Supt. George McKenna
George McKenna is Back
As one of the pre-eminent educators of our time, McKenna has returned to inject quality education into the Los Angeles Unified School District system once more.
By Yussuf J. Simmonds
Sentinel Assistant Managing Editor
Allowing public school children the opportunity to acquire a quality education has been one of the tenets of Dr. George McKenna. He believes that children have a fundamental right to receive a proper education to prepare them to be productive members of society and leaders of the future generations. Not only does Mc Kenna believe this, he has spent his entire professional career putting it into practice as one of the pre-eminent educators of our time.
McKenna has recently been appointed Superintendent Local District 7 of the Los Angeles Unified School District, an area which encompasses South Los Angeles and includes King-Drew, Jordan, Fremont and Manuel Arts High Schools.
The “Los Angeles Sentinel” interviewed McKenna, who came out of retirement to accept the appointment, about his goals and his plans for District 7. “The challenge is still there for us to make public schools work better than they are [working] for children,” McKenna explained. “I think there is a movement not only here locally in Los Angeles but nationally, to find alternatives to public schools, and I still think that most of the children will be in public schools. So there is no reason for public schools not to work more effectively than they do now.”
With regards specifically about his appointment, he continued, “I was asked by Superintendent Cortines to return to the district and I accepted his offer. My challenge, and my intent is to implement programs that may not exist and also reinforce those that do to significantly improve the academic, social, behavioral outcomes of Black and Latino students particularly those of lower socio-economic conditions.”
Besides his professional career as an educator, McKenna gives his time and energy to a myriad of community services including the Brotherhood Crusade. The “Sentinel” reached out to its President and CEO, Charisse Bremond Weaver for comments on McKenna’s appointment. Bremond-Weaver said, “It’s very refreshing to have someone with Dr. McKenna’s educational background and concern for the children back at the helm of the LAUSD seven.”
According to McKenna, the assignment is open-ended in that the Superintendent asked him to come in and he will be there until the assignment is over, serving at the superintendent’s pleasure. McKenna added, “I intend to stay as long as I can to make a contribution.”
The focus of conversation then shifted to the importance and usefulness of school uniforms. He said, “I’m an advocate of school uniforms, but I think you can mandate it much easier if the parents accept it … especially in elementary schools; then transition it into the middle schools and then from middle schools to high schools. I don’t think it very easy or advisable to demand it of high school students until they’ve had the experience of having it in middle school.”
As a former member of the Inglewood School Board and the L.A. County Human Rights Commission, Larry Aubry who has worked with McKenna said, “I think the district will be advantaged by this appointment and he is one of the few public school administrators that I know who’s will to take the risk necessary to bring about real change. He’s not reluctant to tell it like it is and his demonstrated behavior is in the interest of Black children.”
McKenna has been a principal, an assistant superintendent, a deputy superintendent, and a superintendent of Unified School districts around the Southland. He was the subject of an award winning movie, “The George McKenna Story,” based on his tenure as principal of George Washington High School and has received numerous awards including the Congressional Black Caucus Award and citations from civic, legislative and professional organizations. He has been chair of California based Educational Civil Rights Committee that developed the Black Educational Civil Rights Agenda presented along with Dr. Bill Cosby, and adopted as a NABSE priority and initiative at the 2007 annual conference. He is listed in History Makers as a pioneer educator and was elected into the National Alliance of Black School Educators’ Hall of Fame.
An educational consultant and a motivational speaker, McKenna was asked to compare this appointment with the experiences that he has had thus far, as an educator. He concluded, “This is more challenging because in other districts, I had less concentration of poverty and under-achievement. This district by itself, is probably the same size as Compton, Inglewood and Pasadena combined.” And McKenna knows since he had been assigned to those districts in the past.
Finally he said, “My job here is to try to maximize the schools beyond the norm of expectations, which is lower than I would expect it to be.” His tolerance for the acceptance of low achievement is very minimal. “That being acceptable and celebrating it, as we make incremental gains, is never worthy, but we never aspire to be at the top and become superior academically. That is not acceptable to me.”Â