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‘Accelerating change’ for LA students: 7 ways Carvalho aims to fix LAUSD

Cari Spencer | August 11, 2022

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The spotlight was on Los Angeles Unified school superintendent Alberto Carvalho Monday when he delivered his first back-to-school speech, promising “accelerating change” across the district.  

“Community reform by nature does not have to be protracted or slow, it can be quick,” said Carvalho in his prepared remarks at the event titled “Imagine the Possibilities” where he committed to “swift and unapologetic” change to how LAUSD operates. 

 “It is with great pride that I welcome all of you to a new school year,” he said. “More importantly, welcome to a new day.” 

Carvalho promised everything from $7 billion in facilities and classroom upgrades to telehealth in schools (via a robot named Pepper) and new magnet programs in a speech that was both encouraging and rooted in real challenges the district faces.

Carvalho acknowledged LAUSD’s declining enrollment, widespread student mental health struggles and concerns about the district’s long-term financial outlook.

“There are very few urban superintendents who know how to do it as well as he — that is he lays out what are the challenges facing the district and ‘what are we going to do about it?’ ” said Dr. Pedro Noguera, Dean of the USC Rossier School of Education. “He struck a good balance between a sobering message of where we are and some inspiration.”

At the Microsoft Theater in downtown Los Angeles, there was certainly an air of inspiration and flair.

Before Carvalho spoke, performances from students and student groups, including a marching band and mariachi band, filled the room with proud notes. 

When Carvalho took to the stage, he did not initially speak. Instead, the spotlight shone on him while he took slow steps across the stage, arms crossed over his chest. His walk was accompanied by swelling violins, crescendoing from a video intended to galvanize the audience about the importance of education. 

Throughout his speech — crammed with pop culture references (top contenders: Kylie Jenner’s three minute plane ride and Bridgerton season two) — the @LAUSDSup Twitter account pushed out tweets with main points from the address. 

Some Twitter users expressed qualms in replies, heavily juxtaposing the celebratory tone of the event. 

“Teachers feel discourage[d] because they are used and taken advantage of by parents and the district,” Twitter user @JeanettePanthen said in response to this Tweet.

Others felt more promise from Carvalho’s words, especially when he walked through the five “pillars” — “academic excellence, joy and wellness, engagement and collaboration, operational effectiveness and investing in staff — in the LAUSD 2022-26 Strategic Plan

Advocates offered generally positive reactions to the speech, but also wanted more details about how Carvalho’s lofty goals would be achieved. 

“The speech clearly conveyed vision and goals,” said Ana Ponce, executive director of GPSN in a statement. “ How this becomes actualized will be important. We are looking forward to the details of implementation, especially implementation at full scale across the whole district.” 

Here are seven key takeaways Carvalho communicated in his speech and at a press conference: 

1. Education will start early

Carvalho asserted his prioritization of early education, saying LAUSD will transition from a district with a “K-12 possibility” to a “B-14 promise,” birth through at least two years of post-secondary school.

Starting in October the “Born to Learn” campaign will match more than 100,000 newborns with welcome packages and an LAUSD graduation date, so parents will know when to enroll their child. 

This fall, there’s also a plan for 360 new Universal Transitional Kindergarten classrooms to open up, with spots for up to 19,000 4-year-olds. 

2. … and continue past high school

In-person courses for college credit will be available for 225 recently-graduated students. Adult education vocational and apprenticeship preparation programs will soon be launched as well, including a nursing program producing 15 graduates annually. 

3. Closing the Digital Divide

Through a $50 million investment, LAUSD will bring high speed internet to every student and family that needs it, Carvalho told reporters — a plan rolled out in May that advocates have expressed apprehension about. The investment targets more than 60,000 students who don’t have access to high speed internet at home. 

On the commute to school, children will stay connected, too. Over the summer, Wi-Fi was installed on all buses, a move intended to help over 30,000 students maximize the time they can spend studying and completing homework. 

4. What will the district do about the “lost children?”

LAUSD is grappling with high rates of chronic absenteeism, dipping enrollment and an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 students “lost” and unaccounted for on LAUSD enrollment rosters. 

Carvalho said in the week before school starts on Aug. 15, he, his staff and thousands of other individuals will call and knock on doors to get unenrolled and chronically absent children signed up for the school year. The district is also launching a campaign called iAttend, which will focus on promoting high attendance by eliminating barriers to attending school.

Fifteen schools will now offer transportation for students living less than five miles from school, a distance that has not been included in past bus routes. Mobile laundry services, so families can have clean clothes, will be available in each district one to four times a month.

5. Boosting parent engagement and ties to LAUSD

A new Parent Academy will serve 100,000 parents with webinars and resources to equip them with skills and information to support their children. The Adult Education Virtual Academy will also serve about 1,000 students, including working parents, who may not be able to attend in-person classes.  

6. LAUSD staff will get additional support 

Carvalho said there will be a focus on recruitment, development and retention of staff. Through a partnership with the LA County Office of Education, staff will be provided with free counseling services via telehealth, a 24/7 hotline, referrals, and one-on-one therapy. 

The contract with United Teachers Los Angeles, the district’s teachers union, expired at the end of June. Carvalho said he hopes to soon reach a new contract agreement — although he declined to give an estimate for when. 

Twitter users responded to Carvalho’s tweets from the event with more pressure on contract negotiations:  

In a response to one Carvalho tweet, user @writersgrind wrote: “Thanks for the pep talk. I would love a contract that includes a competitive salary, smaller class sizes … Quality teachers will continue to leave the classroom because we have nothing left to give in these conditions.”

7. Upgrades to facilities and classrooms – including eco-friendly changes

Carvalho announced more than $7 billion to upgrade over 2,000 classrooms and nearly 1,000 schools. Projects are either in design or already under construction, providing earthquake safety, accessibility, and “21st century upgrades.”

A $50 million investment will go toward environmental and sustainability upgrades at approximately 20 schools identified, through a “greening index,” with upgrades such new playgrounds and shading. 

This article is part of a collaboration between The 74 and the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

Cari Spencer is a senior at the University of Southern California, originally from the suburbs of Minneapolis. She is studying journalism and sociology.

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