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Garcia: LAUSD families need to feel ‘connected and supported’

Mike Szymanski | August 14, 2015

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Monica Garcia talks to students at a board meeting.

As the school year begins next week, Mónica Garcia is celebrating her 10th year on the LA Unified School Board and her 15th year working in District 2, where she served as an academic advisor.

A lifelong East L.A. resident, her parents met at Stevenson Middle School in the 1950s and they remember more of an ethnic mix in the area at that time.

Garcia sat down with LA School Report at her LA Unified office to discuss the issues and anticipation of the new school year ahead.

LA School Report: As LA Unified’s longest-serving board president, six terms, what do you see as the most pressing challenges facing the district over the coming year?

Garcia: This year, even as leadership transition occurs, we want to make sure that our families feel connected and supported. I think that achievement, safety and communication are always at the top of any school. We’re going to see more technology.

We will allocate money from Measure Q [a bond for construction] which will be good for kids and good for jobs and good for our existing campuses. Roosevelt High School in my district will get support in the neighborhood of $100 million dollars. It doesn’t happen but once in a long time. We really have to be purposeful around how to support schools so it continues to grow. We will be talking about roofs and pipes and fields, but we have to really be strategic on the investment.

LASR: Do you think there’s been an erosion of trust with the parents and how do you improve that?

Garcia: We always need to improve whatever we do. When we say LA Unified is 70 percent graduation that means we’re getting it right with 70 percent of the families and missing it with 30 percent. I think we have to continually have to introduce ourselves as a service provider.

Every year there are changes at school sites there are changes with the district and we have to constantly be in communication with families about that.

We’re always inviting people to join with us. So whether that’s our athletic teams, or our wellness teams, health teams, people constantly come to this district wanting to partner to reach our kids.

LASR: You have said you’re not as concerned about the groups trying to get more charter schools into LAUSD as perhaps some of your colleagues are.

Garcia: We have to get 600,000 students to graduation and that is our job. I am open to all paths that lead to graduation. We’ve moved on dropouts—that has dropped significantly. If our academic progress continues, we’re going to need a strategy of how to not repeat what we did 40 years ago.

I’m open to any strategy that helps children and families. We know there is no one strategy for everybody. Charters have been an important partner for LA Unified.

LASR: Doesn’t that mean the end of LAUSD as we know it?

Garcia: A successful LA Unified cannot be over. We only get stronger. We are part of the educational justice movement that seeks to have quality schools everywhere, seeks to have parent engagement and communities and seeks to get to 100 percent graduation and we’re not there yet. I am hopeful we can continue to go as quickly as possible to meeting the needs of kids.

LASR: Do you have criteria for a kind of superintendent you want to see as Ramon Cortines’s successor?

Garcia: Absolutely, I want the best superintendent in the country. I want someone who embraces our belief system of serving all kids. We need someone who knows they’re a leader in LA at the state level and at the national level.

LASR: Does it matter if someone from outside or inside the area or the system?

Garcia: I would love someone who could make a five to seven year commitment to us. I am interested in someone who can inspire adults and children to be their best selves.

We interrupt poverty when we get it right. We impact the country when we get it right.

And we need to have someone who can earn the trust of the great Los Angeles politics and the media. Our superintendent doesn’t just work for the seven of us, and that’s really important.

LASR: As the new year begins next week, what are the major concerns you’re hearing from teachers?

Garcia: Teachers are always concerned about their working environment. I hear repeatedly they want to be treated with respect, they don’t want to be handed out mandates. This is why the pilot schools are so important in Los Angeles. It is the teacher-led strategy of making decisions closest to the kids that are allowing for a lot of flexibility.

This is why when people say it was better then, I want to ask, ‘What are you really saying? What was destroyed that was serving kids better?’ I don’t know.

I think losing $2.7 billion dollars [from state funding] was extremely painful and we had to stop doing a lot of things that were not necessarily helping us get to goal. I think teachers want to understand the rules, and they want to make sense of it  for the students and families that they serve. Where we have included them as partners, we have seen improvements.

Isn’t that wild, we lost $2.7 billion and 10,000 people and graduation went up? Why? Because we had to collapse some of the rules and people really came together. I don’t want to lose another $2.7 billion dollars, but I do want to continue to see people on the ground, thinking and reaching and growing as professionals and as partners in transforming a system that needs to be changed.

LASR: You have been one of the longest-serving School Board presidents. Do you have any advice for Steve Zimmer, who just got elected to the board?

Garcia: That’s a tough job. It is important to be available to our community and our constituents. Sometimes our organization needs a champion that reminds people to follow through, or just connect people.

Often I would say my job was to repeat what other people are working on. So aligning efforts and mostly just representing young people. Every day the board president of this organization represents young people and has to be available for people who want to help.

And I’ve said that to Mr. Zimmer.

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