LOS ANGELES — After days of drama, a truce has been reached and it looks like L.A. school superintendent John Deasy will be sticking around after all.
The fractious Los Angeles Unified School Board somehow reached a consensus Tuesday night after nearly five hours of deliberation and gave Deasy a satisfactory evaluation, extending his contract through June 2016 and ending speculation that his volatile tenure as leader of the nation’s second-largest school district would end.
Deasy broke his self-imposed silence on his future by thanking the board for a “good and robust evaluation,” and a “good and honest conversation.”
“We will continue to lift youth out of poverty,” Deasy said. “I’m very proud of what we’ve done and will continue to do for students. I’m looking forward to continuing to advocate on behalf of students.”
The long-awaited decision on Deasy’s fate followed nearly a week of uncertainty, and came at a school board meeting after hundreds of parents and advocates rallied outside board headquarters earlier in the day. Some were frustrated with Deasy, and others disgusted by the political power struggles and teacher-union disagreements that have marred his tenure in Los Angeles.
Parents and advocates who supported Deasy marched up and down the sidewalk with signs and chants of “Dr. D., let him be,” and “Don’t be crazy — keep Doc Deasy.”
Many said Deasy has helped improve teaching and learning in the sprawling district.
“He’s shown visionary leadership,” said Vanesa Esparaza, associate director of the Alliance for a Better Community, who supports changes the district has made and hopes Deasy stays.
Amabilia Villeda, parent of a fourth-grader and chapter coordinator for Parent Revolution, a group that trains parents in their legal rights and pushes them to demand better schools, said she wants Deasy to stay because of the positive changes she’s seen in her child’s school.
“For seven years, the school was failing,” Villeda said. “They tried to make changes, but nothing happened until Deasy came in.”
Not everyone in the vocal crowd supported Deasy. Parent Scott Folsom said Deasy already had a chance to communicate openly with board members but failed, saying he believes Deasy isn’t comfortable dealing with people who disagree with him.
Since becoming superintendent in 2011, Deasy had been strongly supported by Monica Garcia, who served six consecutive one-year terms as Board of Education president. Like Deasy, Garcia favored establishing more charter schools and the inclusion of student test-scores in teacher evaluations. But when a new rule this year stopped Garcia from pursuing a seventh term, Deasy lost a crucial ally.
“Deasy and Garcia were always on the same page,” said Folsom. “In real life, people are rarely on the same page.”
George Parilla of the Youth Policy Institute said he also hopes Deasy stays. Parilla, who works as an after-school program provider in L.A., feels confident that Deasy can still succeed. “It’s only a matter of giving him more time,” Parilla said.
Parent Kathy Kantner of Lanai Road Education Committee agreed. Kantner, who has three children in L.A. schools, believes Deasy has turned the district around, despite tight budget constraints and a host of obstacles.
“I really hope he’s not being pushed out by board politics,” Kantner said. “We really want to show that parents support Deasy.”
Maria Elena Meraz, executive director of the Parent Institute for Quality Education, wasn’t surprised by the support for Deasy, who she said has created a forward-thinking district and one that empowers parents.
“The most important thing is for parents to have their voices heard,” Meraz said. “Before Deasy, it was different here. Parents didn’t know they had options for their children, like charter schools.”
Michelle Walker, a parent whose son is a senior at Hollywood High School, said she has watched things change for the better under Deasy, but is frustrated by the school board.
“My hope is that the board does what is best for the kids,” Walker said.
She also disagreed with Deasy’s decision to shut down struggling, largely Latino Crenshaw High School and turn it into three magnet schools.
“He shut down a black-and-brown school too fast,” Walker said. “I question that.”
As Walker worked her way through the crowd, Ryan Smith of the United Way, a staunch Deasy supporter, spoke out in favor of the superintendent.
“The fight for change is always going to be uncomfortable,” Smith said to applause.
Rene Rodman, co-founder of Parent Partnership for Public Education, a West L.A. group that has worked closely with Deasy, said her group has organized events that bring parents and teachers together to talk about issues and progress.
“We’re concerned about our city,” Rodman said. “Deasy needs to get out there more and connect with teachers, and engage with parents and give them context.”
In the meantime, many seem unconvinced that a sprawling urban district can unify itself.
“The school board is a small political entity that’s seen as a joke in America,” Folsom said, “but it doesn’t have to be that way.”
“It wasn’t organized. It was embarrassing to have all of those people in support of Deasy, and none for us,” Solkovits said.
He said he believed that many parents are frustrated and afraid to speak their minds.
“I think Deasy orchestrated the drama,” Solkovits said. “It was a show. I think there’s a lot of dissatisfaction among parents, but people didn’t feel comfortable stating that because of politics.”