New School Year, New Leaders; Familiar and Serious Challenges for L.A. Unified

The nation’s second-largest school system kicks off a fresh year Tuesday with dozens of first-time programs to spur student achievement and recapture enrollment.

But not everything new at L.A. Unified was planned, including recent leadership turnover at the top. As for details of plans to deal with intractable problems, including deficit spending and lagging achievement, they haven’t yet been publicly laid out.

This year’s additions include dozens of magnet schools and language programs developed over the last two years under former Supt. Michelle King.

King left in September on medical leave and never came back — which was not anticipated at this time last year. Nor was the downfall of former school board member Ref Rodriguez, who stepped down as board president last year after being charged with political money laundering and resigned from the school board last month, when he pleaded guilty.

The new schools chief is businessman turned philanthropist Austin Beutner. The new school board president is longtime board member Monica Garcia. As for the board, for now it now has six members, not seven, until it decides how to replace Rodriguez.

New programs

There are 36 new magnet programs this fall — and 70 have been created over the last three years. The original goal of magnet schools was to offer special programs that would attract white students so that campuses would become or remain integrated. But in these days of declining enrollment and competition from charter schools, magnets are intended more as a general lure to keep any kind of student in the school system.

“Our parents love them, our students love them, and the results speak for themselves,” Beutner said in an interview Monday. “It’s something we want to nurture and continue to grow.”

The district’s dual-language programs will increase by 45 this fall. They offer students regular instruction in English as well as in a second language. The goal is to have them emerge fluent in both.

Some schools have more than one dual-language program. Kittridge Elementary in Van Nuys, for instance, now will offer Armenian and Spanish. In all, there will be 137 programs at 120 schools.

“We’re in earlier stages, but we think this is a really powerful way to increase student achievement, increase enrollment and prepare students for a job of the future,” Beutner said.

Learn More at the LA Times