Changes in High Places
Wow – changes are afoot in California’s largest urban school districts.
We know that John Deasy, the former superintendent of Prince George’s County in Maryland will be the Deputy Superintendent in LAUSD. He was most recently a major figure in the Gates Foundation and given the challenges faced by LAUSD, he’ll be thrust into the fire pretty quickly. It’s a sign of the times in LAUSD that they chose to bring in a nationally respected education leader to work with Cortines and their leadership team to take the next step in their transformation of the district. By focusing on doing the right thing for kids and parents, through approaches such as the Teacher Effectiveness Taskforce, LAUSD is suddenly getting national attention as an innovative, reform-minded district.
We also know that Bill Kowba, the former interim superintendent in San Diego is now the superintendent. Bill was a former Navy admiral. I worked for him in two stints when he was interim superintendent in San Diego and I know his heart is in the right place. In his first stint, we didn’t always see eye to eye, especially on the massive layoffs the district did. But that was a different time with a different board. Given that the current board took a “no layoff” approach until recently, it’s an interesting turn of events. There are 120,000 students in San Diego Unified and some truly wonderful educators and I hope that closing the district’s longstanding opportunity and achievement gaps for students of color and students in poverty will be the leadership team’s first priority.
Then there is San Jose, where ETW’s superintendent in residence, Linda Murray, was superintendent for over a decade. The district has been under the very able leadership of Don Ingelias for nearly ten years and I don’t think the district has received the credit it deserves for some of its innovative approaches to improving student achievement, particularly its A-G for all policy and its use of data. I know Vince from his time as an area superintendent in San Diego. He wasn’t there for long but he impressed me and many others with his sharp mind and unbending focus on closing achievement gaps.
It’s interesting and amazing when you look at districts like San Jose, Long Beach, and Garden Grove at the stability of their leadership and their process of succession between education leaders. There are clear factors in board and administrative leadership and their focus on students over politics that produces such stability and lays the framework for improving student achievement (there may be a direct correlation between the length of board meetings and district stability and success). There’s a great book by Frederick Hess called “Spinning Wheels” that talks about the typical churn of urban districts. It paints a very recognizable picture of dysfunction. What we lack is the opposite picture – the blueprint of those places that have found the way to not only avoid the typical dysfunction but make a real difference in the lives of their students and their families. But at least, we know where to look and where not to.
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