2 Months Later, Melendez Still Out of View as Garcetti’s Ed Deputy
Vanessa Romo | October 18, 2013
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Eight weeks ago Mayor Eric Garcetti named his new education deputy, Thelma Melendez de Santa Ana. In that time, only a few people have any idea who she is what she does or how she’s going to do it.
She has met with various board members and some community groups in her official capacity as director of education and workforce, but all efforts to interview Melendez have been ignored or denied.
Marie Lloyd, a press assistant in Garcetti’s office, told LA School Report Melendez isn’t doing interviews.
Melendez has yet to make any public statements outlining goals for herself or staffer Abigail Marquez so it’s difficult to know with any certainty what her priorities are and how she will measure her own success.
Some things are known about her: she resigned from her previous post as Superintendent of Santa Ana Unified School District in Orange County rather abruptly and amid scandal. Before that, she served as an Assistant Secretary of Education under Arne Duncan, and she headed Pomona Unified for about three years.
Her ties to LA Unified Superintendent John Deasy go back to 2006 when both attended the Broad Superintendents Academy. Former superintendent Ray Cortines tried to lure her to LA Unified several years ago.
Through interviews with a few LA Unified school board members, it’s possible to sketch out only a rough picture of what she’s been up to.
It seems her resume has appeal across the ideological spectrum. School board members pushing for Deasy-style reforms, like Monica Garcia, and those against them, like Bennett Kayser, are excited to work with Melendez.
Garcia, who has known Melendez professionally for years, said she is thrilled with the idea of working alongside her even if Melendez’s role remains amorphous.
The two had one private meeting during which Garcia says Melendez outlined the need to raise graduation rates for Hispanic and English Language Learner students throughout the district.
According to Garcia, Melendez gave no indication she plans to meet with the school board as a whole or with any regularity.
“I think there’s a lot she’s trying to learn and catch up on, but I see her as a strong ally for the children of Los Angeles,” Garcia told LA School Report.
Similarly, Sarah Bradshaw, Kayser’s chief of staff, agrees Melendez is “taking this time to ask all the right questions.”
Bradshaw attended a brief meeting between Kayser and Melendez last week. Much of their time together was spent talking about improving “cradle to gainful employment” strategies, a reflect of Garcetti’s interest in job creation and economic development.
“The impression she gave us is that her focus is going to be on linking adult education, community colleges, and workforce programs to the district,” Bradshaw said. “I don’t think she’s going to be hands-on when it comes teaching strategies in the classroom or changing education policies.”
Kayser, who recently took part in an education funding conference in Oakland and San Francisco, is hoping Melendez will look at cross-services programs implemented in the Bay Area as a model for Los Angeles and LA Unified, Bradshaw said. For instance, the city of San Francisco pays for school police, not the local school district as is the case here. Students qualify for free transit and they have free access to the city’s museums in San Francisco.
“We want to work with her to get some of those types of services for our kids here,” Bradshaw said.
It’s unclear to what extent Melendez or Garcetti will be involved in the Partnership of Los Angeles Schools, which manages 22 schools within LA Unified and was founded by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in 2007.
“Every mayor will make the position their own,” said Joan Sullivan, CEO of Partnership of Los Angeles Schools, who served as education deputy under Mayor Villaraigosa.
Garcetti’s decision? Maybe some day Melendez will explain it.