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Next L.A. Schools Chief Makes PR Rounds

David L. Brewer III meets officials, parents and educators in appearances across the district. He vows to work with mayor.

October 17, 2006|Joel Rubin | Times Staff Writer

After a quick trip home to Virginia, the next Los Angeles schools chief boomeranged back to the city Monday for some strategic public relations.

After being selected Thursday as superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, David L. Brewer III crisscrossed some of the sprawling district in a well-scripted day of breaking bread and pressing flesh with elected officials, parents and educators.

Brewer, a recently retired Navy vice admiral who comes to the city as a stranger with no experience running public school systems, was treated gently at each stop. An entourage of smiling board members, district handlers and outgoing Supt. Roy Romer accompanied Brewer, and elected officials and others welcomed him warmly. All were said to have avoided talk of the tension simmering between the school board that hired him and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

The two sides have been feuding for months over a law that will give Villaraigosa some control over the district. Despite a legal challenge to the law, the mayor had called for a role in the selection process -- a demand the board rejected.

Nonetheless, Brewer was questioned about his delicate position by reporters as he emerged from each event.

"The first thing the mayor is going to find out is that I am his man in terms of partnering," he said outside a Huntington Park restaurant. "He's going to find out we have a lot in common.... Once he realizes that we have a common vision to educate these children, I think we're going to get along just fine."

Villaraigosa, who is in Asia on a trade mission, plans to meet with Brewer on Oct. 25.

Brewer, 60, started the day with a private breakfast at El Paseo restaurant on Olvera Street. The crowd of about 125 people included state Sen. Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles), Los Angeles Councilwoman Wendy Greuel and leaders from community groups, as well as parents, teachers and principals.

He touched lightly on high school dropouts, English-language learners and other pressing issues, but said later that it was too early to "drill down" into specifics.

Before leaving, Brewer spent several minutes moving throughout the main floor and other rooms to accommodate the overflow crowd to shake hands and introduce himself.

"I found him very honest," said James Molina, principal of Lincoln High School. "People were really pleased with his optimism."

Brewer is negotiating the terms of his contract and is expected to replace Romer within a month.

From breakfast, Brewer went to Huntington Park for a closed-door lunch with elected officials from cities in the district's southeast corner. Despite their tentative backing of Villaraigosa in his push for more control, the cities' leaders voiced support for Brewer.

"It's not just the city of Los Angeles ... we are 26 cities represented under this umbrella and he's already shown" he wants to work "with all of us," said Huntington Park Mayor Juan Noguez, who presented Brewer with the key to the city. Before departing, Brewer pledged to learn Spanish during his tenure as superintendent of the heavily Latino district.

Brewer, an African American, finished the day in the cultural heart of black Los Angeles, at a bookstore in the Leimert Park neighborhood in the Crenshaw district.

There, he reiterated his call for closer partnerships between the district and community groups.

"If they have dropped out, help me find them," he said, referring to the district's ongoing struggle to raise graduation rates. "I cannot educate them if they are not in my classrooms."

Brewer talked of struggling and finally dropping out of Howard University in 1967 before "resurrection and redemption" when an aunt from Prairie View, Texas, took him in.

Brewer enrolled in college there, and then joined the Navy when there were few black officers. "The lesson is very clear: Never give up on a child," he said.

The selection of Brewer, a decorated military man with a boisterous personality that could match Villaraigosa's charisma, was viewed by many as a smart gambit in the board's power struggle with the mayor. Monday's tour, some said, was the obvious next move.

"It was a no-brainer," board member David Tokofsky said. "In the sense that you want to give people a chance to meet him and see him. If he can turn Antonio's energy around," it will help, he said.

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joel.rubin@latimes.com

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Times staff writer Carla Rivera contributed to this report.

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