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Outside groups disappointed over LA Unified’s search process

Mike Szymanski | October 29, 2015

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Steve Zimmer on a video asking for superintendent search help.

Sure, they can go to any of the community meetings. Sure, they can fill out a survey online. But, ultimately, outside groups say they want a seat at the table when deciding the next LA Unified school superintendent.

At a special session after a closed session on Tuesday, the school board voted against a proposal to create a separate community panel of seven people, each school board member appointing one. The proposal by Mónica García, who was lobbied heavily by many of the groups, was voted down 5-2.

The board faced a more open proposal by board member Mónica Ratliff that would have allowed the entire community to meet the finalists of the superintendent search. That was voted down by a 4-3 vote.

CLASS (Communities for Los Angeles Student Success) sent a letter that originally asked for wider community participation in the search. Some of the groups had to request to be included to give their input into the search.

Sara Mooney, of United Way LA, said, “The school board made a non-welcoming vote for community involvement. They are against sharing responsibilities for the community to be involved in the choice of the next superintendent. We are disappointed.”

Like some of the other community organizations, Mooney said the United Way had to ask to have a meeting with search firms and was not among the groups picked by the school board members to be involved in the process. Mooney said she has spoken to parents who feel as if they have no say in the process “and feel like they already have a list and what their input is makes no difference.”

A few coalitions of educational groups have appealed to keep the search confidential but include a committee of community groups to help screen the finalists. Several board members said they feared that such a process would diminish responsibilities that the board was elected to carry out.

But what exactly do these scores tell us? It turns out that much depends on which scores one chooses to focus on, what time frame one looks at, and whether one looks at growth in scores rather than at scores at fixed points in time.

For now, the community outreach appears lacking, say some of the groups.

“I have been disappointed in the student turnout for some of these sessions,” said Melanie Kimes, the youth organizer of the Community Coalition. “I was in a group where only 15 students showed up.”

Also speaking before the board after their decision on Tuesday was Konstantin Hatcher, the managing director of outreach for Educators for Excellence, a teacher organization. He said that community groups can reach populations that the search firm may miss.

“There is a middle ground, you can still have confidentiality,” Hatcher told the board. “We hope that you hear us.”

Board member Ref Rodriguez, who is the only member of the seven who voted in favor of García’s proposal, expressed concern that some of the meetings were not well attended. He and board president Steve Zimmer made videos asking that people get involved in the survey and meetings. Some of the other board members voiced robo-calls that went to families in their district.

Zimmer, who has closely controlled the search outreach, extended the availability of the surveys and input to four more days, through Nov. 1. He thought the Halloween celebrations that bring families to the school campuses would help draw more people to participate.

“We want to give busy parents and guardians every opportunity to weigh in with their thoughts on the superintendent search,” Zimmer said. “It’s vital to the integrity of the process that their voice is heard and that we as board members need to hear what they say.”

He said that every school has paper forms in five languages, and the surveys can be taken online until the 11:59 p.m. Sunday deadline.

Anyone can take the survey, either online or on paper. The last public meetings were held yesterday

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