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L.A. School Board Gives Zacarias High Marks

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Supt. Ruben Zacarias received high marks Tuesday for his first year as head of the Los Angeles Unified School District, with the school board delivering an evaluation that singled out his efforts to improve student achievement.

“We believe the superintendent is moving in the right direction,” said the three-page evaluation signed by all seven board members. “In the weeks ahead, we will work with Dr. Zacarias to develop goals for the 1998-99 school year.”

For the record:

12:00 AM, Jul. 16, 1998 For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday July 16, 1998 Home Edition Metro Part B Page 3 Metro Desk 1 inches; 25 words Type of Material: Correction
Superintendent’s salary--A story in Wednesday’s Times on Los Angeles Unified School District Supt. Ruben Zacarias incorrectly reported his salary. He is paid $175,000 a year.

Those include strong recommendations that he strike a higher and more aggressive profile in communicating the district’s “efforts and successes” to the public, and “implement a better method for the timely filling of critical vacant positions.”

The evaluation also expressed a desire for Zacarias to further define “a clear and precise vision for the district and plan for implementing that vision.”

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In an interview, the 69-year-old Zacarias conceded, “We made a good start, but we have a long way to go.”

“But there’s a feeling of new energy and commitment to instruction,” he added.

Still to be determined is whether Zacarias will get a 6% raise that was dependent upon his showing improvement in four of seven specific objectives set by the board. Those included improving passing rates for college preparatory courses and increasing the number of third-graders reaching third-grade literacy.

Board President Victoria Castro said the board expects to take up the compensation issue later this month. Zacarias, who was hired under a three-year contract with a one-year potential extension, earns $164,000 a year.

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When the board selected him to lead the sprawling, troubled and racially diverse district into the 21st century, Zacarias set an ambitious goal for himself: Improve the standardized test scores of its 100 lowest-achieving campuses 8 percentile points by the year 2000.

Whether that plan is on track and on time will be determined by the district’s Information Technology Division, which is preparing a school-by-school report that will compare this year’s state standardized test with one administered by the district last year.

But the evaluation said the act of identifying the 100 lowest-performing schools was an important step in focusing the district’s attention on student achievement.

The evaluation focused on five areas--student achievement and instruction, accountability, reform, facilities and leadership--and generally lauded the superintendent’s efforts in each.

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“Dr. Zacarias effectively communicated that instruction is the clear priority for the district,” the evaluation said. “We look forward to the hard work of developing a comprehensive system linking improved student performance to all programs, employees’ contracts and budgets.”

The board took into account the district’s dropout rate, which fell from 11.7% in fiscal 1997 to 9.7% this May; class size, which has been slashed in kindergarten through third grade; and parental involvement, which is increasing along with student and staff attendance.

But all that could be cold comfort if test scores do not improve. Special school-by-school performance reports are not completed, so the impact of Zacarias’ reforms may not be clearly known until the end of this year.

“In his first year, Ruben has been surfing on the optimism and hope of people desperately looking for change,” board member David Tokofsky said. “The school performance reports and test scores are going to be his dose of reality.”

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Test scores notwithstanding, others said Zacarias has been delivering on his promises.

“He personally met with the leaders of the 100 worst schools and identified problems--a major task,” Castro said. “We set up 21 objectives for him to achieve this year, and there’s been a lot of progress there too.”

Melody Dove, a community organizer for Concerned Citizens of South-Central, is a convert. A year ago, she said, “I totally disagreed with Zacarias naming a school in my area, McKinley Elementary, among the 100 worst.

“Then I was among seven people from our community invited to meet with him in his office, and I got the feeling he was really paying attention to what we were saying,” she said. “Next, he got us money for the summer tutoring program.

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“Now,” added Dove, “I believe he is responsive to our needs and follows up on his promises.”

Separately, Zacarias said he expects later this week to announce the hiring of a new budget czar to replace Hugh Jones, who stepped down in January after two months on the job, citing personal reasons.

“I want to be able to turn the business focus over to the business czar, so I can devote all my time to student achievement and English language acquisition,” Zacarias said. “They are fundamental to success in other academic areas. They are the things I’ll push this year.”


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