School Board Chief Steps Aside

September 21, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

One week after being charged with perjury and other felonies for allegedly funneling $25,000 of his own money into his campaign by listing phony donors on a disclosure form, Ref Rodriguez on Tuesday gave up his position as president of the Los Angeles Unified School District board.

Rodriguez will remain on the school board, but said he was stepping aside as president to avoid being a distraction.

“When I was elected board president, I committed to highlighting the Kids First agenda for L.A. Unified,” Rodriguez said. “I remain committed to putting kids first, and so, in order to allow the board to remain focused on the hard work ahead of us, I have decided to step aside as board president.

LAUSD President Ref Rodriguez

LAUSD President Ref Rodriguez

“I do not want to serve as a distraction to my colleagues, or to any of the other dedicated teachers, principals and employees who do the hard work of educating students every day,” he said. “I have always been driven by my passion to give all kids, but especially those with backgrounds similar to
mine, a chance at a brighter future, and I believe this decision will help us continue doing exactly that.”

Monica Garcia serves as the board’s vice president and will take over the top post until the board selects a new president.

Rodriguez, 46, was charged last week with more than two dozen criminal counts for allegedly reimbursing nearly $25,000 to donors he listed on a campaign finance form. He was charged with one felony count each of conspiracy to commit assumed name contribution, perjury and procuring and offering a false or forged instrument, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.

Rodriguez was also charged with 25 misdemeanor counts of assumed name contribution.

His cousin, Elizabeth Tinajero Melendrez, 45, was charged with one felony count of conspiracy to commit assumed name contribution and 25 misdemeanor counts of assumed name contribution.

According to city Ethics Commission documents, shortly after Rodriguez began his campaign for the school board seat in November 2014, Rodriguez “provided $26,000 of his own money to Melendrez, his cousin and a key campaign volunteer, with instructions to funnel that money into his campaign account by asking family members to make contributions.”

The D.A.’s filing of criminal felony charges caught many political observers by surprise, with most noting the relatively small amount of money involved and the fact that it’s not illegal for a candidate to give money to his own campaign.

The latter point has left many bewildered as to why, if the allegations prove true, Rodriguez would reimburse others for their donations rather than give the money outright to his campaign committee.

Some have speculated that as a late entry into the race and facing a campaign finance-reporting deadline, Rodriguez wanted to bolster the appearance that he could run a viable campaign.

“Melendrez enticed 25 family members and friends to make campaign contributions by telling them that their contributions would be reimbursed,” according to the Ethics Commission accusation. “The 25 contributions were made from Dec. 23 through Dec. 31, 2014, ranged from $775 to $1,100 each, and totaled $24,250. Melendrez fully reimbursed all 25 contributions using Rodriguez’s funds.”

Rodriguez said last week he and his attorneys have been trying to “resolve the issues with the Los Angeles Ethics Commission for over two years.”

Melendrez’s attorney, Mark Werksman, called the criminal charges “much ado about nothing.”

“We are surprised this has risen to the level of a criminal prosecution,” he said, calling it “mystifying” that county prosecutors would bring a case “over such a small amount of money so long ago.”

Report: Women’s Income Still Lags Behind Men

May 5, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Latinas represent nearly half of the women in Los Angeles County, while women at all education levels earn less than their male counterparts, according to a report released last week.

According to “The State of Women in Los Angeles County 2016,” released by the United Way of Greater Los Angeles County in conjunction with its inaugural Women’s Summit in Beverly Hills, 60 percent of women in the county are single, up from 40 percent in 1960.

The report found that only 41 percent of women in the county have full- time jobs, compared to 58 percent of men. It also found that more than 13,000 women were included in the 2015 Los Angeles County homeless survey, up from 9,348 in 2013.

According to the study, income disparity continues to be an issue for women at all levels of education. Women with less than a high school education earn about $15,000 a year on average, compared to about $21,000 for men at the same education level. The disparity increases proportionately with education level. Women with graduate degrees in the county earn an average of about $64,000 a year, compared to $85,000 for men, the report found.

