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How LAUSD should go forward

The outgoing superintendent offers advice to the district and his successor.

October 15, 2006|Roy Romer | ROY ROMER has been L.A. Unified's superintendent since 2000.

NOW THAT THE Los Angeles Board of Education has chosen the next superintendent to lead the school district, I want to reflect about what I've learned in the job, what I believe the next administration needs to consider and how you, the families, students and community members served by the Los Angeles Unified School District, can best help the district continue to move forward.

Looking back over my six years as superintendent, I feel like a carpenter who showed up eager to build a new building, only to learn that the foundation hadn't even been poured. So I set out to do what needed to be done.

History will judge my tenure here. But to those who say that we have "only" reformed elementary schools and undertaken a nation-leading school construction program, I have to respond: First things first. Those two things are the foundation, as well as the first few floors of a new LAUSD. I know that my successor, with the support of the board and in partnership with L.A., will build the rest of the building -- maybe even a skyscraper -- just as strong and sturdy as can be.

What's left to be done? Here's what I believe are the district's most important remaining priorities:

1) L.A. Unified must continue to raise expectations and student performance. No matter who is in charge, the performance of the district comes down to one simple thing: improving the quality of instruction and learning in the classroom, and that depends on the quality of the curriculum and the quality of teaching. Families and communities are also critically important, but without good curriculum and good teachers, nothing else matters. For too long, many educators "tracked" students into low-, medium- or high-performing classes. While recognizing that some students need more help than others, we need to continue to push the belief that all students can learn at a high level and develop our curriculum and teaching methods accordingly.

2) The district must remain focused on providing the space that kids need to learn in. Our construction program has been rightly recognized for opening the first new schools the district has seen in decades -- but we're not even at the halfway point. We've opened more than 60 schools; we have more than 90 to go. This program takes continued focus and dedication and the partnership of our cities and communities, as we continue to site and build schools. Never forget: Construction is about instruction. Space is basic; it can't be taken for granted. If kids are going to learn, they must have schools to learn in.

3) We all need to be lifelong learners. Nobody in the district has finished learning how to do their jobs adequately. Everyone -- from the superintendent to the school plant managers -- needs to continuously strive to learn how to perform his or her duties because we are all important to helping kids learn. Over time, many of us feel as if we know everything there is to know about our jobs; that is never true. There is always more to learn. I'm 78, and I learn more every day.

4) Partnerships are key. Perhaps my greatest challenge as superintendent has been finding the time to develop external partnerships, because I had to focus on getting the district's internal house in order. But reinforcing and expanding the district's links to parents, communities and the cities in which it operates is crucial to our schools' success. It's become a cliche, but educating children really does take a village, and I know the next superintendent will be gathering everyone in that village to help our children succeed.

5) We need a more constructive relationship with our unions. The district's unions represent thousands of hardworking professionals who spend their days trying to improve our students' education. However, the district and the unions spend far too much time arguing with each other over what are ultimately adult-oriented agendas. Our shared union-district agenda should always be student- and mission-oriented.

There are many other priorities that will inevitably require any superintendent's time -- for instance, the eternal struggle with dwindling resources, and the struggle to address the achievement gap between lower-income and middle-class children.

However, all of that (and more) underlines what should always be goal No. 1: addressing the core mission of L.A. Unified, which is instruction, performance and continuous improvement.

As I look forward to the next chapter of my life, I will always look back on my tenure as superintendent with pride, hope and a little melancholy. I have developed relationships here, both in and out of the district, that feel like family -- with all the love, difficulty, trials and tribulations that implies.

In this job, I've often been reminded of the old recruiting motto: It's the toughest job you'll ever love. That's true, but sometimes the political debate surrounding this district also reminds me of a saying I once saw displayed at someone's desk: "The beatings will continue until morale improves." I hope we can move beyond that, for all our sakes.

The new superintendent, and the district, deserve all of our support, and I will always be the first one in line to provide it. To the students, parents, teachers, administrators and community members who work their hearts out every day to improve the lives of L.A.'s young people, I simply say: Thank you, good luck and keep up the good work.

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