Education advocates across the country were intrigued by last week's Los Angeles Unified School board election. The candidates were teachers, parents, scholars, social workers who came from wildly different backgrounds and agendas. This week, the community voted on the candidates and future direction of our schools, keeping two incumbents, Monica Garcia and Steve Zimmer. With the fanfare of two elections over and one more entering in a run-off, our school board needs to get to work tackling a tall order of business.
So, here's what the new job description of our school board members should contain.
Wanted: A School Board That Listens to Solutions-oriented Teachers
There are profound challenges and opportunities facing teachers and students -- our district is implementing new evaluation and retention systems to increase student achievement and elevate the teaching profession. However, this change doesn't have to only come from the top down. Unlike other districts, Los Angeles has an energetic grassroots movement of teachers, parents, and civil rights activists who are eager to help chart a new direction for our schools. The school board must include the ideas and concerns of teachers and other stakeholders who are coming to the table with concrete policy and implementation ideas that will improve outcomes throughout the district.
Wanted: A School Board That Will Do More Than Evaluate Educators
Our district needs more than just better evaluation tools, we need innovative and thoughtful strategies that will develop and keep effective leaders in our classrooms. As professionals working on the frontlines of public education, teachers know what it will take to prepare our students for college, their careers and the adult lives. Teachers also know what is needed in order to feel supported and invigorated in our careers. Currently, a team of teachers at Educators 4 Excellence is developing research-based strategies for recruiting and retaining talent to teach in LAUSD, but we will also need a board willing to hear and implement these strategies to keep these leaders in the classroom.
Wanted: A School Board That Will Build Partnerships
The obstacles our schools face often extend beyond the walls of the classroom, which is why we need a commitment from our new leadership to forge strong partnerships with families and their local communities. These families served by our schools have a vested interest in improving the quality of our public education system, they even raised their own taxes to fund a school system that lags nationally in per pupil funding.. If we ask parents to trust us with the emotional and intellectual development of their children, we must trust and utilize the input of parents in how we can best serve students and families.
Similarly, our businesses, civil rights groups and community-based organizations want to be empowered partners in supporting our schools, investing in them whenever given the opportunity. As school budgets get tighter and battles over local and state funding get more difficult, we need leaders on the school board who will reach out and effectively work with companies and organizations interested in putting time, money and energy into transforming our education system. We've seen these partnerships work across the country, and one of the school board's first initiatives should be removing any obstacles to harnessing financial resources and partnerships among businesses and philanthropists and beginning to actively cultivate those relationships.
Wanted: A School Board That Will Embrace Diversity
Finally, we need a board that prioritizes diverse, high-quality options for students, including pilot schools, magnet schools, charters, small learning communities, adult schools and continuing education programs. These options meet the unique needs of our students and leverage the diverse talents of our teachers. We need a board that embraces cross-school learning and collaboration so that educators can incubate and share best practices across the district.
With these contentious elections mostly behind us, it's time to get back to work. We know that our educators are ready and willing to raise the bar for the profession and for our students. To do this, we need courageous and collaborative leaders at the helm of our school system.