It determined that 47 percent of women are Latina, 27 percent are white, 14 percent are Asian, 9 percent are black and 3 percent are multi-racial.

The report’s release coincided with the United Way’s Women’s Summit at the Beverly Hilton. The gathering featured speakers including actresses Kerry Washington and Sarah Michelle Gellar, LAUSD board member Monica Garcia and first lady of Los Angeles Amy Elaine Wakeland.

The summit was billed a way to help boost efforts to break the cycle of poverty for female students, families, women and veterans struggling with homelessness and unemployment.

“There is strength in numbers, and United Way looks forward to continuing to work with these female leaders to combat the perpetual state of poverty by addressing the factors that impact it most — housing, education and jobs,” Elise Buik, president/CEO of the United Way of Greater Los Angeles.

East L.A. Charter Is LAUSD’s Only 2015 Blue Ribbon School

February 25, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

It was a banner day for students, families and teachers at an East Los Angeles area charter school Tuesday.
They were celebrating KIPP Raíces Academy being named a 2015 National Blue Ribbon School award by the U.S. Department of Education (DOE).

Located in a predominately low-income Latino neighborhood, KIPP Raíces Academy is one of only 33 schools in California, and the only Los Angeles Unified School District school to receive the Blue Ribbon designation.

The East Los Angeles elementary school was chosen as an “Exemplary High Performing School” based on its achievement on state assessments. In 2015, KIPP Raíces students exceeded the averages for both the district and the state on the state assessment exam, with 82 percent of the school’s students meeting or exceeding the standards in math and 78 percent meeting or exceeding the standards in English Language Arts.

(L to R): Marcia Aaron, executive director of KIPP LA Schools, Amber Young Medina, managing director of schools for KIPP LA Schools, Chelsea Zegarski, principal of KIPP Raices Academy, Monica Garcia, LAUSD board bember, Gloria Molina, former LA County Supervisor, and Ref Rodriguez, LAUSD board member. (Courtesy of KIPP)

(L to R): Marcia Aaron, executive director of KIPP LA Schools, Amber Young Medina, managing director of schools for KIPP LA Schools, Chelsea Zegarski, principal of KIPP Raices Academy, Monica Garcia, LAUSD board bember, Gloria Molina, former LA County Supervisor, and Ref Rodriguez, LAUSD board member. (Courtesy of KIPP)

“KIPP Raíces Academy has shown what is possible for public education in East LA,” said L.A. Unified Board Member Mónica García. “It is clear that this community of dedicated educators and students has raised the bar, and I am thrilled to have the opportunity to be here today to celebrate this very bright spot in our community.”

Founded in 2008, the school currently enrolls 545 students in grades K-4 — 85 percent of who are from low-income families and 96 percent of who are Latino.

“This award is a testament to what can happen in East LA when a public school is seen as a joyful place, where learning is celebrated and possibilities are endless,” said current KIPP Raíces Academy school leader Chelsea Zegarski. “I am so proud of our students, families, and staff for the work that they do every day to make this vision a reality.”

KIPP Raíces is a part of KIPP LA, a network of six middle schools and seven elementary schools serving over 6,000 students and alumni throughout South and East Los Angeles.

Comienza la Búsqueda para el Próximo Superintendente de LAUSD

October 22, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Un pequeño grupo de menos de 30 padres, maestros y estudiantes se reunieron en el Centro de Aprendizaje Roybal en Los Ángeles el lunes por la noche para dar su opinión sobre las cualidades que el nuevo superintendente para el Distrito Escolar Unificado de Los Ángeles debería tener.

Durante la primera de varias reuniones de la comunidad en búsqueda del próximo superintendente del segundo distrito escolar más grande del país, el mensaje fue claro; él o ella debe ser más accesible a la comunidad.

