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King, Adams believed to be finalists for LA Unified superintendent

Mike Szymanski | January 11, 2016

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superintendent search* UPDATED

LA Unified’s selection of a new superintendent could end as early as this afternoon with the board announcing a successor to Ramon Cortines after a months-long search.

The finalists are believed to be Michelle King, the current interim, and Kelvin Adams, superintendent of public schools in St. Louis.

A special board meeting has been scheduled to start at 4 p.m.

Both of the presumptive finalists are African-American. As the second-largest school district in the nation, LA Unified has 644,000 students, including 74 percent who are Latino, 9.8 percent white, 8.4 percent African-American and 6 percent Asian.

While the district has been led by an African-American before — Sidney Thompson from 1992 to 1997 and David Brewer from 2006 to 2009, no woman has served in the position in nearly 90 years.

King, 54, who was recently named interim superintendent, served as Chief Deputy Superintendent under Cortines. A product of three LA Unified schools  — Windsor Hills Elementary, Palms Junior High and Palisades High — she began her career in the district in 1984 as a science and health teacher at Porter Middle School in Granada Hills. She went on to serve as magnet coordinator at Orville Wright Math, Science and Aerospace Magnet Middle School in Westchester and then became principal of Hamilton High School in West Los Angeles.

She was promoted to a Local District superintendent before moving up to assistant superintendent under John Deasy. When Deasy resigned under pressure and Cortines returned in late 2014, she was named his second-in-command and top advisor. He stepped down last month.

Adams, 59, took over a district with many problems and began turning it around over the past seven years. The 24,000-student school district in St. Louis has a large population of low-income students and was suffering from declining enrollment, both issues that are important at LA Unified. Adams has confirmed that he was interested in the job.

No names of any of the contenders have been confirmed because the search process has played out in private, but several candidates were forced to speak up after media outlets speculated they were in the running. San Francisco Superintendent Richard Carranza said he was not interested in the job recently after the Los Angeles Times named him as a top contender, and early in the process, Atlanta Superintendent Meria Carstarphen withdrew as a candidate. Others in the mix have included former LAUSD adminstrator Robert Collins, business executive Jim Berk and Miami-Dade County Superintendent Alberto Carvalho.

The board decided early on to pick the next superintendent through a closed process to allow for the best candidates to remain in consideration without violating confidences. The board received input from surveys and two weeks of community meetings to ask the public what kind of characteristics they wanted for the next school leader. About 9,500 people took the survey, and the board used the list of characteristics to find potential candidates.

School board President Steve Zimmer previously expressed hopes that the school board could unify behind one candidate for the top spot. But, it remains uncertain whether the eventual winner will have won the support of all seven members, given their differing views on such issues as charter schools and the possibility that the ethnic background of the winner might not appeal to every member.

Among the LA Unified student population are about 140,000 enrolled in more than 250 charter schools. It is the largest charter system in the country. More than one-fourth of the students in the district are English Learners, speaking more than 93 languages. More than half the students are eligible for reduced or free lunches, and nearly 13 percent are students designated with disabilities.

The new district superintendent also has to manage relationships with eight labor unions, including the powerful teachers union, UTLA, which is already digging in to preserve its benefits and pension plans at a time the district is facing budget deficit in the years ahead.

The salary in the past for the superintendent has hit $440,000 a year, but it’s not clear what the new superintendent would make. The search firm Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates estimated the costs of the search at $160,000 and the search started in earnest in October.

* Corrects to say first African-American superintendent was Sidney Thompson, not Ruben Zacarias.

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