the nine hours wait at the LAUSD school board’s long meeting on Tuesday to present her findings.

“These people did not have a car, and they didn’t know about the superintendent search, but they want to have a say,” said Rocha, who attends UCLA.

The disenfranchised people that the students identified are predominantly Latino and do not speak English. The volunteer student team found parents who didn’t know there was a search underway in the district.

“The district needs to do a better job in making these important dialogues accessible to all parents,” said Dulce Ramirez, who helped write a report that the group presented to the board. “It was even more alarming to find people who didn’t know that they have a school board superintendent that represents their children.”

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JUST IN: Ratliff exploring LAUSD conversion to a charter district

Board member Mónica Ratliff

Board member Mónica Ratliff

In what appears to be a strategy to undermine the Broad Foundation’s proposal to move half of district students into charter schools, LA Unified board member Mónica Ratliff is exploring the possibility of turning the entire district into a charter organization.

Part of the agenda of the Nov. 17 meeting of the district’s Budget, Facilities and Audit Committee, which she chairs, is a discussion of a report from district lawyers about the possibility of converting all of LA Unified schools into charters. The report was made public today.

Such a move would immediately address the school board’s chief criticism of the Broad plan, that it’s a “some kids, not all kid’s” approach for improving academic achievement in the district. Ratliff was not available today to discuss the issue, but board president Steve Zimmer suggested that a wholesale charter conversion might not be ideal, given the multitude of challenges currently facing the district. They include finding a new superintendent by the end of the year and resolving mounting financial challenges threatening district insolvency.

“Exploring all options for involving all children is appropriate in this moment,” Zimmer told LA School Report. “However, the complications of chartering an entire district are so immense that I think it is wiser to keep our eyes on the transformative initiatives whose implementation truly needs our attention.”

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For the LA Unified board, a long day of discussions, disputes and votes


Steve Zimmer about nine hours into the meeting.

The LA Unified School Board convened at 10 a.m. and didn’t adjourn until more than 12 hours later yesterday, in a series of meetings that ran the gamut from moving forward on finding a new superintendent, to confronting ugly budget realities to diving into the minutiae of charter school applications. For background information, each member had 1,209 pages of supplemental paperwork at the ready.

Yes, it was long and tedious, and bleary-eyed members were begging for adjournment.

They had it better than some members of the public, eager to share their views with the board. Outside district headquarters, Maria Hernandez stepped in line with her 3-year-old at 5:30 a.m., ready to talk about how great her Celerity Rolas Charter School has helped her 7th grade son. She was flanked by Myra Guttierez who has a son and daughter in the school, and Kenja Jackson, who attended the school and is now in college.

They finally got to speak at about 9 p.m. when school board president Steve Zimmer took pity on the families with small children who waited for so long to speak.

“I never thought that higher education would be for someone of my kind coming from south central,” Jackson said. “I was bullied in 6th grade and then it was like family going there in 7th and 8th grade and they inspired me.”

But their school was denied a charter petition, as was Celerity Himalia Charter School, because the LAUSD staff recommended against it.

After presentations on the superintendent and financial issues, the charter discussions seemed endless, even with the two hot topics of the day/night not even discussed. Scott Schmerelson introduced a resolution against the Eli Broad Foundation’s plan to increase charter schools in the district, designed to put the board on record against all initiatives “that present a strategy designed to serve some students and not all students.”

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Panel conveys dire warning, LAUSD board seems to get message


The front row are members of the Independent Financial Review Panel

An independent Financial Review Panel yesterday detailed drastic measures that LA Unified must take to remain afloat in what school board President Steve Zimmer calls a “perfect storm” of financial trouble for the district.

“There’s a fiscal cliff that is immediate if different decisions are not made,” warned Bill Lockyer, the former California attorney general and state treasurer and one of the all-volunteer panel that made the group’s presentation to a full house in the school board meeting on Tuesday.

