Jackie Goldberg, George McKenna, LAUSD ‘pillars,’ will not seek school board reelection

L.A. school board President Jackie Goldberg waves from her car.
L.A. school President Jackie Goldberg waves from her car in 2020 as she reviews the distribution of emergency supplies to families in Southeast L.A. County during the COVID-19 pandemic. On Tuesday, Goldberg, 78, said she would not seek reelection.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Jackie Goldberg, a veteran state lawmaker, city council member and current president of Los Angeles Board of Education, on Tuesday announced that she would not seek another term, departing from the board along with her retiring colleague, George McKenna, who rose to fame in a movie about his career as a determined inner-city high school principal.

Both officials intend to serve out the remainder of their terms, which run through 2024.

Their departures throw open the future political course of the nation’s second-largest school system on such issues as school police, charter schools and even the priorities of L.A. schools Supt. Alberto Carvalho. In 2024, four seats, the majority of the seven-member board will be on the ballot. Both Goldberg and McKenna have been strong backers of Carvalho and were part of a unanimous school board that hired him in December of 2021.

“Jackie Goldberg and George McKenna are pillars in the Los Angeles Unified community,” Carvalho said Tuesday. “Their commitment, achievements and impact could never be captured in a single statement as their work has transcended what we often expect from public servants. Both are trailblazers on educational and social issues not only in our community, but across the entire nation.”


L.A. Mayor Karen Bass also extolled the two leaders.

“Both Dr. George McKenna and Jackie Goldberg have dedicated their lives to the betterment of this city by transforming the lives of countless students and teachers,” Bass said Tuesday. “Both leave legacies that will benefit generations to come.”

Both Goldberg and McKenna have carved out lengthy and notable careers.

Goldberg, 78, became school board president in January, 40 years after she previously held the job. In the interim, she had lengthy stints on the L.A. City Council and in the state Legislature. As a college student in the 1960s, she was a key leader in the landmark campus protest movement. She then began a lengthy tenure as an educator, starting in the late 1960s in Compton.

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“I got into this work, starting with teaching, because I wanted the best educational experience for teachers and students everywhere,” she said in a statement. “LAUSD is filled with the most astounding, remarkable, inspiring kids, and they are taught and supported by teachers and staff who fight hard every day for them.”

Before returning to the board in 2019, she had been semiretired — and would once in a while make public comments at board meetings. She was especially adept at fiery oratory directed at pending school board decisions. The teachers union and other supporters pressed her to return to the other side of the dais after the resignation of Ref Rodriguez over campaign-finance violations.

Her name and reputation proved unbeatable in a special election to serve out the unfinished term and in a subsequent reelection bid.

Her District 5 comprises most of the northeast in L.A. Unified, including Eagle Rock, Glassell Park and Echo Park. To the southeast, it includes the cities of Huntington Park, Maywood and South Gate.


A distinctive feature of Goldberg’s presidency has been a focus on making public meetings more understandable and accessible. Even at times when she appears frustrated or exhausted, she explains patiently and carefully how the board is conducting its business. And she has strived to make sure that meetings and public comments start on time — which was not the common practice.

But she can still call up her oratory skills, as she did recently in defending a Gay Pride assembly at an elementary school. Goldberg also was a trailblazer as an openly lesbian elected official.

George McKenna speaks during a visit to Dorsey High School.
L.A. Unified school board member George McKenna, left, and then-Supt. Austin Beutner during a 2020 visit to Dorsey High in South L.A. McKenna, 82, has announced he won’t seek reelection.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

As a politician, McKenna, 82, proved equally unbeatable — even though he never thought of himself as one.

“I am and will always be an educator,” McKenna said in an interview with the Los Angeles Sentinel, in which he made his announcement. “I never asked to be a politician and was elected reluctantly due to the unfortunate passing of my friend.”

He was referring to Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte, who died while in office in 2013. As with Goldberg, admirers lobbied him to run — and his bid, too, was backed by the teachers union, United Teachers Los Angeles.


“I have been able to make a difference in some ways, and not as much as I would like in others,” McKenna told the Sentinel.

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He achieved his greatest fame relatively early in his career as the hard-charging young principal of Washington Preparatory High School, for a decade starting in 1979. The South L.A. campus enjoyed a renaissance of positive attention during his tenure. He became the inspiration for a movie in which he was portrayed by a young Denzel Washington.

McKenna later became a superintendent for several years at nearby Inglewood Unified, where his plain speaking and righteous impatience did not always play so well within political and education bureaucracy. He also was entrusted with senior leadership roles in the Compton and Pasadena school districts as well as in L.A. Unified.

The board’s only Black member, he has focused especially on spurring efforts for Black student achievement. He’s also been a staunch supporter of school police — departing strongly from the anti-police position of the teachers union. He has refrained from second-guessing Carvalho — giving the superintendent one less political minefield to navigate. His District 1 stretches west from Koreatown to Mid-City to the Westside and south to Baldwin Hills and South L.A.

Goldberg and McKenna were elected with strong teachers union support — and their departure could usher in a new political dynamic. The races to succeed them are likely to be hotly contested and expensive.


The two veteran officials — who’ve had health issues in recent years — were under some pressure to make a decision because the fundraising window for the school board campaigns opens Sept. 5.