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LAUSD’s New Superintendent Lays Out Plan For His First 100 Days

An adult wearing a suit leans over an outdoor table surrounded by middle school aged students.
L.A. Unified School District Superintendent Alberto Carvalho speaks to students at the Maywood Center for Enriched Studies on February 16, 2022.
( Kyle Stokes
/
LAist)
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The Los Angeles Unified School District’s new leader was touring a small South L.A. school — and its principal wasn’t going to waste an opportunity.

With cameras rolling, principal Douglas C. Brown approached Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, shook his hand, and asked: could LAUSD afford to send a few extra teachers to his school? “Our enrollment might not justify it,” Brown admitted — but that left Boys Academic Leadership Academy with only one overworked math teacher to lead five different math courses for middle- and high school-aged students.

Carvalho seemed to turn the question back on the principal. What improvements could he expect to see if Brown’s school received an extra teacher? The principal said he could immediately begin offering higher-level classes.

“That’s the deal? If I give you another teacher, you’ll bring calculus? That same year?” Carvalho asked.

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“Oh yes. That same year,” Brown replied.

Like Carvalho put the onus on Brown in that moment, the new superintendent on Thursday confirmed he intends to place new responsibilities on LAUSD’s principals — but also promises them access to central office leadership that he argues school leaders may not have enjoyed before.

Carvalho’s new expectations and opportunities for principals are outlined as part of an expansive plan for his first 100 days on the job, which promised action — or at least the beginnings of action — on some two dozen academic and administrative priorities by the end of May. Among them:

  • Hold a district-wide listening tour of focus groups, “listen and learn” sessions and surveys for parents, students, employees and community organizations.
  • A “re-engagement” campaign that would identify students who might be coaxed back to campuses from the district’s City of Angels virtual program. (The plan calls out specifically “special education students, English learners and others with identified needs.”)
  • Explore lowering class sizes in the highest-need schools as identified on LAUSD’s equity index.
  • Increasing the number and size of early education programs including transitional kindergarten. The district will look into developing career pathways for early educators that include child care providers.
  • Study expanding LAUSD bus transportation to students who live more than two miles from school. Currently, only students who live outside a five-mile radius of their campus are eligible for busing.
  • Return all LAUSD headquarters staff to in-person work by April 25, “including an expedited return of leadership and supervisory staff.”

A Bureaucracy Of Balance

The portions of the plan that pertain to principals may at first read like a redux of the administrative shuffle that Carvalho’s predecessor, Austin Beutner, unveiled in 2019.

That shakeup was aimed at de-centralizing LAUSD’s bureaucracy, pushing middle-management staff out of the district’s six regional offices and into 44 neighborhood-based “communities of schools.” The goal was to put more help within an arms’ reach of principals at the district’s 900-plus schools.

But in a briefing for reporters Thursday, Carvalho said his plan envisions a key difference: instead of having a direct line to their regional administrators, Carvalho would give the principals more direct access to his cabinet of central office leaders.

“The direct connection of accountability,” Carvalho explained, “directly to me and to my entire cabinet is a significant shift from any practice that I have observed at LAUSD.”

“I am an instructional leader in this district,” Carvalho added, “so I don’t know how to do this work without bringing the heat, the fire, the concern, but also the rapid deployment of resources” directly to schools. (That’s a direct contrast with his predecessor, Beutner, who often said he never saw himself as the district’s “head teacher.”)

In that spirit, Carvalho promised to implement what he called an “earned autonomy” model.

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Under Carvalho’s plan, LAUSD administrators would immediately begin holding — at each school — “routine, strategic data-based action meetings” to review academic, facilities and financial data on a classroom and school level. During these meetings, principals would be “empowered to express needs … with an immediate response from support personnel,” the plan says.

Principals who are doing well on their own would be left alone to continue tending their schools, Carvalho said. Schools that need various levels of assistance would receive more help from the district’s regional and central offices.

Carvalho said he wasn’t looking to either “centralize” or “decentralize” LAUSD’s bureaucracy, saying instead his plan was an attempt to find a “sweet spot” between the two.

At schools with strong academic and financial data, “the district ought to quite frankly stay away,” Carvalho said, “and let the district dedicate to the schools that demonstrate greater levels of fragility — but no school should stay in a fragile state forever.”

A school with low test scores or other problematic measures could still become more autonomous if they showed improvement over time: “That’s what earned autonomy means.”

Carvalho’s plan also called for a study of the district’s free-falling enrollment numbers — and for a long-term marketing plan to help reverse that historic trend.

The plan calls for the analysis to “understand the degree to which our long-term enrollment decline will continue, its root causes and whether this may lead to inequitable opportunities for certain communities and student populations.”

Early childhood reporter Mariana Dale contributed to this story.

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”).