“You will be out of $600 million by 2019,” said another member of the panel, Darline Robles, the former superintendent of the Los Angeles County Office of Education. “You will have to rein in certain expenditures.”

And Maria Anguiano, the vice chancellor for Business & Finance at University of California, Riverside, said the loss of 100,000 students over the past two years in the district means that the LAUSD staff should not be growing like it has, and that “10,000 lay-offs would be about level for the 100,000 loss of students.”

But the drama of the exchange was not so much the bad news the panel members were delivering, including strong recommendations to make across-the-board spending cuts — the board members were well aware it was coming. Rather, it was the board’s apparent sense of urgency to deal with it and the district’s labor partners utter silence when offered the opportunity to comment.

“Sacrifice will be much more important here than strategy,” said board vice president George McKenna. “What are we going to give up for the children?”

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Search firm urges LAUSD board reach unity on next superintendent

superintendent search

In presenting a detailed accounting of community input for LA Unified’s superintendent search, the president of the search firm urged the seven board members to reach consensus on what they are looking for in their ideal candidate.

“You do not want to make this decision on four votes,” said Hank Gmitro of Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates. “You want to all agree.”

After the presentation, Gmitro told LA School Report it’s not unheard of for a school board—even one with such diversity as LAUSD’s—to agree on a single candidate. “It happens most of the time that the whole board agrees on one person,” Gmitro said.

After Gmitro and members of his team reviewed overall results of two weeks of 9,400 surveys and 120 community meetings, board President Steve Zimmer asked how the firm could possibly come up with candidates that have a proven track record on two strong, but nebulous characteristics that arose time and again from many participating in the feedback process: “equity” and “building trust.”

Gmitro said it’s a matter of “our vetting and your interviews and the kinds of actions they took and the results they achieved.”

By their questions to Gmitro and his team, the board members seem to be laying groundwork for finding a superintendent comfortable with fulfilling the priorities of the board, rather than bringing “an agenda” or “ego” to the position, a not-so-veiled reference to past superintendents.

“They want a humble person,” said Darline Robles, a member of the search team who summed up the characteristics that emerged from community forums. “Not someone who comes in whose ego is the forefront.”

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Charter group says LAUSD anti-Broad measure appears ‘unlawful’

BroadLA Unified school board member Scott Schmerelson is bringing a resolution before the board today, asking it to go on record opposing a plan by the Broad Foundation to add 260 new charter schools to the district over the next eight years.

The plan has drawn rebuke from other board members and the LA teachers union, UTLA, which organized protests on the issue across this city this morning.

But the resolution, which appears largely symbolic, raises one key question: Other than objecting to the charter plan, what can the board really do to stop it?

According to the California Charters School Association (CCSA), a close reading of the state’s 1992 Charter School Act reveals the answer: Not much.

“The act is very clear in the statutes that charter schools should be encouraged and it narrows the grounds on which a school board can deny a charter petition. So it does not give school boards wide discretion,” said Ricardo Soto, general counsel for CCSA.

Board President Steve Zimmer has strongly denounced the Broad plan, previously telling LA School Report it is “not an all-kids plan or an all-kids strategy. It’s very explicitly a some-kids strategy, a strategy that some kids will have a better education at a publicly-funded school that assumes that other kids will be injured by that opportunity.”

But missing from Zimmer’s denunciation — then or since — is a plan to oppose the Broad effort in any practical way, demonstrating how limited even the most motivated school board is when it comes to stopping the proliferation of charter schools. And according to a new report out today by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, Los Angeles continues to serve the largest number of charter school students in the country, with a current waiting list of nearly 70,000.

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Zimmer provides updates on participation in superintendent search

SteveZimmerVideoIn a new video on the LA Unified website, Board President Steve Zimmer  provides the latest count of how many people offered opinions on the superintendent search and what the next steps are in the process.

Zimmer said 13,500 people went to the website to read about the superintendent search, more than 8,000 filled out the survey and 1,500 people attended meetings that were held across the district over two weeks. In a previous interview, he said he’s not completely happy with the turnout, but he wanted to thank the people who did spend the time.

