So Who Could Be The Next Los Angeles Schools Superintendent?
The search for the next superintendent to lead Los Angeles' public schools moves into high gear this week as the school board starts to interview and discuss candidates Monday and Tuesday.
The process is confidential, and it's not clear that anyone has the inside track. Still, advocates who have influence with L.A. Unified's elected Board of Education are pushing certain names.
The decision will hinge in large measure on what the board views as the most pressing challenge for the nation's second-largest school system: lagging student achievement or looming financial pressures.
"When I think about the superintendent search, I find myself wondering what the job really is," said Fred Ali, chief executive of the L.A.-based Weingart Foundation, whose education grants include support for after-school programs and charter schools. "If the school district is truly near or inevitably headed toward financial insolvency, then that certainly begins to define the kind of job this becomes. If it's not, the search takes you in a different direction."
Of course, the person who gets the job must handle both immense challenges — and much more.
Inside the district:
The leading insider is Interim Supt. Vivian Ekchian, who has filled in since Supt. Michelle King went on medical leave in September. King, who is battling cancer, never returned. Ekchian has confirmed her interest in the job.
Another insider whose name has come up is Frances Gipson, the district's chief academic officer. She declined to say on Friday whether she was interested in the job.
At the moment, an insider seems a less likely choice for a new board majority that wants to leave a bold stamp on the nation's second-largest school system. But searches can take unexpected turns. King, a career insider who was deputy superintendent at the time of the last search, was not on everyone's short lists before she was named in January 2016.
Outside the district:
An educator bidding for the job would have to demonstrate comfort in handling financial strains as well as present a record of achieving academic gains.
Much also depends on how the board defines the job. A top priority of the previous majority was to reverse declining enrollment. That may matter less for the new majority, elected with major backing from supporters of charter schools. Its four board members definitely will seek a leader to navigate the divide between traditional campuses, run by the district, and charters, which are independently operated.
This division is fraught because the growth of charters comes at the expense of district schools, costing L.A. Unified students and the funding that comes with them. As enrollment has declined, the district has had difficulty cutting its overhead while also maintaining campuses, funding pensions and paying for retiree health benefits. Such outlays leave less money for programs benefiting students.
A key challenge for charter school leaders is finding space. They want easier and fuller access to district properties and classrooms, especially as charters grow and the school system shrinks.
Tom Boasberg in Denver is a superintendent known for supporting charters as part of an overall program. His top deputy, Susana Cordova, who rose from teacher to senior leadership, also could attract interest.