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Coming Home : New Inglewood Superintendent Is Back in School to Tackle Challenge of Reviving District

September 01, 1994|LISA RICHARDSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"Our part of the bargain is to make sure when he introduces ideas that will help to change the whole educational process, that we support him in it," she said. "We want to give him full rein with moving forward."

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Top on Nash's agenda is a scrutiny of the hundreds of thousands of dollars in non-classroom expenses in the school budget. He had a list drawn up of all programs that are funded by the district, and already has pinpointed between $2 million and $3 million that is not being spent directly on education. Included on the list is Inglewood's 13-member school police department, which has a budget of $1.2 million; transportation and security for high school athletics programs, $78,415; junior ROTC at Inglewood and Morningside high schools, after projected reimbursement from the Army, $94,673.

"I'm not saying that we need to get rid of all those programs or departments," Nash said. "Some of those provide very necessary services to our students. I'm only saying that we'll have to find other ways to pay for it."

Fund raising, private grants and money from the federal crime bill, Nash hopes, will help pay for some of the programs.

And he wants the city to designate 25% of the money it receives from the new Hollywood Park Casino for the schools.

Mayor Edward Vincent, who was handed a payment of $326,000 from the card club last month, vowed to help Nash get all the money he needs, but without tapping into Hollywood Park revenue.

As important as finding money for the schools will be Nash's ability to navigate the politics of Inglewood.

Philosophical divisions and even outright hostility among the administration, board members, the teachers' union and parents means that past superintendents have spent as much time on back room politics as they have on education.

"I think every superintendent's job has a lot to do with politics," said Kenneth Moffett, superintendent of Lennox School District and former assistant superintendent in Inglewood.

"But the power structures differ in minority communities," Moffett said. In towns like Inglewood, he said, people with respect and influence in the community may not have job titles that would enable newcomers to recognize they are powerbrokers.

The board is confident that Nash can manage the schools and maintain good relationships with them and the staff.

"My reasons for selecting Dr. Nash over the other candidates is because of his tremendous success record in running school districts," Hill Hale said. "And because of his strong fiscal background. He knows how to expend funds so they go toward educating students."

Academically, Inglewood must offer a new kind of education if it is to stem the flow of students leaving the district. About 20% of the district's students leave Inglewood between middle school and high school, graduating from schools in Culver City, Beverly Hills and Westchester, Nash said.

Inglewood already has a broad curriculum. It is one of a few public school districts in the South Bay to offer Latin as well as all Romance languages, performance art classes and commercial art studies. It also has a rigorous science program.

What it does not have, however, are courses geared to preparing students for jobs as well as college.

Creating magnet schools is a top priority for Nash, and ultimately he hopes Inglewood will have schools specializing in the disciplines of health, math, science, computers, foreign languages and the arts.

But Nash inherits some gifts as well as tasks.

Some of the district's schools are among the best in the area, particularly at the elementary level.

For example, at Bennett-Kew Elementary School, fourth-graders scored higher than the state average, the county average and schools in the same economic bracket on the recent California Learning Assessment System test.

At Kelso Elementary School, student scores on the CLAS tests were comparable to those of students in Manhattan Beach and on par with or better than some Torrance schools.

By middle school, however, the divide between Inglewood test scores and those of neighboring districts widens, as some of the top students leave to go to other school districts, and by high school, its test scores consistently are among the lowest in the South Bay.

Then there is the morale problem. Inglewood's teacher salaries lag about $2,000 annually behind those in other districts.

And the relationship between teachers and former school Supt. George McKenna was hostile and combative.

But the problems in Inglewood are ones that can be overcome if the community is dedicated to doing so, Nash said. It is a philosophy he learned from his time as the head of Evanston Township High School, when he could not be praised enough, and during his difficulties as superintendent in Centinela Valley from 1983 to 1990.

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