Wave Wire Services
LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, assured of a strong workforce after the district’s recent tentative agreements with unions representing teachers and classified employees, touted ongoing progress on several fronts to support education in the city during the April 21 City Council meeting.
In his presentation to the City Council, Carvalho said when he arrived 14 months ago, he had a bold plan to elevate the city’s youth through educational initiatives.
“That’s exactly what I’d like to present to you today — the business of education,” Carvalho said. “Yes, it rests with the school district, it rests with the school board, but good, effective school systems across the country benefit from partnerships with other governmental entities and community-based organizations.”
The superintendent outlined challenges that would impact the district including economic conditions and the need to address learning loss caused by the coronavirus pandemic. In the past year, the district has made significant strides, he added, for the future of students and education.
Carvalho said the district’s adopted and implemented a strategy aimed at elevating student performance in reading and mathematics, graduation rates and post-secondary placement, as well as supporting the social and emotional needs of students — all within four years instead of the typical five-year plan.
“We’re already seeing some promising results,” he said. “Number one, graduation rates have elevated to a new high. They stand today at 87.4%.”
Among the district’s achievements, Carvalho said 39 LAUSD schools were recognized as National Merit Award winners. The district also adopted a new process to identify and accelerate learning in low-performing schools.
He said the LAUSD continues to invest in improving school infrastructure across the district as its board approved $6 billion to support that endeavor.
More than 900 projects are actively under construction and 1,000 schools will undergo modernization repairs, with 425 of those projects expected to be completed this school year.
Carvalho said the district estimated that enrollment will stabilize in the next year. It has seen a 6% decline in enrollment for the past 12 years, but the district forecasts a 1.9% decline in enrollment next year with the possibility of an increase the following year, he added.
LAUSD has launched of several initiatives to support students such as a cultural arts passport aimed at increasing access to artistic venues throughout the city, seeking more mentorship opportunities and the Baby-to-Learn initiative, a program providing new parents with resources and information about health care and child care.
More than 14,000 new students enrolled into LAUSD’s Universal Pre-Kindergarten programs with the goal of doubling that number next year, Carvalho said.
He said one big achievement the district reached was bridging the digital divide.
“Over the past 12 months, we reached the one-to-one solution, meaning one device for every single child and 100% connectivity for every single student, so that learning can take place anytime, anywhere in our community.”
He noted the district has made strides in bolstering its teacher force and bringing down chronic absenteeism by 11%.
“We began this school year with zero teacher vacancies, the first in over 15 years,” Carvalho said. “We do not have a talent scarcity. We have a talent distribution problem.
“We found 1,000 of individuals, hundreds of individuals with credentials, but not teaching in a classroom,” he said.
School safety remains a high priority for the superintendent and the district, which provides naloxone, commonly known as Narcan, an opioid-reversing medication used to treat fentanyl overdoses, at its schools It has also implemented peer-to-peer mentoring programs and education programs to address the fentanyl crisis.
“We’ve increased community-focused public safety by launching digital tools for reporting and early detection of threats to schools,” Carvalho said.
On the issue of environmental safety, he said, the district deploys the largest air-monitoring tools, in which every school receives real-time information about the air quality in Los Angeles.
“We’re big on health and wellness,” he said. “We recently launched — which will be disseminated soon — a remarkable partnership with the Children’s Hospital to provide ready-to-go in-school telehealth opportunities for our kids and their siblings.”
He touted the district’s “aggressive efforts” to ensure the electrification of the district’s bus fleet, and invest in large-scale green projects throughout the district.
On his final speaking point, the superintendent included that the district launched Parent Academy, providing parents with career and technical training, so the district can then employ them.
Council members Eunisses Hernandez and Hugo Soto-Martínez thanked the superintendent for his presentation and followed up with questions and comments.
Hernandez asked Carvalho if and how they could partner to open schools during the weekend and have those locations serve local youth. The superintendent replied that it would be something worth pursuing.
“As we saw during COVID, and we see now today, that those spaces for young people are very limited,” Hernandez said.
Soto-Martínez expressed his excitement for more mentoring opportunities and said the LAUSD had his support to accomplish that goal.
Council members Heather Hutt and Traci Park questioned Carvalho on the topic of school safety.
Hutt was concerned with the news that LAUSD has 200 crossing guard vacancies and asked the superintendent how the city could assist in the matter, which Carvalho addressed by saying there were currently about 500 crossing guard positions budgeted, but it was a “county and city responsibility.”
LAUSD received requests from parents wanting to serve as crossing guards, he said, but that there was a liability issue in that. He said that moving forward, the city and the district would explore potential solutions to accelerate the hiring and deployment of crossing guards.
Park expressed her commitment to safeguarding schools and parks in the 11th District. She was concerned about how the district would address new street drugs like tranq and ISO, which are 25 to 50 times more potent and deadlier than fentanyl.
Carvalho reemphasized LAUSD’s peer-to-peer mentoring program, in which seniors and juniors educate their younger peers, and educating parents through the Parent Academy on the dangers of street drugs and other dangers such as firearms.
“If we empower kids with educations, empower parents with education, empower community-based organizations, increase supervision by the way, then this means having more after-school programs to that our kids are recruited into the good rather than allowing them to be recruited into the darkness,” Carvalho said.