School Choice

Learning What Parents Really Want in a New L.A. Schools Superintendent

For the last six years my job at the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) has allowed me to serve as a liaison for our turnaround initiatives among our unions, network partners, charter management organizations, community partners, principals and teachers.   Yet one of the best parts of my job involves daily opportunities to engage parents and guardians in conversations about learning, instruction and school improvement in communities across Los Angeles. As a district staffer, a Boyle Heights resident and dad of a 1-year-old, the selection process for the superintendent candidate is very important to me. The process is also important to my wife, a principal of a charter middle school serving children from Lincoln Heights and Boyle Heights—the communities she has called home since birth. I was optimistic after reading board president Steve Zimmer’s vision for the superintendent selection process. Zimmer comments that,  “There will be the deliberation over the group of finalists, all of whom I hope will be consensus builders, collaborators, and will...understand that to move forward it has to be all of us together.” This call for collaboration was sidetracked by Diane Ravitch’s polarizing view published in the Los Angeles Times. Immediately thereafter, the California Charter Schools Association responded with a series of email newsletters. We cannot allow this infighting to overshadow the authentic voices of parents, the constituency who has the most at stake with the superintendent selection. We need to consider parent perspectives from a variety of schools across greater Los Angeles—be they traditional, magnet, charter, pilot and autonomous “local initiative” schools. For this reason, we asked 10 parents and guardians to share their thoughts about what they want to see in the new superintendent and which efforts are most important for the success of their children. These parents have been recruited from across the city. A few of their thoughts are excerpted below. Fabiola del Toro, mother of four, Maywood:
I believe it is important for the superintendent to keep in mind the needs of all schools and allow each school to invest money into the instructional program and the parent engagement program they choose. Schools need flexibility from the central office to make decisions yet greater support and guidance is necessary at the secondary level. Many secondary schools have a lot of money yet they do not know how to make use of the money to improve the instructional program, support teachers in developing the skills for teaching and improve student achievement.
Silviana Garcia, mother of four,  South Los Angeles: 
I believe that school choices are important because we were able to shop and see where our students felt the most welcome, supported and motivated. The opportunities in Watts are expanding, and I now have the trust in various schools to support the needs of my children. Finding a small school where the staff and community partners know me and my children was important to me.
Isela Castro, mother of one,  East Los Angeles: 
I personally think that my story is an example of why I am a supporter of school choice. My student would not be as successful as he is today if not for Oscar De La Hoya Animo Charter School and Alliance Charter School #4. I can’t imagine L.A. today not offering so many choices especially for my son who has special needs. When I walked into Oscar de la Hoya Animo Charter High School I expressed my issues and spoke about my son’s special needs with the principal. The principal addressed my concerns and immediately integrated the special education teacher into the conversation. The teacher emailed me to address my questions one year prior to my student starting at the school site. This was after other neighborhood schools did not call me back. I want to see more schools like Oscar de la Hoya Animo Charter High School.
As these parents voices demonstrate, it is critical for the team leading the superintendent selection to pause, listen and learn about the needs of the students that allow all quality school choices to coexist. In the coming months we must unite, maximize our resources and capture as many voices and stories of parents in greater Los Angeles.  
Antonio Plascencia, Jr. has supported and led school turnaround initiatives at Chicago Public Schools and the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD).
Antonio Plascencia, Jr. has supported and led school turnaround initiatives at Chicago Public Schools and the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). For the past six years at LAUSD, he has incubated an inquiry based approach for community-driven school turnaround that integrates parents as equal partners in conversations about school choice, adopting dashboards to monitor school turnaround ...

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