Pass / Fail | So Cal education, LAUSD, the Cal States and the UCs

After much speculation and rallying, LA school board retains superintendent

About 100 people gathered Tuesday morning to support L.A. Unified Superintendent John Deasy before the Board of Education delivered his annual review.
About 100 people gathered Tuesday morning to support L.A. Unified Superintendent John Deasy before the Board of Education delivered his annual review.
Adolfo Guzman-Lopez

After nearly five hours behind closed doors, the L.A. Unified school board announced Tuesday that it’s keeping its superintendent.

The board gave John Deasy a satisfactory approval – an annual condition of extending his contract. Board staff would not say how many voted in favor or how many against.

"I thank the board for a good and robust evaluation, and I particularly thank you for a really excellent and honest conversation, building the rapport to work together to continue to lift students out of poverty," Deasy said to the few members of the public and reporters still waiting at 6:30 p.m. "I look forward to us as a team continuing to advocate on behalf of students in this amazing city."

The announcement took less than five minutes.

"This has been a journey for all of us and we are focused on the children," Board of Education president Richard Vladovic said afterward. "We are moving forward."

The seven board members and the superintendent then filed out of the downtown Los Angeles meeting room, declining reporters’ requests for interviews. None returned calls seeking comment. Board member Monica Garcia declined comment through a staff member.

The decision put an end to rumors that arose last week that Deasy might resign - which drew immediate reaction from all corners, including mayor Eric Garcetti.

Some complained of the district’s nit-picking and signed petitions urging the board to keep Deasy. Others complained of Deasy’s policies and said he should go. But the general consensus seemed to be: work it out.

"I am pleased with the board's decision, but progress in the district will depend on all parties making our students the priority," Garcetti said Tuesday night.  "I am committed to accountability at the district, a voice for teachers and parents, and working with Superintendent Deasy and the board to get our children career and college ready."

About 100 Deasy supporters had rallied before the board meeting Tuesday – and even punctuated the public comment section of the meeting at one point, chanting: Don’t be crazy, keep John Deasy.

“It’s no secret that that the leadership here at the school district has been very fractured,” said Caprice Young, who served on the L.A. Unified board from 1999 to 2003 attended the pro-Deasy rally. we’re here to say, ‘Hey, get it together. Because we know you can do it. And our kids deserve it.’ ”

But Hollywood resident Kim Kaufman criticized Deasy’s iPad initiative, which she said has been botched. Rather rather than fighting the board’s scrutiny, she said Deasy needs to listen.

“The board makes policies, and it’s his job to follow them,” she said.

Claremont Graduate University professor Charles Kerchner said the dissension that led to speculation around Tuesday’s review is not new to the district.  

“The circus has been going on for forty years,” he said. “You can’t have a school district that turns over its leadership every thirty months and expects to make any progress.”

Under Deasy’s tenure, the district’s students have improved – continuing the slow upward trend in test scores that preceded him.  

Still, much work lies ahead. Fewer than half of the district’s students are proficient in English and Math and one in three students still don’t graduate.

Deasy’s retention means he will continue to lead the nation’s second-largest school district as it embarks on two complex and related projects: the switch to new learning standards and an initiative to increase technology in the classroom.

"I think this iPad initiative is one of the boldest, most visionary initiatives I've seen for a major school district," said Shane Martin, dean of the School of Education at Loyola Marymount University and a Deasy supporter. "It's a game changer and it puts LAUSD not only at the forefront nationally, but I would say globally."

Not everyone agrees. The project has been criticized as poorly planned and the district has acknowledged that software is not yet complete.

A planned meeting on the iPad’s budget and district-wide rollout had been planned for Tuesday, but was postponed in favor of the closed-door review of Deasy’s performance.

A motion to censure Vladovic for allegedly harassing and mistreating employees was also put over.

Deasy’s contract expires in June 2015 – and he’ll have one more review before then.

Deasy was elevated to superintendent in April 2011. He was hired by a board that was, in its majority, in line with his policies.

An expensive effort led by Los Angeles's then-Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa helped elect a number of board members who broke with the policies of the teacher’s union, more in line with a “reform” movement that favors charter schools and using data to evaluate teachers.

But the last round of elections didn’t favor those candidates – only one of three backed by Villaraigosa’s Coalition for School Reform won seats, leaving Deasy with a much more divided board.

“Very few have the challenging political climate that we have in Los Angeles, which is a function of what makes Los Angeles so great: tremendous diversity, tremendous sense of different views among our elected officials making reaching agreement on leadership more challenging," said USC education professor Larry Picus.

Garcia, the former board president, was termed out of that role this year by a new board rule. Vladovic – one of Deasy’s political adversaries – has been pushing for more board oversight and policy-making since his peers elected him board president in July.

Jaime Aquino, Deasy’s hand-picked head of instruction, announced resignation in September after board members had put off a decision on how to spend new state money to transition to new Common Core learning standards. He complained publicly that board micromanaging was making it impossible for him to do his job. He’ll stay on until December.

While Deasy had not publicly made those criticisms, his frustration at times was obvious.

Philadelphia School Superintendent William R. Hite Jr., who was one of Deasy’s deputies at Maryland's Prince George's County School District, said Deasy’s deep passion for the job is a big benefit for L.A.’s kids.

He said Deasy’s worth ethic is “relentless.”

"John is an individual who finds ways to ensure that children get what they need," Hite said. “He represents more of a crusader for providing access and opportunity for children. Especially children who are coming from disadvantaged circumstances."