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Reaction to Deasy resignation as polarizing as his tenure

Craig Clough | October 16, 2014

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Alex Caputo-Pearl strike talks UTLA

UTLA President Alex-Caputo Pearl (file photo)

Former LA Unified Superintendent John Deasy was a polarizing figure, earning almost equal parts praise and scorn, and naturally the news of his resignation has evoked similar opposing reactions.

Some have expressed disappointment and outrage over his resignation, while some can barely contain their glee.

In an email to LA School Report, Ben Austin, executive director of Parent Trigger, a group that helps parents overhaul failing schools, perhaps summed up the viewpoints of most Deasy supporters that student achievement should have outweighed other factors.

“While It’s certainly true that John departs under a cloud of controversy, it’s easy to forget that avoiding controversy is not the job of a superintendent,” he wrote. “It’s serving kids. By that measure, John has been the most successful superintendent in modern LAUSD history. Powerful adult interests have been working for years to oust John. Today was a victory for them and a setback for my children and all the children of the LAUSD.”

Maria Brenes, executive director of Inner City Struggle, a community group that works for improving educational achievement for urban students, said, “We are very grateful for Dr. Deasy’s work in expanding educational opportunities for students of color in LAUSD. We expect the School Board to move forward in this period of transition to ensure that the academic successes that came as a result of Dr. Deasy’s leadership, continue and grow.”

Another community group that worked closely with Deasy and the district — CLASS, or Communities for Los Angeles Student Success — expressed gratitude for the academic advances made during Deasy’s tenure.

“The thousands of families and educators we represent appreciate his unrelenting commitment to delivering a high quality education to the students at LAUSD,” The group said in a statement. “Dr. Deasy embraced a number of community-led efforts and policies that have resulted in tremendous gains for the district including a jump in four-year graduation rates to 77%; expanding Linked Learning to twenty-three high schools districtwide; decreasing suspension rates for students of color resulting in 37,655 more days spent in the classroom; and increasing the number of students taking Advanced Placement courses.” 

One of the victors in Deasy’s departure is United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), whose president, Alex Caputo-Pearl, has been unrelenting in his criticism of Deasy, including his policy of teacher jail, his “autocratic” style, his support of the Vergara lawsuit and Deasy’s gamble on two computer technology programs viewed by many as failures. The union also sought to paint him as a tool of reform movement.

“The departure of John Deasy indicates a shift in the national debate around public education and how we improve schools,” UTLA said in a statement. “It is an opportunity to move in the direction of fully-funded schools and collaborative management, instead of treating school improvement as a ‘corporate turnaround’ model, over-emphasizing testing, undermining equity and access for students, and attacking educators.”

The union representing school support staff, SEIU Local 99, had a different response.

“We have always considered Dr. John Deasy a partner in addressing the needs of students and our communities. His leadership will be missed,” the union said in a statement. “We are grateful for his appreciation of the role that cafeteria workers, custodians, teaching assistants and other school support staff play in student success. Dr. Deasy has shared our belief that learning happens inside and outside the classroom and that the men and women who feed the children, clean the school restrooms, and aide in the classroom, are critical to student learning.”

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, in a statement that did not necessarily express an opinion on the resignation, did point to Deasy’s achievements.

“I was in touch with John Deasy last night as I have been over the last month and I want to thank him for his service to the students of Los Angeles. Under his leadership, district graduation rates are up and achievement scores are higher, a legacy that he can be proud of bringing to the district,” Garcetti said.

StudentsFirst California State Director Jovan Agee also expressed appreciation, saying, “Superintendent Deasy has been a fearless champion for students and families across LAUSD, and his leadership will be deeply missed. He was a bold leader who led by example in focusing on student outcomes, remaining faithful to his principles and putting aside politics to do what’s right for our kids.”

Jed Wallace, president and CEO of the California Charter Schools Association, thanks Deasy for being “remarkably focused” on helping students.

“John continuously showed a great bias toward action and urgency that many simply don’t have,” Wallace said in a statement. “He has been committed to strengthening L.A.’s schools in order to lift children and families out of poverty. We appreciate his willingness to work with all public school students, including those attending charter public schools, in the midst of a challenging and ever-changing education landscape.”

Although there were several board members increasingly critical of him, the LA Unified school board praised Deasy in a statement, saying, “Today, Superintendent John Deasy tendered his resignation as General Superintendent of Schools from the District. We thank Dr. Deasy for over three years of devoted service to the District and its students. In that period of time, academic achievement rose substantially despite severe economic hardships, and the students of the District have benefitted greatly from Dr. Deasy’s guidance.”

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