Change in leadership could leave L.A. schools in turmoil

When John Deasy took the helm of Los Angeles Unified in 2011, he was backed by the school board, mayor and civic leaders in a bid to transform the nation’s second-largest school district with bold measures to improve student performance.

Now Deasy’s future -- along with the district’s direction –- is in doubt at a critical point. The district is facing new academic standards, major budget decisions and a massive iPad technology project.

On Thursday, just days before his scheduled performance review by a new, less supportive Board of Education, the school chief told some top officials that he might step down. That, in turn, provoked strong warnings from civic leaders Friday to end what one called the "amateur hour” of political infighting that could endanger progress for students.

"I think the adults at the school district, across the board, need to remember that there are kids who are the collateral damage to any loss of leadership, any loss of momentum, and any dysfunction and fighting,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said.

Garcetti added that the district had moved “in the right direction” under Deasy by continuing progress in lowering dropout rates, increasing test scores and completing school construction projects.

Deasy, 52, remained tight-lipped Friday, saying he would not comment on his future until after Tuesday’s performance review. He has said he hoped to stay eight years because continuity was essential for lasting change. He noted that his evaluation marked a key juncture.

“I am going to do everything in my human power to model dignity,” he said. “Kids watch this. That is going to be my guideline.”

In recent months, Deasy has struggled with a more combative teachers union and a more challenging school board.

Amid the tension, Deasy’s second-in-command, Deputy Supt. Jaime Aquino, submitted his resignation last month after complaining that the board's second-guessing and micromanagement made it virtually impossible to function.

Robert Ross, president of the California Endowment, the state’s largest healthcare foundation, said he was aware of the tensions but was “taken aback” by news of Deasy’s possible resignation. While he said Deasy needed to work harder to forge more collaborative relationships with the teachers union and school board, he gave Deasy an “A+” for boosting student achievement and health with efforts to improve school nutrition and campus safety.

“On behalf of the children, people have to figure out a way to make things work,” Ross said. “We adults need to improve our behavior.”

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