LAUSD is making a mistake by relying too much on walk-on coaches

Eric Sondheimer
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In the 2013-14 school year, 58% of LAUSD's coaches were walk-ons

Here's a statistic from the Los Angeles Unified School District that should set off alarm bells: 58% of its coaches from 83 high schools were walk-ons or noncertificated employees during the 2013-14 school year. Only 42% were teachers, according to Trenton Cornelius, the district's coordinator of athletics.

Even more troubling, 50% of the schools no longer have an instructional period for their teams. That means the students are forced to practice only after school, get no class credit and coaches receive no compensation other than their paltry stipend that ranges from $2,811 for football head coach to $2,512 for basketball, baseball, soccer and track.

The consequences are clear. Walk-ons don't have the same access to students during the school day as teachers. They can't monitor academics or discipline issues as closely as teachers. If someone wants to make additional money while teaching, anything but coaching is more lucrative, from tutoring to coaching travel teams.

The trend toward relying on a walk-ons is only going to get stronger.

One of the big hurdles is that hiring a new physical education teacher-coach is very difficult because jobs are scarce and there's a long waiting list of displaced P.E. teachers in the district that have priority over any new hires. Promising young coaches have to wait at the back of the line.

Just last month, word came out that one of Los Angeles' best young football coaches, Masaki Matsumoto, a 32-year-old head coach and full-time special-education teacher at Hollywood Bernstein, would be leaving the district for a coaching and teaching position at Lincoln High in Tacoma, Wash. It's likely Bernstein will have to find a walk-on to replace him.

LAUSD needs to act fast or its athletic program will be facing a growing talent drain. Charter schools, with more flexibility and more willingness to emphasize success in sports, are finding ways to hire young coaches.

Woodland Hills El Camino Real hired 25-year-old UCLA grad Jun Reichl to be a science teacher and cross-country coach. The school previously hired soccer assistant Ian Kogan and girls' golf and soccer coach Eric Choi, both in their 20s, to full-time teaching positions. Each has already distinguished himself by helping develop successful teams and students. Principal Dave Fehte, a former college basketball coach, stresses the importance of academics and athletics.

Granada Hills, another charter school, pays some of its coaches double the stipends of LAUSD and even pays them several hundred dollars for playoff coaching.

One of the problems with LAUSD is a new group of principals and administrators who fail to recognize that success in sports can help motivate students to perform better in the classroom and act more maturely in the hallways. They need to come up with creative ways to lure quality teacher-coaches.

Programs are far more stable with teacher-coaches. In Saturday's City Section Open Division basketball championship game, Westchester Coach Ed Azzam is in his 36th season. Fairfax Coach Harvey Kitani is in his 34th. And, in the Division II final, Grant Coach Howard Levine is in his 29th. They started in a different era, when teacher-coaches were in the majority.

One positive is that the district recently changed its rules to allow the hiring of retired teacher-coaches. At least seven have returned and more could join them.

There are certainly top walk-on coaches. Many are experts at their craft who worked at the college or club level. But teachers have to go through rigorous procedures to obtain their teaching credential. They're held accountable and can serve as powerful mentors for their students.

As teacher-coaches disappear in LAUSD, it's the students that will suffer.

Twitter: @latsondheimer

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