If the Board’s official announcement of John Deasy’s departure is any indication, then they have not learned much from his tenure. A resignation in disgrace was almost a foregone conclusion after Superior Court Judge George Hernandez Jr. ruled that the students of LAUSD’s Jefferson High School “have suffered and continue to suffer severe and pervasive educational deprivations,” but the Board worded their release like they were handing Deasy a gold watch as he headed for retirement.
Mismanagement of the MiSiS implementation, resulting in the interruption of education of thousands of students, was ignored as they celebrated “all of the successes of our students that have occurred during Dr. Deasy’s tenure as Superintendent.” Even worse, they stated they did “not believe that the Superintendent engaged in any ethical violations or unlawful acts” in implementing the $1.3 billion iPad purchase. They did this while acknowledging that the Inspector General had not even concluded his investigation.
Perhaps the Board was fooled by the Superintendent’s mastery at manipulating metrics. Like a magician, he can receive credit for reducing suspensions if he can divert attention from the fact that he also led the effort to “ban defiance as grounds for suspension.” Yes, the district will continue to increase graduation rates but Deasy also fought to reduce “the number of credits to graduate from 230 to 170.” In his resignation letter, he focuses on “AP Course Takers” without ever mentioning how many students actually took, or passed, the AP test. Increasing attendance rates are cited while an audit of the district’s reports has shown that, even before MiSiS, they were not accurately capturing the data. Will we ever know if increasing test scores are indicative of students who are receiving a better education or if they have been taught to become better test takers?
It is also possible that the Board found themselves caught up in the well-tested catch-phrases of Deasy’s feel-good speak. Even in his resignation letter, he maintained that “every day we have remained focused on our mission, about which we are crystal clear: we lift youth out of poverty. The only sure way to accomplish this is for every student to graduate college and career ready.” This is absolute nonsense. The mission of the LAUSD, and every other school district, should be to provide ALL students with knowledge and critical thinking skills so that they can succeed in life. A goal such as this would give students in poverty the tools they need to lift themselves to better circumstances. It would also force the district to stop ignoring those students who are not on the college track, whether it is because they would prefer a vocational career or are on the least-functioning end of the autism spectrum.
In the end, maybe the Board just forgot what their responsibilities were. Despite the fact that teachers and activists were warning about the problems with MiSiS before the school year began, the Board members found themselves surprised when these problems crashed the system on the first day of school. Tamar Galatzan seemed to be speaking for the entire board when she stated “I can’t remember the last time we got an update on the program...and we don’t supervise anyone who works for the superintendent, which is who was running it.” Did the Board not realize that the Superintendent is their employee and they are responsible for making sure that the person in that position is doing his job? Through their inaction, they are responsible for both the MiSiS crisis and the Superintendent’s attempted coverup of the problems. At no time were “only” one percent of the students affected as the district repeatedly claimed.
Unfortunately, placing a former superintendent with a questionable history in the position on an interim basis does not indicate that the Board is looking forward. Their decision-making ability is further called into question by the fact that the district had to spend $450,000 to settle sexual harassment charges the last time that Ramon Cortines served in the position. Even worse, the accuser in that case has filed a “$10 million claim...against the school district, accusing officials of defaming and failing to protect him.” Since parents do not choose charter schools when district-run schools are performing well, the fact that “a proliferation of charter schools...set up shop in the district” during his previous stint is also very concerning.
In order to prove that Deasy’s departure was not a reshuffling of deck chairs on the Titanic, the board needs to start making some bold moves. First, Deasy’s deputies, especially those involved in the iPad scandal and MiSiS crisis need to be removed from their positions. Next, the policy of allowing outside organizations to pay portions of the salaries of the Superintendent and his staff must be ended. The loyalties of these employees should only be to the elected officials on the Board. Finally, unlike the back door dealings that led to the departure of Deasy, the search for the next Superintendent should be conducted in the full view of the public.