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Editorial: Alberto Carvalho might be just what L.A. schools need

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Miami-Dade County Public Schools Supt. Alberto Carvalho in 2018.
(Lynne Sladky / Associated Press)
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The Los Angeles Unified school board did well by bringing on Alberto Carvalho, the highly regarded superintendent of the 350,000-student Miami-Dade County Public Schools. He’s the leader that LAUSD needs right now.

Carvalho, whose appointment was announced Thursday, has a record of moving swiftly and decisively to improve schools most in need and boosting academic achievement. He is a former teacher known for putting in extra work to help his underserved students. He brought his district’s overall rating from F to A.

And one more important thing: Carvalho has a record of employment stability. He has been in his position since 2008 and served in several other administrative roles in the district since 1996. The L.A. schools have been through eight leaders (some of them interim) since Roy Romer left in 2006. The district is in desperate need of a long-term steady hand so that it can set and accomplish goals instead of frequently switching up its priorities.

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Carvalho has won awards for his school leadership, but it also should reassure many teachers to know that he started out in the classroom.

Alberto Carvalho has led Miami-Dade County Public Schools, the nation’s fourth-largest district, since 2008.

Austin Beutner, the most recent superintendent of L.A. Unified, was known as the consummate systems man, reorganizing the central administration to make it at least somewhat more nimble, feeding families during the pandemic and setting up a widely admired system for coronavirus testing. He also created an effective program for primary school students that gives them intensive additional instruction in reading and math.

Carvalho can be expected — assuming the deal is still on after final contract negotiations next week — to put more emphasis on training and empowering good teachers and finding rigorous and engaging curriculum. The percentages of Black and Latino students in Miami-Dade schools who later enroll in college has risen dramatically under his leadership, according to the website Public School Review, and the percentage of students in the lowest-performing schools who read at grade level has nearly tripled — though it is still far too low at 25%. He’s expressed frustration that many of the students who pass courses haven’t actually mastered the material — a real concern in L.A. Unified, where there’s been tremendous pressure to pass and graduate more students.

But Carvalho also might encounter unexpected obstacles on the opposite coast. Unions, especially teachers unions, are far more politically powerful here than in Florida, at both the state and local levels. The full-time L.A. Unified board has a history of splitting along ideological lines — and worse, of attempting to micromanage its superintendents, though Beutner was able to use the pandemic crisis to make many independent decisions. The incoming superintendent also is used to being a politically connected star whose cred is seldom questioned by the public in Florida; California is a much bigger pond than south Florida and he can expect more public scrutiny here from both district insiders and the public.

Carvalho’s record isn’t without question marks. Texts revealed what appeared to be a romantic relationship between him and a Miami Herald education reporter that involved the coverage of Miami-Dade schools, though he has maintained there was nothing inappropriate about their interaction that happened in 2007, when he was an associate superintendent. He previously accepted a job with the New York City schools and then reneged a day after the announcement, saying he was still needed in Miami-Dade. There also were signs under his leadership that the district may have been underreporting violence on campus, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

L.A. Unified is a behemoth organization that spends many billions of dollars a year. Transparency — which district administrators too often avoid — is nonnegotiable.

But Carvalho’s energy, qualifications and accomplishments are indisputable, as well as his clear devotion to making schools work for students. The school board made a decision that could be transformative — as long as it remembers to oversee the superintendent but also let him run things. It has hired an impressive new chief with all the experience and talent to initiate the kind of change L.A.'s schools have needed for many years. That can’t happen if the experience and talent doesn’t stay on in the job.


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