After more than five decades as a public-school educator and administrator and almost a decade as an elected official, prominent educator and community leader Dr. George J. McKenna III has decided to retire from the L.A. Unified Board of Education at the end of his current term. A successor will be elected in the November 2024 General Election.
“It has been the honor of my life to serve on the board of education. I am and will always be an educator. I never asked to be a politician and was elected reluctantly due to the unfortunate passing of my friend, Marguerite LaMotte,” said McKenna.
“I ran because my community asked and I simply answered the call to serve as a way to continue my commitment to educating students. I have been able to make a difference in some ways, and not as much as I would like in others.
“It is time for me to move on and allow the next person to advance the work of representing the students and families of District 1. I remain grateful to the voters, supporters, educators, students (current and former) who placed their confidence in me to represent them on the Board.”
The board member has had a storied career in the Los Angeles Unified School District as a math teacher, dean, assistant principal, principal and local district superintendent of Local Area 7. He has worked in schools across the District including Jordan High School, Foshay Learning Center, Cochran Middle School, and Dorsey High School.
Most notably, Dr. McKenna was principal of Washington Preparatory High School from 1978-1988. His successes included raising student achievement, strengthening parent and community involvement, launching a peer counseling program among students, and growing the school enrollment from 1,200 to over 2,800 during his tenure.
During his service on the Board, Dr. McKenna counts the following as his major academic accomplishments:
- Passing a Zero Dropouts resolution to offer support and resources to keep students in school;
- Amending the A-G graduation requirement (from LAUSD) with a D remaining as passing grade. Without this change, graduation rates may have been decimated and far from the historic high levels of 86% as of 2022;
- Launched the Generation Xchange mentoring program in partnership with the UCLA Department of Medicine (Divisions of Geriatrics and General Internal Medicine in the David Geffen School of Medicine to train Seasoned volunteers to support elementary school classroom teachers. Students are learning from the elders and the elders are gaining health benefits from the intergenerational interactions;
- Establishment of the first single gender schools in the District, Girls Academic Leadership Academy (GALA) and Boys Academic Leadership Academy (BALA);
- Creation of the Humanizing Education for Equitable Transformation (HEET) Program to elevate student achievement in the most resource starved schools in District 1. This program is the precursor and framework for the establishment of the Black Student Achievement Program (BSAP);
- Opened the Iovine Young Center (IYC) focused on technology and innovation in partnership with Andre Young and Jimmy Iovine;
- District 1 is home to four (4) student Board Members elected since 2015 (Karen Calderon and Ben Holtzman of Hamilton High School; Kamarie Brown of Crenshaw High School; and current student member Karen Ramirez of GALA);
- Launched a Sports Analytics Club at Crenshaw High School. The program is designed to advance STEM education and STEM relevant careers for high school and middle school students through sports data analytics, with the support of local schoolteachers, university faculty and professional sports teams. The Sports Analytics Club Program was founded by attorney Robert L. Clayton of the law firm Goldstein & McClintock LLLP, and Professor Ben Shields of MIT Sloan School of Business. Professor Shields is the Faculty Advisor to the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference; and
- Resolved the contentious charter school co-location at Baldwin Hills Elementary School.
Dr. McKenna has also invested approximately $2 billion dollars into facilities improvements and critical repairs within District 1. Selected projects include:
- Comprehensive Modernizations at John Burroughs Middle School, Hamilton High School, Shenandoah Elementary School, and 32nd Street USC Magnet School;
- Completion of the state-of-the-art Crenshaw High School Performing Arts Center, new cafeteria, exterior quad, HVAC and seismic upgrades;
- Roofing replacements at LACES;
- Cafeteria equipment upgrades at schools across District 1;
- Parking improvements at Overland Ave ES due to the change in street parking around the school due to the Expo line;
- Outdoor Classroom construction at 95th St, Barrett, King, 52nd St, and Bright Elementary Schools;
- Nature Explorer Playground Upgrades to facilitate early learning at Wanda Mikes and Parks Huerta Early Education Centers;
- Parent Center upgrades at Raymond Avenue, Normandie, Marvin Avenue, Barrett, Charnock Road, West Athens, Wilshire Crest, Woodcrest Elementary Schools, Parks Huerta Early Education Center, Dorsey and Hamilton High Schools;
- ADA upgrades for greater campus accessibility at Charnock Road, Cienega, 95th Street Elementary Schools and Marlton School;
- Music Facility upgrades at Hamilton High School and Foshay Learning Center;
- New Science Lab Classroom Building at Foshay Learning Center; and
- Athletic facility upgrades at Crenshaw, Washington, Dorsey, Manual Arts, LACES, and Los Angeles High Schools.
His landmark community partnerships have led to all LAUSD students receiving TAP cards District wide after the pilot that originated in District 1 via the South Los Angeles Transit Empowerment Zone (SLATE-Z), Fender Play Foundation introducing their suite of educational programming for students which led to the development and passing of Proposition 28 in 2022 that now provides statewide funding for Arts education, and passed legislation to expand opportunities for small and micro businesses to contract with LAUSD.
Dr. McKenna’s influence as an educator leaves a significant impact on LAUSD through the dozens of his former students who are now teachers, principals, and administrators in the District and the countless teachers and leaders he hired as new teachers who credit their success to his tutelage, training and mentorship. Every part of the LAUSD system has teachers and administrators who were taught, hired or trained by Dr. McKenna. That imprint is one that pays dividends for years to come on future generations.
Dr. McKenna has also served as a superintendent in Inglewood Unified, deputy superintendent in Compton Unified, as well as an assistant superintendent in the Pasadena Unified School District.
He was elected to the LAUSD Board of Education in a special election in August 2014 to fill the unexpired term of Marguerite LaMotte, who died unexpectedly in December 2013. He was elected to his first full term in 2015 and re-elected in 2020.
Dr. McKenna’s term ends in December 2024. He has endorsed Sherlett Hendy Newbill to succeed him.
District 1 includes South Los Angeles and Westside neighborhoods such as Exposition Park, Vermont Square, Mid-City, Leimert Park, Angeles Mesa, Hyde Park, Vermont Knolls, Baldwin Hills, Cheviot Hills, Carthay Circle, Little Ethiopia, West Adams, Beverlywood, Palms, Hancock Park, Chesterfield Square, West Athens, Wilshire Crest, portions of Koreatown and Country Club Park.