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Emilio Pack and Cristina de Jesus: The only way forward is partnership

Emilio Pack and Cristina de Jesus | March 21, 2018

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What kind of superintendent does the Los Angeles Unified School District need? It’s not an easy question to answer but it’s a deeply important one, especially at a moment when the district is facing crucial decisions not just about its own future, but also about the future of the 630,000 kids it serves. One of those key decisions is how the district will support parents in choosing the school that meets their child’s unique needs — whether they are traditional, pilot, magnet, or charter schools.

Over the past 25 years, charter schools have become an integral part of Los Angeles’s public education system, with more than 1 in 5 local families choosing a charter public school. As charter schools have grown, LAUSD has expanded its own offerings, providing educators more flexibility and families more choice within the traditional public school system. This shift that has improved student academic outcomes district-wide. However, we know that too many students still don’t have access to the high-quality education they deserve. This represents both a tremendous challenge and an incredible opportunity for the district’s next superintendent.

As the district searches for a new leader, the Los Angeles charter community has engaged in robust discussions about the skills, experience, and values that the next superintendent must possess in order to make high-quality education a rule rather than an exception throughout Los Angeles.

First and foremost, we believe the superintendent must maintain a long-term vision that is defined by a relentless commitment to student academic outcomes, a value we fully embrace by prioritizing academic achievement and advocating for the closure of chronically low-performing charter public schools.

Los Angeles’s next superintendent should be deeply committed to chronically underserved students, who represent the vast majority of students served by LA’s traditional and charter schools. The students in local charter schools are 84 percent students of color, 80 percent are students who qualify for free or reduced lunch, 22 percent are English language learners, and 10 percent are students with disabilities — all of which closely mirror the district’s student demographics.

An effective superintendent will support families in their right to choose the best public school for their children. Because every child has unique learning needs, the next superintendent should embrace all successful public school models that meet those needs, including traditional, magnet, pilot, and charter schools — not just in words, but in policy and action.

There are clear win-wins for the district and charter public schools that a new superintendent should champion to ignite district-wide innovation and increase academic gains.

The district’s new leader can minimize bureaucracy while increasing accountability by working with charter educators and district staff to ensure clear, consistent, transparent oversight of charter schools. Effective oversight would hold charter schools accountable for implementing policies and practices that have a direct impact on student outcomes, and minimize duplicative asks and mid-year policy changes. This shift will allow both educators and authorizer the necessary time and resources to focus on meeting the needs of students.

The superintendent must also ensure that all public school students have stable places to learn, regardless of their school’s model. The district can and must provide quality facilities data, and make that data public, so that decision-making is transparent and fair. The superintendent should encourage sustainable long-term facilities partnerships between district and charter educators. Improved policies can also lead to beneficial investment in public school facilities through state and local bond dollars and other philanthropic resources.

Over the coming months and years, the district will need to innovate and evolve to meet the needs of all students. The next superintendent must have experience leading transformative change. Recognizing that financial and political savvy are essential characteristics for leadership of a multi-billion institution overseen by elected leaders, the next superintendent will need to demonstrate strength and experience in fiscal management and engagement of diverse stakeholders so they can make tough, but necessary decisions that put kids first.

As we all strive to create a high-performing public education system in Los Angeles, the only way forward is partnership. A superintendent who embraces all students, families, and public school models in both policy and practice, and who can reimagine the future of the district, has the opportunity to powerfully transform public education in Los Angeles so that it fully meets the needs of every child. The charter community stands ready and willing to partner with this new leader and the entire district in this important work.

Emilio Pack, CEO of STEM Preparatory Schools, and Cristina de Jesus, CEO and president of Green Dot Public Schools California, are the chair and co-chair of the Los Angeles Advocacy Council (LAAC), whose mission is to transform the public school system so that all Los Angeles students have access to a high-quality public education.

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