After months of back-and-forth, Los Angeles Unified school board members finally appear poised to sign off on superintendent Michelle King's strategic plan, a crucial visioning document school district leaders will use to chart a course for the next three years.
King finished a draft of the plan back in August and had initially envisioned getting the school board's approval sometime in the fall. In September, though, board members asked King to retool her plan to emphasize their longstanding priority of boosting L.A. Unified's high school graduation rate.
The superintendent unveiled her re-written draft at a school board retreat Tuesday afternoon. Board members indicated that they will take up the document for a formal vote of approval at their regular meeting next week — and King, whose one-year anniversary in office is fast approaching, urged them to give it their blessing.
"We … need to get people moving," the superintendent said. "We have to align the resources. These schools that are underperforming — if I’m going to differentiate resources, I need to do that as I prepare for the budget process," which kicks off in earnest in the spring.
The headline goal in the new draft was the same as in the old draft: King called for increasing the high school graduation rate to 81 percent by 2018-19 — a six-point increase from the current mark — as part of the district's effort to one day ensure every L.A. Unified high schooler earns a diploma. Many other goals from the old draft were carried forward to the new one.
But the draft King unveiled Tuesday was not only a repackaging of the old draft's goals; new initiatives were outlined as well:
- 'Milestones for Graduation.' As part of their 100 percent graduation goal, King specified ten benchmarks district officials will use to ensure schools are keeping their students on-track from preschool — they will measure students' mastery of the California Preschool Learning Foundations Language and Literacy Benchmarks, for instance — through graduation. In early elementary school, L.A. Unified officials will track whether students are reading at grade level. In high school, they'll track grade point average, completion of the ACT or SAT exams and student surveys about their college plans. Throughout, officials will track state test scores to determine how many students are "meeting standards."
- Early childhood education. This section, a commitment to "reduce the achievement gap in the early years," was a wholesale addition to the strategic plan draft. The draft said by 2019, three-quarters of the district's preschool programs would receive a four-star rating on the state's five-star scale for assessing early childhood education programs. The draft also said L.A. Unified will boost parent involvement around preschool programs.
- 'Raising achievement in persistently underperforming schools.' Another entirely new section: L.A. Unified will "strengthen the manner of teaching and learning" at struggling campuses by offering "technical support teams," expanded training opportunities and additional counselors and coaches for students.
- Replacing 'TBD's' with specific goals. For instance, the old draft said the district would increase the number of "bilingual, bi-literate" high school graduates, but didn't specify by how much; the new draft said L.A. Unified would increase this number by 60 percent by 2018-19. The new draft also said by 2018-19, 100 percent of high school students would concurrently enroll in at least one community college course — another goal that the old draft had listed as "TBD."
At a meeting held away from the district's headquarters on Tuesday, facilitator Jeff Nelson asked board members for their reactions to the latest draft of the strategic plan. One board member, Scott Schmerelson, offered his unqualified support.
Board president Steve Zimmer made a more tepid expression of support, saying that while he had no objections to any specific goal in the plan and is fully supportive of Superintendent King, he wished the document was more inspiring.
Fellow board member Ref Rodriguez said his only reservation was that the district hadn't listed more specific goals for improving the 10 benchmarks linked to L.A. Unified's graduation goals. He pushed back on Zimmer, saying it was incumbent upon the board to rally around the plan.
"We’ve got to start … hitting the ball and running the bases," Rodriguez said. "We can’t keep waiting for something to be put on paper. It’s about us galvanizing around this … I do believe there are some tremendous, audacious goals that we should be excited about."
Board member Richard Vladovic expressed the deepest doubts about King's plan: "Urgency, I didn’t see; evaluation, I didn’t see it connected to this, and I didn’t see a plan for implementation."
But board member Mónica García disagreed: "I'm aware we hired Ms. King a year ago. I’m aware this plan was ready a long time ago … I support Michelle King in moving our district as fast as possible toward serving more kids."
King said she hoped the board would approve the plan this month so she could begin public presentations on the strategic plan around the district in January.