Sunday, April 14, 2013


By Barbara Jones, Staff Writer, LA Daily News |

Sunday, 4/14/2013 11:50:21 AM PDT  ::  During a recent speech at Loyola Marymount University, John Deasy recalled his promotion from deputy superintendent to chief of Los Angeles Unified two years ago, tasked with turning around a district plagued by failing schools, struggling students and an epidemic of dropouts.

"I agreed to take this job and lead a transformation of the Los Angeles Unified public schools," Deasy told the group of education leaders. "And I kept a very simple contract with the Board of Education: The day that four of you are unhappy, drop me a note and this is over.

"In the meantime, I am going to move very quickly to honor youth rights so that every single one can graduate, college- or career-ready. Not some. Not most. But everyone."

<<John Deasy will mark his second anniversary as LAUSD superintendent on Monday, April 15, 2013. (Hans Gutknecht/Staff Photographer)

The reforms that Deasy enacted - and just how aggressively he's pursued them - have put the fast-talking New Englander at the center of a heated debate over the future of the nation's second-largest school district.

The teachers union last week delivered an unprecedented no-confidence vote in Deasy's leadership, which it plans to present to the school board next month in an effort to leverage changes in the district's priorities.

At the same time, a coalition of influential civic and business leaders sent a letter of support to the school board, noting that Deasy's efforts have resulted in improved graduation and dropout rates, higher test scores and reductions in student suspensions. Mayoral hopefuls Eric Garcetti and Wendy Greuel reiterated their support for the superintendent.

As he marks his second anniversary on Monday, Deasy said he has no intention of retreating from strategies that grew out of that initial mandate from the school board. In fact, he plans to push even harder for his "youth rights agenda" - his guarantee that kids will get a high-quality education at any and every school in the district.

"Polls and opinions - that's great. That's a wonderful part of democracy. But it doesn't shape or move the plan," he said in an interview in his 24th-floor office. "When I think of the next three years, I think of keeping our eye on the ball and not wavering from what's working for students and accelerating gains in those improvements."

Which Deasy is it?

 “I am far too busy working to serve all students and assure their right to graduate college- and workforce-ready to pay attention to this nonsense.”

Deasy, on the UTLA poll in an email to the LA Times

"Polls and opinions - that's great. That's a wonderful part of democracy.”

deasy in the interview for this article.

To view UTLA's "Initiative for the Schools L.A. Students Deserve," click here.

To view the letter from community leaders voicing support for LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy, click here.

He's proud that LAUSD's graduation rate now stands at 66 percent, up 4 points over the last two years, and that its API score has climbed from 709 to 744 - "" but said that student achievement still needs to get better.

He's proud, too, of teachers, who are developing lessons for the national Common Core curriculum coming in 2014-15 and honing their leadership skills in the growing number of charter, pilot and other non-traditional schools. And he's excited about the potential for professional development as the district rolls out a new performance evaluation, which uses student test data and classroom observation to help make teachers more effective.

Deasy said he is counting on revenue from a voter-approved sales-tax hike to stabilize the finances of the district, which at this time last year was grappling with a $500 million deficit in its $6 billion budget. At the same time, he's working on long-term plans to eventually restore staffing and programs decimated during the state's five-year financial crisis.

He envisions adding courses for high-achievers competing to get into college and summer

John Deasy will mark his second anniversary as LAUSD superintendent on Monday, April 15, 2013. (Hans Gutknecht/Staff Photographer)>>

school or extended-day classes for struggling students who need remedial help. He wants to provide a "web of support" for students, by rehiring librarians, nurses, guidance counselors, custodial workers and cafeteria staff. And he wants to provide raises for workers, who have foregone raises, lost wages through unpaid furlough days and had to pick up the slack when their colleagues were laid off.

"We really need to be mindful of how to offer support and compensation," said Deasy, who earns $330,000 a year. "And it's about how you time all of those things."

The leadership of United Teachers Los Angeles, however, has its own vision for what is best for the district. Bolstered by last week's no-confidence vote, it plans to present its list of priorities during the school board's meeting in May.

Outlined in the union's newly approved "Initiative for the Schools L.A. Students Deserve," the plan includes reducing class size, "fully staffing" local schools, restoring money for preschool and adult education programs, and raising salaries. It also calls for minimizing the importance of student tests, especially in teacher evaluations, and ending the district's takeover or "giveaway" of low-performing schools.

"We're talking about what needs to happen and what needs to be fixed to bind the wounds of the last five to six years of recession," UTLA President Warren Fletcher said in an interview. "If LAUSD is going to recover, we have to look at the basics, which are class size and staffing."

While both Deasy and UTLA say they want to restore staff at neighborhood schools, Fletcher questioned whether the two plans would actually mesh.

"If everyone agrees on the same goals and those goals aren't happening, there must be a reason for that," he said. "In the end, the responsible party in any school district is the board of education. And the board of education implements whatever its vision is through the superintendent it hires and the people that he or she hires."

As the debate over his agenda intensifies, Deasy still has the support of President Monica Garcia, and members Tamar Galatzan and Steve Zimmer. His fourth ally, Nury Martinez, is running for City Council and giving up her district seat on July 1.

Three others - Bennett Kayser, Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte and Richard Vladovic - are considered his detractors, although none has said so publicly.

Galatzan and Vladovic declined to comment for this story, and Kayser and LaMotte did not return phone calls.

In an interview last week, Zimmer described Deasy as "uniquely capable to lead the district," but recommended the superintendent change his strategy for dealing with board members, teachers and other stakeholders.

"He has a bold and courageous stance in advocating for the rights of children, but he's not as successful in getting the necessary groundswell among school communities to actualize the changes that he's initiating," said Zimmer, whose district stretches from the San Fernando Valley to the Westside and Hollywood.

"This is time to implement change and it's very hard work. You can't have the very people you're trying to bring along rise up and feel like you don't believe in them," he said. "Getting everyone to roll in the same direction is a very different type of leadership."

Garcia conceded there is not always harmony between the board and Deasy - or among board members - but said the work is more important that the personalities involved.

"Theater is fine for folks who have time for it," she said. "But the most important thing for me is that more kids are reading and writing, and that families are coming back to LAUSD."

Garcia - and Deasy, too - insisted that they're open to ideas for how to get students proficient in English and math, keep them in school and give them the skills to pursue and achieve the American dream.

"I try to think about it like this," Deasy said. "If we want to actually go backwards from advancing youth rights, then we definitely have the wrong leadership arguing for students. If we want to think about doing it in a different way - and the fact is that we're dead serious about the aims and the outcomes - hey, please. All ideas are not only welcome, come roll your sleeves up and help."

"Otherwise," he said, "could we stop delaying justice for kids?"

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