Roy Romer’s Farewell
While The LAUSD superintendent still has a few weeks remaining on the job, before retiring after six years at the helm of the Los Angeles Unified School District, he gave his farewell address this morning before the LAUSD administrators’ annual gathering.
It is hard to imagine how or where our school district can find a successor who possesses the skills, determination and energy to continue the incredible accomplishments of “Governor” Romer, who had been the political leader of Colorado for a dozen years, prior to packing his bags and coming to L.A., to turn around a troubled educational system in 2000.
He mentioned that when he decided to take the job, he brought no one with him to serve in executive or “buffer” staff positions, “because I knew that I needed to join a new community, and that I needed to learn from that community, and I am still in that process of learning.”
One of Romer’s most successful, but controversial early achievements was to bring in experienced management specialists from outside education, in order to have an objective team, untainted by existing political and bureaucratic preconceptions. Had Al Gore won the 2000 presidential election, it was rumored that Romer would have become Secretary of Education. Washington’s loss was our gain.
With Mayor Villaraigosa frantically trying to push through legislation in Sacramento that would allow him to hand-pick the next superintendent and control LAUSD spending, the Los Angeles schools are in danger of becoming another agency of L.A. city government, rather than the separate elected governmental unit, which is designed, by charter, to be untainted by city hall politics and control. Fortunately, the present seven-member board of education is proceeding with an executive search without consideration of the probable passage of AB 1381.
Much of Romer’s activity in the final months of his tenure has been spent fighting the mayor’s mantra of “failed schools” and need for “partnership.” If Los Angeles’ schools are “failing,” then what does that say about every other school district in California? Los Angeles has increased its measurable performance by one hundred and fifty percent more than the rest of the state during this decade.
The superintendent told the administrators “You have become the fastest changing, most effective group of educators in the United States,” and that proof of that was increasing the percentage of elementary level scores from 27 to 96-percent of API benchmark in half a decade.
Referring to the mayoral takeover bill in Sacramento, Romer said “I have to chuckle when I read legislation that tries to micro-manage our work.” He suggested that a “council of mayors” is not going to serve our kids better than professional educators. “Our challenge,” according to the superintendent, “is not just to hold someone accountable, but to enable them to increase their capacity to do their work better.”
“You have to have a uniformity of expectation and a sustaining support for each other to get that done, especially in a district that has a 25-percent mobility of students each year.” Romer compared the school administrators to a “Band of Brothers,” in that there is a bond that is stronger than just the work you do. “You must be concerned about how I can help you do your work better.”
Among the programs Romer wants his successor to continue are centralized tracking of every student, develop career education alternatives, full day kindergarten for all, and including the community, especially parents, in the education process.
Jon Lauritzen, speaking for the school board members during the introductions, also took a swipe at the mayor’s tactics to win support for his takeover. He told the administrators “It has become part of your job to endure the slings and arrows of increasingly bitter attacks. When people keep telling you, over and over again, that you are a failure, eventually you can tend to doubt your own effectiveness and potential.”