With Spanish subtitles, he said, “I thank every person who turned in a survey, who attended a meeting and who followed the search process.”

He mentioned that the search firm will compile a report and it will be released at the next board meeting, on Nov. 10.

Zimmer said, “Those opinions shared will help guide the board in deciding who will be the superintendent of the nations second largest school district.”

There are also nearly 50 comments so far about the superintendent search process.

LAUSD board member websites range from active to somnambulent

George McKenna websiteMonths after LA School Report found confusion, dated information or simply no information on the websites of LA Unified board members, a number of them still appear to be squandering them as their most direct social media asset to reach constituents.

In a self-described era of board openness and transparency, some members have made significant improvements on their websites, and the district, itself, has expanded its digital outreach, with news features like LAUSD Daily, which captures feel-good stories from around the district.

But it’s clear that several members’ websites remain woefully out of date or lacking in useful information, calling into question the degree to which they truly want to engage the public.

According to the front page of his website, board member George McKenna is organizing a series of “education town halls” in January, February and March. The public is invited. There’s just one problem: Those meetings were held nearly a year ago. Even so, it’s the first thing McKenna has to say on his website, just as it was in July, when LA School Report first pointed it out.

What else does he have to say? There’s a homepage link to the “McKenna Memo” newsletter, the last issue of which was sent out last December, and links to the “latest news,” which is also from December. McKenna’s Facebook account is also frozen in time, with two posts in its entire history, the last of which was, yes, December.

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‘Zimmo’ urges more participation in LAUSD superintendent search


Where’s Zimmo? Steve Zimmer appears at Vine Street Elementary in costume.

Where’s Zimmo?

Dressed as the popular “Where’s Waldo” red-and-white-striped children’s book character, LA Unified School Board President Steve Zimmer took to the Vine Street Elementary School twice today to encourage parents and teachers to get involved in the superintendent’s search.

He used his appearances to say he is extending the deadline for people to complete the school board survey that seeks community input.

Even here, his home school, he found parents who didn’t know about the survey. After attending more than half-a-dozen community forums, he said he was disappointed in the low turnouts. However, he has done his own canvassing.

“The most important revelation of the day is that we need to reach out more to high school students,” Zimmer said. “High school students, especially seniors, really care. We need to do that even if it takes more time.”

Zimmer, who has kept a tight control of the superintendent search and stayed in close contact with the search firm, said additional input probably won’t delay the process of them compiling all the data.

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Zimmer in costume — a last ditch effort to get input on superintendent

YourVoiceCountsLA Unified board President Steve Zimmer has announced he will be wearing a Halloween costume tomorrow when he visits schools. Oh, it’s not to join festivities planned for many of the LA Unified schools. Rather, he wants to give one last-ditch effort to push people to provide input into the superintendent search by filling out a district survey.

So far, people who have attended the meetings, including some school board members and community education groups, say they are disappointed in the turnout.

Among all 1,436,149 potential people who might care about who gets picked as the next superintendent — adding up the number of district students, employees and at least one parent or guardian for each student — only 900 people turned out for any of the community meetings last week and 4,000 took the district’s online survey.

Zimmer might have a better chance tomorrow to encounter someone with 11 fingers than someone who voiced an opinion.

“I want to emphasize how important it is for everyone to feel like they can weigh in on this decision, and we will take it very seriously,” Zimmer said this week after extending the survey and the campaign called “Your Voice Counts” until Nov. 1.

Some observers have expressed disappointment with the turnout. Sara Mooney of the United Way LA, who has pushed for community education groups to be more involved in the decision, said she attended three community forums with only a handful of people attending. “I’m also not a fan of the way the forums are being conducted, or the way they collect the data,” Mooney said. “It is clear that they don’t want the public involved.”

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Commentary: Disunity in finding a new boss for LA Unified

superintendent searchThe effort to find a consensus candidate to follow Ramon Cortines into the superintendent’s office is playing out as difficult issues sometimes do in LA Unified, with good intentions undermined by political pandering and a bit of disingenuousness.

