School & District Management

Los Angeles Unified’s Leadership: A Trip Down Memory Lane

By Lesli A. Maxwell — October 29, 2013 2 min read
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With today’s Los Angeles school board meeting about to get underway—and Superintendent John Deasy’s future expected to be decided behind closed doors—I started thinking about the rapid succession of leaders who have passed through the district in recent years.

Here’s a little history for those of us who may be a little fuzzy on who has been in charge of the nation’s second largest school system over the last decade.

Roy Romer (2000-2006). The former Colorado governor was hired by a newly elected school board that had been heavily backed by then-Mayor Richard Riordan and billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad. Romer lasted six years—an eternity for Los Angeles—and launched the district’s massive initiative to build 180 new schools to relieve overcrowding. He also brought a sharp focus on literacy in the early grades and saw elementary test scores rise during his tenure.

David Brewer (2006-2008). Anybody remember the retired Navy vice admiral? Recall that Brewer’s selection happened in the middle of former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s aggressive campaign to take control over the school system, which ended up going down in a legal battle. But while Villaraigosa was away on a trade mission to Asia, the board, in a power play to assert its authority over school district business, hired Brewer. He had zilch education experience and lasted just a smidge longer than two years.

Ramon Cortines (2008-2011). One of the most seasoned big-city administrators in the country, Cortines was hired to be Brewer’s No. 2, but quickly seemed to be functioning as the actual superintendent with full responsibility for the district’s instructional program and management of day-to-day operations. He had been working already for Mayor Villaraigosa advising him on education issues when he was tapped for the deputy’s job. By late 2008, he was elevated to the top spot when Brewer bowed out of the position. Cortines had also briefly served as the interim superintendent in Los Angeles in 2000.

John Deasy (2011-present). Much like Cortines had been to Brewer, Deasy was brought on as Cortines’ deputy and given wide berth to start running the district. His appointment as superintendent became official in early 2011 when the school board decided to ditch a formal search to replace the retiring Cortines and elevate Deasy.

Photo credits:


Superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District Roy Romer points to a chart showing the rise in API test scores for high school seniors in the school district during a hearing of the Senate Education Committee, in Sacramento, Calif., in 2006.

--Rich Pedroncelli/AP-File


Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, left, listens as the new superintendent of Los Angeles public schools, retired U.S. Navy Vice Adm. David L. Brewer III, speaks at news conference on Oct. 25, 2006, in Los Angeles.

--Nick Ut/AP-File


Los Angeles Unified School District’s Superintendent of Schools Ramon Cortines chairs a budget meeting in 2009 in Los Angeles.

--Damian Dovarganes/AP-File


Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent John Deasy explains the need to transform Crenshaw High School in South Los Angeles starting in the next academic year, after the board approved a drastic overhaul during a board meeting in Los Angeles on Jan. 15, 2013.

--Damian Dovarganes/AP-File

A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.