In annual speech, Cortines offers good cheer but leaves out any vision
Mike Szymanski | August 11, 2015
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In what is likely to be his final major address as LA Unified superintendent, Ramon Cortines delivered a jocular cheerleading speech today that was absent any bold vision of new ideas or new directions for the district.
Focusing on “unity” and “family” for LAUSD, he made no mention of the effort to find a new superintendent, how long he planned to stay in his position, budget issues or any other major challenges facing the district as schools get ready to open on Aug. 18.
Instead, he used the opportunity at Garfield High School to poke fun at himself and others in an amiable light-on-policy speech that had the effect of contrasting his approach and personality to the man he bookended as superintendent, John Deasy.
“Be patient, I’m old,” he laughed when he dropped his papers during the speech. Cortines turned 83 last month. “I’m doing it a little bit different than I used to but you’re used to that.” And, at one point when his microphone went out, he said, “I knew they’d cut me off.”
Cortines discussed some of the same issues he raised in a speech in 2000, such as poor graduation rates. He said he still believes that decentralizing the district and giving more local control “offers the best framework for success for this district.”
He teasingly threatened to read the entire 191-page decentralization plan, but said, “I will summarize it in a short easy phrase: Invest in LAUSD.” And to accentuate the point, he reminded the audience that the letters of LAUSD should stand for: Language, Achieve, Unity, Schools and Determination.
He also used his speech to describe his impressions of some of the school board members sitting in the front row: “I remember going to regular meetings at Dr. (Richard) Vladovic’s field office, a Starbucks in San Pedro,” Cortines said. Then, he noted that Mónica Ratliff was away in Europe and said he remembered her “asking just one more question after we tirelessly answered 20 before.”
He kidded the new board president Steve Zimmer for “meticulously answering every question in detail.” He cited George McKenna for always “conveying his point with poetry and passion” and Mónica García for shouting “Hello people!” when greeting an audience.
He introduced union leaders in the audience and chided the few who were absent, including the UTLA’s president Alex Caputo-Pearl. “They will be in detention in my office,” he said.
Cortines introduced about two dozen people who worked to fix the MiSiS computer system when he took over the district last October with the data system in disrepair. He repeated a line from a district press release of last week, saying, “MiSiS is the heart of this district. After months of tireless repairs, our heart has some new stents, replaced valves, a pacemaker, and reduced cholesterol, and it is pumping much stronger.”
He talked about dividing up the district into smaller districts, saying, “I’ve reorganized the district, and that will be the last time for me.” And he encouraged administrators and teachers to communicate respectfully at all times, and “report improper conduct.”
“There is a handful, and only a handful, of staff who have acted improperly and that simple mistake can take away public trust in the district and cost us millions of dollars,” he said.
Cortines’s friendly manner was apparent before and after the speech, as well, waving to people in the audience, greeting many of them personally, even posing for pictures.
“I feel like a high school principal on the first day of school,” he said.