Read this article in English: LAUSD Superintendent Search Goes ‘Public’

Mientras que el número de asistentes fue pequeño, se aseguraron de que sus voces fueran escuchadas.

Los asistentes dijeron que el superintendente elegido debe ser alguien que tenga respeto a los padres y se involucre en las escuelas; LAUSD debe buscar internamente y seleccionar a alguien que ha trabajado el sistema y lo conoce; y que los padres deberían votar por el superintendente.

El presidente de la Junta de Educación de LAUSD Steve Zimmer asistió brevemente a la reunión del lunes por la noche, pero no habló. Le dijo a EGP que asistirá a algunas de las reuniones públicas y obtendrá actualizaciones del consultante contratado para realizar el proceso, pero no se involucrará en las conversaciones, las cuales dijo, que la Junta las ve más como grupos de enfoque.

“Cuando la gente viene a una reunión con un miembro de la Junta tiene un tono diferente”, explicó Zimmer. Aseveró que el Consejo Escolar quiere asegurarse que haya “un amplio alcance a la comunidad”.

La residente de Boyle Heights Luz María Montoya tiene una hija con necesidades especiales en séptimo grado en la escuela Intermedia Hollenbeck.

Ella dijo el lunes que el próximo superintendente tiene que intervenir y ver más de cerca cuando las decisiones importantes se toman a nivel de la escuela, tales como la selección de un nuevo director.

Por ejemplo, Montoya citó la contratación de un nuevo director de la Escuela Preparatoria Roosevelt afirmando que “no tenía experiencia”, pero fue, sin embargo, contratado para dirigir la escuela con más de 2.000 estudiantes.

“La Junta de Educación no está poniendo ningún énfasis en la selección de directores calificados”, se quejó.

El presidente de la Firma HYA Executive Search Division, Henry Gmitro, fue el encargado de moderar la primera reunión en busqueda del próximo superintendente de LAUSD. (EGP foto por Jacqueline Garcia)

El presidente de la Firma HYA Executive Search Division, Henry Gmitro, fue el encargado de moderar la primera reunión en busqueda del próximo superintendente de LAUSD. (EGP foto por Jacqueline Garcia)

Mario Burnell es profesor en la escuela primaria Riverside Drive Charter School en Sherman Oaks. Él dijo  que el nuevo superintendente debe tener conocimiento directo de cómo los profesores y los padres se sienten acerca de su director. No hay comunicación entre el superintendente actual y los maestros y padres, dijo Burnell, quien añadió que ha sido maestro durante 18 años y ha visto nueve directores pasar por la escuela. En todos esos años, dijo, “Nadie le ha preguntado a los padres o maestros si les gusta [el director] … las decisiones se toman a un nivel más alto.”

LAUSD inscribe más de 640.000 estudiantes de kinder hasta el grado 12 en más de 900 escuelas públicas y 187 charter públicas, según el sitio web del Distrito.

El superintendente actual, Ramón Cortines, anunció durante el verano su plan de retirarse a finales de diciembre y la Junta escolar contrató a una firma que se especializa en la búsqueda de ejecutivos del distrito escolar para supervisar el proceso de búsqueda. Setenta reuniones, incluyendo 22 reuniones comunitarias se han programado en todo el Distrito para recopilar “información auténtica” de los padres, maestros y la comunidad.

Si el lunes es una indicación de los sentimientos a través del LAUSD, hay un fuerte deseo de un superintendente que sea buen comunicador y responsivo.

Varias personas dijeron que quieren un superintendente que tenga experiencia en la educación y no este sumido en la política de las escuelas públicas frente a las escuelas charter, pero que en su lugar se enfoque en lo que es mejor para los estudiantes.

“Nosotros, los padres, sabemos cuáles son los problemas [en las escuelas], pero el superintendente no lo sabe”, dijo Elsa Villareal, madre de dos estudiantes de la escuela Preparatoria Robert Kennedy en el Valle de San Fernando.

