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New LAUSD superintendent Ramon Cortines talks top priorities for LA schools




Superintendent of Schools Ramon Cortines (C) and other members of the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education meet to discuss a proposal to eliminate thousands of jobs in hopes of closing a $718 million budget gap April 14, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. The jobs of 1,996 elementary school teachers have been spared from the budget-cutting axe but about 6,000 employees, including more than 1,600 teachers, face pending layoffs.
Superintendent of Schools Ramon Cortines (C) and other members of the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education meet to discuss a proposal to eliminate thousands of jobs in hopes of closing a $718 million budget gap April 14, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. The jobs of 1,996 elementary school teachers have been spared from the budget-cutting axe but about 6,000 employees, including more than 1,600 teachers, face pending layoffs.
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On Monday, Ramon Cortines took over as the superintendent for the Los Angeles Unified School District. The 82-year-old is replacing John Deasy who resigned from the post last week. 

Cortines faces plenty of challenges as current head of the nation's second largest school district. But he's been in this seat before. Twice as a matter of fact. 

Ramon Cortines spoke with Take Two on Monday, his first day back on the job.

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS:

Did you ever think you'd be asked to fill John Deasy's seat if he left?

Never...I just never thought I would ever be interested again because I've retired so many times (about seven), but when I left here three and a half years ago it was final for me, or so I thought. 

Why would you want to take on this role again?

If you know my history and having been superintendent in five districts and assistant secretary in the Clinton Administration. I do enjoy a challenge. I worked with this school district when it was in an economic meltdown... And because of the employees we made it through it. 

I so respect the employees— teachers, administrators, librarians, counselors, mechanics, custodians, food workers— and I'm leaving out a whole bunch, but I wanted to show respect. And I was not sure what was happening with Dr. Deasy and I did not feel there should be a void.

What are some of your top priorities?

Well they're the district's priorities, they're not mine. I mean, the [MiSiS student tracking and class scheduling] information system in this district is broken and it's not in three or four schools. Some time next week I will release the number of schools when I know.

One of the things I think we have to do is use paper and pencil and get it right. But it really bothers me when students have not had the proper courses and they're graduating, and they've had some courses and gotten good grades, but not the right courses, and colleges and universities will not be accepting them. I think shame on the district.

We're going to fix that. But I don't want to mislead anybody, I think the problem is so large that it's not going to be fixed overnight. I think it will take us at least a year to get the information system up and running correctly.

Until the end of the year, former superintendent John Deasy will remain on "special assignment" with the district. Does this mean you'll be working together in some capacity?

Dr. Deasy did many things well, but I will not be using his services. He has a contract with the district, I agree. The board made that contract, and so you'll have to ask the board about that.

What do you see doing with the controversial iPad program that John Deasy championed while you're in charge?

I believe that students should have technology, but I don't believe it takes the place of printed material. And I'm chagrined to find out this morning that we do not have math textbooks except at one grade level... the problem with the iPad is not the iPad itself, it was the lack of planning for how it would be used.

What have you been able to accomplish so far on your first day back?

I've met with the leadership team, challenged them, let them know what I expect. I've met with the local district superintendents, challenged them. The policy is still in effect that I had the board approve in 2000 when I was here: decentralization of the district. And we will be doing more of that and going back to what is board policy. I've met with Dr. Perez, who is the deputy superintendent for instruction, to learn both the things that are good, but also the areas that are critical that we need to address.

To hear the full interview with Ramon Cortines, click on the link above.