Angelenos should all take a moment and thank Ray Cortines, retiring Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent. Last Thursday was the last official day for the 78-year-old life-long teacher and educator. During his tenure the past two and half years, Cortines has had a “laser like” focus on putting children first and last. This focus may seem obvious, yet with boards, budgets and unions, educational leaders often do not maintain the discipline and priority of putting students first.
During Cortines’ term, LAUSD’s base budget of $8 billion was decreased by $1.5 billion—a severe management crisis for any enterprise. Cortines navigated these waters and made tough decisions in order to minimize the negative impact on students. He dramatically cut the central support office by nearly half and increased the portion of resources going directly to schools and classrooms.
Cortines worked with the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce and other key partners including L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, L.A. City Council President Eric Garcetti, LAUSD Board President Mónica García, United Way of Greater Los Angeles President & CEO Elise Buik, Associated Administrators of Los Angeles President Judith Perez; Los Angeles County Federation of Labor Executive Secretary-Treasurer María Elena Durazo and the top leaders from 11 colleges and universities in the L.A. area through the work of the L.A. Compact. The L.A. Compact identified pressing educational issues on which the organizations agreed to collaborate and measure results.
As Mayor Villaraigosa stressed in his State of the City address last week, educating our youth must be a priority for every organization in our community.
Under Cortines’ leadership, student academic achievement has climbed. California measures academic success and improvement through the Academic Performance Index (API). LAUSD’s average score increased 47 points over the past three years, to a total score of 709. This improvement is 25 percent better than the overall increase for the rest of California. In addition, Cortines’ work on the LAUSD School Report Card means that parents can now view their children’s progress throughout the school year, not just at report card time.
Perhaps one the most impressive legacies of Cortines is the courageous and effective way in which he implemented the Public School Choice Resolution. From the beginning, the resolution by LAUSD Board Member Yolie Flores may not have passed were it not for the confidence the Board, the Chamber and other community stakeholders had in Cortines and his leadership.
Cortines put the lowest performing schools through the competitive process, and took direct control over several of the most chronically challenged schools, including Freemont High School and Jordan High School, and re-staffed them. In total, Cortines utilized the transparent Public School Choice process to put highly qualified instructional teams in place at approximately 100 of LAUSD’s 700 new and existing schools.
Adding an exclamation point to his service, Cortines concluded his work by recruiting an outstanding successor and positioning him through a transition and validation process to take the torch and accelerate the turnaround.
Thank you Ray Cortines. The children and adults of Los Angeles will be better off tomorrow because of your leadership the last two and a half years.
And that’s The Business Perspective.
The Business Perspective is a weekly column by Gary Toebben, President & CEO of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, produced with the input of Samuel Garrison, Vice President of Public Policy.