The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) school year has commenced, but before students packed the hallways at area schools on Tuesday, administrators received a pep talk from Superintendent John Deasy, who urged the educators to remain calm.
With the district undergoing several “huge” changes — a new curriculum, new assessments and a new accountability system — some staffers are likely to be nervous this school year, Deasy said, offering reassurances.
“Stay calm. Carry on,” he said. “We will be successful in this, I have no doubt. The best predictor of future success? Past performance.”
Deasy said the district will implement the changes as a team. He said the district will make mistakes, but its educators will learn from those mistakes together.
“It is nothing short of what we ask you to do every single day during school,” the superintendent added. “Stand up; give me the answer. That’s not right. Let me help you get the right answer.”
Despite the alterations, the district’s goals remain the same, he said.
“We are not confused about our mission and our work together,” Deasy said. “We change the lives of nearly one million youth … every single day. It’s both an honor and a daunting responsibility. And I am so encouraged and I am supremely confident because of you.”
He backed up his confidence with statistics that showed progress at individual schools. Deasy cited several campuses that have seen dramatic improvement with test scores, attendance or suspensions.
“Every one of those schools was led by courageous leaders,” he added.
Deasy cleared the air on rumors about his future with the LAUSD and his ability to work with new LAUSD Board of Education president Richard Vladovic.
“I and this administration are not going anywhere. Neither are you,” he said, adding that he can’t wait to work with Vladovic, who may be the district’s first board president to previously serve as a teacher, principal and superintendent. Deasy said the district has “amazing” opportunities in front of it, as the LAUSD slowly lifts itself out of the budget cut era.
Speaking in the auditorium at Hollywood High School, he asked all new administrators to stand and be recognized. The superintendent assured them that the district has their back, and that LAUSD administrators expect them to be courageous and ask for support when they need it.
“Get a good night’s sleep tonight. You’re definitely going to need it,” Deasy said.
Since the nation’s largest school district is inevitably intertwined with federal politics, he addressed some developments in Washington, D.C., over the summer. Deasy praised the U.S. Supreme Court’s Prop. 8 decision, but denounced the court’s Voting Rights Act ruling. He also referenced the ongoing fight for immigration reform.
“L.A. is lucky to be the center of that [debate] because L.A. is America only sooner, and we’re coming to a hometown near you,” the superintendent said.
Vladovic mentioned the state’s budget cuts that the district had to manage. During that time, schools lost clerks, the building trades budget was “literally cut to the bone,” bus drivers worked extra routes, teachers taught in overcrowded classrooms, cafeteria and grounds crew members were overburdened and administrators worked day and night, he said.
“I know, having sat in your chairs, that you’ve sacrificed personally and professionally to hold this district together while we made those Draconian cuts that the state literally cut us on,” Vladovic said. “You gave up your weekends, your nights. And in many cases, some of our employees lost their homes, lost their cars to those furlough days.”
He said educators’ jobs are “tremendously complex,” but there may be no job in the U.S. that is more rewarding. The board president said the district changes lives, and he shared an anecdote to further emphasize that point.
As a young teacher, Vladovic said he would take it personally when he “lost” a student. He said one young woman in particular always did the opposite of what he asked, seemingly to spite him. For 20 years, Vladovic thought that he’d failed her.
“Then, out of the clear blue twenty years later, I got a postcard from her. It said, ‘I wanted to thank you. I’m now an attorney, and you really changed my life.’ You know what I did? I wrote her back a letter — I was so angry. I said, ‘What took you twenty years to do that?’” he joked.
Mayor Eric Garcetti also addressed the audience of approximately 1,500 principals and assistant principals, who he referred to as the “frontline warriors” in education.
“While we have hit tough times, and you and I have felt those tough times, we are poised for a comeback,” he said. “We’re ready to put the recession behind us. We’re ready to be invested in communities.”
Promoting his “back to basics” approach, Garcetti said he wants to see more collaboration in Los Angeles than ever. He said he wants to be a “bridge builder,” and assured the district that the city is a willing partner in providing a quality education.
“You see, we build walls way too often in Los Angeles,” the former teacher said. “Sometimes they’re literal. Sometimes they’re metaphorical. Sometimes they’re ideological. ‘Are you pro-union or pro-reform?’ Instead of finding a way to be pro-teacher and pro-change. …When we have broken down those walls, we have seen the rewards.”
As an example, he mentioned the development of the W Hotel. Garcetti said the Hollywood High School’s renovated auditorium was partially funded by that development.
The mayor also promised to be an advocate for the district in Sacramento.
“But I also promise to be an innovator,” he said. “Los Angeles will become a model, high-tech city for this world. And this district is taking a great step forward by having tablets in the hands of our students.”
Garcetti said officials will not always agree on certain issues, but those disagreements, while important, are not the core of their work.
“The core of our work is to have student-driven outcomes that create great schools and great campuses, and I as mayor am committed to doing that alongside you,” he said, thanking the administrators for their service.
Board member Steve Zimmer, 4th District, thanked the educators for their sacrifices over the last few years.
“We would not be here were it not for those sacrifices,” he said. “You have been the anchor for our students and our families throughout this storm and made our schools a harbor.”
Zimmer said district employees have been asked to do “incredible” things during that time, and the district, against all odds, has achieved.
“We as a school community have watched as our students have persevered, grown by every measure,” he said, adding that he wanted to make sure that the educators remembered that education is a human process. “As important as scores and data and all that are, as important as they are, we need to be careful about what drives us. …I want us to make sure — I want us to be absolutely resolute — that we can be informed by a performance metric, but we must be guided and driven by the moral compass of our hearts and souls.”
The board member referenced the Trayvon Martin case, Oscar Grant and the DREAMers. While progress has been made in certain areas of the fight for civil rights, there remains much to do, he said.
“We cannot rest easy, and we can’t lose the urgency to achieve the possibility and overcome the peril,” Zimmer added. “And we know that is true in our schools as well.”
In between speakers, the audience heard from various LAUSD students, such as Nelson Henriquez, an incoming sixth grader who can speak three languages — Mandarin, Spanish and English — thanks to the district’s dual language program. Hollywood High School’s cast of “In the Heights”, the school choir and the district’s All City Jazz Combo performed.
Long You, a recent graduate of the Downtown Business Magnet High School, read his graduation speech.
“This is a crucial time, a time that we need to commit to making a difference in the world, to doing well, to achieving more and achieving greater in a world where greatness is sorely lacking,” he said. “I don’t know the future, but we’ve earned the success of today, and tomorrow, anything is possible.”
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