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Cortines draws on an old LAUSD plan for successful new LAUSD

Mike Szymanski | August 12, 2015

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Ray Cortines giving his superintendent’s address

When Ray Cortines addressed addressed LA Unified administrators and principals yesterday he championed a decentralization plan that echoed an idea he first brought to the district 15 years ago.

“We are still working to decentralize LAUSD,” Cortines said, reiterating his belief that it was the best approach for the large district.

“In 2000, we developed a plan to transform LAUSD into 11, locally-controlled districts. In the executive summary of this plan, we said, ‘The changes that are being proposed are dramatic; the timetable for implementation is tight. With so many LAUSD students failing to meet minimal standards of performance, there is no time for delay,’ “ Cortines said. “These words ring just as true in 2015 as they did in 2000.”

When the school board bought out the contract of Ruben Zacarias in 2000 and broiught in Cortines, he crafted a plan to divide the district into 11 autonomous regions. The plan was actually approved by the school board, but due to sudden severe budget shortfalls and a new superintendent, the plan was never implemented.

More recently, John Deasy divided the districts into five Educational Service Centers. But Cortines started this school year by doing away with those ESCs as of July 1 and created six geographically-based districts.

He introduced those six new district superintendents yesterday and gave them two minutes to explain their individual visions for their community. The reorganization eliminated the special Intensive Support and Innovation Center which lumped all the low-performing schools in one district and spread them out into their natural geographic district for their own educational autonomy.

That way, for example, Roberto Martinez who is charge of Local District Central, which is predominantly Latino, will not have to teach the same way as Cheryl Hildreth‘s  Local District West, which has fewer English-language learners.

The reason that the districts do not coincide with the boundaries of the seven school board member districts is because those are determined by population, not by geography. The six new districts have schools with similar populations and include feeder schools within the same districts.

Vivian K. Ekchian of Local District Northwest, said she has 89 languages spoken in her schools in the western San Fernando Valley, and she wants to keep her students “bi-literate so the students can become globally competitive.” She also said she wants to create drought-friendly school gardens, which met with some laughter from the audience.

“You are laughing, but it’s going to happen,” Ekchian said.

Christopher Downin, who is charge of Local District South, said he wanted to emphasize early literacy because low income families know fewer words. He said he is also finding ways to increase stakeholder engagement and training for volunteers in his district.

It’s that kind of local decision-making that Cortines said is the only way LA Unified can be marked for success. He teasingly threatened to read the full 191-page report at his final Superintendent address.

Each district now will have 100,000 students, and fewer than 150 schools, compared, for example, with the former Educational Service Center North that once had more than 150,000 students and more than 200 schools. Byron Maltez is representing Local District Northeast and Frances Gipson runs Local District East.

“We have reconfigured LAUSD into six local districts to get it back on track. Schools will have more local control and accountability,” Cortines emphasized yesterday. “The local districts and central office will support schools, with local districts taking the lead. The new configuration sets the stage for these changes.”


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