La residente de Boyle Heights Luz Maria Montoya dijo que el próximo superintendente debe prestar más atención a las escuelas. (EGP foto por Jacqueline García)

La residente de Boyle Heights Luz Maria Montoya dijo que el próximo superintendente debe prestar más atención a las escuelas. (EGP foto por Jacqueline García)

Las voces de los estudiantes también deben ser escuchadas, añadió Lucía Ortiz, estudiante de la preparatoria Abraham Lincoln en Lincoln Heights. Ella dijo que el superintendente debe basar sus decisiones en lo que quieren los estudiantes, ya que “los estudiantes juegan un papel importante”.

Alex Caputo-Pearl, presidente de los Maestros Unidos de Los Ángeles (UTLA) le dijo a EGP por correo electrónico que las escuelas públicas necesitan un líder, elegido a través de un proceso transparente, que profundamente conozca y que ha vivido la educación pública y tenga un historial de colaboración con los padres y empleados.

Lo que absolutamente no necesitamos es un graduado de la Academia Eli Broad que quiere manejar las escuelas como empresas, abrir sectores no regulados que no son buenos para los niños ni los educadores, y poner a los estudiantes como productos y medidas de la cuota de mercado”, aseveró. Caputo-Pearl se refería a “La Iniciativa Grandes Escuelas Públicas Ahora”, que recientemente expusó el LA Times. El plan pretende mover la mitad de todos los estudiantes del LAUSD en escuelas charter dentro de un periodo de ocho años, y aumentar el número de escuelas charter de 187 a 260.

El debate sobre las escuelas charter es uno de los temas de educación más candentes en el LAUSD.

Mientras que algunos padres, maestros y activistas sienten que las escuelas charter están perjudicando a los estudiantes al tomar dinero de las escuelas públicas, otros, como la residente del Este de Los Ángeles Alicia Ortiz, no lo ven como un problema.

“Al final del día, todo lo que yo quiero es que mi hijo termine la escuela”, ya sea en una escuela pública o charter no importa, le dijo a EGP.

El hijo de Ortiz es un estudiante del décimo grado de la preparatoria Oscar de la Hoya Animo Charter. Ella dijo que quiere un superintendente que sea abierto de mente, listo para trabajar, imparcial y un líder.

“Tenemos un distrito estricto, pero también tenemos padres que demandan una mejor educación” para sus hijos, le dijo a la audiencia.

La Miembro del Consejo Escolar Mónica García no asistió a la reunión, pero le dijo a EGP que su personal esta muy “vigilante” y la mantiene informada sobre lo que se dice en las reuniones.

“Estoy muy interesada en un superintendente responsable y que rinda cuentas”, dijo, agregando que ella cree que es importante escuchar al público antes de que se tome una decisión.

“Queremos asegurarnos que escuchamos a la gente, ya sea en persona o mediante la encuesta” en línea o por correo, dijo.

El tiempo avanza para encontrar el reemplazo de Cortines, pero de acuerdo a Zimmer, el proceso de búsqueda—que incluye docenas de reuniones con las partes interesadas, funcionarios electos, líderes empresariales, los sindicatos de maestros y empleados del distrito—debe ser completado para el 31 de diciembre. Añadió que si la Junta Escolar no está satisfecha con los resultados de las reuniones, se puede continuar con el proceso, y tendrán dos opciones; pedirle a Cortines quedarse un poco más, o seleccionar un superintendente interino.

Para más informacion y/o tomar la encuesta visite:


Reuniones públicas para proveer opiniones y comentarios acerca del próximo superintendente de LAUSD. (LAUSD)

Reuniones públicas para proveer opiniones y comentarios acerca del próximo superintendente de LAUSD. (LAUSD)


Twitter @jackiereporter

LAUSD Superintendent Search Goes ‘Public’

October 22, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

The first of several meetings scheduled to get public input into the search for a new superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District was held Monday night at the Roybal Learning Center in Los Angeles.

