Hundreds of volunteers with the Los Angeles Unified School District spread out across Los Angeles Friday to find high school dropouts and convince them to return to the classroom.
The annual event was also an occasion for Mayor Eric Garcetti to make some of his first official remarks on public education.
"Dropouts aren't just the business of students or their parents," Garcetti said. "Dropouts are everybody's business and they're certainly my business as mayor of the city."
Public education was a major priority for the city's previous mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa. When he was unable to gain control of LAUSD, Villaraigosa worked to get key allies appointed to the Board of Education. He also created the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, which allowed him to oversee some of the lowest-performing schools in the district. So far, Garcetti has been much quieter on the education front, though he did recently name Thelma Melendez de Santa Ana as his education deputy.
On Friday, Garcetti and others confronted a chronic problem for LAUSD, where the dropout rate in 2011-12 was 20.3 percent. Now in its sixth year, Student Recovery Day sent hundreds of volunteers to the homes of students who have left Fremont, Belmont, Bell, Dorsey, Grant, San Fernando and Wilson high schools. The goal is to provide those students with the resources they need to complete their high school degrees.
Since the program started, 1,ooo high school dropouts have returned to the classroom and received their diploma or a GED, according to LAUSD Board member Steve Zimmer.
"We should call this Inauguration Day," Zimmer said. "It's not the beginning and the end. It's only the beginning."
"We have to make sure that our schools and our classrooms are places that are going to welcome all of our kids once we recover them," Zimmer said. "The students who come back often times have been in very,very precarious circumstances."
Following a news conference at Fremont, Zimmer, Garcetti and LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy visited a nearby home to talk with a senior about returning to finish her last three classes. The trio told her they had been sent by a school official.
"He said that you're so special he wanted to send the three amigos here," Garcetti told the student when they showed up on her doorstep. (After the student agreed to return to the classroom, Garcetti gave her a lift back to Fremont.)
According to the mayor, the city is partnering with school district officials to provide dropout services in youth centers across Los Angeles.
"We have LAUSD counselors at the same time that we have city FamilySource and YouthSource staff," Garcetti said. "So, you can come in for homework help, you can come in for job mentorship, you can come in for tax assistance, healthcare enrollment, mental health services. They're all clustered together."