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Education | FIRST PERSON / RUBEN ZACARIAS

'I Am Not Asking You to . . . Reinvent the Wheel'

September 17, 1997

Excerpts from the back-to-school speech given last week to 800 principals and administrators by Ruben Zacarias, the new superintendent of Los Angeles Unified School District:

As you know, I went through a very public process in seeking the position of superintendent. It was a very draining and exhausting experience, but . . . I learned much about the public we serve, about the media, about the movers and shakers of this great city [and] their expectations of us. This is what I heard:

"Teach our children," they said. "Teach them how to read, how to speak correctly and in complete sentences. Teach them how to compute."

Nobody is off the hook. Although I am personally involved in monitoring and reviewing student improvement strategies at the 100 [lowest-performing] schools, I have directed your cluster administrators to work with each of you in developing action strategies for increasing student achievement at your school--and monitoring your progress.

That means that all schools will engage in a process to:

* Identify and analyze the reasons contributing to the lack of student achievement.

* Develop a corrective plan of action, which will include a refocusing of whatever resources are available--such as staffing, funding, scheduling, use of volunteers--then establish a timeline to address the problems. . . .

As a result of these activities, I do expect improvement in test scores from all schools. . . .

I am not asking you to come up with some fancy new plan, to reinvent the wheel. All I am asking is . . . take short, achievable steps, not huge pie-in-the-sky notions, and assess how well or how poorly your remedial efforts are working.

Sometimes I believe that we become overly concerned with process, and overlook results. We need to look at things differently, to monitor what we are doing--our results--and to adjust what we are doing in light of our findings. Assess and prescribe. . . .

During my selection process, I made a decision [that] I will not allow myself to succumb to the pressures of day-to-day operations. I will not let the minutiae of the job cloud the vision of what we are about--how can we best help our students.

I will not make or accept excuses for lack of improvement in student achievement.

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