While Steve Zimmer, the board president, has set in motion a thoughtful and reasonable approach to the search by hiring a well-regarded firm to identify quality candidates, he and his board colleagues are doing their best to shatter unity, rather than build it.

The friction has developed over the district’s decision to involve the public while keeping confidential — as head hunters recommend — the actual recruiting, selection and hiring.

Both are noble pursuits but for reasons that are entirely incompatible if the board is truly seeking the best candidate available.

The decision to include public opinion mirrors the district’s oft-professed need for “transparency,” a worthy goal in many circumstances. But the invitation with regard to the superintendent search is only for h’ors oeuvres, not the entree. In this case, that’s probably the way it should be.

Through open meetings and an online survey, the district has been asking what “characteristics” the new superintendent should have. “Your voice counts,” says the invitation to take the survey.

But counts for what?

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Zimmer undecided about fate of closed west SFV school sites

ZimmerBaffled1As the operators of El Camino Real Charter School High School prepare to ask the LA Unified board for approval to turn three vacant elementary school sites into new charter schools, one of the main hurdles they face is the growing skepticism of board President Steve Zimmer.

The sites are located in the western San Fernando Valley, one of them in Zimmer’s district, and were shuttered decades ago due to declining enrollment in the area. With the district unwilling to part with the valuable land but without any specific need for them, the buildings have become crumbling eyesores.

LA Unified still has no enrollment need for new traditional schools in the area, giving it few options for sites that many view as a major blight on the western Valley community.

Issam Dahdul, facilities development manager for LA Unified, said selling the land isn’t an option because the district may have a future need for new schools. Also, he explained, state law says before a district can sell land, it must first offer it to charter school operators.

Starting a year and half ago, district leaders, including former school board member Tamar Galatzan, voiced support of El Camino’s plan to develop the sites into charter schools. The plan called for El Camino to refurbish or rebuild the sites and sign a long-term lease with the district. Thirty-five percent of the building costs would be put up by the district from bond money set aside specifically for charter school development, Dahdul said.

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LAUSD students offering their views on how to spend extra state money

Elmer Roldan of the United Way and students from LA Unified gather at the Youth Town Hall.

Elmer Roldan of the United of Greater Los Angeles and students from LAUSD. (Credit: Twitter @LAUnitedWay)


While classmates were at the beach, the mall or the park, about 150 LA Unified high school students spent part of their Saturday dowtown at the United Way of Greater Los Angeles, taking part in a Youth Town Hall.

The focus of the meeting was for the students to offer opinions on how the district should spend Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) money, which this school year brought the district an extra $1.1 billion in budget dollars for high-needs students.

Nearly all the students who came are in a high-needs categories the LCFF is intended to help — students who get free or reduced-price lunch, English learners or those residing in foster care. Governor Jerry Brown’s LCAP law requires that they get extra dollars and that districts draw up a spending plan based, in part, on meaningful public input.

Saturday’s event was the first of six LCFF input meetings the district has scheduled with community partners, and more are likely.

Before breaking into smaller groups to discuss specific ideas, the students received a tutorial on the ins and outs of what the LCFF is from Sara Mooney, an education program associate with United Way, and an inspirational speech from LA Unified school board President Steve Zimmer.

Zimmer promised that the board and the district would listen to their ideas.

“At the end of the day, what this is about it is about, your right to participate — not just to participate — but to guide and drive this process,” Zimmer said. “The money that is coming though LCFF, the money that’s coming from the state, it’s not the school district’s money, it’s not the money of people who are in power. It’s your money. It’s your funds.”

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Teachers planning to protest charter plan as LAUSD board convenes

UTLA Colleen SchwabAs the LA Unified board is holding its monthly meeting tomorrow, the teachers union, UTLA, is planning a sidewalk protest against the Broad Foundation’s plan to expand the number of charter schools in the district.

