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Commentary: Teachers’ Letter to Mayor Garcetti

Alexander Russo | June 5, 2013

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la–me–adv–mayors–raceThis is a guest commentary written by LAUSD teachers Jeff Austin and Edward Kusell-Zigelman to Mayor-elect Garcetti about what he can do to be a leader on education issues in City Hall:  

Dear Mayor-Elect Garcetti,

A few weeks ago, residents of Los Angeles made their voices heard by voting you into office. We’d like to congratulate you on your victory, thank you for your past leadership in the education space, and praise you for your willingness to take on the enormous responsibility of running the City of Los Angeles.

As you well know our city faces a number of challenges, none more important than how we improve the quality of education we offer our city’s children. As teachers in Los Angeles public schools, we know first-hand that this city has reached a crucial moment in public education; relations between the union and district have dipped to new lows, and thousands of teachers throughout the city are counting on your leadership to help us push through this impasse and refocus on our students.

For years now, Los Angeles has been trying – but largely failing—to attract more great teachers to our hardest to staff schools. At the same time, we’ve struggled to keep more families in our district schools. By working together—union and district— we can turn this around by putting professionalism back into the profession. Teachers need accountability as well as autonomy and control over their classrooms and the support to innovate for the betterment of our students.

We must work together and build more support and opportunity into a teacher’s classroom and career. If we do, great talent and eager families will flock to our public schools.

If we are unable to attract great teachers and thereby give students the world-class education they deserve, we will fail our students and fail to reach the promise of a more prosperous Los Angeles.

To that end, we’ve come up with a few ideas about how we can refocus the conversation about public education on progress and innovation for our classrooms and careers.

1.     Propose Long-Term Solutions. Explain to the city and community that we must stop over-examining symptoms and start fixing education problems. If we can focus on dealing with long-term solutions, rather than fixating on every short-term squabble, our students will be the beneficiaries.

2.     Encourage Collaboration and Community Investment. Teachers need to see our work as an integral part of the community, a center not simply of children’s education, but of community investment. You should work to plan our city and services to meet the needs of our students and their families by pushing for more local control and accountability for how school funds are used and more partnerships to provide schools with access to critical community input and services. Each child in this city deserves a quality public education, but there’s still too much of a disparity between those of us working in classrooms located in poorer neighborhoods and those in wealthier enclaves.

3.     Hold our District and Union Accountable for Innovation. With your bully pulpit as mayor, it is critical that you put pressure on our District and union to deliver for students. You have the opportunity to demand not only accountability for improvement, but also incentivize innovation. We need our union and District to move our classrooms and careers forward with new policies for attracting and retaining teachers in hard-to-staff schools and preparing students for success in the 21st century. By building an agenda for improving our schools into a larger plan for our city’s future, you can take the reins of leadership and introduce the meaningful changes LAUSD desperately needs.

4.     Learn with Teachers. Most of all, education must be a priority and not an afterthought for our city. Our city is unique in that we have several pathways for teachers looking to elevate their voices and ideas. We invite you to begin engaging with teachers who, through Educators 4 Excellence and other organizations, are coming to the table with concrete ideas for raising student achievement and prestige of our profession.

Mayor-elect Garcetti, it is clear that the benefits of education don’t stop in the classroom. What young people learn in our schools directly shapes their future contributions to our city.  As mayor, you have an opportunity to elevate our city by elevating our classrooms and careers. By attracting and cultivating great teachers in LAUSD, we’ll do more than build a strong school system. We’ll build a stronger Los Angeles for decades to come.

Both Jeff Austin and Edward Kusell-Zigelman are teachers in Los Angeles Unified School District schools and members of Educators 4 Excellence-Los Angeles. Jeff Austin is a 12-year teaching veteran, teaching high school government and economics at Cesar E. Chavez Learning Academies in the Social Justice Humanitas Academy, and Edward Kusell-Zigelman has been teaching math and dance for three years at Dorsey High School 

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