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.