Education Lead Story West Edition

Inglewood schools seeking new administrator again

INGLEWOOD — For the sixth time since being placed under the control of the state in 2012, the Inglewood Unified School District will be getting a new state administrator.

Thelma Melendez de Santa Ana, the administrator tasked with helping turn around the state-controlled Inglewood Unified School District since 2017, has announced she will retire from her post in October.

District and community leaders had expected Melendez to remain at the helm of the district until next June.

“I’m sorry to see her go,” said Joe Bowers of the Education Equity Coalition, an education advocacy group in Inglewood. “I think she got everything in line for the school district to improve and start to get out of receivership.”

“I think her early retirement represents the degree of progress that we’ve made within the district,” said D’Artagnan Scorza, who will serve as president of the Inglewood advisory school board for the upcoming school year. “In many ways it represents the confidence that we’re on the right track and that we’re moving toward local control.”

The Inglewood school district has been under state control since 2012 when financial problems forced the district to borrow money from the state.

Melendez is credited by many as the best state administrator to lead the district because she developed a five-year strategic plan for the district.

With input from teachers, students, staff and community members, educational activists said the strategic plan has laid much needed groundwork by identifying local assets, updating the district-wide mission, the needs of students and key benchmarks and goals the district needs to achieve to return to local control. 

The district is in the process of paying back the state for past emergency funding. The district still owes more than $24 million, which is approximately a quarter of the district’s annual $100 million dollar budget. 

Under Melendez, the district has closed the last two fiscal years with a balanced budget and ended the 2019 fiscal year with reserves at 4%.

Meanwhile, Melendez said she advocated for AB 1840, a state law that shifted oversight of the district to the Los Angeles County Office of Education, led by Superintendent Debra Duardo.

Duardo has appointed her deputy superintendent, Erika Torres, to a full-time transitional role in Inglewood while a search begins for a permanent administrator.

Like Melendez, Torres formerly worked with the Los Angeles Unified School District.

The next state administrator will be the sixth since the state assumed oversight of the district in 2012.

None of the previous five has stayed for more than two years.

In the seven years, the district has seen its enrollment decline by almost 30%.

“My anticipation is that this new person will come with the skills we need for them to consistently support fiscal and budget management,” Scorza said. “They will come with the skills we need to improve academic outcomes throughout the entire district and in many ways this person would be someone who can help us strengthen the delivery of programs and services to families.” 

“We’re really excited to find someone who we think can help us transition back to local control and perhaps stick around with us after,” Scorza said.

In an open letter addressed to district students, teachers, staff, parents and the community, Melendez wrote: “I am honored to have had the opportunity to lead Inglewood Unified and I pledge to work diligently in the coming months to ensure that our students and our district continue to thrive.”

Melendez said she will be working closely with Torres and the district management team over the next few months to develop a thoughtful transition plan and ensure a seamless process for staff and students.

Instead of seeing this transition as a crisis, Scorza said it’s an opportunity for renewal and growth.

“We still have more to do,” he said. “We have to deal with declining enrollment. We have to deal with additional requirements to pay back the state loans.

“There’s a lot that needs to be done but I’m hopeful that whoever we bring on will have the skills to help us do that, which is why I’m deeply committed to making sure that we select the right person moving forward,” Scorza added.