Barbara Landis is a native southern Californian (3rd generation — her grandparents came to LA before 1900), and the parent of three children who attended elementary, middle and high school in LAUSD. She also teaches in an independent K-12 school in the Valley.
Sandy Banks is right. There’s plenty of work, unfinished and never begun at LAUSD, but Deasy’s exit gives us an opportunity to tackle it, instead of papering over it with PR releases, of which this column seems to be the latest example.
All three of my children attended LAUSD schools. Deasy has been a disaster — incapable of recognizing, admitting or even quietly learning from his mistakes. They’re always someone else’s fault, complex problems reduced to a false dichotomy of ‘for the children’ vs. ‘against Deasy.’ No manager can be successful at any level unless he learns to lead his frontline troops, instead of kicking their backsides, like Deasy’s unseemly shouting match, for example, with a substitute teacher (in front of a classroom of children, no less!) because he didn’t like the instructions which had been left for her by the teacher of record. Does anyone really think this is a successful management strategy, in any institution? Leadership requires a willingness to listen and even learn from the experience, knowledge and insight of others.
Breakfast in the classroom, for instance – does anyone who’s organized as much as a kid’s birthday party not realize the problems inherent in trying to feed and clean up after 40+ kids, without losing huge amounts of instructional time, which has already been so diminished by the testing/test prep agenda? Teachers are highly trained professionals, not food service workers: shrinking instructional time should be maximized, not wasted.
The iPad program was also a recipe for disaster – anyone who’s ever taught kids, had kids or even just BEEN a kid could predict it would result in lost, broken or hacked devices. The answer from LAUSD’s point man for the program to questions from outraged parents, wondering if they would be on the hook for $600-$700 they had never committed to owe? A long pause, followed by ‘Errrrr . . . we hadn’t thought about that. We’ll get back to you on it.’ And that’s before considering the overpriced hardware or software that wasn’t ready, even after the clock began ticking on the district’s contract, and the raid on bond funds which voters intended for necessary infrastructure repairs, like inoperative toilets or the broken air conditioning which left students sweltering and unable to concentrate on learning in last month’s heat wave.
As for MiSiS? Well, the district was warned by folks on the ground that that it wasn’t ready for prime time, but they plowed ahead anyway, ignoring basic safeguards of IT and taking the old program offline, so it became nearly impossible for those attempting to do old-fashioned scheduling because they were unable to learn which classes which students had passed and which they still needed for graduation. Counselors, teachers and admins on the sites nevertheless stepped up to try to remedy the disaster Deasy & Co. had wrought, yet they’re still being blamed by the former superintendent, as he departs on his farewell tour, complete with ‘consultant’ pay for 60+ days, more than twice as much as his contract mandated, complaining all the while to any media outlet that gives him air time (too many, unfortunately) that his failures are all the fault of his favorite bête noire, the teachers’ union. But when the court’s ruling came down, instead of staying to fix the mess, our superintendent was missing in action, off on a long-planned junket to South Korea where, according to an earlier account in the Times, ‘he would be representing L.A. Unified, visiting schools and meeting with government officials’ for more than a week. Could anything be more irresponsible?
Deasy seems to enjoy swanning around schools for photo ops, asking students to call him ‘Dr. D,’ but in the Miramonte Elementary crisis he showed his complete ignorance of child development and indifference to students’ emotional wellbeing when he removed the entire staff at a time when kids, made anxious by the swirl of events, rumors, official statements from the district, media reports and whatever they may have heard at home, particularly needed the familiar presence of their trusted teachers and office staff. Anyone who’s ever taught kids knows that the beginning of any school year is as much about building a relationship of trust between students and teachers as it is covering the curriculum mandated for those crucial first weeks. Miramonte’s student had to start that process all over again, with strangers, at a time when the learning process should have been in full stride.
Deasy is utterly unsuited, by temperament or training, for leadership in any organization, least of all a school district as large and diverse as LAUSD.