In Partnership with 74

Alex Johnson has connections; now he needs the votes

Yana Gracile | May 9, 2014

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Alex Johnson

Alex Johnson

Fifth in a series of profiles of candidates for LA Unified’s open District 1 board seat.

At 33 years old, Alex Johnson is the youngest of eight candidates running for the open LA Unified school board District 1 seat.

He has raised the most money of anyone in the field. He has the support of his boss, LA County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. And his list of endorsements includes an eclectic array of politicians, religious leaders, business executives and labor groups, including plumbers, pipefitters, engineers and service workers.

But the big question for Johnson is whether those assets can translate to victory over his competition in the June 3 special election.

As an assistant senior deputy for education and public safety to Ridley-Thomas, Johnson says his wide range of support reflects the kind of strong relationships that can only benefit students in District 1 — even if many of his supporters have nothing directly to do with LA Unified or public education. Neither the teachers union, UTLA, nor the principals union, AALA, are among his endorsers.

“I believe that it’s going to take building a coalition, to gather consensus on the issues that are germane to the district is what it will take to get things done to improve our schools,” he said in an interview. “It will take leadership at every level of the community. These endorsements matter because it’s about the relationships that are needed if we are going to improve our educational system.”

A native of Los Angeles and product of LA Unified, Johnson has worked with children and families on a number of child literacy and education programs, including a stint in New York, working for the Department of Education. He helped increase the funding for several early education groups such as Head Start and First 5 LA.

In the interview, he focused more on generalities than specifics. He said he is fully prepared to make sure schools in District 1 are safe, with properly-trained teachers and parental involvement.

“We must be ensuring that all of our children, each and every one them in District 1, has an opportunity to graduate and go to college or be placed on a pathway to a good career and that involved looking at the whole child,” he said.

Johnson cited several factors — none of them ideas unique to him — that would put students on the path to success: parental involvement, innovative ways to encourage it, investment in early childhood education and strategies to increase graduation rates.

“We are about results, action and improving the quality of education for the students,” he said.

To get results, he said it’s important to establish working relationships among all community stakeholders, from officials to grandparents. However, with his focus on collaboration, he didn’t specify exactly how he plans to implement the necessary changes if elected.

Johnson includes Superintendent John Deasy among those who need to play a collaborative role in building strong relationships.

“I certainly think I can work with him, that he will be a partner,” Johnson said. “I think that I can push him in advancing opportunities for our young people and ultimately I believe that I will need him to be a partner if we want to go about the business, if we want to ensure that our children are getting the type of education that they so richly deserve in District 1.”

He added that he would honor the board’s contract with Deasy because “we have somebody who his willing to work and is leading this district.”

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