Amid mounting tension between Los Angeles Unified's top administrators and the school board, Mayor Eric Garcetti expressed support Monday for Superintendent John Deasy and said he plans to meet with both sides in order to ensure the district's academic progress doesn't falter.
Garcetti was responding to questions about the future of the district, and its leaders, following the resignation Friday of Deputy Superintendent Jaime Aquino. The instructional chief said the new school board majority has become ineffectual and overly intrusive, creating an unhealthy political climate in which he could no longer work.
"I'm a strong supporter of John Deasy, and I think he's done a great job of moving this district forward ... whether it's bringing in new technology or whether it's having more accountability for the progress we've made on our (test) scores and on reducing dropouts," Garcetti said in an interview.
"I'm concerned that there will be a culture that will drown out innovation and that may ultimately leave the superintendent feeling like he can't do his job well."
To help ease tensions between the two sides, and help build a collaborative relationship between the city and Los Angeles Unified, Garcetti said he has scheduled the first in a series of meetings at City Hall where he hopes to get the parties talking.
"I'm certainly committed to making sure that I take an active role. I'll be doing regular meetings with the school board and the superintendent in my office to see how the city can help -- and I, as mayor, can help -- to solve whatever problems school board members perceive there to be and to continue reinforcing the opportunities Dr. Deasy has to move this district forward."
At the same time, the mayor said he wants to ensure that teachers are involved in making decisions and crafting strategies for boosting student success.
"Teachers all want to be at the table," said Garcetti, who had the backing of United Teachers Los Angeles when he ran for mayor.
"I want to be the voice that de-polarizes the debate. That can be from either side -- whether it's people who have shut teachers out of the discussion or whether it's folks who are convinced that any reformer is out to privatize schools. I've never found these caricatures to be very true. What I do want to have is greater teacher input and more teachers at the table."
The roles of the administration, the board and the teachers union will be in the spotlight on Tuesday, when the board makes its third attempt at approving a $113 million budget to implement a new English and math curriculum known as the Common Core.
It was the board's inability last week to pass the budget -- or to offer concrete direction on what changes it wanted made -- that prompted Aquino's decision to leave on Dec. 31.
After accepting Aquino's resignation, a dispirited Deasy declined to comment on his own future as superintendent. His $330,000-a-year contract allows him to quit, or the board to fire him, with 30 days' notice.
But in a weekend interview, he said he intends to continue pushing ahead with initiatives like those that have led to higher test scores and graduation rates.
"I was very clear on the first day of school -- I'm not going anywhere," Deasy said. "That's my decision. I don't have the final say, of course.
"But being frustrated and abandoning youth are two very different things."
Deasy echoed concerns voiced by Aquino, saying "the trajectory of our academic improvement is in peril" because the board major is no longer united behind a common strategy.
"It just seems like we're slowing down or possibly not moving at all," Deasy said. "One example, and something we're dealing with at the moment, is supporting teachers in the Common Core. We're not being authorized to do it and that's a problem since our teachers have been leading the state in Common Core."
Deasy said he hopes the board will approve the Common Core budget today, since any delay would push back teacher training by months. The new curriculum takes effect next fall.
Aquino's plan calls for spending nearly $25 million to create 122 teacher "coaches" who would help principals and other teachers develop lessons aligned to the Common Core. Several board members raised questions about logistics, while UTLA wants the money spent on professional development at school sites.
Vladovic did not return a call for comment, nor did board member Bennett Kayser, who questioned Aquino extensively during last week's meeting and reportedly emailed more questions that he wants answered today.
UTLA President Warren Fletcher said the current debate over the future of the district is the chance to shift instruction back to the school site.
"When you're talking about student achievement, you're talking about what happens at schools, in classrooms, when teachers and parents are working together to make that happen," he said. "Parents and voters want the school board and the district to do their first job first, which is keep schools operating well and fully staffed."
While Aquino's resignation has spotlighted fractures within the LAUSD hierarchy, former school board president Caprice Young said the current situation isn't all that surprising.
"The politics always shift when there's a new board -- even if it's just one person," said Young, who served on the board from 1999-2003 and recently opened her own educational consulting firm.
"And the district has been in crisis for a very long time -- that's not particularly new. One of the exciting things is the district gets to spend $113 million on instruction, and they're arguing about how to spend money instead of how to cut money."
Deasy himself said he hopes to be able to move beyond the politics and continue what he calls the district's "student-focused agenda."
"There's always a way forward -- kids are counting on us. We've got a set of policies and practices we've been following that have been getting results," he said.
