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Town Hall conversation on changing climate and culture to promote student success

superintendent speaking

Superintendent Austin Beutner delivers a keynote address at a meeting of Town Hall Los Angeles.
(Samuel GIlstrap/L.A. Unified Communications)

By Samuel Gilstrap | Nov. 15, 2018

LOS ANGELES – Members of Town Hall Los Angeles invited L.A. Unified students, community members and Superintendent Austin Beutner for a conversation about the future direction of the nation’s second largest school District.

Beutner delivered a keynote speech to an audience that included current L.A. Unified students and members of the Town Hall, a nonprofit organization that has sponsored public speaking forums for over 80 years. The conversation focused on improving L.A. Unified's ability to meet student needs.

“We need to make sure school leaders have the autonomy they need to make the best decisions for the students and the communities they serve," the superintendent said. "And, we need to listen to our students and communities and deliver on our promise to meet their needs.”

University Preparatory Value High School junior Karen Romo, who was among those in the audience, had clear ideas of her own on what’s best for her fellow students and her community.

“One thing we struggle with is a lack of resources,” she said. “We’d like more opportunities to have labs in biology and other sciences classes like I see at other schools. We need chances to experiment and explore things that might spark our interest in new fields.”

Fellow University Prep junior Danny Chaj also had ideas about how to improve his school.

“We need to clean up the streets around the school,” he said. “Sometimes we just want a clean environment to study and learn, and right now not enough people are involved in helping solve the problem.”

The superintendent continued to acknolwedge the students' voices as he outlined three key strategies for improving public education.

“The first thing we’re focused on is shifting decision-making and resources away from downtown and moving them out to the schools where they belong” he said.

As an example of removing obstacles for engagement, he pointed to the school board’s recent decision to remove the requirement for family members to pay fees to be fingerprinted before they could volunteer at schools.

“We currently have a rules and compliance culture, which is upside down,” he said. “We want to make it easier for families and communities to participate and support our work by removing more obstacles.”

The second area of focus he mentioned was increasing resources for public education.

“This is where we need to come together,” he said. “We need to get everyone on board — both literally and figuratively  — as partners. We need families, school leaders, teachers, students, labor and community partners to ride with us on one of our yellow school buses up to Sacramento and make the case to those who make the rules.”

Thirdly, the superintendent said, communities as a whole need to be engaged.

“There are a couple of important ways communities support our work,” he said. “Many of our partners are already supplementing what we can do, such as building health and wellness centers, refurbishing basketball courts, mentorship programs and so on.”

Browdening the conversation in every community is the other piece, he said.

“The start and end of the conversation is engaging the community," he said. "Understanding the issues. Understanding the imperative. We need you at every school. We need you engaged in the politics and in advocacy so that every student has the best possible chance for success.”

Town Hall members meet about 25 times every year to discuss an array of topics of interest to the public. The non-partisan organization receives support from its members, foundations, corporations and community-based organizations.