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Editorial

Head of the class

New L.A. Supt. John Deasy clearly has changes in mind for the school district, but he's also a moderate and thoughtful voice.

January 11, 2011

It was obvious from the start that John Deasy had been brought to Los Angeles to be considered for the job of superintendent of schools, if not outright groomed for it. It's to his credit that his unsurprising elevation from deputy to the top spot is also something for the district and the public to be pleased about.

Arriving from the reform-minded Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and intent on establishing more meaningful teacher evaluations, Deasy is, of course, viewed with suspicion by United Teachers Los Angeles, which opposes allowing student test scores to play any role in the evaluation process. Deasy also had a major hand in negotiating a legal settlement that, if it receives the expected approval of the courts, will limit the role of teacher seniority during layoffs, which is also opposed by UTLA. Yet the response of union leadership to Deasy's promotion has been muted, a testament to his inclusive, affable style. Though some have criticized the board for not engaging in a full and public search, we feel it has taken the right step in selecting Deasy. In such troubled times, a smooth leadership change prevents added disruption.

More important, although Deasy clearly has changes in mind, he strikes us as a moderate and thoughtful voice, neither a reform ideologue nor a teacher-basher. We agree with him that test scores must be part of teachers' evaluations because they are an important part of what we ask teachers to achieve each year; at the same time, we also agree with him that scores, whose use as a teacher-measuring tool is limited so far, should be just one small part of a multifaceted review of teachers' work.

Above all, Deasy is known as a collaborative leader who works well with groups as disparate as charter operators and unions. Union leaders can expect to be invited to the table for discussions of various issues affecting the schools. What UTLA can't expect is to storm away from the table and still have a powerful voice. That's what happened last year when it refused to work with the district to settle an ACLU lawsuit over layoffs. When union leaders quit the discussions, negotiators, including Deasy, went ahead, forging a tentative settlement that went far beyond what would have been hammered out had UTLA remained involved.

UTLA clearly hopes its candidates will control a majority of the school board after the March election in which four seats are in contention. Whether the union succeeds or not, Deasy deserves the board's continued support.

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