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Retiring from AALA, President Perez reflects on 46 years with LAUSD

Craig Clough | June 19, 2015

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Judith Perez

AALA Judith Perez makes her final appearance before the LA Unified school board on June 9, 2015.

Judith Perez‘s 46 years with LA Unified came about through a random encounter in her early 20s.

“I was not one of those people who knew at age five I would be a teacher,” she told LA School Report.

After moving to Los Angeles in her early 20s and bouncing around a few unsatisfying jobs, she ran into, of all people, her old college roommate from the University of Texas at Langer’s Deli on Alvarado Street. Perez didn’t even know her friend was living in LA.

They sat down to catch up, and it turned out her friend was a teacher at LA Unified and loved the job. Intrigued, Perez decided to enroll in the same USC credentialing program her friend had taken and before long started work as a teacher with the district.

That was in the fall of 1969.

After 18 years of teaching, 22 years as an administrator and six as president of the Associated Administrators of Los Angeles, Perez will be stepping down and retiring on July 1. She will be replaced by Juan Flecha.

Perez said she thought the biggest ways the district has changed are the expanded opportunities for women and the increase in collaboration between principals and teachers.

“If you look at the district as a whole, then and now, it was very difficult to promote women within the system outside of the classroom. The leadership of the district was male. Virtually everything was,” Perez said.

She added, “It was a much smaller district in terms of the feeling of it. People tended to know each other more. It was a much more relaxed setting. School started at 9 a.m. The hours of the day were shorter. This was before teachers were unionized. As a teacher, I had a lot of responsibilities outside of the classroom for supervision and many other things at the school. The feeling was different. It was an environment that did not promote employees questioning anything, particularly teachers.”

Today, likely from teachers unionizing, Perez said she thinks schools function more as a collaborative effort.

“(LAUSD) was organized in a very traditional manner. The principal was in charge and decided what would be done and how it would be done. I found over time, for a lot of reasons, that has changed, and schools are far more collaborative now,” she said. “There’s much more attention to creating a collaborative culture where all the people at the school are involved in the decision making, and there is much more focus on the students now than there was then.”

Unfortunately for Perez, one of the programs she has been a big advocate for — the School Readiness and Language Development Program (SRLDP) — looks to be doomed, as Superintendent Ramon Cortines announced plans this month to cancel it entirely. However, he wants to expand the transitional kindergarten program, a spoonful of sugar that seems to have helped the medicine go down, even for Perez.

“I think that the current plan to expand transitional kindergarten is a move in the right direction,” she said. “It does not address the need of every child to have early education experiences of high quality, but I do think its a good step, and I do think that it will help children in SLRDP classes.”

Perez was among the program’s original teachers 40 years ago and spent much of her last appearance before the LA Unified school board on June 9 advocating for the program. (Check the video below to see her remarks to the board.)

Cortines announced SRLDP’s planned cancellation just a few days later. Perez did say she felt that within the district and even nationwide, the idea of universal early education appears to be taking hold like never before.

“It’s fascinating, all other wealthy nations, and some that are not so wealthy, have free preschool programs for children,” Perez said. “We know what the research says about it, we know it is essential, but I do agree that there is national interest in that now more than ever before, and that makes me very optimistic.”

As far as retiring, Perez said she “has never done it before” and isn’t sure if she knows how to. She has plenty of upcoming plans, including consulting part time for AALA, spending more time with her grandsons, traveling and writing.

“The rest of it,” she said, “remains to be seen.”

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