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New L.A. schools leader John Deasy calls for student healthcare

February 3, 2011 |  8:29 am

Deasy The incoming leader of the nation’s second-largest school district is calling for free health, vision and dental care for any students who lack it.

John Deasy, who takes charge of the L.A. Unified school district in mid-April, spoke Wednesday night at Loyola Marymount University in Westchester, in what was billed as his first major address since being named superintendent.

Deasy had no clear strategy to pay for the benefits, but he talked in an interview of leveraging the district’s contracts with companies that provide health insurance to employees. He also wants to raise the profile of the issue to attract philanthropy.

In response to a question, the 50-year-old educator criticized former District of Columbia schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, whom he described as a colleague and friend, saying she allowed her work to become too political and polarizing.

He said her rhetoric, while making her a national touchstone on reform issues, was sometimes unhelpful in addressing problems, such as when she referred to some of her schools as "crappy."

She also fell prey, he said, to a hyper-orthodoxy on reform -- such as quickly evaluating teachers and firing the “bad” ones -- that closed the door to other ideas and to more fruitful collaboration with groups such as teacher unions.

He reiterated earlier statements that school districts cannot fire their way to success but vowed to link student data with teacher performance as a way to improve results.

Staff members, whether teachers or administrators, must be replaced when they are unable to improve student achievement or do not believe all students can and must learn, he said. Low performers at the top levels of the district must be replaced especially quickly, he said.

Deasy also called for ending busy work for students through credit for “service” classes in which they, for example, answer school phones, file paperwork and clean the campus.

The address was followed by a reception and small-group dinner that included a sprinkling of school district officials and a sizable contingent of charter-school operators and their board members.

In that setting, Deasy tried to debunk several myths. For example, he said the local teachers union, United Teachers Los Angeles, is not too intransigent to work with, the district is not too big and charters and traditional schools are not enemies and can function as allies. 

The later gathering was not entirely serious in tone. One former L.A. school board member, Caprice Young, wanted to know if and where Deasy had tattoos. He confessed he had some, which is why he wears long-sleeve shirts, and he has no plans to obtain more. 

Another former board member, Marlene Canter, who endowed the lecture series that Deasy inaugurated, presented him with a gift box. He said he hoped it contained a check for $408 million -- the current projected budget deficit for the school district. Instead, he got an L.A. Dodgers shirt.

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-- Howard Blume

Photo: Incoming LAUSD Supt. John Deasy. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

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