MY TURN by Diana L. Chapman | CityWatch | Vol 8 Issue 58
July 23, 2010 -- Caught by surprise that he was about to be promoted as the southern regional superintendent for Los Angeles schools, Michael Romero said he humbly accepted the new job in June assuming one of the top administrative posts in LAUSD. He will oversee large portions of South Los Angeles, called District Eight, which includes a giant chunk of the Harbor area and a region that houses 95 schools. Romero was originally slated to take over as the superintendent of instruction for kindergarten through eighth grade when the 22-year LAUSD veteran said he received a call from Los Angeles Unified School Superintendent Ramon Cortines asking him to visit.
“I wasn’t sure what it was about,” Romero explained during an interview. “When I sat there, it was a bit of surprise when (the superintendent) said: “I’m assigning you as the Local District Eight Superintendent.
“I said:’ “I’m honored to continue supporting the families of District Eight (where he currently worked).’”
The Harbor City resident replaces Linda Del Cueto, who headed the region which stretches from northern Los Angeles above Gardena and stems all the way south to the cliffs of San Pedro; it encompasses Wilmington, Carson, Rancho Palos Verdes, Harbor City and Lomita.
“Michael Romero is the ideal leader to oversee Local District 8,” Cortines said. “First, he is an exceptional educator from this community, he believes in this community, and he has set high expectations for the students, teachers, administrators and staff at all of his schools.
“And lastly, Mr. Romero’s positive relationship with members of the local communities and individual cities that are served by Local District 8 will go a long way towards ensuring his success, as well as the academic success of his students.”
Already visiting schools – in particular San Pedro High during the summer – Romero said he’s now working across the board to raise students understanding in math from as young as pre-kindergarten to their senior years --in Algebra in particular.
Due to the low proficiency in an area that should have scored much higher, Romero said he spent a good portion of his time this summer at San Pedro High where only 13 percent of the students currently are proficient in math.
The struggling school, expected to gain enormous ground under the supervision of new and popular principal, Jeanette Stevens, suffered from overcrowding, entrenched teachers, revolving top leadership, low test scores and a poor accreditation rating that forced the campus into “the public school choice,” option.
This meant outside operators could pursue the campus, including charter agencies. Although none applied, the school has already showed signs of significant turnaround and received another year in accreditation until spring 2011.
Under Steven’s leadership, Romero said, he’s fully confident the school will improve dramatically and added he’s so impressed with Steven’s collaborative skills that he will seek out future principals with her abilities.
“They are on the right path,” Romero explained of San Pedro High, “and I am confident about her work with the teachers and administrators. The public school choice provided them options to reflect on what they were all about. What Jeanette does well is that she has positive, constructive conversations (with her staff). We all need to grow in our practices and it’s done in a constructive manner.”
Three of Romero’s top priorities include:
• Math: All his schools will review how they teach math and go far beyond offering programs to students. He expects that math teachers not just present the material, but now break it down and put it to practical use having students divide into small groups and discussing what they’ve learned. In addition, teachers are expected to promote how these equations can be applied in the real world, not just the classroom.
• Truancies: Schools will be asked to focus on students who are missing several months of school and become more aggressive at contacting parents, making home visits and encouraging parents to reduce the number of days a student misses. Once a student is gone for more than ten days, the schools “procedures and routines,” will now include successfully interacting with families to bring children back. When he did this as a principal, he said, absences went down dramatically. “It’s not a real scientific thing,” he explained. “Every school should do this,” adding it provides the student with much more instructional input and increases the students chances to learn.
• Suspensions: Romero wants to reduce the number of suspensions and plans to have district officials work with school campuses on finding ways to reinforce positive behavior in an effort to reduce the number of students removed from schools. Again, taking students out of school mars their learning capabilities dramatically, he said.
Over the next several years, Romero will also oversee the building of the controversial High School 15 – an annex of San Pedro High School at Angel’s Gate – which is slated to open in 2012, along with the openings of several new facilities: Carson High School to open in 2011, Harry Bridges Span School in Wilmington -- a kindergarten through eighth grade program scheduled for completion in 2012 -- and the $20 million building of the first permanent Harbor Teacher’s Prep School, which is now on bungalows at Harbor Community College. It will remain there as a new facility.
Romero came to the superintendent post with a wealth of experience, starting out as a teacher at Ninth Street Elementary. Beginning in 1988, he taught third through 6th grade for nearly five years. After that, he moved into several administrative jobs before becoming a principal at Fletcher Drive Elementary in 1999 and Gardena Elementary in 2001.
In 2005, he took a leap into administering all of LAUSD’s reading programs – before becoming a support services director in 2006 for District Eight.
Diana Chapman has been a writer/journalist for nearly thirty years. She has written for magazines, newspapers and the best-seller series, Chicken Soup for the Soul. -cw