Antonio Villaraigosa on What Drives His Passion for Education Change

Here’s a video I was honored to produce about Education Post’s advisory network chairman Antonio Villaraigosa when he was mayor of Los Angeles and talking about his aspirations for the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). Villaraigosa was one of the first national figures I asked to interview for our On the Loudspeaker series because of his ability to transcend traditional politics—speaking candidly, for instance, about the need to elevate and transform the teaching profession. He also speaks from the heart and from personal experience when it comes to our nation's pressing need to ensure that every child—despite race, background or income level—receives an equal opportunity to excel in school. As mayor, Villaraigosa’s actions were as loud as his words: His administration took on responsibility for 10 of the lowest-performing schools in the district, forming the “Partnership for Los Angeles Schools,” which is transforming 16 schools today. He also supported the creation of a charter school-like option within LAUSD called "pilot" schools, which gives more power and autonomy to educators at the school level. There are now more than 30 pilot schools providing new options for Los Angeles students within the traditional district. During our interview, Villaraigosa reflected on the importance of teachers leading the effort to elevate their profession:
What I’ve said to our teachers and teachers union, I want teachers to get in front of the education reform front of the movement to raise the standards in the teaching profession and to reward those successful teachers for excellence in the classroom. And that means we’re going to have to better evaluate effectiveness in the classrooms...we’re going to have to support our teachers, it means we’re going to have to fund our schools, but it also means we’re going to have to be accountable for results.
The former mayor also reflected on his own shaky start in education and the teacher who inspired him to believe in himself.
I got involved in this issue because it was a public school that gave me a second chance. I had a teacher here, Herman Katz, who was constantly setting a higher bar for me, who encouraged me…to stay in school after I had dropped out for a bit. I look at my experience here and I recognize if I hadn’t had that second chance, I wouldn’t be here today…This is a passion and an obligation that I have.
In my view, Antonio Villaraigosa embodies the kind of national leadership we need today, willing to take on the crucial, if often difficult and decidedly controversial, work of transforming our education system into one that brings out the best of students and teachers alike.
Kelly Amis founded Loudspeaker Films in 2009 to combine her passion for social justice and education equality with her love of art and belief in the power of film.
Photo of Kelly Amis with former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.