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Superintendent David Brewer III Shares Year In Review
The end of the year 2007 has come to a close, and so has David Brewer III’s first year on the job as superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, the largest school system in California and the second largest in the country. He has spent his first 365 days listening, learning and assessing, and is now ready to execute. With many initiatives already in motion, and more to follow within the remaining three years of his contract, Brewer shares how he has been able to position the district for a big change.
“Whenever a new leader comes in, the first thing a new leader has to do is listen, learn, and assess. And that’s what I did,” Superintendent Brewer said during an exclusive interview with the Los Angeles Sentinel. “I listened and heard a lot of concerns, mainly that the community wants leaders to come together...teachers want to be engaged...parents want to be more empowered.”
What he did was build partnerships and create offices that would enable various communities and sectors throughout the city to become involved in the efforts to improve the district. For example, the Professional Learning Development Initiative was created, the Office of Parent and Civic Engagement was established as well as an Innovation Division, and partnerships were formed with the Los Angeles Police Department and County Sheriff’s Department. Approaches such as those, he says, are imperative when trying to create change.
“In order to drive deep, lasting change, you have to build an infrastructure in the system. You have to put those in place first,” Brewer explained. “The deep changes that we need have to be built into the system.”
Brewer said that not only has the district made efforts preventative in nature, but also those concerning intervention that will provide an alternative to the streets. A Boys & Girls Club was put on the campus of Markham Middle School, he noted, and a YMCA facility is set to be on the campus within the next two years.
Brewer has also created an initiative that targets the 34 lowest-performing secondary schools within the district. The Strategic Plan for High Priority Schools, which was unanimously approved by the Board of Education this month and is scheduled to be implemented for the 2008-09 school year, will require all students to have access to rigorous core curriculum based on state standards, and high quality instruction designed to significantly improve students’ learning and academic achievement. In addition, the plan gives local control to school sites with support from local district leadership in executing the plan, and it will rely on measurable and research-based strategies to help students at high priority schools achieve academic success. The plan also provides professional development for teachers, and empowers parents and school communities to collaborate on common goals to ensure students improve academically.
“We’re positioning ourselves for this big change in LAUSD,” Brewer said. “When you have an organization this large—700,000 students; last month we paid 102,000 people—you don’t change it over night.
“You have to manage that expectation on the part of the public. It didn’t get this way over night, and it’s not going to change over night.”
Brewer also addressed the ever-present charter school movement, which caused quite a stir this year as seen during the Locke Senior High School-Green Dot Public Charter Schools turmoil. “I’m brining charter schools in as partners because I see them as a part of my innovation effort,” said Brewer. “They’re not a part of the Innovation Division, yet they are a part of the innovation effort because some of our charters are doing some very unique things that we need to benchmark and replicate within the system.”
But, at the same time praising charter schools, Brewer quickly added that some of the best schools in the district are traditional, citing Balboa, LACES (Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies and Nobel magnet schools.
Brewer also touched upon the implementation of small, theme-based learning communities on existing school campuses, such as academies for construction, performing arts, technology, culinary arts, business and finance.
“What these academies need are community partners to come in and show what’s relevant and establish internships,” he commented. “Students need to get out of these neighborhoods and figure out there’s a better way of life for them other than hanging out on the streets and getting into gangs.”
On a closing note, in terms of success within LAUSD, Brewer said when at least 80 percent of our students (African American, Latino, etc.) are proficient in language arts, math and science, that’s when it can be declared.
“When will that happen?” he rhetorically asks. “If we work our butts of and get this right, hopefully within the next six or seven years. If we do that, not only will we be the best urban school district in the nation, but one of the best school districts in the nation if we get this right.”