The demonstration follows the release today of a Broad-commissioned poll, showing that a large majority of city residents want more choices — charters — for their children’s education. The plan calls for 260 new charters within eight years to serve as many as half the children attending LA Unified schools.

“Broad is working with the Waltons of Walmart and other billionaires to destroy LAUSD,” UTLA says on its website. “We are demanding that the School Board join us in rejecting Broad’s parasitic plan. Losing 50% of LAUSD enrollment would trigger a severe loss in funding for crucial resources and programs for our students, cost tens of thousands of LAUSD jobs, and create a race to the bottom that will hurt all schools and all students.”

The foundation denies any destructive intent.

“Los Angeles families have made it clear that they want high-quality public school options, and we want to support them in their efforts to access educational opportunity,” Swati Pandey, the foundation’s communications manager, said in a statement. “Our only interest is in supporting the growth of high-quality public schools.”

The board is scheduled to consider approvals and five-year renewals of 15 charter schools and the creation of two magnet schools.

The two new gifted magnet centers are scheduled to open in 2016 at Kennedy High School and Taft High School. Kennedy, located in Granada Hills is a Gifted, Highly Gifted, High Ability Medical Magnet for grades 9 through 12. Taft, located in Woodland Hills, is a Gifted, Highly Gifted, High Ability Science, Technology, English, Arts and Math Magnet Center for grades 9 through 12.

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LAUSD’s ‘OUT for safe schools’ praised, expands to other districts

OUT for safe schools LGBTQTwo years after it was launched, an LA Unified program aimed at making schools safer for students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning (LGBTQ) is being praised as it expands to eight other major districts around the country.

The “OUT for Safe Schools” program was created in 2013 by a school board resolution authored by board member Mónica García and calls on district staff and teachers to wear rainbow-colored badges on Oct. 11, which is National Coming Out Day. The badges identify them as an ally of LGBTQ students.

The program, with the aid of the Los Angeles LGBT Center, has seen around 30,000 LA Unified staff participate in each of the last two years. This year, districts in New YorkChicagoBostonSan FranciscoSan DiegoDuval County (Florida), Oakland and Washington, D.C. are adopting the program.

“Despite increased public acceptance of LGBT people in general, many school campuses remain toxic environments for LGBTQ students, contributing to higher rates of suicide, depression, homelessness and HIV infection,” Los Angeles LGBT Center CEO Lorri L. Jean said in a statement. “We approached the LAUSD about developing this program to create visible adult allies throughout the entire school system, helping LGBTQ youth feel safe and supported while helping to deter would-be bullies. Now, wherever students look, they’re sure to see adults who proudly identify themselves as LGBTQ allies for students.”

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LAUSD asking public to rate qualities necessary in next superintendent

SuperintendentSurveyThe whole world can now prioritize the characteristics necessary for LA Unified’s next superintendent through an online survey the district released last night.

The question is — as some school board members pointed out before the survey launched — why would anyone want anything less than all 21 qualities included in the survey?

With a pull-down menu in English, Spanish, Chinese, Korean and Armenian, the survey asks respondents to rate characteristics on a scale of 5 to 1, signifying greater or lesser importance.

They include such qualities as:

  • Hold a deep understanding of the teaching/ learning process.
  • Foster a positive, professional climate of mutual trust and respect among faculty, staff, and administrators.
  • Establish a culture of high expectations for all students and personnel.
  • Hold all employees accountable for their performance.

Some of these are “duh!” questions, and when the school board looked at them at its last meeting, several members said so.

George McKenna looked over the questions handed to him by the search firm on Sept. 15 and pointed out the obvious. “Why would someone not choose all fives?” he asked, with a reference to the highest rating. “I don’t know how you say no to any of these?”

Further, none of the charcteristics reflects anything specific to LA Unified, such as, “Has the political skills to balance the interests of an assertive teachers union and a well-funded state charter association.” Or, “Has the temperament to manage the diverse interests and personalities of seven bosses.”

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