Aug. 9, 2018
Good morning and welcome. I am honored to work with everyone at Los Angeles Unified who share a commitment to providing students with a great education. I want to thank the Board Members for the confidence you’ve placed in me. I look forward to working with you to help every child reach his or her full potential. And thank you Brian. He was my tour guide my first day at Napa Elementary and, when he said he wanted to be a superintendent someday, I had him join me for a day. He’s a remarkable young man. Brian and the rest of LA Unified’s students are the future of our community, and the entire community has a stake in helping students succeed.
As we enter a new chapter, we have much work to do. This chapter will be built on simplicity and focus, not on quick fixes and new programs. We need to build on the things that are working and change the things that are not. We need to put our resources where they are needed most. We need to reduce the bureaucracy and red tape so you can focus on the important things – working with teachers, developing relationships with students and their families, and making each school a place of great teaching and learning. We’re going back to the basics.
Everyone in this room is familiar with the challenges we face – starting with the budget. When next school year starts, we’ll have about $700 million left in the bank and, if nothing changes, about $450 million of that will be spent covering the deficit for the year. Something has to change.
LA Unified faces other challenges – chronically underperforming schools, declining enrollment, and underfunding, just to name a few. The scope of what we do can make change seem daunting. We educate 700,000 students in 1,266 schools on 1,005 campuses across over 700 square miles.[i] You could take the other four of the five largest school districts in the country, and fit their two million students within our boundaries. Our geography creates complexity, but our individual schools are similar to schools anywhere in the country. And each student only attends one school. Our challenge is to make sure every school in LA Unified is a great school.
I came to LA Unified to help do the work. I’m a product of public schools, and I wouldn’t be standing here today but for my great public education. An English teacher in tenth grade worked tirelessly to help me become a better writer. A baseball coach taught me the value of teamwork. A guidance counselor encouraged me to dream big. A music teacher in fifth grade helped me find my voice and express myself through music, long before I could stand in front of a crowd like this.
My mom was a teacher and inspired me to love reading. My dad came to this country as a child, his family fleeing the horrors of the Nazis. He was a factory engineer and instilled in me the value of hard work and commitment. My public education provided the foundation for my career, where I was fortunate beyond my wildest dreams.
But about ten years ago, things took a very different turn. I had an accident mountain biking and broke my neck. It took me about a year to recover. Since that time, I have committed myself to making sure children in our community have the same opportunities I was provided with. And the best opportunity I was ever given was a great public education.
Many students in LA Unified are getting a great education. A record number of students are graduating, and progress has been made in student learning, both on par with the state. But we still have a long way to go. Every student is not making progress. Of 100 students who enter our high schools, 12 will drop out, 77 will graduate from high school, and only 12 will graduate from college. [ii] [iii]
Not all of our students have access to great schools. We have children who master multiple languages and instruments, win robotics contests, excel on AP tests, and go to top colleges. And we have others who are not on a path to college or a 21st century career.
Let me introduce you to Sasha, Sophia, Lauren, and Hector, their stories are true but I’ve changed their names for privacy.
Sasha entered LA Unified in kindergarten. She has always lived in Los Angeles and was raised in a Spanish-speaking household. By high school she still wasn’t able to speak or write English at grade level. She felt ashamed of her language skills and was afraid to ask for help. She wanted to be included with all the other students, instead of feeling different. When she got to high school, her principal made sure each student like Sasha had a mentor. Sasha’s English teacher encouraged her to keep a journal to improve her writing. By her junior year, she was able to speak and read English at grade level and was in classrooms with her English-speaking peers. After graduation she attended Santa Monica College, where a professor encouraged her to become a journalist after reading her writing. She’s currently attending Long Beach City College, studying child development to help others like herself and planning to join the journalism club.
By the end of middle school, about three out of four students who entered Kindergarten as English language learners will read and write English on par with their peers. One in four do not.[iv] And for those who are still English language learners in 11th grade, only two percent are on grade level in math and five percent in English.[v]
Sophia is the third generation of her family to attend the same high school in LA Unified. Throughout school she took STEM classes and loved math. She recently graduated with a GPA above 4.0 and plans on studying industrial and systems engineering at USC.
Only half of LA Unified schools offer both high-level calculus and physics.[vi] Only one in ten students take these high-level, AP STEM courses and of those students, only one in four females will achieve a college-going score, compared to 40 percent of males.[vii] A recent national study showed that 60 percent of girls have opted out of STEM college majors by the time they have enrolled because they were discouraged from taking rigorous math and science classes.[viii]
Lauren attended the same high school as her parents, who met their junior year in school. In middle school, her principal engaged with her and other students on a personal level and made them feel welcome. She recognizes how important it’s been for her journey to see strong African American women, people who look like her, in schools and in positions of leadership. From honors classes in middle school, she went on to a law magnet program in high school, where she took classes including constitution and speech and advanced placement classes including psychology and biology. When an International Baccalaureate program started at her high school her junior year, she signed up because she wanted to take the most rigorous classes available. She is a recipient of an academic scholarship at UCLA, is majoring in psychology, and is dual minoring in education and entrepreneurship. She plans to become a lawyer.
Of the almost 63,000 students in gifted programs, only 3,300 – or about five percent – are African American.[i] In certain parts of the district that have a large population of African American children, a student would have to commute more than an hour each way to attend a program for highly gifted students.
