Thursday, February 03, 2011


By Melissa Pamer Staff Writer | Daily Breeze |

3 Feb 2011 - In his first public speech on his vision for the nation's second largest school district, Los Angeles Unified's incoming superintendent on Wednesday pledged to work rapidly toward the "rebirth of L.A. public schools" but warned that there would be some stumbling along the way.

Speaking largely in generalities to a crowd of about 150 educators at Loyola Marymount University in Westchester, LAUSD Deputy Superintendent John Deasy referred to the sense of urgency contained in Martin Luther King Jr.'s Letter from a Birmingham Jail.

Saying improving instruction is a civil rights issue, Deasy quoted from King.

"We are going to move very quickly in LAUSD," Deasy said. "There is no time for the `tranquilizing drug of gradualism."'

He said the district was doing "groundbreaking" and "exciting" work, but was hampered with inefficiency, bureaucracy, "arcane rules" and "labor stalemates."

He promised to focus on improving instruction, referring to hot-button issues such as value-added teacher evaluations. He also vowed to find a "third way" to work with the district's powerful labor unions to pursue improved outcomes for students.

He framed the promised changes as an opportunity as California meets a "crossroads" educationally and as the district faces a "catastrophic" budget next year.

Last month, the Board of Education voted to appoint Deasy to the district's top job beginning April 15, when 78-year-old Superintendent Ramon Cortines leaves office. Since he was hired for the No. 2 position last summer, Deasy has been groomed to replace Cortines, though the two have reportedly clashed.

His speech Wednesday was geared toward an academic audience, and he gently rebuffed a request from Kentwood Elementary Principal Jean Pennicooke to have the address delivered to the district's staff of tens of thousands of teachers.

The speech - part of a new lecture series at the School of Education named for and endowed by former Westside LAUSD board member Marlene Canter - was titled "A Vision for LAUSD and the Roadmap for Human Capital Improvement."

That latter phrase ostensibly referred to Deasy's desire to focus on "adult learning" - getting teachers to help each other improve their instructional practice.

At the same time, he said he believes in pay for performance - a concept anathema to many labor unions.

"Poor performers ... should be dismissed from the system. There, I said it. It wasn't that difficult," he said to knowing laughter from the audience.

He said value-added evaluations - in which student test results are used to reflect on a teacher's performance - should be part of instructors' reviews.

The district, he said, would have a strong partnership with labor in moving toward those reforms.

"We're going to look for a third way forward. The country needs examples of that to happen. It will mean we will have difficult conversations, and we won't shy from those," Deasy said, "It will be done with our labor partners as opposed to to our labor partners."

The district shouldn't hire outside consultants to improve instruction and leadership, he said. The statement comes less than three months after the school board approved $4.5 million in contracts for consultants to develop new teacher evaluation methods, including "value-added."

"Beaudry has to become a much smaller, leaner place whose primary purpose it is to serve (school) sites," Deasy said, referring to downtown district headquarters.

Though he spoke about improving student access to high quality teachers and to more challenging courses, he offered few details. One specific example he did give was "service credit classes," in which students perform menial administrative tasks on campus instead of coursework. That would largely be stopped next year, he said, comparing the practice to "orange drink" instead of "orange juice."

Deasy's appointment to the superintendent position, which LMU President David Burcham said was perhaps the most challenging public service job in the state, makes him the fifth superintendent in a decade for LAUSD. *

The New England native comes to the district with nearly three decades of education experience, including stints as the head of Santa Monica-Malibu Unified and districts in Rhode Island and Maryland, where he was associated with successful reforms.

Though some union officials expressed disappointment that there was no nationwide search for Cortines' replacement, Deasy's appointment was largely welcomed by the education community locally; he even received praise from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

At the end of his speech, Deasy called for the audience to embrace mentoring for Los Angeles youth, and to stand up for the successes that LAUSD has seen in the face of critical voices.

"This system is going to need evangelists," Deasy said.


*…albeit two of them were Cortines – and Roy Romer was the longest serving superintendent in LA County. - smf

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