Education

Ahead of another superintendent search, LAUSD board tries to get on the same page

L.A. Unified School Board member Richard Vladovic holds up a doodle of a tank he drew during Tuesday's meeting. He drew it out of frustration during a discussion session about the board's vision, which he found repetitive.
L.A. Unified School Board member Richard Vladovic holds up a doodle of a tank he drew during Tuesday's meeting. He drew it out of frustration during a discussion session about the board's vision, which he found repetitive. "I’m tired of talking," Vladovic said, calling for more bold action rather than planning.
Kyle Stokes/KPCC

Listen to story

00:50
Download this story 0.0MB

Richard Vladovic is sick of "pontificating." He wants the Los Angeles Unified School District to stop planning and start doing — and the school board member's frustration was evident on Tuesday.

During a school board goal-setting exercise, Vladovic didn't join his colleagues in jotting down suggestions for a "declaration of beliefs and visions" for L.A. Unified.

Instead, Vladovic spent the time doodling. He even held up his work — a tank, etched in full color — to laughs from audience members, many of whom had attended several similar vision-setting sessions in the last two years. In 2016, for example, the board spent months tinkering with a strategic plan — but never voted on it.

"So if you ask me to participate in some of this— I just think it’s a waste of time," Vladovic said, adding, "To decide on a vision, I’ll do anything you want me to do so long as we get to the operational point of view."

Vladovic's expressions of impatience came as L.A. Unified board members met Tuesday to take the first substantive steps in the process of finding a new superintendent — their sixth in the last decade. Earlier this month, superintendent Michelle King announced she was stepping down to battle cancer.

The board has already named Vivian Ekchian as King's interim replacement. But in a closed-door session Tuesday afternoon, board members expected to discuss — for the first time — the details of how they want their search for a permanent leader to proceed.

Among the items up for discussion in the closed session, board member Nick Melvoin listed "the parameters of the search, whether we're going to be using a search firm, how long the search should take, any potential names on a short list."

But the public session Tuesday morning was designed to give board members a chance to get on the same page about their vision for the district and publicly state the values that would, by extension, guide their search.

"The toughest thing for us: we're the biggest thing west of New York," said board member George McKenna, referencing L.A. Unified's second-largest-in-the-nation status. "Everybody looks at us. We set a standard, like it or not. We have to be somewhat disruptive without being destructive."

Vladovic's comments — and accompanying doodles — touched off a conversation among L.A. Unified board members about the virtue of "disrupting the system." Board member Kelly Gonez offered a counterpoint to Vladovic's call for bold action.

"We can all say, ‘We need to do things differently,’ but I don’t know that we collectively yet have a sense of what are the things we need to do differently," Gonez said.

"That doesn’t mean I’m approaching the issue with any less urgency," Gonez added. "I think it’s important because change is disruptive. There’s a tension between acting fast and making long-term and lasting change."

Board member Mónica García referenced L.A. Unified's goal of ensuring every student graduates from high school.

"It is so important for me," she said, "that we’re focused on the dominant population: kids of poverty and kids of color. It is revolutionary to have an 'all-kids' agenda. That is not common."

"Our challenge," García added, "is to get to scale. Our challenge is to get into every community. Our challenge is to spread human capital in a place of housing segregation and economic variety."

To Melvoin, the discussion raised yet another question: "How much is 'the plan' the purview of the superintendent versus the board? If we say, especially as we're searching, 'This the mission or the vision, we need someone to take us there.' Maybe one of our questions is … 'We want to see plans.'"