Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, moving to improve struggling campuses that are taking part in his high-profile and high-stakes school reform effort, has tapped a veteran San Diego educator to take charge of instruction at those schools.
Angela Bass, a top administrator in the San Diego Unified School District, will become superintendent of instruction for the mayor’s Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, leading what Villaraigosa described Monday as a bottom-up initiative that will make schools better by empowering teachers and parents.
“She led a turnaround that others around the country are now trying to emulate,” Villaraigosa said as he introduced Bass at Samuel Gompers Middle School in Watts, one of six campuses in his partnership.
Villaraigosa welcomed Bass on the same day that Los Angeles schools Supt. David L. Brewer confirmed that one of the nation’s most sought-after superintendents is a finalist for the No. 2 job under him. Brewer, who had no education experience before taking over, has been criticized for being slow to assemble a top team.
Villaraigosa’s reform effort also has been slow to get started. First, he scaled back his original ambition to take over the Los Angeles Unified School District, then the courts threw out legislation that had given him partial authority. He settled for indirect control at a handful of schools including Roosevelt High in Boyle Heights, Santee Education Complex south of downtown and four middle schools. Villaraigosa has raised more than $50 million for the effort.
Bass spent nearly 30 years at San Diego Unified and part of the last decade as a senior administrator under then- Supt. Alan Bersin, who was known for nearly ceaseless battles with the teachers union.
That history is pertinent because Villaraigosa has enjoyed a tight alliance with local union leaders over his reform initiative. They see his intervention as a path toward giving teachers more control.
Bass was one of eight top lieutenants in a Bersin cadre that was repeatedly accused of being heavy-handed. But not all his administrators were considered as polarizing as Bersin himself.
“Most teachers would tell you we worked in tandem,” Bass said.
Under Bersin, Bass rose from being a principal with a reputation for turning around tough schools to supervising 21 elementary schools, including many of the district’s lowest-performing campuses.
“She’s going to prove to be an extraordinary asset,” said Bersin, a member of the state Board of Education.
One former Bass staff member described her as a data-driven, collaborative leader with an open-door policy. “She’s very open and candid with parents,” said Julia Hutcheson.
Bass, 51, also helped institute a districtwide math program. Math scores in San Diego over the last five years have risen faster than in Los Angeles, but less than 40% of San Diego students score proficient in math. Such a rate of progress would be well below what Villaraigosa has repeatedly touted as feasible and necessary.
In English, San Diego Unified students outperform those in L.A. Unified, but the two districts have made similar academic gains.
For most of the last two years, Bass headed a program that oversees teacher training and designs school-reform plans.
In Los Angeles, Bass said, “for the first time we’re going to engage the entire community in the quest for academic excellence. We don’t just want to improve the scores. We want to accelerate achievement for all students.”
Her salary will be $185,000, paid through the mayor’s fundraising efforts.
Bass, who is African American, will lead an initiative at schools where students are primarily Latino, many of them English learners. But she said her work in San Diego also involved English learners.
Her appointment is likely to appeal to African American leaders, an important constituency for Villaraigosa. Many black leaders opposed Villaraigosa’s bid for authority over L.A. Unified and have long complained that their children are overlooked in district schools.
Villaraigosa’s reform efforts took a distinct San Diego-style turn this week. In addition to Bass, he added three other former San Diego senior staff members to his team. He also confirmed a long-expected appointment, naming his senior education advisor Marshall Tuck as chief executive of the partnership.
As it happens, Bass has a long family connection to Brewer: His wife taught at the San Diego high school where Bass’ husband was principal. (Brewer, a career Navy man, was stationed in San Diego at the time.)
“Mrs. Brewer was my son’s teacher and she and Mr. Brewer mentored my son. She’s a great teacher and Mr. Brewer gave a lot of time to support Lincoln High School,” Bass said.
“Tell the mayor he made a great choice,” Brewer said Monday, adding that Bass would have been a top candidate for one of his many vacant leadership positions.
But Brewer has been under pressure to hire a Latino, especially one who is an expert on English learners. On that front, he has been engaged in lengthy talks with former Rochester Supt. Manuel Rivera, who was judged 2006 “superintendent of the year” by a national administrators group. Rivera is on a short list of finalists for the No. 2 position in L.A Unified.
In 2006, Rivera had accepted a job replacing Tom Payzant, the widely acclaimed Boston superintendent who had decided to retire. Months later, Rivera changed his mind, becoming instead education advisor to New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer.
Data analyst Sandra Poindexter contributed to this report.