In Partnership with 74

LAUSD’s parent committee volunteers: We need someone who knows the district

Farnaz Simantob, Kathy Kantner, Evelyn Aleman, and Paul Robak | February 19, 2018

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Nowhere in the Los Angeles Unified District are the feelings of parent frustration, anger, and confusion more palpable than in the district’s central parent committees. These are groups of parents elected by their peers in local districts to represent the parent voice and provide feedback to the superintendent and Board of Education. It is here where parents from throughout the district share powerful personal experiences, offer ideas for effecting change, and advocate for a sense of urgency in LAUSD decision-making. It is here, where parents collaborate, that board members are largely absent.

As volunteers who serve on these central committees, at the local district level, and in school-site governance, we know that parents seek to be heard, valued, and included as equal partners in decisions that impact their children’s education. Now, as it launches a search for a new superintendent, the Board of Education has a unique opportunity to demonstrate that its ability to engage parents spans beyond boardroom meetings and is inclusive of the parent voice in the selection of the new LAUSD chief executive.

As insiders who have taken the time to learn about the highly politicized and complex world of policies and regulations that are LAUSD, we know the superintendent must understand how to navigate this world in order to innovate from within while tapping the district’s vast institutional knowledge. As reformers and advocates for true transparency and accountability, we believe the board must select a superintendent who can tackle the district’s existing challenges courageously and in collaboration with its various stakeholders. These challenges include the high number of vulnerable students failing to meet state academic benchmarks, declining enrollment, projected fiscal deficits, and ballooning pension obligations.

The notion that a “disruptor” with little knowledge of or experience with this district can fix its problems is magical thinking. Disruption has been tried before and failed. The candidate best positioned to lead is one who is intimately familiar with LAUSD. Here is what we’re looking for in an LAUSD superintendent:

1) A leader who will last. There has, in fact, been far too much leadership disruption in recent years in the superintendent’s office and on the Board of Education. As a result, every few years competing visions and priorities for the district take hold, then fade away. The ongoing leadership churn isn’t good for students, staff, or families. Our superintendent must show experience and demonstrated staying power in our educational system. An insider, aligned with the current school board, is best able to push for systemic change where it’s needed.

2) Our superintendent must maintain a laser-like focus on the district’s fiscal health while pursuing higher rates of graduation and attendance, ensuring safe and welcoming school environments, boosting early literacy, and improving overall instruction. However, overcoming obstacles to progress requires more than clever marketing techniques. It means understanding root causes, which are specific to our district, and implementing results-oriented strategies. Progress must be real and sustained.

3) Confronting the looming pension crisis is critical. A solution must be found, but a problem 30 years in the making won’t be resolved overnight. The current iteration of the school board, in collaboration with a new superintendent, can push further than ever before. A superintendent with experience in labor relations would bring a valuable perspective in the negotiation of salaries, benefits, working conditions, and more.

4) The new LAUSD superintendent must maximize fiscal and human resources. Placing highly qualified teachers at the district’s lowest-performing schools can improve student academic outcomes, while strengthening teacher supports and evaluations can drive real change. Additionally, once the school board resolves its divided stance on charter schools, the superintendent will need to articulate consistent policies that ensure high expectations for all schools, regardless of model.

5) Declining enrollment is a concern. Parents decide where to enroll their children, and they demand schools that deliver quality instruction. Yet for too long the needs of parents have been ignored. The prospective superintendent must have a record of being accessible to, and soliciting input from, parents and students. A candidate who can elevate the parent and student voice would be an asset.

6) The superintendent must lead a network comprised of local business and other community partners who can help to build a strong school district, while offering students internships, training for parents and staff, and other valuable opportunities.

7) We need an excellent communicator. During a crisis, school communities require clear communication and decisive follow-through. Our superintendent must be someone we can trust to show true leadership when it’s needed most.

8) Finally, agitating for change from within can at times be uncomfortable, and the politics of education divisive, but an insider who has come up through this system would, we believe, hold a significant advantage.

As LAUSD parents who are clear-eyed about where changes in our school system are long overdue, and as central committee members who have spent years learning the inner workings of the district, we believe the ideal candidate is LAUSD Interim Superintendent Vivian Ekchian.

A teacher, principal, and administrator, Mrs. Ekchian has managed Human Resources and served as lead contract negotiator. As a local district superintendent, she gathered input from parents to help improve school cultures while working with teachers and administrators to innovate in the classroom. Using data and research, she launched unique programs. She has institutional knowledge and relevant experience. She is an insider with the creativity, energy, communication skills, ability, and drive to lead the LAUSD as an agent of change.

Dr. Simantob, Ms. Kantner, Ms. Aleman, and Mr. Robak are parents involved at their children’s schools and who serve on district parent committees. The views expressed here are their own.

  • Farnaz Simantob: Ph.D., psychologist in private practice; community representative for parent engagement at Gaspar de Portola Middle School; LAUSD parent
  • Kathy Kantner: LCSW, parent representative, Parent and Community Sunshine Committee; member and former executive board, Community Advisory Committee for Special Education.
  • Evelyn Aleman: MPP, executive board, Parent Advisory Committee; parent representative, School Site Council, Ernest Lawrence Middle School.
  • Paul Robak: member and former executive board, Parent Advisory Committee; executive board, Community Advisory Committee for Special Education.

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