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JUST IN: Cortines demotes 3 more as LAUSD leadership shuffle continues

Craig Clough | August 14, 2015

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Superintendent Ramon Cortines


In the latest wave of his ongoing staff shakeup, Superintendent Ramon Cortines has reassigned three top administrative leaders, demoting them to the role of school principal.

The moves were made without any public announcement, but LA School Report has learned that former Chief Academic Officer Gerardo Loera, former Director of Curriculum and Instruction Susan Tandberg and former Director of the Instructional Technology Initiative Bernadette Lucas were all reassigned within the last few weeks.

A fourth district leader, former Executive Director of Curriculum and Instruction Angel Barrett, has been reassigned to a different role and division at district headquarters but will also be reassigned eventually to a school site.

These latest changes continue a mass exodus — by force or choice — of high-ranking district administrators appointed to their positions by the former superintendent, John Deasy, giving their leaving at least the appearance of a purge. The changes began almost as soon Cortines replaced Deasy last October and appear to be most heavily directed at officials from the areas that brought significant disrepute to the district over the cancelled iPads-for-all program, including what was once known as the Common Core Technology Project.

The latest moves also come as Cortines is planning to retire. The board has begun the search process for the next superintendent, and Cortines has said he wants to remain only through December.

In explaining why three high-ranking officials were assigned jobs as principals, Cortines told LA School Report that said their positions were being eliminated, and problems with the Common Core Technology Project were not the employees’ fault, but that of his predecessor, Deasy.

“There was never any plan put in place to implement the Common Core Technology Project. This was not their fault, but the fault of the previous administration,” Cortines said in an email.

Cortines also said the latest moves were part of his continuing restructuring of the district as an effort to eliminate redundancy. He did not indicate that it was was due to overall poor performance of the employees. He said the positions will not be refilled.

“This is no different than when I first came here and found that Talent Management and Human Resources were duplicating efforts,” he said. “I consolidated them, and a number of people left because their positions were redundant. The work is not here in Beaudry. The work is in schools. It has taken the time to sort all of this out because the leadership in the Division of Instruction didn’t feel it had the authority or responsibility to do so.”

While the changes may eliminate duplicative work, many of the officials no longer working at district headquarters had close ties to Deasy, including a group of officials who either left on their own or were encouraged to leave.

Chief Strategy Officer Matt Hill, who was the former superintendent of the Intensive Support and Innovation Center, left to become superintendent of Burbank Unified. Tommy Chang, an instructional superintendent, left to become superintendent of Boston Public Schools. Donna Muncey, who was chief of the Intensive Support and Intervention Center, joined him in Boston. And former Chief Information Officer Ron Chandler resigned as the iPads program was crumbling.

Loera has been named principal of Virgil Middle School, and Tandberg has been named principal of Valerio Street Elementary. Lucas was assigned to be principal at Brentwood Elementary Science Magnet and she took the job long enough for her name to be added to the school website. But she quickly decided to leave the district for a job with Beverly Hills Unified.

When asked why he thought he was reassigned and several other related questions, Loera told LA School Report, “You would have to ask the superintendent about that.”

When asked why she was reassigned, Tandberg said via email, “I did not make the decision to return to a school site. I am however honored to be the principal of Valerio Street ES. The principalship is one of the most rewarding roles in the district.”

Lucas, who headed up the iPads-for-all program that produced a stream of bad press for the district, did not respond to a request for comment. Cortines said the program’s overall problems were not her fault. But he suggested recent decisions by her may have sealed her fate.

“Ms. Lucas did not create the problem with the one-to-one devices for every student. It was given to her, with no plan for implementation,” he said. “Four weeks ago, I found that we were getting ready to distribute 19,000 devices without any plan. I made a decision to bring in another district employee to do that particular job, and I’m pleased with the progress that has been made. So after an hour-and-a-half consultation with Mrs. Lucas, I made the decision to reassign her to a school. I thought the district would be better served.”

The cases of Loera and Barrett are particularly curious as both had been promoted by Cortines in December. Loera, who also received a hefty raise, moved from executive director of Curriculum and Instruction to chief academic officer, an old role that had been unfilled for some time until it was essentially recreated for him. Barrett was promoted to take Loera’s place.

Until the recent setback, Loera had been a rising star in LA Unified. In 2008 he became the youngest principal in the district at 35 when he was named head of Francis Polytechnic High. He was promoted by Deasy to district headquarters in 2012. His promotion and salary bump in December by Cortines had him earning $164,500.

Cortines said Loera is under contract and will keep his current salary, which now makes him the highest paid principal in the distinct, according to data released earlier this year. Cortines did not say if Tandberg’s salary of $142,727 would be maintained, but it would make her the third highest paid principal.

Barrett will be working on MiSiS until she, too, is sent to a school site, Cortines said. The troubled districtwide computer system, which was launched by Deasy in the last school year, has caused scheduling problems and other glitches. Its cost has ballooned to $133 million from an initial $29 million.

“After an intense discussion between Dr. Barrett and her supervisor, I met with her personally and provided her space to work in, doing her MiSiS project, until an appropriate school assignment becomes available,” Cortines said.

Barrett could not be reached for comment.

Loera, Lucas and Tandberg were heavily involved in leading the troubled and now infamous Common Core Technology Project, an ambitious Deasy plan that sought to get an iPad in the hands of every student and teacher in the district, which along with the required Internet upgrades was to cost $1.3 billion.

The project stumbled at nearly all levels before being cancelled in its early stages by Cortines in December when it was revealed that a federal grand jury was investigating the program for potential bid rigging. No indictments have resulted from the grand jury investigation, but due to the secretive laws surrounding federal grand juries it is unknown if the investigation has concluded.

Deasy and an underling came under media scrutiny last summer when publicly released emails showed they had close communications with Apple and Pearson — the two companies that ultimately won the bid — before bidding on the project began. Loera and Tandberg also fell under scrutiny when it was revealed they had received free iPads and a trip to a conference at a Palm Desert resort from Pearson, all before the bidding process had begun.

The problems with the iPad project touched nearly all levels, not just the criticized bidding process. There were problems with the pilot rollout, students quickly figured out how to deactivate the content filters and the pre-loaded Pearson educational software proved to be so glitchy few schools ever used it. The district is now seeking a full refund from Apple and Pearson for the devices it purchased before the program was cancelled.

Even the federal Securities and Exchange Commission began asking questions about the district’s controversial use of bond funds to pay for the devices.

Deasy resigned under pressure in October, in part due to the problems with the iPad program, and was replaced by Cortines, who returned to lead the district for the third time. The Common Core Technology Project was rebranded in January with less ambitious goals as the Instructional Technology Initiative. Lucas retained her role as director of the program, although Judy Burton was brought in by Cortines to chair the initiative and oversee her.


*Corrects titles for Chang and Muncey.

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