Lead Story West Edition

New L.A. schools chief ‘up to the challenge’

LOS ANGELES – New LAUSD Superintendent Michelle King spoke to more than 100 civic and political leaders Feb. 1, explaining what she needs most from community activists to tackle the arduous task of transforming the nation’s second-largest school district.

“I was asked early on, ‘What do you need?’ It’s prayer that I need on this road,” King said to spirited laughter and applause.

She may have been only half joking.

The district King now controls has lost nearly 100,000 students since 2010 — partly due to an exodus to independent charter schools — contributing to a budget deficit projected to reach $600 million by 2019. Meanwhile, a new civic proposal calls for enrolling half of the district’s students in charter schools over the next eight years — a move that would significantly deplete state and federal money distributed based on enrollment.

Undaunted, King told civic leaders that she’s ready to tackle the school system’s challenges and revitalize the 640,000-student district.

“For you who’ve followed LAUSD for a while, you know that it’s going to be a heavy lift here,” King said. “But this will happen and I am up to the challenge and, with your support, I’m going to deliver on behalf of the students of Los Angeles.”

Speaking at an NAACP reception at First African Methodist Episcopal (FAME) Church, King, 54, said she’s already hit the ground running in her first few weeks on the job as the district’s first black female superintendent. A longtime LAUSD administrator and educator, King said she is uniquely qualified to understand the district’s challenges and to generate solutions.

“When asked what’s my agenda, I have a kid’s agenda; that’s what my agenda is,” she said. “It’s about the students of Los Angeles — in particular, students of color who have not had all of the opportunities that they need to be able to achieve their dreams and their goals. That’s the road ahead.”

Pre-K education, college preparation and career tech training will be among her top priorities, King said, “to help ensure that our kids are college and career prepared.”

“We know that if our kids aren’t reading by age 9, the chances of them getting to that dream of graduation diminishes significantly,” King said. “We need to really invest and put the time into our kids … so that when they leave from us, they are ready to have real choices to go on and be prepared to be 21st century citizens.”

“We have to give them those tools so that they can compete in the global society that we are in now,” she added. “It’s no longer just about L.A., California or the United States for that matter. Our kids are going to have to compete in a global market. Jobs are being shipped overseas.

“We have to prepare our kids so that they are ready and able to be there. That’s my agenda.”

During Monday night’s ceremony, Inglewood Unified School District board member Margaret Evans and former Culver City Unified School District board member Saundra Davis looked ahead to the challenges facing King and urged civic activists and community leaders to support the new school superintendent.

“When you’re sitting in that seat you can’t know all the issues that will be thrown at you, that will squeeze you from all sides,” Davis said.

“We need to be so supportive. I cannot say it enough. When she puts out a call, we need to be there. We need to show up.”

Contributing Writer Cynthia Gibson contributed to this report.