Board gives tepid approval to LAUSD’s strategic plan but calls for urgency
Mike Szymanski | December 7, 2016
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School board members gave a tentative but tepid thumbs up to a strategic plan for the LA Unified School District after more than four hours of discussion Tuesday, but they also called for more urgency.
The biggest change since an August draft of the 2016-2019 Strategic Plan was a simplified singular goal: 100 percent graduation. The previous draft had four other goals such as “school safety” and “100 percent attendance” that are now sub-sets of the overall goal.
New additions include sections on “raising achievement in persistently underperforming schools” and “early education achievement targets.” Those were included after discussions with board members and derived from 68 meetings that Superintendent Michelle King held with 2,665 people from 29 offices, organizations and partners throughout the district — details included in the plan, which was handed out Tuesday.
The district’s projected budget deficit of $100 million by 2017-18 was not directly addressed, but goals to increase attendance will save money: reducing chronic absences from 11 percent to 7 percent, and increasing staff attendance. Promoting “the value of an L.A. Unified education” aims to maintain and increase enrollment.
The Committee of the Whole, which is made up of the seven school board members, met with King for a quarterly “retreat” a few blocks away from their downtown Beaudry headquarters at the Union Bank Plaza Coral Tree Pavilion to discuss the plan for the district for the next three years. By the end of the discussion, the board weighed in on the plan, rating it on a scale of zero to 5 to show their enthusiasm for it. Most were in the middle.
But, despite a lack of unified enthusiasm, by consensus they gave the go-ahead for the superintendent to move on the plan so she could begin working on its implementation. At next week’s school board meeting, King said she would discuss the strategic plan during her superintendent’s report and both she and the board agreed that a vote wasn’t needed.
“I am concerned that this plan isn’t going to sit on a shelf and just be another pretty bookmarker,” said board member Richard Vladovic, who gave the lowest score of a 2. “I want deliberate speed. I’m tired of seeing the same schools fail every year and the same schools being cheated every year.”
Vladovic added, “I want to see the operational plan. I want to see how we’re going to do this.”
Board member Mónica García, who voted the highest rating of 5 for the plan, grew emotional about endorsing King’s vision. Her voice quavered while talking about the pilot schools in the district and said, “I’ve heard from 51 pilot schools who are chasing different strategies because they did not want Beaudry to direct all the dollars, and so many have done better than what the central office has decided and dictated. I welcome whatever conversation that leads to produce schools that work for kids, and I’m not sure this conversation or this strategy is going to get us there.”
Then in frustration she added, “I’m not sure I can be a productive member of this group at this point.”
On Wednesday, García said in an interview that she was more frustrated with herself than with her fellow board members. “I am passionate about succeeding and was frustrated with the meeting and my absence to understand where do we go from here?” she said. “As a veteran on the board, I understand it is really, really hard to move the system. I probably have a different level of urgency.”
García said she was pleased that the plan adds “our relationship in accepting responsibility of underperforming schools.” King said she added it because of school board feedback.
“One of the new pieces added from our conversation of last time was the needed attention to underperforming schools and holding our schools accountable to raise achievement of persistently lower-performing schools,” King said. “It was not in the document before and was a significant change.”
Some specifics in the plan include commitments to a 24 percent expansion of magnets, dual language immersion programs and other pathways by 2018-2019 and ensuring that every high school student concurrently enrolls in at least one community college class before graduating, beginning with the class of 2019. Other goals state that 75 percent of early education programs get a score of 4 or better and that 100 percent of schools are trained in restorative justice by 2018-2019.
King admitted she had been with the district long enough to know “that unfortunately plans sit on shelves, but this has a lot of community input and buy-in and that’s significant because we have some ownership and desire to move it forward,” she said. “It’s not just me being here, but it’s owned by our whole district family.”
Describing the strategic plan a “living document” to be “tweaked and improved upon,” she said the next step is to show how the plan will be implemented. The latest draft of the plan was not put in the meeting materials as was the last draft.
“This plan shows where we want to focus our limited resources and where we want to put the buckets of money,” King said. She said the plan is not meant to outline every step for every school but to offer goals. “I am working hard to decentralize the district. This is a scorecard that will have a progression and we will monitor. Every school needs to implement a solid plan.”
King added, “We need to help the schools, several are in the emergency rooms.”
Board member Mónica Ratliff said, “You could get lost in this plan. If we gave it to someone would they know how to do this? I’m worried that we are setting ourselves up for failure with the inability to meet these lofty goals. Can we do 100 percent of anything?”
Ratliff also agreed that the district should focus on underperforming schools, and King explained that those schools are already given first priority to hire incoming prospective employees, which she implemented at the beginning of the school year.
That was news to board member George McKenna, who said, “Oh, I didn’t know that was being done. It would have helped me when I was hiring staff for my low-performing school and I think it will help them now. Staffing a school is the most important element, even more important than what you are teaching them.”
School board President Steve Zimmer said, “I need to feel we are taking this moment and accelerating the urgency that LAUSD is for all families and all kids.” He agreed to let the superintendent present the final draft of the plan at the regularly scheduled school board meeting next Tuesday, Dec. 13, during her superintendent’s report. “Everybody said in their own way we share the urgency and weight of this moment.”
King said she needed the strategic plan to help prepare for the budget process which begins in February. “I appreciate the board giving an endorsement this month so we can get moving,” King said. “I feel comfortable with this process moving forward.”
Facilitator Jeff Nelson said the group will meet again in March to talk about how to work together with the superintendent on implementing the plan. “We have made some revisions to the document,” Nelson said. “My goal was not just to have a strategic plan, but have one that the board was excited about and the board embraced and can get behind and endorse.”
While the enthusiasm levels weren’t uniformly high, Nelson said, “It’s good that no one said they couldn’t support the plan with a zero or 1.”
García said, “I do think we have a superintendent who cares about kids and is willing to lead in a very difficult time.”
* This article has been updated to link to the new draft of King’s strategic plan.