Austin Beutner tapped some of his famous friends to rally the troops at what was his first Superintendent’s Annual Administrators’ Address. The event, held at Hollywood High School on Thursday morning, drew hundreds of principals and assistant principals as well as some support staff from throughout the district. The board members were also in attendance, including Kelly Gonez (BD 6) with her days old infant son.
Rousing band performances set a festive tone. Jim Hill, the familiar CBS 2 sports anchor, served as Master of Ceremonies. Clippers Coach Doc Rivers introduced attendees to the word and concept of Ubuntu, which he defined as, “a person is a person through other people, I can’t be all I can be unless you are everything you can be," crediting Desmond Tutu, and urged audience members not to shy away from challenge. “Hard is good,” he said. “If it’s something worth attaining, it should be hard.”
Beutner began by sharing how he met fourth grader Brian Enriquez-Barron, who led the pledge of allegiance, on his first day on the job several months back when he was touring schools. When he asked the students what they wanted to be when they grow up, the Napa Street Elementary School student told him a school superintendent.
Then Beutner began his address in earnest. “We have much work to do,” he said. “But this chapter is going to be built on simplicity and focus, not on quick fixes and new programs… We’re going back to the basics."
It was Beutner’s promise of change that drew the most applause. "I don’t want you spending your time on managing bureaucracy and compliance, but in getting results for the kids,” he said. “So together we need to rebuild this district with schools and classrooms at the center, not Beaudry.” Effective immediately, he said, the plan is to cut in half the number of emails and directives administrators receive from the district.
He talked about boosting attendance “because we know attendance matters. Every classroom suffers because the state is not paying you [when a student doesn’t show up].” In the past, Beutner said, the district generally dealt with attendance issues after the fact. But this coming school year, the district is going to turn that approach “on its head,” he said, starting with robocalls from well-known Los Angeles sports figures on Monday, August 13, the day before traditional district schools begin. “The message is love and inclusion,” said Beutner. “It’s a new season. Join us.” In addition, attendance counselors will work more closely with schools. “Many have been wrapped up in our bureaucracy,” he said. “They need to be in schools doing the work.”
“Finally, I’d like to invite you to be a rule breaker and help change the status quo,” Beutner said. “Leadership matters. Be bold. Don’t wait for me or someone at Beaudry. We don’t have the answers. The answers are in your classrooms. They’re in your schools. So, start doing what it takes to improve results for your students. I’ve got your back. I’m challenging you to lead and you can’t do that without talented teams which you need to be able to hire and inspire the best. All great schools start with one simple thing which is a great leader. And I’ve never met a great leader who asked for permission to lead.”
Beutner concluded: “I promise to be a relentless advocate for you and the students in L.A. Unified. Working together we can help our students do great things.”
The morning wasn’t all warm and fuzzy and feel good. Beutner made no mention of the possible upcoming strike by UTLA members. But he did allude to the $450 million the district will spend covering the deficit for the year and insisted, “Something has to change.” He said that of every 100 students that start high school in LAUSD, 12 drop out and only 12 of the 100 graduate from college. He spoke of the nearly 70,000 district students with IEPs. The vast majority, he said, can learn on grade level. “Yet nearly 50% are segregated from their peers and in segregated settings, less than 2% of students are proficient in reading or math.”
Bad news aside, the audience seemed buoyed by Beutner’s words. Most gave him a standing ovation before heading off to catch up with old friends, attend one of several breakout sessions, or try to score a selfie with an obliging Jim Hill.
-- Leslee Komaiko