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Los Angeles Unified Refines Its Wish List For New Superintendent

Are you "politically savvy"? Do you have experience working as a teacher and principal in an urban school district? Can you develop a productive working relationship with labor unions?

Oh, one more thing: Do you want to run the country's second-largest school district?

If so, the Los Angeles Unified School District, which is narrowing the list of characteristics it wants in its next superintendent, might be interested in talking to you.

The district is looking for a new superintendent to take over for Ramon Cortines, 83, who came out of retirement last year to replace John Deasy, the hard-charging schools chief who left abruptly amid a growing firestorm over a bungled technology expansion and discord with the school board. Cortines is set to leave at the end of the year.

Though the district said in October that there was no  list of candidates, the names of a number of high-profile candidates who are already leading other districts have been bandied about—District of Columbia Chancellor Kaya Henderson, St. Paul, Minn., Superintendent Valeria Silva, and Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, to name a few. A Los Angeles Times graphic on possible candidates, which features many noneducators, includes Shane Martin, the dean of Loyola Marymount School of Education; Mildred Garcia, president of California State University, Fullerton; and Marshall Tuck, educator in residence at The New Teacher Center and a former candidate for state superintendent in California. Even Julian Castro, the U.S. secretary of Housing and Urban Development, made an appearance on the list, as did former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. 

The characteristics the board considered Tuesday were developed from meetings with the community, students, parents, and staff.  (The Los Angeles Times has written about how sparsely attended those public meetings have been. )

One school board member told the Los Angeles Times that the characteristics were "aspirations," meaning that board members would not necessarily rule out someone if he or she did not have a checkmark next to all of the qualities.

In any event, the new superintendent will face a host of challenges. There is a still the fall-out from Deasy's one-to-one laptop program, which is also the subject of a federal investigation. Improving student achievement and increasing student enrollment are also going to be key areas of focus for the new superintendent, the paper notes.

And the district is facing a direct challenge from well-funded charter advocates.  The Broad Foundation recently floated a $490 million plan to expand charter school enrollment in Los Angeles so that about half the city's students would attend charter schools in eight years.

That has forced the district to start exploring a number of options about its future, including whether it should, or could, become an all-charter school district. Members met Tuesday to consider a report on the process.

School Board member Monica Ratliff told the Los Angeles Times that she did not think the majority of the board would go for a plan in which the district will be comprised entirely of charter schools, but that members had to consider ways to get more autonomy from state regulations, similar to what charter schools enjoy. Another board member said the deliberations may lead the district to ask the state for more waivers and flexibility.

The school board would have to vote on whether to become a charter school district. More than 50 percent of the members of the powerful teachers union, the United Teachers Los Angeles, would have to sign a petition to agree to the change, the paper reported.  In such an event, the district will also have to provide alternative school options for students who do not want to attend charter schools.

California schools chief, Tom Torlakson, and the state Board of Education would have to approve petitions for the district to become one consisting entirely of charter schools. 

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