By Dakota Smith, Staff Writer, L.A. Newspaper Group | http://bit.ly/1352HVK
8/8/2013 01:52:48 PM PDT / Updated: 10:38:09 PM PDT :: In his annual back-to-school address, Los Angeles schools superintendent John Deasy on Thursday sought to reassure teachers and principals as the nation's second-largest school district undergoes major classroom changes in the coming year.
Speaking to hundreds of administrators and members of the school board, Deasy addressed worries over Common Core State Standards -- new curriculum changes set to be phased in as soon as this upcoming school year -- by using a morale-boosting World War II-era phrase used by the British government: "Stay calm. Stay calm, and carry on.
LAUSD has a "great deal ahead of us -- great opportunities," Deasy said to a packed auditorium at Hollywood High School. "Likely there will be a whole lot of nerves and fear in there. Stay calm. It's what we tell students.
"We will do this as a team," he added. "We will grow together and make mistakes."
The yearly speech is viewed as barometer for both the state of L.A. Unified and perceptions of Deasy, who took office in spring 2011.
Right off the bat, Deasy addressed rumors that his job may be in jeopardy. L.A. school board member Bennett Kayser last month sought his succession plan for when the superintendent is out of town, fueling speculation some on the board want to replace Deasy.
Additionally, earlier this year the teachers' union issued a "no confidence" vote in Deasy. About half of the union's 33,000 members took part in the poll.
"A lot of chatter this summer, if you read blogs or read newspapers," Deasy said in his 45-minute speech. "So, let's clear that really quickly. I and the current administration are going nowhere. Neither are you."
While staying positive, Deasy acknowledged the hurdles facing teachers, including implementation of a new curriculum.
Many states will begin the new Common Core reforms in fall 2014, but LAUSD and a handful
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and LAUSD Superintendent Dr. John Deasy talk prior to Deasy's annual Administrators' Meeting at Hollywood High School August 8, 2013.(Andy Holzman/Los Angeles Daily News) (Andy Holzman/Staff Photographer)
of other districts will begin phasing in the standards over the course of this school year. Press reports in other states have detailed some teachers' frustration with the new system.
Complicating issues for local teachers is a recent waiver of the No Child Left Behind law, freeing up $150 million to educate low-income students and creating new benchmarks for gauging their individual success at LAUSD schools.
"We will be successful at this, I have no doubt," Deasy said. He ticked off recent district statistics, citing rising graduation rates and lowered truancy numbers at specific schools in the region. "That is why I have confidence in LAUSD."
Mayor Eric Garcetti also spoke at Thursday's event, telling administrators he embraces the district's technology push, an overhaul that includes placing iPads in classrooms. In a bold statement, he told the administrators, "Los Angeles will be a model high-tech city for this world."
Like Deasy, Garcetti touched on the theme of transformation, recalling switching to a new email system at City Hall during his time as a council member. "There was a lot of fear of that change," he said. "Change is immensely difficult ... but we can't afford to stay in a single culture."
As administrators filed out of the packed theater, some said they would repeat Thursday's message to staffers at their respective schools.
"I look for information I can take back as a source of inspiration," said Mike Terry, a principal at East L.A.'s Perez Special Education Center.
Bruce Clark, a principal of Nueva Vista Elementary School in Bell, said he appreciated Deasy's advice about "keeping calm."
"Everyone is worried," said Clark. "We're supposed to be the people who have all the answers, so it's consoling to hear him talk about the changes.