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Deasy on UTLA’s talk of a strike: ‘breathtakingly irresponsible’

Vanessa Romo | August 5, 2014

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John DeasyAs LA Unified Superintendent John Deasy prepared to deliver his “State of the District” speech to school leaders and educators at Garfield High School today, he sat for a wide-ranging interview with LA School Report yesterday, addressing the possibility of a teachers strike, implementation of Common Core, his relationship with the board and the importance of reading, among other issues.

Here’s what he had to say.

Question: As the school year opens, and with only one bargaining session under your belt, UTLA is preparing teachers for the possibility of a strike. How much of that is real and how much is theater for bargaining leverage?

Answer: What is there to strike over? We have yet to receive [UTLA’s] bargaining proposal. We don’t even know what their demand is? I just don’t understand such a language whatsoever. It would strike me as breathtakingly irresponsible to talk about something as great as a strike when we have only had one bargaining session. I would never even have a conversation about something as ludicrous as saying to the public that we might have a strike when we met people once. The gravity of telling parents something like that is breathtakingly irresponsible.

Q: We know what they want: Teachers are demanding a 17.6 percent raise.

What we have offered is a 26.3 percent compensation over three years. We have committed to completely picking up the all district’s pension costs, taking care of all increases in health benefits for the next three years and maintaining all the raises that everybody gets. And that is a non-starter? Someone should clue in the LAPD, who are getting zero.

Q: Looking to the new school year, what is the biggest change that will influence student performance this year?

A: As we prepared to make the switch to the Common Core, we had no markers of student performance last year. And this year we’re going to give an assessment, which we won’t get until the year’s over. So we have to use this cluster of three things out here, which is (National Assessment of Educational Progress) data, SAT data, and AP scores, so we are looking very anxiously trying to get new information from the implementation of the Common Core.

Q: In the last several months a number of states have withdrawn their support for Common Core. How committed is LAUSD to using Common Core?

A: I have absolutely not wavered on the new Common Core standards. I am deeply committed to the fact that students should have college-ready standards, career-ready standards and that we should be working to help students have a more rigorous curriculum.

Q: How satisfied are you that teachers are properly trained to teach it?

A: I think teachers are more trained here than other places I’ve seen. It’s been awesome when you look at the professional development and what teachers are doing. I attend a lot of the trainings, and I’m like, “Holy cow!”

It will take us years to get better at it, and we haven’t developed the standards at the state level yet so you’ve got a half a faculty who’s got a whole set of standards they’ve developed, and then there’s science which is just coming out. So teachers are implementing what we have and what we know.

Q: If I were a student, what would you tell me to do that has an impact on my daily life?

A: I’ll tell you one non-academic thing: get your TDAP shot before you walk through the door. There is whooping cough in this part of the world, and we are not going to let you in the door without a shot. No joking.

Second: I hope you read over the summer. Reading is really important particularly fiction and non-fiction texts. For high school students, I would ask if they’ve read the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, Martin Luther King Jr.’s letter from Birmingham jail.

Q: Perhaps your most controversial move has been your single-minded — some say misguided — quest to get iPads into the hands of all students. How would you have done it differently now that you’ve seen the fallout? 

A: It was controversial? My initial plan was to have technology in the hands of students as fast as possible, and that is my hope. That what wealthy students have, students who are not wealthy should have the exact same thing.

With all due respect, I think we’re living in two different realities.

Q: What is your reality of how the iPad program was rolled out? Do you think it went smoothly?

A: As of today, less than a hundred elementary schools have them. I would hardly call this a fast rollout. And we have 119 high schools, and we’re going to roll out laptops to 14. This doesn’t strike me as breakneck speed and that was as fast as we planned to go. The narrative that something happened really fast when most of the kids don’t even have them, is not accurate. I think this is really worth understanding. My reaction is, I wish it was sped up.

Q: As we noted in a recent story charter school growth in LAUSD has exploded. What will we see over the next 10 years?

A: I’m not expecting that trajectory to continue. I don’t think that demand is going to maintain that pitch, but if it did, we would continue with the same process, which is, we bring to the board recommendations to authorize charters and maintain them based on their performance. And we bring to the board denials and closures based on performance.

Q: Should there be more strict oversight of charter schools?

A: I make recommendations based on a pretty strict oversight model. However, the administration has seen more of its votes to close schools not supported [by the board] than we did denials of new charters that did happen by vote.

Q: In other words, when you recommended that a charter school be shut down, the board voted against you, but when you recommended to deny a new charter application, the board usually approved? 

A: Yes.

Q: Why?

A: I have no idea.

Q: Last year the board came close to firing you — or you came close to quitting. Can you clarify what happened?

A: No. I don’t discuss personnel matters with the media.

Q: The politics of the school board is often characterized as a split between reform-leaning members and teachers union-leaning members. What impact does the internal politics have on what you are trying to accomplish?

A: None. And you know, for all this swirl of controversy, the board voted the budget unanimously and the LCAP unanimously. These are major initiatives. I think if a vote is 4-3 or 3-3, well that feels really unnerving to tell you the truth. So when it doesn’t really happen, I guess, I wonder, where is the controversy?

Q: How long will you be LA Unified Superintendent?

A: As long as the board wants to employ me. Where could you possibly be more fulfilled than this job? This is job is overwhelming in its responsibility, and I’m very focused on it. And I’m very happy.

Since we decided to do a one-on-one initiative, the number of initiatives around the country has skyrocketed; since we decided to launch restorative justice, President Obama has now launched “My Brother’s Keeper”; since we stopped willful defiance suspensions, districts are tripping over themselves to do more of that. When we decided that we would have the ability for students to visibly see we’re completely accepting, not tolerant, but accepting, of whatever your particular sexual orientation is, school districts across whole country are trying to emulate that. When we build health clinics at a dozen a clip other districts are trying to figure out how to do that. And I’ll make a projection: We will have a major consequential voice in immigration reform in the not too distant future.

That makes me feel very proud.

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