In Los Angeles, school leaders look for help outside the classroom

Los Angeles community engagement

Effective school leadership can’t happen in a vacuum.

That’s the driving idea behind a new task force created inside the Los Angeles Unified School District. Looking to help the district identify new solutions to persistent problems, the group was created to seek new ideas and input from prominent community members.

But some have questioned the role the task force will play in district decision-making and whether its membership accurately represents the thoughts and needs of the broader school community.

Advisors, not decision-makers

As The 74 reports, the L.A. Unified Advisory Task Force is made up of eleven members, led by former Los Angeles Times publisher and philanthropist Austin Beutner and service employees union leader Laphonza Butler. It also includes former L.A. city officials and nonprofit and business leaders.

Following a contentious school board election last November, some observers questioned whether the new task force sought to create an alternate governing body for L.A.’s schools.

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School Board President Ref Rodriguez told The 74 that the advisory task force was created to help inform and advise the board, along with schools superintendent Dr. Michelle King:

“I support that Superintendent King assembled this diverse group of leaders because I believe it’s always important to have external entities serving as thought partners to help us reach our goal of 100 percent graduation. Working collaboratively with Dr. King, this group can examine and reimagine the way this district is working towards the objectives laid out in the strategic plan and help us communicate our progress to the public.”

L.A. Unified’s leaders see the task force as a direct line to community engagement as well as a think tank to float new ideas for critical issues. First item on the agenda: Reducing chronic absenteeism.

Ensuring many voices

While much of the Los Angeles school community has reacted positively to news of the advisory group, some area educators and labor representatives have voiced concerns, saying that the task force lacks representation from educators in the trenches in L.A.’s classrooms.

Juan Flecha, who represents the city’s school administrators union, told the L.A. Times that the advisory group is in need of representatives with “knowledge of the mental health, social, and economic realities of the majority of the students the district serves.”

In response to these and other criticisms, the task force announced its intention to set aside $400,000 in donations to hire education experts who can contribute to the group’s work.

Lingering questions about the advisory group’s makeup emphasize the challenges school districts often face when attempting to effectively “represent” a broader cross-section of the school community. Even well-intentioned initiatives are sometimes scrutinized—and often for good reason.

What steps is your district taking to listen to and understand the needs of its broader community? Would an advisory task force help decision-making, equity, and community engagement or hinder it? Tell us in the comments.

About the Author

Todd Kominiak
Todd is Managing Editor of TrustED. Email: tkominiak@k12insight.com.

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