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A year ago, David L. Brewer III took the helm of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) but there is growing doubt about his ability to tame that monstrosity. Many seem poised to see him leave, but that is by no means a given.
A major, though muted, concern is Brewer’s failure to propose sorely needed remedies to assist Black students, the school district’s lowest achievers. He co-authored an L.A. Times op-ed piece with two school board members that underscored the importance of providing critical attention and resources to English learners. He has not taken a similar position on behalf of Black students.
Hopefully, David Brewer will re-think district reform priorities and stick to his decisions—even in the face of inevitable heavy political opposition. It’s a lot to hope for, but anything less practically ensures that the curtain will fall in the middle of Act I.
The following column, “The Superintendent Gets a Standing Ovation Before the Curtain Rises,” written when Brewer took over, raised concerns that still exist and are part of the current grumbling over his leadership and managerial skills.
“There was euphoria among Blacks when Vice-Admiral (Ret.) David L. Brewer was named superintendent of LAUSD. Any reservations about this Black career military man’s lack of experience in public education were drowned in a sea of praise.
Mr. Brewer deserves full support for the gargantuan challenge ahead. However, objective assessment involves more than hyperbolic kudos. His military background and views on race may be problematic. He says, “Regardless of the race of a student, any official like me has to look at them as one...I can’t be concerned with factions.” Can he successfully navigate the transition from a rigid authoritarian organization to one with competing strong factions—political, professional and community-based—all pressing their respective demands? And, what are Mr. Brewer’s views on military recruiters on high school campuses? Most parents are adamantly opposed to the government’s putting their children in harm’s way
More important, what is the superintendent’s vision for educating students, Black students in particular? He’s silent on this issue. (A year later, he is still silent.) Again, how do the unique needs of African American students figure into his overall strategy for improving student achievement?
I was quoted in the Los Angeles Times as saying I don’t have much confidence in the Board’s decision (to hire Brewer) as it relates to children of color. What I actually said was, I have no confidence in the Board’s decisions relating to children of color.
It is very important that Mr. Brewer understand the history and current status of Black children in LAUSD. Virtually every effort to focus on their needs has been sabotaged. For example, the Triad—95th Street School, Bret Harte Junior High and Washington Preparatory High School, The Children Can’t Wait, Ten-Schools Project-all were aborted because they were not genuine LAUSD priorities. More recently, the tremendous increase in Latino students has aggravated Black students’ problems; a major challenge for Brewer is seeing to it that they are not further abused because of the new demographics.
The African American Learner Initiative (2001), now, LAUSD’s “Action Plan for A Culturally Relevant Education That Benefits African American Students and All Other Students,” is the first district-wide program focusing on Black students. Unfortunately, implementation is spotty, apparently a function of commitment of individual principals and ranges from strong to virtually non-existent. The needs of Black students are still generally ignored and parents should demand the superintendent’s plan for dealing with this. (Mr. Brewer, touted as an exceptional communicator, may be able to work with L.A.’s peripatetic mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, but political compatibility has little to do with improving education.)
Any superintendent seeks broad support when taking office. However, the euphoric, uncritical acceptance of Mr. Brewer, especially by Blacks, is shortsighted. People have less than a clue about Brewer or how his background will relate to improving educational results. Also, failure to sufficiently weigh the implications of his military career is a mistake. The superintendent should be accorded every opportunity to turn LAUSD around, but with ours eyes open, not blinded by the glare from his putative glorious past.”
When the curtain falls, will David Brewer again receive a standing ovation? Maybe, but it would be wise not to hold your breath until it happens.
Larry Aubry n can be contacted at e-mail