Hector, whose mom speaks only Spanish, started at LA Unified in kindergarten and was identified as needing special education services. He spent his first ten years segregated from his general education peers, without access to grade level classes and activities. A middle school math teacher provided Hector individual, specialized support and advocated for him to be placed in a non-segregated setting for high school. Starting in ninth grade, Hector was included in general classes and given the additional help he needed to excel. In tenth grade, after multiple auditions, Hector landed his first role on stage and quickly became an audience favorite. He is now majoring in theater at Chico State.
LA Unified has almost 70,000 students with IEPs, about 7,000 are severely disabled. The vast majority of the remaining 63,000 can learn on grade level, yet nearly 50 percent are segregated from their peers for too much if not most of the day.[ii] And in segregated settings, less than two percent of students are proficient in reading or math.[iii]
I’ve thought a lot about Sasha, Sophia, Lauren and Hector — what I can learn and what we can do together to match their resilience and persistence. None of these students let obstacles, like learning a new language, having an IEP, or lacking access to advanced classes, stop them from reaching their goals. They didn't accept constraints as destiny and neither should we. Each of these students had the help of a skilled, caring adult who made a difference. That adult didn’t ask for permission to do what was right — they just did it. The work you do today, tomorrow, next week can change the life trajectory of a child. We must create the conditions where this can happen for every student in all of our schools.
We need to treat you and everyone in your school with respect, provide you with access to best in class tools, and then get out of your way so you can put your students on the path to college and 21st century career readiness. Each school needs leaders who are empowered to make decisions that reflect the unique needs of their students, school and community — and who wake up every day with a sense of urgency to improve outcomes for kids like Sasha, Sophia, Lauren and Hector, no matter what it takes. We don’t want you to spend time on managing bureaucracy and compliance, but on getting results for your kids. We need to rebuild the district with schools and classrooms at the center, not Beaudry.
We’ve got a lot of work to do to realize this vision, and we’re going to start with a few simple things right here, right now. First, we are going to reduce the amount of emails and directives you get from LA Unified. I looked at what an average principal received in a month from the bureaucracy – about 300 emails totaling thousands of pages of materials. We’re going to cut that in half by simplifying communications and communicating only what matters. Starting Monday, school leaders will receive a comprehensive, biweekly email from their director. The volume will be reduced, and information will be easier to access.
Second, we’re going to try to have every student in school every day. We know attendance matters. Instead of attendance counselors being guided by someone at Beaudry, they will work directly with you and your local district superintendent to improve attendance. Many of the people working to improve attendance have been wrapped up in our bureaucracy, they need to be in schools helping do the work. And I’m committed to help in the work. Yesterday, an elementary school principal, attendance counselors, and I were joined by our partners in SEIU to visit families and students and let them know how much we’re looking forward to seeing them in school next week. We are going to lead by example when it comes to attendance. Students watch what we do even more than what we say. We all need to be present because if we’re not, how can we ask our students to be? What adults model in terms of attendance matters.
Finally, I invite you to be a rule breaker and help change the status quo. Let me say more about what I mean. Leadership matters. Be bold. Don’t wait for me or someone in Beaudry. Start doing whatever it takes to improve results for your students. I’m challenging you to lead, and you can’t do that without talented teams, which means you need to be able to hire and inspire the best. All great schools have great leaders. And I have never met a great leader who asks for permission to lead.
We have the opportunity to gather students, families, teachers, school leaders, and our communities and ask them to help provide every child with a great education. The commitment to our students has to be embraced by everybody in Los Angeles – not just those with children in LA Unified and not just those who work for LA Unified. We need the entire community of Los Angeles engaged in our schools – civic and grassroots organizations, the business, labor and philanthropic communities, faith based communities, and city, county and state elected leaders. Public education is the common ground on which we all stand.
I accepted this job because I believe in the potential of the students who come to LA Unified schools every single day. Those who come early and stay late for tutoring or extracurricular programs; and those who come in on Saturdays and Sundays to practice for a performance or for the sport they are doing their very best at to excel. While we face extraordinary challenges now and in the months and years ahead, we know we can rely on the boundless energy of those students, and the professionals who serve them in every school across this district. I will be a relentless advocate for you and the students in LA Unified. Working together, we can help our students do great things. Thank you.
[i] Includes independent charters, adult education students, and early learners, as of 2017-18 SY (norm day count).
[ii] According to the National Student Clearinghouse, the graduation rate for LAUSD students entering college is 23%.
[iii] 65% of LAUSD graduates enroll in college, according to the National Student Clearinghouse; with 77 graduates, that means 50 students enroll in college (on average). With a 23% college graduation rate, that means 12 of those 50 college students will graduate.
[iv] From “English Learners’ time to reclassification,” conducted by PACE.
[v] Percentage of EL students scoring Level 3 or 4 on SBAC Math assessment in 2017 in grade 11.
[vi] “High-level” defined as AP; Denominator is 184 schools serving grades 9-12.
[vii] Board Informative on AP Enrollment and Scores, Dated November 17, 2017.
[viii] Briefing and study link found here: https://www.eab.com/daily-briefing/2018/04/02/60-percent-of-women-opt-out-of-stem-careers-by-the-time-they-attend-college
[ix] As of 2017-18 SY
[x] Welligent (IEP platform)