The following Op-Ed by CFT President Joshua Pechthalt originally ran in the Los Angeles Daily News on Nov. 3. You can read the Op-Ed below, as well as here
With the departure of Superintendent John Deasy, the LAUSD school board has an opportunity to restore the community’s confidence in a school district that seems plagued with conflict and mismanagement.
Bringing in former Superintendent Ramon Cortines as a bridge between Deasy and a new superintendent was a smart decision. Cortines is a well-respected educator, he knows the district well and his more collaborative approach is exactly what is needed.
However, as the school board moves forward, we need an inclusive, transparent process in selecting the next leader of LAUSD that engages the broad education community. Unfortunately, in looking back at the last eight years, the district has at times purposely avoided community input.
Deasy’s selection as superintendent in 2011 happened behind closed doors. There was no input from teachers, parents or the community at large. This is what I wrote in a letter to the school board at the time in my capacity as a union leader: “At a time when public education faces unprecedented challenges, the current closed door decision making process … does a disservice to the students, parents and employees of LAUSD.” I wish I could say my instincts were misguided, but unfortunately, after three years of Deasy’s polarizing leadership, they weren’t.
In 2006, yet again, the LAUSD operating behind closed doors hired inexperienced retired Navy Adm. David Brewer as superintendent. He lasted only two years before being bought out of his contract and replaced with Cortines.
The selection of LAUSD’s next leader has implications that go beyond just the education of L.A.’s school children. This district has become a battleground for the education reform movement. This is an opportunity to create a different dynamic.
Los Angeles needs a superintendent who understands the complexities of educating children, respects the views of the tens of thousands of women and men who work in and out of the classroom, values the input of parents and is committed to collaboration.
While our elected school board has the legal authority to appoint a new superintendent, everyone would benefit from a process that involves the public. A series of citywide town hall meetings with potential superintendents laying out their vision for public education and addressing questions from the public would be a powerful process for involving parents, teachers, students and community members.
If a potential candidate believes every child should have an iPad, wear a uniform, or be required to take music, we would hear about it prior to their selection. If potential superintendents have ideas about testing, teacher evaluation, the need for more charter schools, or a myriad of other ideas swirling around the education reform debate, let’s hear about that up front rather than after the selection process is completed.
Finally, such a process would help the school board get a better sense for which candidate would be a good fit for a district in need of care and nurturing and it would give the new superintendent a solid foundation for leading this district.
A new, visionary superintendent for the 600,000 children who attend this district and its thousands of employees will not solve all the issues confronting public education. But having a well-respected leader who is seen as an advocate for children and willing to collaborate with educators could begin to repair years of cynicism and distrust. The children and community of Los Angeles deserve no less.