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A school superintendent with a vision? These Angelenos say no thanks

A school superintendent with a vision? These Angelenos say no thanks
South Los Angeles community members attend a forum at Santee Education Complex to discuss what they want in the next superintendent. (Sonali Kohli / Los Angeles Times)

Some parents and teachers in South L.A. don't want a Los Angeles Unified School District superintendent who has a preconceived plan before starting the job.

“We are tired of people who come to our community and say, ‘I have a vision about your community,’ ” said Martha Sanchez, a parent and community organizer, speaking Thursday at a community forum at Santee Education Complex in South L.A.
Sanchez was part of a panel to discuss what South Los Angeles needs from a superintendent, as the district continues its search. Santee social studies teacher Jose Lara organized the event because he said the search firm conducting forums throughout the district had not held any in this area.

The firm leading the search for the new superintendent — Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates — did host community forums in LAUSD’s southern district, though turnout was low at forums across the district.

“For some of the families from Santee area to go all the way down to Diego Rivera [Learning Center], that’s not even close,” Lara said. 

About 35 people were at the event to hear a panel of South L.A. teachers, parents and a student discuss what they want to see in the next superintendent and to provide their own input. Current Supt. Ramon Cortines has said he wants to retire by the end of this year; he stepped in after the last superintendent, John Deasy, resigned last year.

Lara will send notes from the meeting to all the school board members and the superintendent, he said.

One question he asked was what the panelists thought of an L.A. Times editorial that pointed out that “vision” was low on the list of attributes that community members said they wanted in the district’s next leader. The editorial said vision is important but must come with concrete implementation.

To the panelists, though, vision is just a lofty plan from an outsider. They said they want someone grounded, whose vision develops only after he or she spends time listening to parents and teachers.
“Maybe we need someone to come here ... and say, ‘What is your vision?’ ” said Holly Jackson, a teacher at Mack Elementary School.
A superintendent should pay attention to parents and give control to schools and their leaders, said South L.A. parent and business owner Jorge Nuño. “It’s OK to let go some of this power to some of the people who are on the front lines,” he said.
That means hiring someone who is not beholden to billionaires like Eli Broad, who fund charter schools, Sanchez said. An effective superintendent will be one who knows the communities of Los Angeles and who “looks like the school district,” said Ingrid Villeda, the United Teachers Los Angeles board's south area chairwoman.
“There has to be someone that is homegrown [who] knows us,” Villeda said.
Panelists and speakers also had specific requests of the school district, which they hoped the superintendent would address: to reinstate more librarians, to focus on special education, to widely implement gender-neutral bathrooms, to fix the problems in their schools before spending money on new campuses.
One problem underlying the search is that parents don’t know what a superintendent does, so it was difficult for them to fill out the survey explaining what they’d want in one, Sanchez said.
Lara said he did not feel that all South L.A. voices were being heard. He said he organized the event so that the people who know the community could lead the discussion. Representatives from at least two LAUSD board member’s offices — Monica Ratliff’s and Ref Rodriguez’s — were at the meeting.
Education Matters, a digital initiative of The Times, receives funding from a number of foundations. The California Community Foundation and United Way of Greater Los Angeles administer grants from the Baxter Family Foundation, the Broad Foundation, the California Endowment and the Wasserman Foundation to support this effort. Under terms of the grants, The Times retains complete control over editorial content.

Reach Sonali Kohli on Twitter @Sonali_Kohli or by email at Sonali.Kohli@latimes.com.

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