Louis Pugliese: L.A. Unified District 6 candidate

District 6 of the Los Angeles Unified School District covers the eastern San Fernando Valley. The candidates to replace retiring incumbent Julie Korenstein are San Fernando City Councilwoman Nury Martinez and college instructor Louis Pugliese.

Louis Pugliese

Age: 58

Personal: Engaged to Debora Ynez Wright, owner of a mobile mammography service for underserved women. Son, who graduated 11 years ago, attended local public schools.

Bio details: Has a master’s in educational psychology from Cal State Northridge and is also a national board-certified teacher. Taught at local elementary schools for 15 years and briefly at a high school. Also served on board of Our Community Charter School and currently is an appointee to city’s Commission for Children, Youth and Their Families. Teaches education courses at Cal State Northridge to prospective and current teachers.

L.A. Times: What has changed since you ran for the school board two years ago?

Louis Pugliese: The idea that there is a rift between the teachers union and the mayor has sort of fallen by the wayside. The mayor now has a number of schools that his organization controls. Across the district, we’ve got the mayor’s partnership, the Green Dot charter school model, the Belmont zone of choice and magnet schools. We have a lot of different models trying to show they can achieve. The mayor no longer has an idea that he can legislatively take over the management of the school district. The union has come to understand that the charter school movement is here to stay. Partnership is the word of the day.

What did you learn from your first run for this office?

I learned that the board is so far removed from the instructional program and climate at individual schools, it’s hard to imagine how they can properly manage all these programs.

What would you do about that?

The board can purposefully focus on instruction. They can hire their own personal staff, well versed in instruction and curriculum. The way it is now, much of the board members’ staff are experts in relationship-building and politics, but not necessarily the instructional program.

What major issues would you address?

Young men and women are leaving school and not finding anything of worth to them. We lose them. They are commonly referred to as dropouts. The top priority should be to keep children in school, provide an environment they get something out of. Right now, they don’t like what’s offered or they have failed so many times.

I think we need to reexamine the requirements for all students. By having requirements that are more numerous than the rest of the country, we have the pressure on teachers to socially promote kids, rather than helping them master the basic levels of math and English. We should bring back the old-fashioned model, where you have different kinds of diplomas: college prep or business or technical diplomas. Give competency-based diplomas rather than one size fits all.

Number 2: Getting the community and parents into schools and classrooms as mentors, tutors. I believe that the idea of a teacher working alone in a classroom is going to fall by the wayside. It takes a village.

What’s your view of how things are going at the 10 schools where improvement efforts are managed by the nonprofit overseen by Mayor Villaraigosa?

Whenever a group of concerned people brings resources to a school, that’s got to be a good thing to start with. It’s a change. The school is cleaner, gets painted, there’s more security in place. It makes a statement to the kids: “You belong here. We want you.”

Any issues of concern regarding charter schools?

I worry that the only charter operators in a few years will be the charter management organizations [that operate multiple schools], and the mom-and-pop or free-standing charter schools will fall by the wayside.

Regarding ineffective teachers, the union notes that the school district has trouble following due process and in helping teachers master their craft. The district notes that it can take years to remove an unsuccessful teacher. If the district got its act together and managed teachers properly, how long should it take before an ineffective teacher who fails to improve significantly can be removed?

For different situations you might have different timelines. If a classroom is completely in disarray, that needs to be corrected within a week.

But what about in terms of a teacher losing a job?

By the end of that school year.

There’s been controversy recently over periodic assessments, standardized tests that are given several times a year to assess student progress. The teachers union has asked its members to boycott these tests. Do you have an opinion on this issue?

The schools and teacher should devise them. That’s what teachers do. You must be assessing during instruction all along. But I also tend to agree with Supt. [Ray] Cortines that we have had good results from standardizing periodic assessments in some way. The district needs to make them more flexible. Teachers should not be forced to test children on things they may not have been exposed to.

Your campaign talks about cutting the “bloated bureaucracy.” Can you be specific?

Supt. Cortines has done a good job so far in terms of cutting budget to the mini-districts, [the regional administrative offices]. That’s where we could start. Everyone seems to agree that instructional coaches need to be reexamined in these times of educational crisis. Sometimes the coaches are necessary, particularly in terms of support to new teachers.