Only 30 or so people attended the meeting but it quickly became clear that there was an area of general agreement: whoever is selected to head the country’s second largest school district must be more accessible to parents, students and teachers. They must also respect parents and be more visible and hands on at District schools.

Some people said they think the new superintendent should be hired from within the District and understand how LAUSD works.

Lea este artículo en Español: Comeniza la Búsqueda para el Próximo Superintendente de LAUSD

Parents should be able to vote for the superintendent, it was also said.

LAUSD Board of Education President Steve Zimmer briefly attended the Monday meeting but didn’t speak. He told EGP he will stop by into some of the public meetings and will get updates from the consultant hired to oversee the search process, but won’t get involved in the conversations, which he said the Board sees more as focus groups.

“When people come to a meeting with a board member there it has a different tone,” Zimmer explained. He said the School Board wants to make sure there is “extensive community outreach.”

Boyle Heights resident Luz Maria Montoya has a seventh grader with special needs at Hollenbeck Middle School. She said Monday that the next superintendent needs to step in and take a closer look when important decisions are being made at the school level, such as the selection of a new principal.

As an example, Montoya cited the hiring of a new principal for Roosevelt High School whom she claimed had “no experience” but was nonetheless hired to run the eastside school with over 2,000 students.

“The board of education is not putting any emphasis on choosing qualified principals,” she complained.

Mario Burnell is a teacher at Riverside Drive Charter School, an elementary school located in Sherman Oaks. He said Monday that the new superintendent needs to have direct knowledge of how teachers and parents feel about their principal. Today, there’s no communication now between the current superintendent and teachers and parents, said Burnell, who told EGP he has been a teacher for 18 years and has watched nine principals pass through the school. In all those years, he said, “Nobody has ever asked parents or teachers if they like [the principal] … decisions are taken from a higher level.”

People at Monday’s LAUSD meeting at the Roybal Learning Center call for a more accessible superintendent. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

People at Monday’s LAUSD meeting at the Roybal Learning Center call for a more accessible superintendent. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

LAUSD enrolls more than 640,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade at more than 900 public schools and 187 public charters, according to the District’s website.

The current superintendent, Ramon Cortines, earlier this year announced plans to retire by the end of this December.  In response to his inpending departure, the school board hired an executive search firm that specializes in finding school district executives, to oversee the search process. Seventy meetings, including 22 community meetings have been scheduled across the District to gather “authentic information” from parents, teachers and the community.

If Monday is any indication of sentiments across the LAUSD, there is a strong desire for a superintendent who is a good communicator and responsive.

Several people said they want a superintendent who has education experience and won’t be mired in the politics of public schools vs. charter schools, but will instead focus on what’s best for students.

“Us, parents, know what the problems are but the superintendent is not aware of it,” Elsa Villareal, the parent of two high school students at Robert Kennedy High School in the Northeast San Fernando Valley said in Spanish.

Students’ voices must also be heard, added Lucia Ortiz, a student at Abraham Lincoln High School in the Northeast  L.A. neighborhood of Lincoln Heights. She said the superintendent must base decisions on what students want, because “Students play an important role.”

Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) told EGP via email that public schools need a leader, selected through a transparent process, who deeply knows and has lived public education and has a track record of collaboration with parents and employees.

“What we absolutely don’t need is a graduate from the Eli Broad Academy who wants to run schools like businesses, open unregulated sectors that aren’t good for kids and educators, and turn students into commodities and measures of market share,” he said. Caputo-Pearl was referring to the “The Great Public Schools Now Initiative,” which according to the LA Times, seeks to move half of all LAUSD students into charter schools within 8 years, and increase the number of charter schools from 187 to 260.

The debate over charter schools is one of the hottest education issues in the LAUSD.

List of public meetings to provide input for the next LAUSD superintendent. (LAUSD)

List of public meetings to provide input for the next LAUSD superintendent. (LAUSD)

While some parents, teachers and activists feel charter schools are hurting students by taking money away from public schools, others, like East Los Angeles resident Alicia Ortiz, don’t see it as a problem.

