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LAUSD Graduation Rates Hit 'All-Time High'

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The Los Angeles Unified School District's high school graduation rate will soon hit a new "all-time high," according to preliminary figures unveiled by Superintendent Austin Beutner on Thursday.

LAUSD's estimates show 78.1% of last year's high school seniors earned diplomas on-time, a graduation rate officials framed as the district's highest mark in a decade.

California Department of Education staff generally discourage such historical comparisons since their methods for calculating graduation rates have been revised several times in recent years. State officials also haven't confirmed LAUSD's estimate. They don't release graduation rates until later in the school year.

By the way, if you remember LAUSD heralding graduation rates even higher than 78 percent in the recent past: you're not wrong. The U.S. Department of Education recently found fault with how California officials were running the numbers. The state re-calculated under the stricter methodology, which lowered graduation rates.

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California's method for calculating graduation rates changed in 2016-17. Therefore, state officials discourage comparisons between current graduation numbers and rates prior to 2015-16. We're presenting them here for some context on the overall graduation trend in LAUSD. (Data source: California Department of Education)

Beutner revealed the new estimates during his annual "State of the Schools" address -- a perennial back-to-school event in LAUSD -- to more than 1,500 district administrators and guests packed into Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown L.A.

He listed the graduation rate as one of several metrics showing LAUSD moving "in the right direction." Among them: standardized test scores. Beutner revealed preliminary results showing more students meeting state standards on California's exams -- though the district's overall scores likely still trail the state overall.

Chronic absenteeism rates also dipped, Beutner announced, and the rate at which English learners were "reclassified" as English-proficient increased to a new record high of its own: 23 percent.

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LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner speaks to reports after his "State of the Schools" speech in downtown Los Angeles on Aug. 15, 2018. (Kyle Stokes/LAist)
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'WE'VE GOT WORK TO DO'

In an interview with KPCC/LAist ahead of his speech, Beutner noted the good news comes at an inflection point for the nation's second-largest school system.

For years, LAUSD's budgets have been squeezed by declining enrollment and funding levels as well as by mounting financial obligations. Last year's teachers strike put LAUSD's needs into the national spotlight -- but in June, when the district asked voters to enact a parcel tax to address those needs, they rejected Measure EE.

"In an ordinary year, we'd say, 'Round of applause please for those who work in schools, and we'll continue to do the work,'" Beutner said. "[But] it was not an ordinary year...

"We learned," he added, "we've got work to do to convince our communities to support public education."

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Beutner said he's still on the hunt for more revenue. After his speech, he told reporters that one way or another, voters should expect an education funding measure on a ballot sometime in 2020, but he's uncertain whether it will be in the form of another local measure or some sort of statewide campaign. He's indicated district leaders will decide on how to proceed "before the end of the calendar year."

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Maricela Sanchez, the former principal at Evergreen Elementary and the administrator who now oversees a new cluster of schools in Boyle Heights, points to a map highlighting the schools in her cluster. (Kyle Stokes/LAist)

MORE CHANGE AHEAD

Parents bringing their children back to school this year in parts of the district may also notice a new presence on LAUSD campuses in their neighborhood.

Beutner is moving forward with a plan to re-organize staff in LAUSD's six regional offices known as the "Local Districts." These administrators are the bosses for LAUSD's campus principals, but previously might have covered broad geographic regions.

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This year, two Local Districts have dispersed staff from their regional headquarters. In LD East -- which includes 151 schools from Highland Park to Huntington Park -- administrators will now work out of six neighborhood offices, each located on a school campus.

"If you went to Local District East [headquarters], it's a ghost town," Beutner said. "Most of the folks who are in the different families of schools are all [on campuses]. What we've done is [taken] that skill and put it closer to where the student is, put it closer to that student community."

LD South, which serves most schools south of Slauson Avenue, is trying a similar arrangement this year.

The new arrangement means parents who have issues at their school site now don't have to go all the way to LAUSD's downtown headquarters or to some far-flung regional office.

Beutner also sees this arrangement as part of a broader push to empower principals he first unveiled last May. The new clusters are organized around K-12 feeder patterns. This way, elementary principals who send their kids to the same neighborhood middle schools, and then in turn feed students to the same high schools, can better coordinate.

The district's regional maintenance operations have also re-organized into geographically-oriented teams, Beutner said, meaning workers will spend less time in cars criss-crossing Local Districts to fix problems.

Beutner acknowledged the change will come with growing pains.

System leaders take the word "change" to connote "progress," Beutner said. But "most folks who've done this work for a long time have a little earpiece translator which says, 'Change is caution. I might have a slightly different boss. I might have a slightly different role'."

But Beutner also emphasized that LD East and LD South volunteered to try the new arrangement, and said he'll work with leaders to smooth out kinks in the new system.

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