"I just think we have to absolutely remain strong and focused for the students of L.A." ___
Earlier on HuffPost:
Loves To Rave
Just when you thought Garcetti couldn't get any cooler, the mayor came out in support of holding absolutely <em>ratchet</em> raves at the Los Angeles Coliseum for the diehard EDM (Electronic Dance Music) crowd. Though previous mayor Antonio Villaraigosa questioned whether to even allow raves at the enormous venue, <a href="http://blogs.laweekly.com/informer/2013/06/raves_back_coliseum_garcetti_edc.php" target="_blank">Garcetti held a fundraiser at the LA Coliseum</a>, featuring performers Steve Aoki, Will.i.am and other DJ luminaries. Of course, he attended and was seen partying it up next to Aoki himself.
Taking On Hollywood
<a href="http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1553568/" target="_blank">Garcetti's a dabbling actor</a>, taking on LA's cornerstone industry with charm. Appearing on an episode of the Closer, Major Crime and 10-8: Officers on Duty, Garcetti played a town mayor or city councilman in all three (how fitting -- perhaps an early signal of his preferred occupation?)
Will Ferrell Loves This Guy
If Angelenos could elect the next President, Will Ferrell would be a likely candidate. The LA comedy genius endorses Garcetti fully, recording a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/14/will-ferrell-eric-garcetti_n_2690273.html" target="_blank">video segment</a> to support the mayor's campaign in February of this year. Ferrell, though cracking jokes here and there, puts comedy on hold for a minute to discuss Garcetti's strengths. Ferrell says, "Eric will lead this city and represent us on a world stage, both economically and culturally...It's pretty darn cool."
19,000-Square-Foot Fruit And Vegetable Garden
Garcetti gives the word organic a new meaning. Almost a half-acre plot of land at the Garcetti home is dedicated to a bountiful fruit and vegetable garden, where the mayor <a href="http://www.dwell.com/house-tours/article/echo-logical" target="_blank">cultivates his own all-natural produce</a>. He then trades some of his goods with councilperson Bill Rosendahl in exchange for eggs from Rosendahl's chicken coop. Garcetti is interested in <a href="http://www.papermag.com/arts_and_style/2012/03/eric-garcetti-the-peoples-politician.php" target="_blank">starting a coop of his own</a>, telling <em>Papermag</em>, "Chickens are in our near future."
Lives In The Most Hipster Part In LA
Garcetti lives in Silver Lake, which was ranked number one on <a href="http://www.forbes.com/pictures/mhj45jmeh/1-silver-lake-los-angeles-ca-2/" target="_blank">Forbes' list of America's Hippest Hipster Neighborhoods.</a> The diverse and offbeat town boasts some of the nation’s best food trucks and farmer’s markets. Silver Lake is home to a rising arts scene and a surplus of avant garde, Modernist architecture (including <a href="http://www.dwell.com/house-tours/article/echo-logical" target="_blank">Garcetti's home</a>, which, on top of being environmentally conscious, is almost entirely made of glass).
Uses Social Media To Garner Ideas
Garcetti is a big advocate of Reddit. Recently, <a href="http://www.reddit.com/r/LosAngeles/comments/1g9vju/im_eric_garcetti_las_next_mayor_and_i_want_your/" target="_blank">he posted on the site</a> asking for ways to improve the future of Los Angeles from the Reddit community. He tweaked the Reddit classic "AMA" -- Ask Me Anything -- and sought input from his constituency. “This time, we’re doing things a little bit differently by focusing the discussion on solutions rather than Q/A,” Garcetti wrote. “I want your ideas about how to create jobs and solve problems in L.A. neighborhoods.”
Yoga And Kickboxing At Silver Lake Meadow Park
Like many Angelenos, Garcetti enjoys a little outdoor yoga in sunny Silver Lake Meadow Park. He's been spotted partaking in a number of exercises there, including yoga, plyometrics and even kickboxing.
Harvard Westlake For Highschool
Garcetti attended LA private school Harvard Westlake, where <a href="http://www.hwchronicle.com/news/garcetti-88-wins-la-mayors-race/" target="_blank">he was a bit of a nerd</a>, spending many a lunch discussing politics and social issues with then-history teacher Dave Waterhouse.
Drives An Electric Toyota
Garcetti practices what he preaches. Representative of his campaign emphasis on environmental protection, <a href="http://www.dwell.com/house-tours/article/echo-logical" target="_blank">the mayor drives a silver Toyota RAV4-EV.</a> And it's not even his first; He's been driving electric since GM released its leasable EV1 in 1997.