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Excitement, questions as news of LA Schools arts hire spreads

Rory Pullens speaks during 6th Annual Performance Series of Legends at The John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts on March 25, 2013 in Washington, D.C.
Rory Pullens speaks during 6th Annual Performance Series of Legends at The John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts on March 25, 2013 in Washington, D.C.
Kris Connor/Getty Images

News of Los Angeles Unified hiring a new top arts educator received mixed reaction Wednesday — as some lauded his background and others questioned why the new position was not posted publicly.

"I think this is great for arts education in Los Angeles County," said Arts for LA's Executive Director Danielle Brazell. She called him a "strong visionary."

RELATED: LA schools' arts plan reduces arts exposure time to reach more students

In a passionate TEDx talk on education, Pullens touted the 98 percent graduation rate at his Washington D.C. arts school, Duke Ellington School of the Arts - and its famous alums, including comedian Dave Chappell. The school is well known and Pullens is a celebrity in the world of arts education. He's rubbed elbows with First Lady Michelle Obama.

But others questioned the district's process.

"We do not support the idea of inventing a new position and then just placing someone in the position," said Judith Perez, president of Associated Administrators of Los Angeles, which represents administrators. Perez said the board's closed-door approval Tuesday of Pullens to head the district's arts education efforts was the first she'd heard of the job.

"Is that the best use of that very limited funding, when our schools have been starved for programs and personnel?" Perez asked. Pullens will be paid a base salary of $147,086.

Marilyn Fuller, who oversees the human resources unit that helps select administrators for the school district, said her office did not post the position, but she couldn't say whether or not it had been posted by another section of the office. The district's communications office did not confirm whether or not the job had been posted publicly, but a representative said Pullens was recruited directly by Superintendent John Deasy.

In an email, Pullens said he was in Los Angeles Tuesday when the hire was announced and will return in a few weeks to continue the transition.

Pullens will be implementing "Arts at the Core," an October 2012 school board resolution that seeks to revamp arts education in the district and vastly increase access — but which has been largely ignored so far. 

Pullens will report to Gerardo Loera, the executive director of the district's Office of Curriculum and Instruction. 

The job description outlines that Pullens will "ensure increased arts education opportunities and integrated arts instruction" for students across the district. His duties will include managing the arts education program's budget and establishing and evaluating community partnerships that relate to arts instruction.

The job description also requires him to have a California Administrative Services Credential, which is standard for all administrators in certificated jobs, according to a district spokesperson. No credential was on record when KPCC checked Tuesday in both Los Angeles County and Washington, D.C., so presumably he'll have to jump through that procedural hoop.

This is the third time L.A. Unified has tried to hire Pullens. Twice it recruited him to head Ramon C. Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts in downtown L.A., but the deals didn't go through. Instead, Kim Bruno — who was principal at the well-known LaGuardia Arts high school in New York City — was brought in for the job, which she began last fall. 

At the time, philanthropist Eli Broad had agreed to supplement Pullens's salary if he took the job at Cortines. A Broad Education Foundation staff member said neither its president nor spokesperson were available for comment Wednesday.

Art teachers in the district were surprised by the announcement. 

"We don't know whether this is going to be a good thing or not," said Eloise Porter, an arts teacher who is also the president of the Los Angeles City Elementary Schools Music Association. Porter said she wished teachers and others had been more involved in the hire.

"It's just really a big question mark," she said.