Alberto Carvalho Is Officially LAUSD Superintendent. Now, His Big Test Begins.
Alberto Carvalho could’ve very easily stayed in Florida.
Carvalho built a complete education career there, rising from the teaching ranks to become superintendent of the Miami-Dade County School District. At 57 years old, he’s nationally acclaimed and practically a local celebrity for his work in South Florida.
“I think it says a lot about his appetite for the work that he’s not just finishing his career in Miami,” said Nick Melvoin, vice president of the Los Angeles Unified school board, in an interview in December.
“It would’ve been easy to say, ‘Yeah, this is how I’m going to end my career.’”
And yet here Carvalho is, officially on the job this week as the L.A. Unified School District’s new superintendent — and he’s not looking back.
“You know what? I will reference Miami very little. I am in Los Angeles,” Carvalho said Wednesday as he kicked off a two-day welcome tour of his new district.
“Miami is behind me,” he added later. “Ahead of me is Los Angeles … and it’s the second-largest school system in America, about to be the best urban school system in our nation.”
To achieve that goal, he’ll need to tackle systemic educational inequality in a new city, address declining enrollment, help students make up ground they may have lost during the COVID-19 pandemic — all while navigating the turbulent local politics that have churned through six LAUSD superintendents (permanent and interim) in the last 11 years.
After a press conference at Fremont High School to kick off his tour, senior Briana Delgado hopes Carvalho can pull it off — but she was encouraged to hear Miami was in his rear-view mirror.
“He wants to just focus on LAUSD and not his past experiences,” said Delgado, who stood behind Carvalho during his statement near an iconic fountain in her school’s courtyard. “He’s not just bringing ideas from Miami here. He’s creating his own. He’s starting fresh.”
In Miami, Carvalho was known for embracing competition with charter and private schools by scaling up his district’s school choice and magnet programs. He pushed for ensuring every student had equitable access to technology even before the pandemic.
And under his watch, Carvalho both empowered, and leaned hard on, school principals to increase test scores and graduation rates. He has acknowledged that not all groups of students saw great gains — Black students in Miami, in particular, continue to post lower scores.
The level of academic regression, unfinished learning, that has piled up is impressive and devastating.
Still, he touted Miami-Dade’s resulting gains — and the improved ratings that resulted under Florida’s “A-F” letter grading system for schools — as a signature achievement.
In LAUSD, Carvalho has said he wants to release a “transition plan” outlining goals for his first 100 days on the job. Carvalho wants to hold a “listening and viewing tour” of Los Angeles schools before revealing exact details of that plan.
However, during a Feb. 9 virtual event hosted by the National Education Equity Lab, Carvalho did outline a broad vision and several goals for his tenure — some of which will evoke comparisons to his work in Miami:
- ‘Demand-driven reform.’ Carvalho described his overarching approach as responsive to the demands of the school system’s primary end-users: “What do parents really want? And how much of what they want is currently being delivered? What really excites students? Are we listening to their voice? Do they have true agency? I think LAUSD has done remarkable work in terms of engaging communities and bringing the student voice on a number of different issues; I think we can do even better and do more."
- Expanding school choice. More than 90,000 students — roughly one out of every five in LAUSD-run schools — already attend a district-run magnet school, and thousands more attend other specialty programs, like a dual language school. Carvalho said he wants to expand access to these “publicly funded, publicly delivered” choice programs, “particularly in ZIP codes where, right now, they do not exist … I don’t think it’s fair or equitable for students to have to get on a bus for hours on end to get to that one school.” (At the beginning of her superintendency, the late Michelle King also called for an expansion of LAUSD-run choice options.)
- Helping students who fell behind during the pandemic. “The level of academic regression, unfinished learning, that has piled up is impressive and devastating,” Carvalho told attendees of the event. “But we cannot focus so much on catching up that we lose sight on simultaneously … accelerat[ing] all students to their full academic potential.” To this end, Carvalho said he planned to increase the amount of college-level coursework available in LAUSD high schools — a project that the virtual event’s hosts, the Equity Lab, have undertaken in Miami-Dade and other districts nationally.
- Smaller class sizes. In another bid to confront learning loss, Carvalho committed to “attempt to reduce, to the extent possible, class sizes for the most fragile students.”
- Expanded early childhood education. “If we want to boost graduation rates,” he said, “start investing in early education programs to minimize that gap” in school readiness that often means students from low-income backgrounds arrive behind in elementary school. (California public schools are currently ramping up to provide “transitional kindergarten” to all 4-year-olds starting in 2025.)
On Wednesday, Carvalho teased a few additional priorities he’d want to tackle during his first 100 days.
Carvalho said he’d need to get to work on a budget for the coming year — which the superintendent draws up every year, and which the school board must pass at the end of June — that anticipates the end of the extraordinary, COVID-era federal aid funds that have buoyed LAUSD’s bank balances for the last year or more.
He mentioned he wanted to learn more about LAUSD’s Student Equity Needs Index, which generates a more nuanced, detailed picture of need in all district schools — and helps the district direct additional funding to its highest-need schools.
He wants to immediately take a “temperature check” of different metrics: attendance, reading and math proficiency and socio-emotional well-being by ZIP code: “I’m very interested in understanding the disaggregated performance of students in this community.”
He expressed a desire to “revisit technology decisions,” analyze the district’s bond implementation and also “lay the groundwork” for a “parent academy” to help parents navigate the district’s school options and choice process.
'He Came To Teach A Class'
April Ramirez’s review of Carvalho’s plan? “Promising.”
“He wants to bring up LAUSD to be a better place,” said Ramirez, a senior at Fremont High. “A new environment where students want to come to school and learn … It made me want to come to school and finish strong with my academics.”
As Carvalho wove through the halls of Fremont — located on San Pedro St. just south of Florence Ave. in South L.A. — senior Anthony Ortega hung around the tour. He was most struck by Carvalho’s decision to stop for at least 20 minutes to lead a discussion in a biology class — a return to his roots as a high school science teacher in Miami.
After opening with a few words about how all life as we know it needs oxygen to survive, Carvalho then turned the focus to the students. He asked about students’ career plans, seamlessly switching between English and Spanish to discuss their goals.
“He’s passionate about his work because he came to teach a class,” Ortega said. “That says a lot about his work ethic.”
For all Carvalho’s talk about putting Miami behind him, he also stressed that LAUSD will need to change as well — but he has also expressed optimism about the task ahead of him, and his new district.
“People love to bet against L.A.,” Carvalho said during the Feb. 9 virtual event. “They used to bet against Miami.”
“No more. We’re on the brink of something big.”