“At the end of the day, all that I want is that my son finishes school,” whether it’s at a public or charter school doesn’t matter, she told EGP.

Ortiz’s son is a 10th grader at Oscar de La Hoya Animo Charter High School. She said she wants a superintendent who is open-minded, ready to work, impartial and a leader.

“We have a strict district, but we also have parents that demand better education” for their children, she told the audience.

School Board Member Monica Garcia did not attend the meeting but told EGP her very “vigilant” staff is keeping her up to date on what’s being said.

“I’m very interested in a responsible and accountable superintendent,” she said, adding that she believes it’s important to hear from the public before a decision is made.

“We want to make sure we hear from people, either in person or by taking the survey” online or submitting by mail, she said.

Recently, Communities for Los Angeles Student’s Success (CLASS)—a coalition of community groups that says it’s dedicated to ensuring LAUSD provides students with high quality education—sent an open letter- published in this newspaper – to the Board of Education specifying the “desired characteristics” that the next superintendent should have.

“Our expectation is that you will hire the type of Superintendent who will lead this district down the path of continued student achievement gains, like the ones we have seen in recent years. This is a critical moment for LAUSD. It calls for collaborative leadership and solution-driven action,” states the letter.

Time is running out to find Cortines’ replacement, but according to Zimmer, the search process – which is to include dozens of meeting with stakeholders, elected officials, business leaders, teacher employee unions and staff – should be completed by Dec. 31. He added, however, that if the School Board is not satisfied with the results, they can continue the process by either asking Cortines to stay a little longer, or selecting an interim superintendent.

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LAUSD Lowers Graduation Requirement

June 11, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Faced with the possibility that nearly 75% of current sophomores might not graduate high school, the Los Angeles Unified School Board voted unanimously Tuesday to lower graduation requirements scheduled to take effect with the class of 2017.

The school board’s decision will allow students who receive a D grade in college prep classes needed to graduate, lowering the standard set 10 years ago that requires a C or better in so-called A-G classes needed for admission to California colleges and universities.

The controversial Equity on A-G Resolution was co-sponsored by board members Monica Garcia, Steve Zimmer and George McKenna. The board members said the change is intended to “improve a 10-year old policy aimed at closing the achievement gap, and preparing students for college and careers,” but has resulted in some unintended consequences that could lead to more students dropping out of school.

Easing of the requirement would boost the high school graduation rate, said backers of the change in LAUSD policy.

It also puts the District’s graduation requirement in line with those in neighboring school districts and state standards.

But at a rally in front of LAUSD headquarters Tuesday, parents and students said lowering the requirement is shortsighted. They said the decision would allow students to think they are ready for college when in reality their LAUSD education will leave them unprepared for the rigors of higher education.

“We want to stop graduating them with nothing in their head,” said parent Brenda Hearn, NBC 4 reported.

However, at a larger rally that day, members of a coalition supporting the board’s resolution countered that students should not be blamed for the District’s failure to adequately prepare them to pass the classes with a C or better. They said students shouldn’t be discouraged from getting their high school diploma because the District has failed to live up to promises made a decade ago.

What’s needed is a stronger commitment on the part of the District to help students pass the classes and to close the achievement gap, said Maria Brenes, executive director of InnerCity Struggle, a leading advocate for the tougher requirement a decade ago.

Board member Garcia said the demands of the community are “loud and clear.” They support the A-G requirement and believe “our children are capable of achieving their potential and that every child, with the proper academic support, can become a college and career ready LAUSD graduate.”

Board members also voted to conduct a district-wide audit of programs that are intended to help students prepare for graduation and college.

Board members said the A-G resolution passed Tuesday must be accompanied with a commitment by the District to give students and teachers the support they need to be successful.

Coalition members said Tuesday they expect the District to develop a strategy that will allow students who are “off track” for A-G, to “get the services that they require – such as counselors, credit recovery programs and online courses – in order to pass these classes.”


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