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Parents, students focus on classrooms in judging LA school superintendent

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The Los Angeles Unified school board is evaluating Superintendent John Deasy this month, and considerable opinion has been tossed around on whether schools have improved under his direction.

When several parents and students were asked about Deasy, they told KPCC that what matters to them is what is happening in the schools. They were not always certain about the impact the superintendent has had on learning and appear even less concerned about the politics swirling around Deasy's future.

Venice High School sophomore Andrea Pinto said she just wants better teachers.

"Some of the teachers don't care. They teach a couple of examples from a problem, something like that, and they expect you to know it right away," she said.

Deasy's supporters say he's had a positive effect on the schools since he joined the district in 2011. Test scores have inched up just about every year, graduation rates have risen.

After Deasy pushed for a new discipline policy, school days lost to suspension were cut by 75 percent.

He also drove the district to use test scores in teacher evaluations, challenged teacher tenure and expanded charter schools.

The Breakfast in the Classroom program has grown to reach about 300,000 students.

Parent Lisa Zwarych's first-grader, Lulu, goes to Beethoven Elementary School in Mar Vista, and is a fan of the breakfast program.

"I think it promotes community spirit in the classroom. I think the kids really enjoy eating together," Zwarych said.

What she doesn't like are the mandates from district headquarters, such as moving English learners into the same classrooms to help improve language learning.

"Baloney! Our classrooms are now completely segregated," she said. 

Deasy's critics say underfunding of programs for English learners and other high need students have kept them from catching up academically. Most students in Los Angeles struggle to read on grade level and one in five high school students are not proficient in math.

Jeffrey Manpool, picking up his two children at Beethoven Elementary, says the school is a good one, in part because of parent involvement.

"I think that's one of the number one reasons that make this a great school, after the amazing faculty and staff we have here," he said.

But Manpool said when it comes to Deasy, "personally, I think he has got to go." What concerns him the most is Deasy's technology push to place tablets in the hands of every student.

"He has not been truthful or straightforward about the mess with iPads. It was not an open process It was not a well-thought-out or well-reviewed process. And he's the guy on the top. He should take the blame for it," Manpool said.

Emails published by KPCC show Deasy discussed the project with Apple and Pearson executives a year before the bid went public, prompting critics to question Deasy's influence over the purchase.

Deasy maintains the bidding process was fair, but the district's inspector general is investigating

The superintendent has also been criticized by the teachers union for authorizing the release of a glitchy student data system and failing to solve a backlog of school repairs, despite an extra $330 million from the state this school year.

It's those school-level issues that matter to students like Venice High freshman Cindy Marquez. She said Deasy and others in charge need to help her school.

“They should add more teachers, because they don’t have a lot of teachers and some of the classes are packed," said Marquez.  

The school board is scheduled to finalize Deasy's review on Oct. 21.