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LAUSD’s ‘Promising Practices’ forum: Just ‘good vibes’ between district and charters or a new era?

Craig Clough | August 9, 2016

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LA Unified Superintendent Michelle King at the “Promising Practices” forum on July 23.

There were plenty of kumbaya moments at the July 23 “Promising Practices” forum, called by LA Unified Superintendent Michelle King, leaving charter leaders cautiously optimistic it can lead to a new era of cooperation.

More than 200 people from the LA Unified world attended the forum, which featured a series of workshops and discussion panels aimed at sharing best practices between the district’s charter schools and traditional schools. Another forum is planned for next spring, and while it is too early to tell, some charter leaders said they hoped the sharing would continue.

“I’m so excited about what Michelle King is doing, because for the first time since I was on the board, we have a superintendent who is saying, ‘Hey, we can learn from each other,'” said Caprice Young, CEO of Magnolia Public Schools and a former LA Unified school board member. “And it’s not like charters have the answer or traditional schools have the answer, it’s that we can all learn from each other. And she is supporting her internal innovators like pilot schools and magnet schools.”

Young said it is too soon to tell if there will be more tangible evidence of increased cooperation beyond the forum, but “good vibes are not to be underestimated, particularly in a place where there has been so much conflict. The fact that there are good vibes matters.”

Jason Mandell, spokesman for the California Charter Schools Association, said the focus on learning as opposed to politics was refreshing.

“I think it was a very healing event because it did provide an opportunity for teachers and the elected officials and the appointed officials to all focus on instruction and learning and say regardless of the issues that sometimes cause conflict, this is what we are here to do. This is why charters are here,” Mandell said. “They are here to innovate and to try and do things and share what’s working with district schools. There is so much time that could be spent on solving those problems that aren’t.”

Parker Hudnut, CEO of Inner City Education Foundation Public Schools, who attended the forum, also said it is not yet clear what will come of it.

“The teachers and I were pleasantly surprised when they got their session surveys back to find out that most of the people in the seminar were district teachers and not other charter teachers,” Hudnut said. “It was amazing that the LA Unified teachers came to us. Now there needs to be a follow-up. I’ve not heard what they are doing with what was heard at the sessions, or what people came away with, but there could have been a goldmine of ideas that were shared.”

Perhaps the crescendo of the good vibes at the forum was a speech by LA Unified school board President Steve Zimmer, who spoke about breaking down barriers and working together. The speech turned heads due to Zimmer’s sometimes incendiary comments about charters schools and their proliferation.

“Steve Zimmer gave a wonderful heartwarming speech. Michelle King was very positive. The vibe in the room seemed very positive,” Hudnut said. “I see the day as positive, but LAUSD and charters still need to work to improve our relationship. It should be more of a partnership, not a compliance culture. How strong can that relationship be when one day we are working together to better educate children and then the next day we get a notice to comply that is pretty silly. There needs to be positive celebration that stands shoulder to shoulder.”

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