Los Angeles Unified School District Deputy Superintendent Michelle King was named today the district’s next superintendent.
“What a historic moment this is,” LAUSD board President Steven Zimmer said. “A daughter of our city, a student and graduate of LAUSD, a teacher from our schools, a principal from our system, a leader of our community will now take the helm with us together to lead this district, our schools and our community for breakthroughs in public education for the students that need us
King, 54, has been with the district for 31 years as a teacher and administrator. She is the first woman to lead the district in more than 80 years and the first black woman to ever lead the nation’s second-largest district.
“I am honored and proud to be selected as the superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District,” King said. “I again want to thank the Board of Education for their confidence and support in allowing me to lead the students, employees and families of this incredible district.”
She said as the first black woman to lead the district, she wants to “inspire students of all races and backgrounds to pursue their dreams by demonstrating what is possible in L.A. Unified.”
King said she plans to expand efforts to engage parents, LAUSD unions and other stakeholders to take an active effort in moving the district forward, and “create new pathways for all students and give them the tools they need to succeed.”
The board is expected to finalize her contract at its meeting Tuesday. The selection of King was unanimous.
Superintendent Ramon Cortines retired from day-to-day operations of the district in December, and officially stepped aside Jan. 2. The board has been conducting a search for a replacement since August, while King has been serving as the interim leader of the district since Cortines stepped aside.
According to the district, King attended Century Park and Windsor Hills elementary schools and Palms Junior High School. She graduated from Palisades High School and attended UCLA.
She began her teaching career at Porter Middle School in Granada Hills, teaching math and science, before becoming the math, science and aerospace coordinator at Wright Middle School in Westchester. She later served as assistant principal and principal at Hamilton High School in Cheviot Hills.
She served as Cortines’ chief of staff during his previous administration, then as a deputy under Superintendent John Deasy and again under Cortines following Deasy’s departure.
Three candidates running for a spot on the board of the second largest school district of the country were at Eagle Rock High School Monday evening, taking part in forum where they told voters why they should represent District 5 on the L.A. Unified School District Board of Education.
The school’s auditorium was nearly packed, with many of those in attendance there to support their preferred candidate, incumbent Bennett Kayser, or one of his two challengers, professor Andrew Thomas and charter school executive Ref Rodriguez.
District 5 covers a large and diverse area that includes schools in the southeast communities of South Gate, Cudahy, Maywood and Huntington Park, as well as east and northeast Los Angeles neighborhoods like Highland Park, Cypress Park, El Sereno, East L.A., Mt. Washington, Lincoln Heights and Eagle Rock among others.
The seven-member school board oversees LAUSD’s $7 billion budget and sets policy for District’s 1,000 schools; 650,000 students; and more than 45,000 employees.
It was the first debate with all three candidates in attendance: Kayser and Thomas opted to not take part in a debate sponsored by the United Way of Greater L.A. and a diverse group of community partners Jan. 28 at the Goodwill Community Center in Lincoln Heights, leaving Rodriguez as the only participant.
Kayser’s absence in particular raised the ire of several community groups, who in a news release said his “refusal to participate” deprived the community of “an opportunity to meet all candidates, learn their values, strategies and ideas for the Board and the District,” which is key to voters deciding which “best meets the needs of their children and local schools.”
Kayser responded to the criticism Monday, distributing a written statement explaining he had participated in multiple other election-related forums, interviews and Q and A’s and that “Debating debates is pointless.” The concerns facing District 5 “are too large for us to waste another moment on this contrived issue.”
At Monday’s forum, moderated by education journalist Annie Gilbertson, Kayser said his time as a board member has benefitted LAUSD students. He said he voted to add $34 million for early childhood education and adult education as well as sponsoring hundreds of fieldtrips. He is a big supporter of providing better programs for students with special needs, he said.
Thomas said his two children attend LAUSD schools and the experience has left him unsatisfied with the quality of schools throughout the district. “Three out of ten LAUSD school students are not graduating,” he said. The next school board needs to fix the District’s budget and implement Common Core –that sets high academic standards in math and English language arts/literacy, he said.
In 1999, Rodriguez co-founded “Partnerships to Uplift Communities,” a network of highly respected charter schools. He said the achievement and excellence gap could be closed by providing better education to LAUSD students. Communication between parents and teachers and the board willing to collaborate is the key to success, he said.
While all three candidates seemed to find common ground on issues such as Common Core and the restoration of arts and music programs, Thomas and Keyser expressed disapproval with the growing number of charter schools in the District.
Thomas said 18% of LAUSD students now attend a charter school and that takes money away from other public schools. “Every time a charter school opens they take away money from LAUSD,” he said, adding that 20% of charters are performing below the standard.
Rodriguez defended charter schools noting that many perform exceptionally well, but added that those programs that fail to provide a high quality education should be closed. While most parents move their child to a charter in search of higher quality education, much of the exodus from traditional LAUSD schools is due to parents leaving because they cannot afford to stay in the city.
“It’s not about charters taking away kids, it’s about parents [leaving],” he said.
All three candidates agreed that teachers are vital to providing high quality education and they need an environment that allows them to do their best.
Keyser said teachers need more flexibility in their lessons. Rodriguez said teachers should to be paid better. Thomas said that the biggest priority is to reduce teacher-student ratio.
In regards to the Local Control Funding Formula, a new funding mechanism that allocates more money to schools with large numbers of special need students, English Learners (EL), and students in foster care, Rodriguez said the funds should support high quality proficiency programs. “Schools need peer coaching, peer training, especially for foster kids and low-income kids.”
During the forum, Thomas called for greater transparency at the District. “Schools have decided for the second year in a row not to publish results” on the Common Core standards and that’s not acceptable, he said.
Kayser said programs and services for children with special needs should be required at schools with low-income families.
“I have a son who goes to King Middle School and it is a good opportunity to see where each candidate stands,” Norma Lopez told EGP following the forum.
“It’s good to see diversity among the candidates,” added Gabriel Sandoval.