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Important LA public education jobs are changing hands

Public school advocates are waiting to see who Mayor-elect Eric Garcetti will select as his top education advisor.
Public school advocates are waiting to see who Mayor-elect Eric Garcetti will select as his top education advisor.
Hector Mata/AFP/Getty Images

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There's a game of musical chairs going on in Los Angeles public education, and while the people involved may not be household names, they can play a key role in charting the direction of the L.A. Unified School District.

L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s education deputy, Joan Sullivan, is stepping down next month as her boss leaves office. She said that in the three years she’s held the job she’s recruited non-profits and other groups outside the school district to help improve LAUSD schools.

"From the mayor’s office it’s been possible to convene these groups and to talk about how we can work effectively together on behalf of kids," she said.

Before coming to city hall, Sullivan spent more than a decade teaching in New York City and running the Bronx Academy of Letters. Villaraigosa’s Partnership for L.A. Schools has tapped Sullivan as the new chief executive to oversee 22 public schools that serve 15,000 students.

Current Partnership CEO Marshall Tuck, a high profile charter school administrator in the region, is stepping aside for Sullivan. He won’t get specific about what he’ll be doing next, other than to say he'll be addressing some of what he sees is holding back the progress of teachers and principals.

“There’s just a lot of constraints that are on our traditional public schools, like policy constraints, there’s also a lot of opportunities leveraging technology and getting young people excited to come in this sector at large,” Tuck said.

Add to those two transitions the arrival of new L.A. school board member Monica Ratliff, and whomever new Mayor Eric Garcetti appoints as his top education advisor.

Under Villaraigosa, the mayor’s office became a lightning rod for criticism -- particularly from the teachers' union -- for backing policies that favored charter schools and handing control of schools to outside groups.

Garcetti spokesman Yusef Robb said the new mayor wants an education advisor who’ll change the tone.

“We want to lower the temperature a little bit on the politics that have sometimes gotten in the way. We want to make sure that the kids are being put first, not necessarily conflict between organizations, between philosophies, between bureaucratic control,” he said.

Since these transitions do not change the top administrative jobs, their impact may be felt more in the long term. The people in these positions can play an important role in shaping policy, said USC School of Education Dean Karen Symms Gallagher. She hopes the new mayor is as driven about education as the outgoing mayor.

“Whether you agreed with the mayor or not, he kept the notion of what’s going on in schools in front of the public, and I think that’s an important role,” she said.

Some of that tone may be in evidence when the LAUSD  board installs its new and reelected members next month.