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Community groups that liked Deasy are OK with Cortines so far

Craig Clough | November 17, 2014

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Ryan Smith United Way LA

Ryan Smith

It’s only been about a month since former LA Unified Superintendent John Deasy resigned, but leaders of two organizations that strongly supported his focus on low-income students are saying they like what they see from interim Superintendent Ramon Cortines so far.

Los Angeles Urban League President and CEO Nolan V. Rollins, who strongly supported Deasy due to his stance on issues like getting rid of “willful defiance” suspensions that disproportionately impact students of color, said he believes Cortines has so far followed Deasy’s focus on helping students from economically-strapped families.

“We do think that he has done some bold things early on that, should we continue down this road, that these things can ultimately be helpful to our children,” Rollins told LA School Report.

Ryan Smith, former United Way of Greater Los Angeles director of Education Programs and Policy, said that he believes Cortines has always had a strong focus on poverty.

I know Ray from previous years when he served. Ray always does what is best for children, and his long career really exemplifies that,” said Smith, who left United Way in October and is now executive director of Education Trust-West.

The United Way, Urban League and several other organizations had co-signed two letters to LA Unified school board President Richard Vladovic in the weeks before Deasy’s resignation as the board prepared to give the former superintendent his annual evaluation.

The letters asked for transparency in the process and for a formal meeting to discuss the review. The meeting never occurred, but Deasy resigned just a few days after the second letter was sent and before the evaluation meeting, scheduled for Oct. 21. Cortines was quickly named as interim superintendent.

Rollins said that while the Urban League had worked with Cortines in the past, much has changed in that time and there is a greater focus on helping students from low-income families today than there was even just a few years ago.

At the time that [Cortines] was there and in the seat, the landscape was very different,” he said. “Who the players were, and quite frankly the conversations around reforming education were not as bold as they are right now, and to the other degree, a real conversation to how important the least of our students were in the public school system, that was not at the very front of the discourse.”

Both Rollins and Smith said they believed Cortines’ tenure would continue to focus on issues that would make them smile.

Already, Cortines has made several sharp changes in district policy. Regarding issues that impact low-income students and struggling schools, Cortines has lifted the district ban on using the “Parent Trigger” law, made class size reduction a top priority and taken aggressive action toward fixing the MiSiS computer system that has caused scheduling and transcript problems across the the district, particularly those at South LA’s Jefferson High.

“I look forward to seeing what he does in the future,” said Smith “I’ve seen some of it, obviously what we see externally isn’t always what’s happening internally, so I believe he is making the decisions needed to move the district forward.”

Although Cortines is not expected to remain much beyond next year’s school board elections, both Smith and Rollins believe his tenure will help set the course for the future superintendent and the focus of the district on poverty issues.

“This is an opportunity to frankly figure out where he is interested in taking the system, and at the same time figuring out where the system is going, what the board is going to do, what their intentions are going to be, which we think should be a very transparent process,” Rollins said. “Transparency has got the the word of the year when it comes to public education.”

Smith added,LAUSD being the second largest district in the nation, serving the largest number of English language learners and almost 80 percent of students living in poverty, the next superintendent will have to address issues of povery, and I hope the board on the serach committee will prioritize that when searching for the next superintendent.”




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