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Trying to Tame the LAUSD Beast: Eight Superintendents over 16 Years

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Trying to Tame the LAUSD Beast: Eight Superintendents over 12 Years

LAUSD: The Past, Present and Future of LAUSD Superintendents

Stefanie Tyo & Tommy Chan | News Department
March 1, 2018


As Michelle King steps down from her post as the Superintendent of LAUSD, the school board is currently in the process of selecting the next figurehead to lead the 640,000 plus students and tens of thousands of employees that make up the second largest district in the country.

The power transition within LA Unified began in September of 2017 when King mysteriously departed under medical leave—it was later revealed that she had an undisclosed form of cancer. With an absence of leadership within the school district, King selected Vivian Ekchian as an Acting Superintendent in October while she tended to her ailments.

Ekchian started in LAUSD as a school teacher in 1985. Like King, Ekchian worked her way up through the ranks, gaining experience in positions such as local district superintendent, chief labor negotiator and human resources director.

As acting superintendent, Ekchian was responsible for overseeing the day-to-day operations within the district.

On Jan. 5, King announced she would continue her medical leave and will retire by June 30 in order to undergo an undisclosed form of cancer treatment.

With a gap in the district’s leadership, the Board of Education unanimously elected Ekchian as Interim Superintendent—a placeholder—as the district begins the process of interviewing and appointing a permanent candidate.

“I look forward to accelerating the transformative work that is occurring throughout the district while maintaining our steadfast focus on 100 percent graduation rate that will guarantee college, career, and life readiness for our shining stars,” said Ekchian.

As Ekchian takes the temporary role of Interim Superintendent, the district must struggle with the cost of interviewing and vetting new candidates for Superintendent, which the Board has done eight times over the past 17 years.

As the district searches for new candidates, within and outside LA Unified, the board is now hastily setting up a meeting to reinstate the Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates of Rosemont clause (HYA) in hopes of minimizing the cost of searching for official Superintendent candidates and preventing the $90,000 deficit made from the previous election.

The HYA clause was set in place years prior to the 2016 superintendent election. The clause states “If the Superintendent departs from the position during the first year under any circumstances or within (two) years if the majority of the Board is still in place, HYA will conduct a new search for the Board at no additional cost barring expenses.”

In the meantime a search firm was hired for $160,000, the same amount allocated to King’s selection process, to hold more than 100 community forums to seek input on what would make an ideal candidate.

The forums were attended by approximately 1,600 people and the search firm conducted a survey that was taken by nearly 9,500 people.

As the search continues, Ekchian, as the incumbent candidate, has the opportunity to prove herself in the job, possibly giving her an advantage with the board.

Another name that has arisen as King’s possible successor is Chief Academic Officer Frances Gipson,who has strong support from civic leaders.

“What’s important is that we put in the time and honor and respect in electing a superintendent that will serve us best.” – Board President Mónica García.

As this process continues, the district is commemorating King, who is now joining noteable past LAUSD superintendents such as Ramon Cortines, Roy Romer, David L. Brewer III and John Deasey.

The superintendent’s office has had a revolving door since the late 1990s, as leaders have fallen to the LAUSD’s dysfunction, waste and scandals.

In 2014, John Deasy fell victim to what many say was his hostile management style and the infamous iPad debacle, which promised a device to every student in the district. LAUSD paid exorbitent prices for the equipment and software, which students were immediately able to hack to get around security.

That same year, his replacement Cortines tackled a malfunctioning online records system that produced errors in transcripts and also won labor peace with a double-digit pay raise for teachers. This gave the union some say in teacher discipline practices along with school technology funding.

Eventually stepping down, Cortines was replaced by King, who has faced the issues of a declining enrollment rate, a deficit throughout the district and an effort to dramatically increase the number of charter schools in the region.

Since King’s departure, these issues still loom over the heads of board members as they scramble to find a replacement.

Ekchian is now responsible for tackling the goal of increasing attendance and graduation rates, targeting early literacy, ensuring equal access to instruction and bringing order to the school board whose members remain divided over the rapid growth of charter schools within the district.

With the current school year quickly approaching an end, the Board of Education hopes to have selected the next district Superintendent before the start of the next school year.

“A unanimous decision would be ideal, but I can’t speak for my fellow board members,” said Board Member Kelly Gonez. “It’s a mutual decision, we will have to choose the candidate, and the candidate has to choose us. Making the decision on a unified front maybe more reassuring to the person coming in, than doing so with divisions.”
“For me, ideally, I would like to have a new superintendent before the next school year. That would be six months or so, but I’m not married to any particular number if it takes longer to find the right person, then that’s probably the right decision to make,” said Gonez.


Stefanie Tyo is a Junior and the Chief Copy Editor of the Journalism Staff. She has been in journalism for three consecutive years starting her freshman year.

Outside of Journalism Stefanie plays club soccer and volunteers at Tarzana Hospital . Besides writing feature stories for The Mirror publication she also enjoys writing poetry and other forms of creative writing. She plans on majoring in Journalism in college and hopes on becoming a Medical Journalist.


Tommy Chan is a Senior who joined The Mirror staff in his junior year. He started his journey in this field as a News Writer and has worked his way up to the position of News Editor.

Aside from Journalism, Tommy enjoys creative writing and volunteers as a teacher to children in Cambodia. Tommy hopes to major in a branch of Environmental Science to contribute to the fight against Global Warming.


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Trying to Tame the LAUSD Beast: Eight Superintendents over 16 Years