School & District Management

L.A. Schools Supt. John Deasy May Resign Soon

By Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times (MCT) — October 25, 2013 5 min read
Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent John Deasy addresses board members earlier this year.
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Los Angeles schools Supt. John Deasy, who has led the nation’s second-largest school system since 2011, has told some top district officials that he could be leaving in coming months.

Deasy declined to discuss his intentions Thursday evening, saying that he has not submitted a letter of resignation and that he would have more to say after his job evaluation Tuesday.

But the office of Board of Education President Richard Vladovic said Vladovic was among those who’d spoken with the superintendent Thursday.

“We are shocked,” said Mike Trujillo, a Vladovic spokesman. “Dr. Vladovic is shocked, saddened and surprised.” The office said Vladovic was referring to rumors that the superintendent would leave.

The departure of Deasy, 52, would end the relatively brief tenure of a leader who made his mark with aggressive, sometimes controversial policies in L.A. Unified.

His major initiatives have included revamping teachers evaluations to include the use of students’ standardized test scores. He also altered the seniority system to limit the effect of job cuts at schools with large numbers of less-experienced instructors, who are generally the first to be laid off.

The school system recently embarked on a $1-billion project—led by Deasy—to provide iPads to every student and teacher, using school-construction bonds as the funding source. The effort has gotten off to a rocky start, and Deasy has come under criticism for moving too quickly while there are still unanswered questions.

During much of his tenure Deasy has had to deal with massive budget cuts that he insisted should not slow the pace of academic improvement. Test scores rose before his arrival and have continued to rise during his time in charge.

Deasy was closely allied with former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who left office this year because of term limits. Deasy’s political position weakened further in recent school board elections, when two candidates backed by Deasy allies lost. The newly constituted board has made no moves against Deasy, but quickly began to challenge more of his policies.

The superintendent threatened to resign when the school board was poised to elect Vladovic as board president in July. The board elevated Vladovic anyway and Deasy stayed.

Vladovic and Deasy have been at odds in the past, but “Dr. Vladovic felt that he and John Deasy had achieved a positive working relationship on behalf of kids,” Trujillo said.

The school board is scheduled to discuss Deasy’s job performance in a private meeting. The board also is scheduled to discuss Deasy’s revised plans for the distribution of the tablets in a special public meeting Tuesday.

Board member Tamar Galatzan said she had no comment on conversations between Deasy and her or her colleagues. Board member Monica Ratliff said she had not heard from Deasy directly but said she left him a message saying she hoped it wasn’t true.

And board member Steve Zimmer said he had not spoken to the superintendent.

“The gravity of the moment for our children demands that we only respond to something formal and official,” Zimmer said.

Marqueece Harris-Dawson, president of the South Los Angeles nonprofit Community Coalition, said it would be devastating to lose a leader of Deasy’s caliber after he was able to skillfully guide the district through an era of drastic budget cuts.

Harris-Dawson praised Deasy for sustained improvement in the district’s test scores, graduation rates, and for lowering suspensions and expulsions among students.

He described Deasy’s style of leadership as “cutting edge” and lauded his effort to place the Apple tablets in the hands of students who otherwise wouldn’t have them.

But where Deasy has stumbled, Harris-Dawson said, has been in successfully managing all the competing interests in the district. Further, he said, the superintendent has been stymied by a dysfunctional school board.

“The failure has been to bring the board around to his vision for the district,” he said.

“This is utter devastation.”

Deasy successfully negotiated temporary salary cuts with union leaders that saved thousands of jobs, but never won over the rank and file, especially the teachers. United Teachers Los Angeles repeatedly has spoken out against Deasy and his policies, all but calling for his dismissal. Union members were particularly upset by the superintendent’s push for student test scores to count in teachers job reviews, among other things.

Warren Fletcher, president of UTLA, said in a statement that it’s no secret teachers have had concerns with Deasy’s leadership.

“Deasy has ignored the concerns of the District’s teachers and health and human services professionals for a very long time,” Fletcher said in the statement. “UTLA is hopeful that the school board and the entire LAUSD community will take this opportunity to refocus the district back to its most basic mission: providing every student with a well-rounded education.”

Deasy has had to navigate powerful entrenched interests with competing, even conflicting, visions of how to improve lagging school performance. Those interests, including the unions and charter schools, battled over access to resources and even to campuses, with charters suing for more classroom space.

Deasy is a strong proponent of using data—test scores and other information—to drive his policies. And he is unafraid to challenge the status quo in L.A. Unified.

He had a particularly challenging time during the Miramonte Elementary child abuse scandal when he ultimately decided to remove the entire faculty and staff from the school. He has defended that action, however, saying it was the only way to restore trust there.

Deasy previously led three other school districts, including Santa Monica-Malibu Unified for about five years. From there he moved for two years to Maryland’s Prince George’s County Public Schools, which has 127,000 students. He then spent two years as a deputy director at the Seattle-based Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. There he presided over grants to develop teacher evaluations that would be at least partly based on standardized test scores.

His critics accused him of being a tool of the Gates Foundation, billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad and Villaraigosa, but even his closest supporters did not always get what they wanted from him. And he saw himself as cutting a path of compromise when necessary to advance the interests of students.

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Copyright ©2013 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by MCT Information Services.
A version of this article appeared in the October 30, 2013 edition of Education Week as L.A. Schools Supt. John Deasy May Resign Soon

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