Carl J. Petersen: What Should Los Angeles Expect From A New Schools Superintendent?
Carl Petersen is a parent, an advocate for students with special education needs, an elected member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council, a member of the LAUSD’s CAC, and was a Green Party candidate in LAUSD’s District 2 School Board race. During the campaign, the Network for Public Education (NPE) Action endorsed him, and Dr. Diane Ravitch called him a “strong supporter of public schools.” In a recent he looks at what LAUSD should be searching for in their next superintendent to replace Austin Beutner.
While Beutner had no professional experience in the field of education, it is imperative that his successor have these skills as they lead the district out of difficult times. Their resume should include a record of successful leadership at the district level and experience in a public school classroom. This would allow a new leader to empathize with the problems faced by our teachers and help to avoid the animosity that was present for much of Beutner’s tenure.
The new superintendent must also have a thorough understanding of the needs of an urban school district. With 72.4 percent of its students qualifying for free and reduced-price meals, the LAUSD has responsibilities that reach far beyond the classroom. To improve educational outcomes, the district must be headed by someone committed to expanding health services, after-school activities, and parent supports.
Whoever replaces Beutner must also have the experience to understand the needs of the more than 80% of LAUSD students who are black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC). The push by richer, whiter parents to reopen school campuses before safety could be assured shows the pressure that the new superintendent must stand up to while protecting communities that have been devastated by this crisis.
Students with special education needs also require a champion at the head of the district. From the decades spent under the Chandra Smith consent decree to board member Nick Melvoin’s attempt to evict a Career Transition Center, these students have been pushed aside by the LAUSD for far too long. The new superintendent must commit to purging the special education department of anyone unable to recognize that these students deserve the chance to meet their full potential, even if this does not include attending college or if they do not have the ability to master academics. They must also recognize the importance of maintaining access to special education centers and not forcing parents to mainstream their children.
Unlike the current superintendent, his replacement needs to be dedicated to the cause of public education and be committed to serving the 80% of students within the LAUSD who attend district schools. A strong vision is needed that maintains education as a public function and keeps it from private control.