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What to expect from Supt. Michelle King’s first ‘state of the district’ address: The best graduation rate yet for LAUSD

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LAUSD Supt. Michelle King gives her first major address.

In her first “state of the district” address, L.A. schools Supt. Michelle King is expected to unveil the best graduation rate yet for the nation’s second-largest school system.

Although officials refused to release the figure in advance of her Tuesday morning speech at Garfield High School, they confirmed it would surpass last year’s 72.2%.

The carefully guarded number is expected to be a highlight of an annual event that, as in past years, takes place a week before the start of school. King, a former deputy superintendent who took over on Jan. 11, also is expected to allude to her three-year strategic plan, which is still in development.

A confidential draft, obtained by The Times, commits to increasing student enrollment by expanding programs that are popular with parents and better publicizing district successes.

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The rate of improvement outlined in the draft dated July 25 is relatively modest and the plan is notably thin on specifics about how these goals would be achieved.

The goal would be to raise the graduation rate by 1 percentage point a year, from 74% in 2017 to 75% in 2018 to 76% in 2019.

The draft projects the percentage of students who meet or surpass academic targets on state tests to rise in English from 35% to 36% to 37% over the three years. In math, the rise is from 27% to 28% to 29%.

The graduation rate King announces is expected to draw particular attention because more difficult academic requirements took effect this year. One result was that in December about half of seniors were in danger of failing to earn a diploma.

Then came a remarkable and almost immediate turnaround through a variety of new “credit-recovery” efforts. Critics have speculated about whether the anticipated record graduation rate could be a result of lowered standards in those remediation programs.

Although officials have defended district academic integrity, they appear to have limited data on credit-recovery efforts. They say they are still trying to determine which students took advantage of which credit-recovery options.

Another goal stated in King’s draft plan is to have “robust arts programs on every campus” by the end of next year. The definition of robust is unstated, but the list of potential offerings includes music, dance, theater, ceramics, drawing, painting, sculpture, photography and filmmaking.

King is not likely to announce the specific performance targets that appear in the draft plan. Setting the right goals, as her predecessors found, is a balancing act between the doable and aspirational.

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The same draft that gives King three years to get 29% of students proficient in math also speaks of “proficiency for all” and 100% of students graduating.

The draft also talks about improving attendance, both for students and teachers. For students, the goal is “reducing 30% of chronically absent students (missing 16 days of school) by the 2017-18 school year.”

The target for teachers is a 96% attendance rate. King hopes about three in four teachers will do that well this year, according to the draft.

A soon-to-be-touted initiative — and one that King is likely to highlight in her speech — is a new program called PASSport. The draft plan talks of “ensuring that 80% of L.A. Unified parents will be registered … by the end of the 2016-17 school year.”

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Parents can log on to PASSport to see end-of-course grades and to find out if their children are on track for graduation. They’ll also be able to contact teachers and check if their children showed up for classes.

“It is a one-stop online system that securely connects parents and guardians with their child’s essential data,” said district spokeswoman Barbara Jones.

The system cannot yet provide homework assignments or standardized test scores, she said. Nor will PASSport serve as a one-stop enrollment system for parents confused by the plethora of class and school choices, application forms and application deadlines.

In her first year as district leader, King so far has enjoyed something of a honeymoon, with disparate forces that often do battle with one another vying for strategic alliances with her.

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One example is the teachers union and supporters of independently managed charter schools, most of which are non-union. There is ongoing enmity between them, but both sides have good things to say about King.

“Michelle King has shown that she is an experienced educator, taking seriously both the need to invest in neighborhood schools and the need to prevent the district from being undermined financially by unregulated charter growth,” said teachers union President Alex Caputo-Pearl. “We look forward to joint action steps on these crucial items.”

A spokesman for the California Charter School Assn. also praised King — while raising concerns about the union.

“So far, King has emphasized unity,” said Jason Mandell. “But with Caputo-Pearl clamoring for her support in his escalating attack on charter schools, will she join him or will she stay above the fray and be a leader? We believe she’s a leader. We’ve seen her bring folks together and we’re hopeful she’ll keep doing that.”

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The annual address typically attracts media attention and some civic leaders attend, but most in the crowd will be school system administrators, who will attend workshops after the speech.

howard.blume@latimes.com

Twitter: @howardblume


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