L.A. schools chief John Deasy highlights gains in annual address
L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy on Thursday announced a sharp decrease in student suspensions and academic improvement that included better performance on tests and higher enrollment in rigorous classes.
Deasy cited these gains in an assertively upbeat, 40-minute address to administrators that has become an annual event prior to the traditional start of the school year. Last year, in his first such speech, Deasy promised administrators more freedom, but also said they would be held accountable for results as never before. This time, Deasy focused most on praising accomplishments, while exhorting some 1,500 administrators to build on progress in the Los Angeles Unified School District.
Deasy said he was especially pleased with a reduction in the total number of school days that students lost as a result of disciplinary suspensions. That number dropped from about 46,000 to 26,200, Deasy said.
“Students can’t learn if they are not with you,” he said.
He also said the district had achieved its incremental goal of having 86% of students report that they felt safe in school. The district also hit a new high for the percentage of students passing the high school exit exam on their first try in the 10th grade as well as for enrollment in Advanced Placement classes, which rose to about 42,000 students.
More students are qualifying for college credit on Advanced Placement exams, he added, and the graduation rate rose in the nation's second largest school system. Plus, a higher percentage of immigrant students made the transition from learning English to being classified as fluent in English.
“Thank you so much for what you did last year,” said Deasy, who has managed the system since early 2011. “The progress towards these goals has been nothing short of remarkable.”
Deasy's employment contract includes mandatory performance targets, including higher graduation and attendance rates, improved test scores and safer schools.
He said his major reform initiatives, including a teacher evaluation and development system, were moving into place, and the real test now would be relentlessly pushing forward with them.
The darkest cloud looming over education, he told administrators, is the fall election. If state voters don’t pass measures to sustain or increase revenues for schools, the district would face further severe cutbacks, he said.
Deasy, 51, delivered his remarks at a spiffed-up Washington Preparatory High School in the Westmont neighborhood of South Los Angeles.
Also speaking was school board member Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte, a longtime principal at the school who received a standing ovation. A frequent critic of Deasy's decisions, LaMotte praised Deasy at this event for encouraging positive changes in the academic culture at schools.
Washington also is the campus where, last year, Deasy fired a substitute teacher on the spot after walking in unannounced into her classroom and arguing over the quality of the lesson plans left for her by the regular teacher.
A custodial worker estimated that the district spent more than $100,000 getting the school ready for the event and the coming fall session — from deep cleaning to new paint. He added that it would be hard to keep things up given budget cutbacks to the maintenance staff.
In his remarks, Deasy alluded briefly to the Miramonte child abuse scandal, requesting a moment of silence both for victims of abuse and for all children and adults in the community who had suffered over the past year. He also took a swipe at unsuccessful efforts in the state Legislature to speed up the dismissal process for teachers accused of gross misconduct.
“I, for one, pray that our lawmakers summon the courage … to make it easier to fire anyone that abuses a child,” he said.
-- Howard Blume
Photo: Los Angeles Unified School District Supt. John Deasy in his office in March. Credit: Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times