Los Angeles Unified on Monday night kicked off the first in a series of forums scheduled across the school district to gather public input on the search for the next superintendent.
The school district and the search firm hired to help with the superintendent hunt expect to hear from thousands of people at the forums and in planned focus group meetings.
But a few minutes before the scheduled start of Monday's forum at the Roybal Learning Center auditorium, only one person was in the audience.
Elsa Villareal, the mother of two high school students, arrived early, thinking it began at 5 p.m. and eager to share her views.
“Our schools need more than the support of the superintendent and the school district. We need parents to support schools,” she said in Spanish. Villareal wants a superintendent who can rally parents to get involved in education. The home is a child's first school, she said.
As about two dozen more people trickled into the auditorium, Hank Gmitro, president of Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates, the company helping to search for the next superintendent, talked about the search process. Then he asked those present what kind of superintendent they would like to see selected.
High school English teacher Wayne Lewis said he would like someone with “experience, experience, experience.”
“Our district is the second largest in the country and we’re thinking of bringing somebody in people who haven’t managed districts as large as our mini-districts,” he said. Lewis said he wants someone from within the school district.
Gmitro also asked audience members what they think is working in LAUSD that a new superintendent should nurture and grow.
Magnet schools, said Cynthia Lin, a South Pasadena parent who is shopping around for a high school for her middle-schooler.
“I think we need someone who has the leadership to see what it is that is unique about this very powerful, very diverse district and to really capitalize on those strengths,” Lin said.
Gmitro cleared up what he suggested was a misconception after a parent said she believed the school board already has someone in mind to hire.
“So please be assured there’s no slate of candidates, there’s no list of candidates, there’s nobody that we’re thinking about at this moment in terms of who should be the next superintendent,” Gmitro said.
An hour and a half later most everyone at the forum had their say, some several times over.
Rachel Greene, the mother of a LAUSD third-grader, said the forum gave her hope.
“You know, I was really impressed. Although it was a small group, it was really active. There are people who have been paying close attention. I like that we had a good mix of parents, and teachers and staff as well,” she said.
The forum's low turnout is nothing to be worried about, Gmitro said, since those who came out made the effort and stated their points of view.
The public forums will run through October. Dates and locations are listed on the LAUSD website.
After the school board reads Gmitro's report on the public comments, his firm will begin a search for candidates starting next month.
In December, the finalists will be invited to private interviews with the school board. Board members are aiming to made a selection by year's end, when current Superintendent Ramon Cortines said he wants to step down.