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Deasy’s Theme for New School Year: ‘The Genius Among Us’

LA School Report | August 13, 2013

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John Deasy

Today, in Part Two of Vanessa Romo’s interview with LA Unified Superintendent John Deasy, he talks about the year ahead as schools open today, the district’s new iPad program and local spending formulas. He also talks about his personal reading habits, which do not include a certain new digital device.

Q: What are some of the themes you’ll be thinking about heading into the 2013-14 school year? 

“The genius among us” is this year’s theme. We are surrounded by it and greatness is everywhere. There is greatness in our kids and they amaze us every time.

I’m also thinking about kids rights; their right to be lifted out of poverty and their right not to live in the shadows because the country can’t get immigration reform straight. I mean, can you find me a textbook in the United States of America, that doesn’t have a chapter on pilgrims? We have a whole holiday dedicated to these people, and they were all illegal. And we celebrate them.

Finally, we’re beginning the next seven-year process of $7 billion in renovations across LAUSD.  Remember, we built new schools for seats, now the other schools have to be brought up to code.

Q: This year about 50 LAUSD schools are piloting the iPad program before it is implemented district wide. You’ve said tablets are “phenomenally going to change the landscape of education.”  What do you say to people who think this is just the latest electronic fad and there’s no real evidence showing that tablets are effective teaching/learning tools?

A: The moment a book is printed, the content is static. I don’t think there’s a history book in California that talks about the Arab Spring. There just isn’t. [But with a tablet], content is constantly relevant and updated; it’s interactive. It guides you to say you actually have not thought about “X,” go back and think about this piece.

When we watched students test drive [a digital textbook], it was amazing. Most of our students are coming to school highly sophisticated in the technology and not so sophisticated in terms of content. And our teachers are becoming highly sophisticated in the content and looking, finally, to marry the technology and the content. It’s really it’s a pretty unique moment for building new relationships between teachers and students.

And it’s about time that every kid has one. Not just the kids at charter schools. Every kid deserves an iPad, I don’t care what their zip code is.

Q: One of the big issues facing the new school board this year is over the local control spending formula. Have you outlined your recommendations? 

A: I’m looking forward to that robust debate [in September]. It’s not a big secret how I think about this: I think every conceivable cent should be sent to schools. I trust our teachers, I trust our administrators. I think they should be making the decisions on how and what is funded at a school site, and I think that’s okay to do differently. The district should issue guidelines, but schools who know their kids the closest and the deepest should have both the autonomy and the authority to spend as they see fit.

Q: I hear you’re an avid reader and barely get any sleep. What books have you been reading and do you read them on your iPad or the old fashioned way?

A: I don’t read books on my iPad but I keep a list of the books I’ve read on my phone. I read “How Children Succeed” by Paul Tough and I recommended it to the system. It’s a great book about the non-cognitive skills. As opposed to being able to deduce or compare or contrast or do a fraction, which are all cognitive skills, this talks about the incredible importance of things like grit and persistence. And that it actually outweighs so many other factors. And the book is also a really powerful, sobering warning on the stress students experience over time living in circumstances of poverty.

For fun, I read a biography on Robert Oppenheimer; “The Unwinding” – a troubling book about America, Jonathan Alter’s “The Center Holds,” “A Constellation of Vital Phenomena” by Anthony Marra, and “The Blue Fox” by Icelandic author, Sjon.

Q: Where did you go for your summer vacation? Any pool time for Deasy?

A: Ha! No, there was no lake time or pool time for me this summer. Summer is our busiest time but I am looking forward to going away with my family in November. My kids are older so it’s difficult to get the whole family together but Thanksgiving is a time when my wife and I can get them to go away, so we’ll do that.


Scroll down to read Part One of Vanessa’s interview, ‘Deasy: One of the Biggest Adjustments Ever.”


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