Can LAUSD’s board and Superintendent Carvalho do a dramatically better job educating 600,000 students?



It’s been three years and one global pandemic later since the Los Angeles Unified School District had a formal plan to help guide its decisions, but now school board members and Superintendent Alberto Carvalho are banking on a strategic plan to help them boost academic performance, ensure students are happy and healthy, and invest in staff to attract and retain top talent.

If things go as envisioned, then four years from now, a significantly larger number of students could potentially graduate high school eligible to apply to one of California’s four-year public universities, and the district will have significantly moved the needle on students reaching grade-level standards in English language arts and mathematics.

The school board this week adopted a sweeping, four-year strategic plan that will also tackle how the district engages with families and government, civic and business leaders, to turn the nation’s second-largest K-12 system into the “premier public school district,” a phrase that Carvalho likes to use when describing his vision for L.A. Unified.

The 56-page strategic plan, titled “Ready for the World,” lays out goals for bolstering learning for the hundreds of thousands of students in LAUSD and for preparing them for college, the workforce and whatever comes their way in life.

Carvalho, who joined L.A. Unified in mid-February and soon embarked on a series of listening tours with students, parents, staff and other stakeholders to help inform his recommendations for the strategic plan, said at the Tuesday, June 21, board meeting that the district will set out to accomplish in four years what would typically take five years. He called the plan “ambitious” but “doable.”

“There is an urgency associated with the moment as we emerge from the pandemic, as we are honest in recognizing the achievement gaps, the opportunity gaps, the equity gaps. … There is no slowing down,” he said.

“Our kids are ready for the world,” he continued. “The question is are we ready to meet them where they are and transport and accelerate them to where they need to go?”

Goals outlined

The plan aims to improve learning for hundreds of thousands of students in over 1,000 schools and educational centers, as well as provide supports to staff to make L.A. Unified an attractive employer.

By 2026, the board and Carvalho want to see dramatic change:

  • 70% of students in a graduating class should exit high school with a “C” grade or better in classes required for admission to California’s public four-year universities by 2026 – a nearly 22% increase from the 2020-21 school year.
  • Third graders should move, on average, 30 points closer to proficiency on the state’s Smarter Balanced assessment in English language arts. Black and Latino students, English learners, students with disabilities and other subgroups that have historically underperformed should show even greater gains.During the 2018-19 school year, the last complete year for which data is available, the district’s third graders, as a group, scored 18.6 points below standard while third-grade students with disabilities were 92.1 points below standard and Black students were 48.9 points away from proficiency.
  • Students in grades 3 through 8 should move, on average, 40 points closer to proficiency in math. During the 2018-19 year, students in grades 3 through 5 were 30.2 points below standard and sixth- through eighth graders were 64 points below where they needed to be. Student proficiency levels for the school year that just ended are not yet available.
  • At every school level – elementary, middle and high school – students will demonstrate an 8% growth in “social-emotional learning competencies,” meaning they’ll be able to demonstrate certain skills such as self-efficacy, self-management and social awareness.

The strategic plan is divided into five “pillars,” or areas of focus: academic excellence, student joy and wellness, engagement and collaboration, operational effectiveness and investment in staff, with strategies identified for priorities that fall under each pillar.

One measure of success that district officials will pay attention to is whether they can increase the annual percentage of new students to at least 16% by 2026. The district has seen declining enrollment for two decades, a trend officials warn could negatively impact LAUSD’s finances.

A long-awaited plan

This week, board members expressed enthusiasm for the plan, which had been a long time coming.

“I have been advocating for a clear, transparent strategic plan since joining the board (in 2017), and this is especially important as we emerge from the unprecedented disruption of the pandemic,” board Vice President Nick Melvoin said. “This document, guided by the existing board goals and community input, lays out clear priorities and specific actions to drive progress and measure success in our school communities.”

The last strategic plan, which covered the 2016-19 school years, was developed under then-Superintendent Michelle King. But board members reportedly weren’t impressed and opted not to take a formal vote on that plan, though they allowed King to run with her ideas.

In contrast, the plan adopted this week received unanimous board approval.

Austin Beutner took over as superintendent in 2018. But a teachers strike in 2019, followed by the need to respond to a global pandemic that abruptly shuttered schools in 2020, may have hampered efforts to draft a new strategic plan. Beutner resigned last year, and the district was led by interim Superintendent Megan Reilly until Carvalho’s arrival.

Plan priorities reflected in budget

Many of the priorities or strategies in the new strategic plan are reflected in the district’s 2022-23 budget, which the school board also adopted on Tuesday. Although board members approved an $18.5 billion spending plan that will take effect July 1, district officials anticipate more revenue from Sacramento and plan to revise the budget in August after the state’s own spending plan is finalized.

The budget, for now, includes $1.9 billion in new investments that address the district’s priorities, including funding to support tutoring and early education, to help close the digital divide for families without reliable internet, and to establish green spaces and outdoor learning opportunities.

Extra dollars are allocated to the district’s highest-need schools and a plan to support Black student achievement, as well as security upgrades to address campus safety — although those funds would not pay for hiring more officers.

On Tuesday, about a dozen students – members of the group Students Deserve, which has been calling for the defunding of school police and had some of their demands met by the school board in 2020 – once again urged board members to permanently eliminate about 60 vacant positions in the Los Angeles School Police Department and to direct the millions of dollars these positions represent to other areas of the budget to support Black student achievement.

But unlike two years ago, when the nation was faced with a racial reckoning following the killing of George Floyd, a Black man who died at the hands of a White police officer, public support for officers in or near schools appears to have grown in some communities, particularly in light of recent mass shootings, including at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, last month.

One ongoing debate in L.A. Unified is whether school police officers should be put back on campuses. The school board voted to remove them from school grounds in 2020 at the urging of some Black and Latino students who said school police discriminated against them.

School police officers are no longer stationed on campus but patrol the neighborhoods around schools and can be called by a school administrator to respond to an incident.



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