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Higher Test Scores, Joyful Students, ‘The District Of Choice’: Where LAUSD’s New Leader Wants To Be In 4 Years

A student in a white shirt and school blazer holds a bottle of Gatorade and sits next to a man in a dark suit and tie who has a sandwich on front of him.
LAUSD Superintendent Alberto Carvalho chats with 10th grader Andres Flores at Boys Academic Leadership Academy in Westmont on Feb. 17, 2022.
(Alborz Kamalizad
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In the last decade, every Los Angeles Unified School District superintendent — and there have been quite a few — has issued a sweeping visioning document promising big changes and bold moves to propel more kids to learn.

But on Tuesday, something happened that was unusual in recent history: the district’s elected school board actually voted to endorse the superintendent’s goals.

Board members voted unanimously to approve Superintendent Alberto Carvalho’s strategic plan for the next four years, affirming that they’re on the same page with LAUSD’s new leader — at least on some of the big-picture issues.

“We’re really setting, for the first time in a long time, a concrete vision,” school board president Kelly Gonez said, “for how we’ll achieve better outcomes for kids and families … I cannot appreciate enough the work that has gone into this leading up to today.”

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In general, school board members’ role is to enact policy for the school district they oversee, and to hire a superintendent to implement that policy. Strategic plans are one way for superintendents to outline how they plan to carry out the board’s wishes in their day-to-day management of the district.

When Gonez assumed the board presidency in December 2020, she said one of her most immediate priorities would be to enact a strategic plan. Four months later, then-superintendent Austin Beutner announced his plans to step down, delaying Gonez’s pursuit of that objective.

But in June 2021, LAUSD board members did vote on a short list of overarching goals: specific targets for major increases in math and English scores, for more graduates ready to attend California’s four-year colleges, and for across-the-board improvements in students’ responses on a district-wide School Experience Survey.

Carvalho’s plan seeks to build off of those overarching goals.

“There is an urgency of the moment,” he said, “as we come out of the pandemic; as we are honest in recognizing the achievement gaps, the opportunity gaps, the equity gaps; as we recognize where our graduation rates are.”

Becoming A Destination District

Carvalho’s proposal includes a laundry list of newer goals that stem from the board’s overarching ones. By 2026, the new plan calls for:

  • A near-doubling of LAUSD's pre-pandemic rate for "reclassifying" English learners — that is, the rate at which these students complete the assessments and paperwork they need to show they've attained proficiency in English.
  • At least half of LAUSD’s high school graduates should be certified as “biliterate” in a language other than English.
  • Significant increases in the percentages of students who are identified as “gifted and talented,” and who complete a career technical education sequence.

  • Reductions in the district's chronic absenteeism rate, and further reductions in LAUSD’s suspension rates.
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These are just a few examples — the full document outlines more.

But perhaps the biggest ambition is on page 47: “Make L.A. Unified the district of choice for families.”

The plan calls on district officials to "increase the annual percentage of students enrolled who are new to [LAUSD] to at least 16%.” This could be a tall order amid declining birthrates and skyrocketing housing costs that have pushed LAUSD enrollments down for two decades.

Previous superintendents have rolled out their own big-picture vision statements without the board’s explicit endorsement.

During his tenure, Beutner enacted reorganizations of the district’s bureaucracy that created the current structure of 44 “communities of schools” — an effort to bring central office administrators closer to the realities on the ground in schools.

Before Beutner, Superintendent Michelle King drew up a strategic plan, but failed to win the board’s support for it.

Board Approves Budget

Board members also officially approved a $13 billion operating budget for the coming school year on Tuesday — a document that includes funding for several of the strategic initiatives Carvalho’s strategic plan outlines.

Among those initiatives: more than $1 billion in “investments” to add a few days to the upcoming school year, add tutoring programs, expand extracurricular activities, provide more flexible funding to principals at high-need schools, and add green-spaces to LAUSD’s famously -blacktopped campuses, among other initiatives.

The district will also spend more to tackle retiree benefit and pension liabilities.

Members of student activist groups were hoping LAUSD leaders would enact further cuts to the district’s school police department. In 2020, board members voted to slash $25 million from the force and reallocate the money to services targeted at Black students.

But since then, the L.A. School Police Department’s budget has remained level. The spending plan board members approved Tuesday included no further cuts to school police.

What questions do you have about K-12 education in Southern California?
Kyle Stokes reports on the public education system — and the societal forces, parental choices and political decisions that determine which students get access to a “good” school (and how we define a “good school”).

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