L.A. school board keeps interim leader, prepares for superintendent search

Meeting for the first time since Supt. Michelle King announced her retirement, the Los Angeles Board of Education voted Tuesday to name Vivian Ekchian — who has been filling in for King since October — as interim superintendent.

Board members announced the decision after a 2 ½-hour closed session.

“The board had a very thoughtful and rich conversation about the work of the superintendent and the selection process ahead,” board President Monica Garcia said after the meeting.

The board now will begin work on selecting the district’s sixth leader in the last decade. At a minimum, Garcia said, members will spend time hashing out the selection process each Tuesday when they meet.

Board members voted to amend Ekchian’s contract to reflect her expanded responsibilities. The district’s legal office is working out the terms, with board approval expected next week.

Ekchian, 57, previously was an associate superintendent in the district. She had been overseeing human resources, the office of school choice, parent and community services and the office of data and accountability.

“There’s confidence in Ms. Ekchian’s ability to lead the team that has been doing the work of serving kids,” Garcia said.

King chose Ekchian to serve in her place when she went on medical leave. But the board’s decision to keep her in that role was not a foregone conclusion.

A four-member majority bloc on the board could have opted to force a decisive move Tuesday, but instead chose to move deliberately — allowing the seven-member body to present a united front.

There has been no internal clamor for the board to move quickly. Senior administrators seem comfortable working with Ekchian, and board members have praised her.

The current board majority also might have chosen to act quickly out of concern that one of its members, Ref Rodriguez, might be compelled to leave office. Rodriguez faces criminal campaign-finance charges.

Tuesday’s decision does not signify that Ekchian will be named to the permanent job. Still, she appears to be one of the leading internal candidates.

Like King, Ekchian has spent her entire career in L.A. Unified. And in recent months, like King, she has had to navigate a board whose members are divided in their feelings about the ongoing rapid growth of charter schools.

Charters are independently operated campuses that in L.A. are overseen by the financially strained district but compete with it for students and the public funding that comes with them.

Los Angeles has more charters than any other school system. Financial backing from charter supporters was a major factor in the election of the members of the current majority, which took control in July.

In November, as acting superintendent, Ekchian helped craft a compromise that gave charter schools concessions that they badly wanted but preserved the district’s almost unlimited freedom to investigate and audit them.

In her statement Friday announcing that she would not return to her job, King said that she had cancer and would retire to focus on her treatment.

On Monday, as school resumed after winter break, Ekchian assumed a notably higher profile. She and Garcia visited five campuses to honor students and teachers for perfect attendance.

“We are making a connection between adult and student attendance as being equally important,” Ekchian said as she walked down the hallway to Barbara Cheung’s classroom at Belmont High School.

Cheung had not missed a day last year or this year, so far.

“If your teacher comes to school every day, you are expected to come to school every day as well because it’s a relationship,” Ekchian told Cheung’s Advanced Placement English students. “It’s a give-and-take — and for every day that you come, you increase your chances of being college, career and life ready.”

Asked about the school board, Ekchian downplayed ideological differences. The district’s leadership, she said, has united behind the common goal of “leveraging all resources” toward 100% graduation.

“It is a joint vision, and we have worked as a team,” she said.

howard.blume@latimes.com

@howardblume

Copyright © 2018, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
49°