Wanted: The Right Leader for LAUSD

Over the years, Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) has made considerable student gains, relieving overcrowding in schools and launching a range of much-needed changes to funding, education standards, and school climate. At the same time, the district has also contended with ever-changing leadership and policy priorities, a divided school board, and decreasing student enrollment. As a result, teachers, parents and community members vacillate from feeling skeptical (and sometimes downright suspicious) to cautiously hopeful when it comes to the future of our district. So, what kind of leadership is needed now? For nearly six months, LAUSD—our nation's second largest district—has been looking for a permanent superintendent. Given the stakes and the strong desire among teachers, students, and parents for community engagement in the process, this couldn't be a more high-profile and high-pressure decision facing our school board. While it's tempting, but unproductive, to look for a magic bullet in our next superintendent, it's worth highlighting a few qualities that educational stakeholders think are necessary in finding a student-focused and collaborative new leader. Here are a few suggestions in terms of what to look for in the next superintendent of LAUSD.
  1. A Leader We Can Trust The first thing we know is that the superintendent has to be someone Los Angelinos can trust and who will show a commitment to serving the students, families and teachers at every school. Recent big changes to funding, school climate and graduation standards were sorely needed, but the pace and approach of implementation has certainly caused confusion and ruffled the feathers of critics. Some of this is inevitable in the desire to accelerate change in a district that has for generations struggled to best serve its students, parents and school staff, but the fact remains that the next superintendent will inherit some of this baggage and must work to repair these bonds.
  2. A Leader We Can Learn From While we certainly need a consensus builder, we also need a superintendent who won't back down from key priorities—who will fight for achievement and equity. Our superintendent's top policy goal has to be improving educational outcomes for students of color and those living in poverty. This means working on graduation rates, early education programs and third-grade reading levels. It means giving our students access to college-preparatory classes and Common Core-aligned instruction. It means working toward safer, more welcoming schools.
  3. A Leader Who Innovates In the wake of a controversial initiative to expand charter schools in LAUSD, we must push ourselves to think more expansively about promising models for change that aren't charter schools. In fact, rather than a leader who is wedded to a particular type of school, we need someone who knows how to implement and support multiple school innovation models, including pilot schools, Linked Learning schools, partnership schools, community schools and Local Initiative Schools, as well as charter schools. All of these models hinge upon having a district willing to empower and support school leaders and teachers in designing and leading change for their campuses while adhering to clear accountability standards.
  4. A Leader Whose Purse Strings Are Pulled by Equity Decisions around school funding and school site capacity building should be solidly rooted in equity, with a special focus on English language learners, students of color, students of poverty and foster and homeless youth. This leader should have a strong understanding of the unique political and education policy landscape in Los Angeles, with a keen knowledge of and experience in national best practices for running high-quality urban school districts. In short, we need a leader willing to address historical funding and resource inequities in LAUSD.
To get such a leader at the helm of our schools, we need a fair and transparent superintendent search process. This will be a challenge for our school board as it weighs the need of transparency for the community with the need of confidentiality for superintendent candidates. That said, the district should have a clear strategy for including community voices into the process as early as possible, drawing leaders in education and civil rights together. The selection board should make their criteria public, keeping the process transparent and accountable. In the last few weeks, we've seen our school board begin to inch more in this direction by publicly promoting an online community input survey and townhall sessions. As a proud member of Communities for Los Angeles Student Success, our local coalition, we have been pushing for more concrete mechanisms for community input, including an advisory committee comprised of key education, community and civil rights leaders who can give advice on both the search process and the candidates. Leading LAUSD is one of the most challenging jobs in education, balancing the needs of a vast and diverse group of students, as well as those of their teachers and families. It's not a job just anyone can do, but we believe the right process can yield the right candidate for the job.  
Ama Nyamekye is executive director of Educators 4 Excellence: Los Angeles. An earlier version of this post appeared on Huffington Post.
Ama Nyamekye is executive director of Educators 4 Excellence: Los Angeles. Nyamekye grew up in Las Vegas, but spent some of her childhood in California. A proud product of public education, Ama’s favorite teacher—the woman who inspired her decision to teach—was Ms. Higa at El Rincon Elementary school in Culver City. Ama went on to become ...

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