Michelle King Named New Superintendent of Los Angeles Unified School District

New LAUSD Superintendent Michelle King (photo via latest-headlines.com)
New LAUSD Superintendent Michelle King (photo via latest-headlines.com)

The Los Angeles Board of Education on Monday named Deputy Supt. Michelle King as superintendent, ending a high-stakes search to fill a challenging and hard-to-fill job at a seminal time in California’s largest school system.

King, 54, was considered a reliable choice because she came up through the system. But some district observers voiced surpise at her selection after the board sent a prominent head-hunting firm on a months-long nationwide quest to recruit potential leaders, including those outside the field of education.

King, formerly a respected high school principal, has cultivated a low profile as a senior administrator, keeping her views on where she would like to take Los Angeles Unified a mystery, as is protocol for leaders within the $7-billion bureaucracy.

But board members said that she impressed them in their long interviews behind closed doors. They said they appreciated her knowledge of L.A. Unified, which, they concluded, would allow her to tackle the school system’s problems without delay.

The board’s decision comes at the end of a five-month process spurred by the departure of Supt. Ramon C. Cortines, whose retirement took effect Jan. 2.

In recent years the district has suffered from inconsistent direction as political factions have battled for control in the nation’s most costly school board elections. These power shifts have contributed to turnover — eight superintendents over the last 20 years — and have made deft political skills an essential quality for the schools chief.

“The district needs a strong diplomat but also someone who will burrow into the classroom and regain the momentum on student achievement,” said Bruce Fuller, professor of education and public policy at UC Berkeley.

The new leader will need to confront lagging student achievement and declining enrollment. Even without political turmoil, the job is complex. L.A. Unified draws students from 28 cities and unincorporated areas, including wealthy and low-income neighborhoods. Nearly three in four students are Latino; most are from low-income families; students come from homes that speak more than 90 native languages and many are learning to speak English.

Michael Kirst, state Board of Education president, said L.A. Unified’s shaky financial condition is the state’s major concern. An independent review panel last November found the district faced a $333-million deficit in 2017-18, with the shortfall projected to nearly double by 2020.

The panel found that the district has increased the number of its full-time employees despite declining enrollment and offers more generous benefits than the state average. The school system also is serving a rising share of special education students, who cost more to educate.

Exacerbating the district’s financial risk is a proposal, developed by philanthropist Eli Broad, that called for enrolling half of district students in charter schools over the next eight years. Because schools receive state and federal money based on enrollment, a rapid exodus of students could threaten the district’s solvency.

The challenges proved too daunting for some potential candidates. Joshua Starr, former schools chief in Montgomery County, Md., called L.A. Unified “a total mess,” while Miami Supt. Alberto Carvalho publicly said he did not want the job.

None of the board’s confirmed top candidates had reputations for idealogical agendas to reshape public education. But they presented choices of other sorts.

Some observers — and some board members — said a district insider would be familiar with the district’s complexity and could maintain the stability that Cortines brought during his 14-month stint. Cortines, who had run the district twice before, agreed to return after John Deasy resigned under pressure.

Others favored an outsider to begin repairing frayed relationships among warring interest groups.  “I think that would be difficult for an insider to do,” said John Rogers, a UCLA education professor. “They wouldn’t be seen as a fresh face. Someone coming from the outside may be able to use that newness and attractiveness to begin those conversations.”

King quickly emerged as the only insider with a realistic shot. She was viewed as competent and experienced.

Adams attracted notice as an outside option, especially when Carvalho insisted he would stay in Miami, and, last week, when San Francisco Supt. Richard Carranza withdrew from consideration.

Another administrator who got a close look was Fremont Supt. Jim Morris, who spent decades working in L.A. Unified.  The board also considered Jim Berk, a business executive who, early in his career, had been a well-regarded teacher and principal.  District officials solicited public input on desired qualities of a new leader through 9,400 survey responses and more than 100 public meetings attended by 1,400 participants.

article by Howard Blume via latimes.com

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