School & District Management

Calif. Returns Compton District To Local Control

By Karla Scoon Reid — September 19, 2001 3 min read

The Compton district—the first and only California school system to be taken over by the state for both academic and financial shortcomings—will regain local control of its schools in December.

“I told the folks that I would be the last state administrator,” said Randolph E. Ward, who has run the district for the state. “I’m a man of my word. I worked myself out of a job.”

The state started taking steps to relinquish control of the district to the local elected board earlier this month, after a state review showed that Compton had met its goals in five areas: community relations, personnel, facilities, finance, and student achievement. Compton also finished repaying its $19.6 million state loan this summer. (“‘Comeback’ From State Control Means Solvency for Compton,” Jan. 31, 2001.)

But the essential factor for Compton to resume leadership over its schools was the selection of a highly regarded superintendent. Jesse L. Gonzales, the superintendent in Las Cruces, N.M., for the past 12 years, started as the district’s chief educator last month.

“That was the nail,” Mr. Ward said of Mr. Gonzales’ unanimous selection by the board.

‘Compton Pride’

Doug Stone, the communications director for the California Department of Public Instruction, said the state would officially relinquish control on Dec. 11, after a three-month transition period.

Still, the state’s presence won’t disappear from the 33,000-student district. Mr. Ward will stay on as the state’s trustee, overseeing decisions to ensure that Compton does not slide back into an academic or financial crisis. A consent decree the district and the Los Angeles chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union agreed to last year guarantees further monitoring. A severe critic of the district, the ACLU sued after the state intervention, seeking improvements in facilities and programs.

Mr. Ward acknowledged that it would be difficult for him to pull back. He has had sole control of the district for five years, with the school board serving in an advisory role.

That type of complete control was absolutely necessary to turn Compton around, said Thomas E. Henry of the Fiscal and Crisis Management Assistance Team, an agency created by the state legislature to monitor and assist school systems in meeting their financial and management obligations.

The final state review of Compton’s schools, released last week, showed enough improvement that the agency recommended giving the school board greater responsibility.

Recovery in Compton had to be tackled on all fronts simultaneously—the classrooms, the facilities, and the finances—or progress could not have been made, Mr. Henry said. The combination of absolute control, state support, and an able leader led to Compton’s improvements, he added.

“There’s a certain amount of Compton pride that has always been in the district historically,” Mr. Henry said. “For a period of time, they lost that. We have seen that they’ve regained that pride.”

New Leadership

Compton has also elected a new mayor to replace Omar Bradley, the city’s controversial leader and one of the district’s chief critics.

Mr. Gonzales acknowledged earlier this month that he was anxious about taking on his new challenge just as the state pulls out of the district. But, he noted that he and Mr. Ward are working collaboratively to move Compton into the next phase.

The upcoming November election of five of the district’s seven board members could complicate the transition to local control. Several school board members have been highly critical of the state takeover, and some were publicly chastised for meddling in district business after they were stripped of their power.

While acknowledging the board’s sometimes-stormy relationship with the state, Mr. Gonzales said the community and the board have been supportive of him. He’s already coped with his first crisis—a drive-by shooting outside Compton High School earlier this month.

“If the board and all of us can work together,” he said, “I think we can move forward.”

In addition to keeping Compton on track to recovery, Mr. Gonzales said he would revamp the district’s high schools, creating more Advanced Placement courses. Moreover, he said that he would likely seek board approval to ask voters to support a bond for additional renovations and construction.

While Mr. Henry said it was not too soon to call Compton a success, “the question,” he cautioned, “becomes will they be able to sustain it?”

Related Tags:

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Equity, Care and Connection: New SEL Tools and Practices to Support Students and Adults
As school districts plan to welcome students back into buildings for the upcoming school year, this is the perfect time to take a hard look at both our practices and our systems to build a
Content provided by Panorama Education
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Classroom Technology Webinar
Here to Stay – Pandemic Lessons for EdTech in Future Development
What technology is needed in a post pandemic district? Learn how changes in education will impact development of new technologies.
Content provided by AWS
School & District Management Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Strategies & Tips for Complex Decision-Making
Schools are working through the most disruptive period in the history of modern education, facing a pandemic, economic problems, social justice issues, and rapid technological change all at once. But even after the pandemic ends,

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management Cash for Shots? Districts Take New Tacks to Boost Teacher Vaccinations
In order to get more school staff vaccinated, some district leaders are tempting them with raffles, jeans passes, and cash.
8 min read
Illustration of syringe tied to stick
Getty
School & District Management National Teachers' Union President: Schools Must Reopen 5 Days a Week This Fall
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten wants five days a week of in-person school next fall.
4 min read
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, talks during a news conference in front of the Richard R. Green High School of Teaching on Sept. 8, 2020.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, talks during a news conference in front of the Richard R. Green High School of Teaching on Sept. 8, 2020.
Mark Lennihan/AP
School & District Management Principals and Stress: Strategies for Coping in Difficult Times
Running schools in the pandemic has strained leaders in unprecedented ways. Principals share their ideas for how to manage the stress.
6 min read
Illustration of calm woman working at desk
Getty
School & District Management Wanted: Superintendents to Lead Districts Through the End of a Pandemic
Former superintendents say there are signs when it's time to move on. Their replacements are more likely to be greenhorns, experts say.
4 min read
Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Austin Beutner speaks at a news conference at the school district headquarters in Los Angeles on March 13, 2020. Beutner will step down as superintendent after his contract ends in June, he announced Wednesday, April 21, 2021.
Austin Beutner, the superintendent of Los Angeles Unified, will step down after his contract ends in June.
Damian Dovarganes/AP