Next L.A. schools chief: A politically savvy educator who’s a superhero?

Members of United Teachers Los Angeles and others rally at Stevenson Middle School in East L.A. against a charter school plan spearheaded by the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation.

Members of United Teachers Los Angeles and others rally at Stevenson Middle School in East L.A. against a charter school plan spearheaded by the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation.

(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

The people have spoken about what they want in a new superintendent for the Los Angeles Unified School District, and the hunt is on for Superman or Superwoman.

The official verdict is that Los Angeles’ students, parents, district staff, clergy and others want a “politically savvy and experienced educational leader,” according to the search firm Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates. A look at the details, however, suggests that even Kryptonite could not stop the particular paragon being sought.

The executive search firm presented its findings at a school board meeting Tuesday, based on input gathered from surveys filled out by more than 9,400 respondents and notes from about 1,400 participants at more than 100 public meetings held during the last two weeks of October. The nation’s second-largest school system enrolls about 650,000 students.


Also on Tuesday, board members introduced, without discussion, two motions that, if passed at the next meeting, could limit the growth and independence of charter schools. One measure would put L.A. Unified on record against an outside, foundation-backed plan to move half of district students into charter schools over the next eight years.

Teachers, led by their union, handed out leaflets at schools Tuesday and took a delegation of parents to speak at the board meeting against the plan, which is spearheaded by the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation.

The second resolution would require significant new public disclosures from charters.

Charter schools are publicly funded, independently managed and exempt from some rules that govern traditional schools. Most are nonunion.

The district’s financial outlook, the looming charter battle and the ongoing struggle to improve academic performance colored the discussion about the superintendent search.

“Many participants believe the position is one of the most important jobs in American educational leadership and comes at a critical point in the history of the district,” the consultants wrote in a report.

The Board of Education is looking to replace Supt. Ramon C. Cortines, 83, who has said he wants to retire by the end of the year. Cortines agreed to take the job after John Deasy resigned under pressure a year ago.


Consultants have been speaking with potential candidates for several weeks, but board members have promised to seriously consider community input before making any choice. Board member George McKenna made a point of saying that he has avoided learning of any possible applicant prematurely.

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The consultants described defining characteristics that could frame the board’s choice. They reported, for example, that an educator is favored, someone with “experience as a teacher and a principal working in an urban environment,” preferably with a doctorate from a fully accredited institution of higher learning.

This preference alone would disqualify two of the last four superintendents — David Brewer, a retired Navy admiral, and Roy Romer, a three-term governor of Colorado. And Cortines, though a career educator, lacks a doctorate.

Board member Monica Ratliff wanted to know how important the doctorate was to those who participated in forums. She said she would not want to disqualify someone as capable as Cortines.

More important than the doctorate was an extensive background in education, consultant Hank Gmitro said. He added that California does not require an education background for superintendents; some states, however, do require them to have a doctorate.


Recent superintendents, notably Deasy, have had trouble with another desired quality — an ability to develop “a strong partnership with the Board of Education.”

No one on the board questioned the importance of that factor.

Another listed trait was someone who “holds a deep understanding of and belief in social justice.”

Board member Monica Garcia seemed frustrated by the obviousness of some characteristics.

“How do we reflect principles beyond: ‘We all work for kids’?” she said.

Board President Steve Zimmer echoed that concern, saying he was “hungry for a way to differentiate” between potential candidates.

As an instructional leader, the desired candidate would “inspire teachers, administrators and staff to be student focused, forward thinking and lifelong learners,” among other characteristics, the consultants wrote.

The successful applicant also should be “visible and accessible” and communicate regularly with all groups “both by sharing information and genuinely seeking input before decisions are made” while demonstrating “a high level of emotional intelligence by gaining trust and engendering respect through collaborative interactions” with everyone.

On the business side, the next leader must choose a team “grounded in servant leadership and the importance of focusing on classroom and school needs,” as well as handling that fiscal challenges to provide “long-term financial health.”


Consultant Darline Robles said the next leader needs only to be someone who can “make this the best district in the nation.” She paused, adding, “and walks on water as well.”

(The Broad Foundation has given money to the California Community Foundation and the United Way of Greater Los Angeles to support Education Matters, a Times digital initiative devoted to more in-depth reporting on schools.)

Twitter: @howardblume


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